India is among the top five countries representing the test-takers for Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) , an admission requirement for non-native English speakers. The test evaluates the student's ability to understand and use the language in an academic setting. Emilie Pooler, an assessment specialist for TOEFL, has been associated with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a non- profit organisation that administers TOEFL, since 1996. Excerpts from her interview to The Hindu Education plus:

Many institutes in the U.S. take the GMAT or GRE scores in which the English section is already an integral part of the test. In spite of this, why do institutes require satisfactory scores in TOEFL?

The English section on the GRE and GMAT focuses on reading and not on overall English language proficiency. The TOEFL test measures proficiency in all four skills students need to use in the classroom: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.

What are the advantages of including tasks that test integrated skills?

The test has independent tasks and integrated tasks in the writing and speaking sections. The test simulates the kinds of tasks students encounter in real academic setting by integrating more than one skill. For example, test-takers first read a passage, listen to a lecture and then speak or write in response, just like they need to do in the classroom.

How has the test changed over the years?

We develop new test items on a continuous basis. Test questions go through multiple editorial and sensitivity reviews, field testing, and analysis. With regard to the testing techniques and format, the test has moved on from being paper-based to computer-based and in 2005 we introduced the internet based testing system (iBT) In addition to this, we integrated the speaking section the same year.

What was the reason ETS introduced the speaking section?

The universities found that most students who passed the exam and made it to their institutes could not participate actively in classes, nor were they able to interact with other students confidently. With the introduction of iBT, we were able to introduce the speaking section as the speech can be encaptured digitally and evaluated from the U.S.

What are the standards you expect in the speaking section?

As long as the evaluator can understand what the test-taker is trying to convey he will make it through. The British or Indian accent will not be a criterion for disqualification.

Your tips to aspiring students and teachers…

Students should become familiar with the format of the test and it is important for them to practise it in a timed set-up. And in the writing section, it is very important that students should give answers to the questions. Most importantly they should read and use the language frequently. And, the teachers should involve the students in innovative classroom activities that are engaging and fun.