TOEIC Issue In Japan, From The Linguist

The Linguist had an interesting post on TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication),specifically the situation in Japan. In contrast to TOEFL, which is generally used for those who’d like to study in North America, TOEIC is for those who’d like to demonstrate their English ability in reading and listening for working in an English-speaking environment.

Apparently, about half of all people in the world who take TOEIC are from Japan, and the average score is, according to the author’s assessment, quite low. He makes a couple of points connected to this:

  • The TOEIC is popular because it serves a practical purpose – a standard method for assessing the language ability of English language learners.
  • Because of its popularity and wide use, a less than ideal cycle is created: students learn English solely to pass the TOEIC.
  • Because people are so enthusiastic about the test – well, perhaps not enthusiastic but aware of the need for it – they often take it prematurely, perhaps before they really should, and wind up with a very low score the first time, which affects the overall average.

Being a teacher I often think about the value of testing, and I don’t limit this to testing for English language learners. It’s hard to deny the practical advantages of a standardized test, but it’s also easy to see the problems with it. Teaching (or learning) to test is often not very effective in the long-term. It can also be misleading to put too much trust in one or two tests.

For anyone who’s taken or taught TOEIC classes, I’d be curious to know:

First and most practically, does it measure speaking in a decent way? I believe the TOEFL now does, though I don’t see it featured as such on the official ETS page, so I don’t feel confident assuming this is totally missing from the TOEIC either.

What’s your impression of the TOEIC in comparison to other tests?

Do you see any way of avoiding the teach/learn to test cycle for this exam or others? Either in the bigger picture or on an individual/class level.