Tuesday, September 1, 2009

'You're 20 minutes early for the iBT, so you're too late!'

I thought we had everything worked out for the internet-based TOEFL. I checked my students online profile, and the name matched his passport perfectly. Nevertheless, on Monday following the scheduled Saturday test, I queried Patrick about his exam. Well, actually, he wasn't able to take the test in the end.

"Whaaat!! Whyyyy?," I asked, gasping. He was 20 minutes EARLY; therefore, he was too LATE to take the exam. According to ETS rules, you should arrive 30 minutes before the iBT to ensure that there is enough time to check you in before the exam. However, depending on which test center you choose, this arrival time is flexible. After all, if there is no line of students waiting to be processed for the exam, it does not take a half-hour to check in. Unfortunately, in the case of my student, although his test center was not crowded, the person at the front desk was poorly trained. Despite there being no line of waiting students, Patrick was prevented from taking the test as planned, and , of course, lost his registration fee too.

If this is standard policy across all ETS centers, why were some of my students downtown being admitted five minutes before the exam and others being told they were too late when they were 20 minutes early? Obviously, one ETS center manager was trained to provide good service whereas the other manager was trained to follow directions to the point where she behaved like a mindless, thoughtless robot. In the process, a young, non-native English speaker was turned away from the TOEFL test center feeling crushed, angry, sad, defeated, robbed.

As a TOEFL instructor at a relatively small school, I can only imagine that this maltreatment of students is going on all the time across the USA. All I can do now is to get the word out to other teachers and TOEFL students. READ and PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY PRINTED WORD on your registration form and profile for the internet-based TOEFL.

1. Make sure that your profile name matches your passport name EXACTLY (i.e., if you have five names, put them all there. There is no space for middle-name, so put the middle names in the last name box. Better yet, go to the test center and register face-to-face and get a written note from the person who registered you stating the date, time, and place that you got registered.)

2. Arrive early - at least 45 minutes, but maybe one hour! early and check in at the front desk. If you arrive 29 minutes early, be prepared to argue for your right to sit and take the test, since you're supposed to arrive 30 minutes EARLY.

3. If you encounter any problems at the test center, do not leave without getting a piece of paper with signatures of the test center manager, clerks, and so on. Document what happened and why you were denied admittance to the exam. Make ETS personnel accountable by getting their names and contact numbers.

Good luck!

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