TOEFL Scores a Concern in Some Asian Countries

ScoreNexus TOEFL Blog

Here are two separate articles from earlier this year about government officials in Japan and Thailand worrying about their population’s low TOEFL scores.

A Japan Times article from last March (2013) described proposed educational reforms in order to create a “globalized” Japanese workforce. A major component of these reforms is English education, and part of the plan is to require a 90 score in order to graduate from 30 “select” Japanese colleges and to require a 45 score to earn a high school diploma.

The 90 point TOEFL requirement seems pretty high to me–This is based on my own anecdotal evidence: many of my prior Japanese students struggled to attained this score (mostly due to poor Speaking grades). On the other hand, the 45 point requirement seems really low. An above-average student should be able to attain this score with Reading and Listening alone.

In Thailand, an article from The Nation from this past February cited that the average Thai TOEFL score was lowest in the Southeast Asian region. Using old paper-based scores for some reason, the government official stated that Thais scored a full 50 to 100 points lower than their neighbors.

Interestingly, the Japanese article also cited how Japanese test-takers scored poorly compared to the rest of Asia. Using iBT scores, the average Japanese score was a 69, which was among the bottom three out of 33 Asian countries.

A theme of both articles was that (a) their country was scoring either the worst, or close to the worst on the TOEFL compared to their brethren, and (b) this indicates that their workforce may not be competitive.

Japan’s concern is broader: The Japanese article compared Japan’s scores to pan-Asia, and was worried about their workforce “globally.” However, Thailand has its own worries: The Thai article compared Thailand to other countries in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and was sounding an alarm since ASEAN is planning to create an economic community by 2015, which will open up workforce competition with countries that traditionally speak English well, such as the Philippines and Malaysia.

I think it’s noteworthy that TOEFL scores are cited in both articles. Even though the popularity of other standardized tests of English ability has been growing in Asia, especially the IELTS, I believe the TOEFL still remains the standard (at least for now).

Until next time,
Ed, founder of ScoreNexus