What You Need To Know About TOEIC Scores
The truth is the TOEIC reading and listening test is not a good indicator of business speaking and writing skill. I have seen this myself during 10 years using the TOEIC alongside other speaking and writing tests here in Bangkok… but don’t just take my word for it! Independent research has shown a low correlation between TOEIC scores and business English speaking and writing performance.

The TOEIC is the best-known test of business English proficiency in Thailand and is widely used as a measure of English skill for work.  Most companies that use the TOEIC reading and listening test do not use any other method to test the speaking and writing skill of their staff.  Perhaps this is because ETS, the producer of the test, claims that it indirectly measures both speaking and writing skills.  And of course, there is more cost to do additional tests. Well, after reading this you may want to re-think your testing system and your budget.

A 2012 study by Michihiro Hirai of Kanagawa University in Japan compared TOEIC scores of about 1,500 examinees to their scores on the Cambridge BULATS speaking and writing tests1.  The BULATS tests require examinees to produce spoken and written English in realistic business contexts (please see the footnote for more details about the tests).  The study found only a 58% correlation between TOEIC scores and business speaking scores, and a 55% correlation between TOEIC scores and business writing scores.

A very interesting fact from this study is that the higher the TOEIC score, the less likely it is to reflect actual speaking or writing ability.  This is because receptive skills (listening and reading) can continually improve from daily exposure to English, but productive skills (speaking and writing) are used much less often and so improve more slowly. 

It is generally accepted that a high intermediate level of speaking and writing skill (B2 level on the CEFR scale2) is the minimum required for effective professional communication. This B2 level is approximately 66% of a full score on the BULATS speaking and writing tests.  A similar score of 66% on the TOEIC (650 points) is also considered by many companies to be sufficient for effective professional communication. 

However, people who score 650 on the TOEIC do not usually score B2 on speaking and writing.  In fact, among examinees in Hirai’s study with TOEIC scores over 800, only 44% of them scored B2 in speaking, and only 29% scored B2 in writing.  Amazingly, even at a full TOEIC score of 990, the average writing score was still below B2, in other words below the minimum standard for effective professional communication.

The important thing to take away from this study is this:  If your staff need to speak and write effectively in professional situations, and your company is investing in training and/or testing to ensure they have the necessary skills, then you should be using tests that really, and reliably, measure the skills you need.

For more information about the Cambridge BULATS tests, please visit http://www.vantage-siam.com/.

1 The Cambridge BULATS (Business Language Testing Service) consists of three online tests: a computer-adaptive reading/listening test, a business speaking test, and a business writing test. The reading/listening test is similar in content to the TOEIC, but can be done in about one hour from any internet-connected computer.  The speaking test is a 15-minute test consisting of 5 types of realistic speaking task. The writing test is a 45-minute test consisting of two types of realistic writing task.

 2 The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) is an international standard of language proficiency which is widely used not only for English but also for other European languages.  There are 6 levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) and detailed “can-do” descriptors for each level. 

You can watch Cambridge English's excellent and brief video "Understanding the CEFR" by clicking here.

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