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Wednesday, February 7, 2024

March 2024 TOEFL Speaking Schedule

Weeknight classes are from 7-10 p.m. 

Weekend classes are from 3-6 p.m.

Classes are limited to five students in order to achieve social distancing.

Orientation for new students will be 10:00-13:30 on Sunday, March 3.  Attendance at orientation is required for all new students.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Academic Discussion task 12

 I just took the Academic Discussion 12 writing test. This time, I wanted to organize my essay a little differently (we'll talk about this in class this week). Since this is scored by the AI, I can't be sure that you'll get similar results with the human rater. 

Results were typical: 7 minutes, 141 words, 5.0 score.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Note on the E4TG homepage

 Apparently, the E4TG homepage was hacked. The host said that it was hacked on December 15, but the last application that I received through the homepage was November 7. The web developer has been on vacation, but he'll be back next week, and I hope to have it running then. 

If you have tried to apply and were unable to contact me, you can contact me directly at

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

2023 Year End Results

Forty-four students completed at least four months of TOEFL speaking classes at E4TG in 2023. Four of them have not yet replied to me, so this is based on the 40 whose self-reported data I've got. The mean top TOEFL speaking score was 22.1, and the median was 22. The range was 18~24. 

These are, frankly, lower speaking scores than in previous years. I think part of the reason is the new test format. During the ten minute break between the listening and speaking sections prior to August 2023, test-takers could hear what other people were talking about and guess the questions. You can no longer do that.

The mean TOEFL score was 102.85, and the median was 102. The range was 85~112. This is pretty good. Anecdotally, it seems like writing scores were higher, and I'll measure that more precisely next year.

We had two 帰国子女 students in 2023. Their results are not included above.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Mouth Stretching

Many Japanese people have limited range of motion with their mouth and tongue because Japanese has relatively few sounds. So when you speak Japanese, you don't need to smile (for L, S, and æ), put your tongue between your teeth (TH), or move your tongue back (R). Unsurprisingly, these are sounds that Japanese adults struggle with. Here's a good video I recommend to all my students.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Academic Discussion #2 (again): another experiment

 Hans did another experiment on ETS's practice academic discussion #2. 

This has 120 words, and he deliberately tried to write in generalizations, with little concrete detail. E-rater gave it 4.0.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Academic Discussion 12

The content of this essay is deliberately bad. The question was the best way to evaluate teachers. I wrote that the best teachers allow their students to play video games instead of studying. Perfect grammar, dumb content. You can read it for yourself. 

155 words, 9 minutes, 5.0.

So you can fool e-rater with nonsense. The AI is not evaluating content, only grammar.


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Mistake of the Day: scores and points

 I was scoring essays yesterday and came across this common mistake:

  • I got 23 scores on the TOEFL exam.
There are two problems here. One is that the writer means "points," not "scores." The other is that the writer means "on the TOEFL speaking section," rather than "exam. So this is correct:

  • I got 23 on the TOEFL speaking section." 

Academic Discussion 11

Here's my academic discussion essay for task 11. There's nothing surprising here. 153 words, 6 minutes, 5.0 score. I think I've got a pretty good handle on what the AI is looking for: you need 130+ words with few misspellings and grammar errors for a top score.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Mistake of the Day: Due

 This week, one of our questions is about meeting a deadline. Every time we use this question, we get responses like, "I finished my essay before the due." 

The mistake here is that the speaker thinks the word "due" is a noun, when it's actually a adjective. So the correct way to express this idea is: "I finished my essay by the due date."

"The essay is due on Friday," has the same grammatical structure as "The man is happy on Friday." 

Please use English well!

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

iBT Academic Discussion Writing Task (a summary)

 So I've written essays on the first ten topics that ETS has posted online (link: Here are some results:

  1. Every essay that has been 130+ words and grammatically accurate has scored 5.0.
  2. One essay at 132 words, that had at least nine grammar mistakes and eight spelling mistakes got 4.0.
  3. Essay 5 had 119 words and no grammar mistakes and got 5.0.
  4. Essay 8 had 121 words and no grammar mistakes and got 4.0.
  5. Every essay that had fewer than 119 words has scored 4.0.
Two easy generalizations:
  1. You want to write more than 130 words in your essay to get 5.0 from e-rater.
  2. You can't make too many grammar and spelling mistakes.
Next question: is e-rater assessing vocabulary level? 
  • If you write 130+ words with only one and two syllable words, can you still get 5.0? 
  • If you write 100 words and use a lot of long and academic vocabulary, can you get 5.0?
We'll find out soon.

Task 10 + grammar errors

 This time I took the basic content of the previous task 10 essay and re-wrote it, adding grammar and spelling mistakes. Five minutes, 132 words. I count at least nine grammar mistakes and eight misspellings.

Score: 4.0

Task 10

 Here's my task 10 essay. Six minutes to write and two minutes to get the word count down to 132 words.

Score: 5.0.

So it appears that you need 130+ words to get 5.0, with no grammar mistakes. Let check grammar next.

Task 9

 Here's my task nine essay. It took five minutes, is 120 words long, and has no grammar mistakes. 

Score: 4.0.

I guess when ETS says, "An effective response will contain at least 100 words," their definition of "effective" is 4.0.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Academic Discussion: Essay 8

OK, some interesting results.

Essay 5: 119 words, score: 5.0.

Essay 8: 121 words, score: 4.0.

When I look at these two essays, I don't see a difference in grammatical complexity or vocabulary level. I wrote in a conversation style. Maybe tomorrow I'll try to use more academic vocabulary.

Here's the essay: