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EF test hits headlines as sample size soars

November saw the publication of the ninth Education First Proficiency Index. Based on EF’s own online English test, the publication of the Index is the annual cue for editorial writers around the world to beat themselves up about their nation’s English proficiency.

The Italian, Thai and Japanese pundits were among those to bemoan their results on the 2018 EF online test, which only assesses Listening and Reading. An unprecedented 2.3 million people took the test. In the same period, three million candidates took Ielts.

EF found the Middle East continuing to fall behind other regions, with an average score of 44.6. The EF test, however, does not asses speaking, the strongest English Language skill among Arabic speakers, according to Ielts statistics.

Gulf News reported that the UAE’s performance in the EF tests was slightly better, up one place to 70th; while according to the Arab News Saudi Arabia fell 15 places to 98th on the Index.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia, EF’s Director of Academic Management, David Bish, said he felt that many Saudi higher-achievers in English weren’t taking EF’s test, and recommended that more locals should take them, “to show what Saudis can do,” according to Arab News.

Access to the internet may impact national scores. EF’s own notes on the Index described a correlation between higher scores and “technology adoption,” including access to “secure servers” and broadband subscriptions. This could explain why war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and bottom-ranked Libya lag behind, as do poverty-stricken countries in non-Anglophone Africa.

EF Index results are roughly in line with the performance seen in Ielts and Toefl results. Japanese and Italians, for example, tend to underperform neighbouring countries on all three tests.

Only EF, however, reports dramatic national swings, such as Vietnam’s recent fall from 41st place to 52nd, according to VietNews, or the nine-place drop for Thailand, reported by Thai PBS World. These sudden changes may reflect changes in the demographic profile of those choosing to take the test. By contrast, the profiles of Toefl and Ielts test takers, which are largely made up of highly-educated students and highly-skilled migrants, do not vary from year to year.

Few changes were seen at the top of the Index this year. The Netherlands was again in first place, followed by Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Singapore, whose English-medium state school system tops the OECD academic rankings, came in sixth.

Singapore also does well at Ielts, while the sample sizes for the Netherlands and the Nordic countries are too small to make it into the statistics. The 2018 figures for Toefl, however, showed the Nordics as strong, with the Dutch in second place – just behind the Irish.

Image courtesy of EF
Matt Salusbury
Matt Salusbury
MATT SALUSBURY, news editor and journalist, has worked for EL Gazette since 2007. He is also joint Chair of the London Freelance Branch of the National Union of Journalists and co-edits its newsletter, the Freelance. He taught English language for 15 years in the Netherlands, in Turkey, in a North London further education college and now as an English for Academic Purposes tutor, most recently at the London School of Economics. He is a native English speaker and is also fluent in Dutch.
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