Should TOEFL candidates use a spell checker?



I don’t suppose you will be allowed to use a spell checker in a real TOEFL test. If TOEFL candidates want to receive comments on their writing then they should, in my opinion, have the option of submitting essays without any edits.
If a candidate produces many spelling errors in a test it could affect their mark. Why not let an expert draw the candidate’s attention to spelling mistakes instead of asking them to let a computer edit their writings?

Let me know what you think,


TOEFL listening lectures: Why does the professor explain the history of coffee?


A TOEFL candidate is a person who wants to study at an American university. Now, if you have to write essays, take notes, communicate with your professors and fellow students, etc. it’s very likely that you will use a computer. So the question is how good are you at composing electronic messages? How many typos do you make when you don’t use a spell checker? If you don’t want to use a spell checker it’s probably best if you write your essays by hand and send them to an editing/proofreading service via snail mail.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: The sitting room[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

I agree that it is a very good idea to use a spell checker when you compose electronic messages and write essays at university. A TOEFL candidate, however, has not normally been admitted to a degree programme. It is also common that a TOEFL candidate’s offer of a place from a US educational provider is conditional and that the final outcome of their application will be dependent on their TOEFL score. If you want to do well in the TOEFL exam then you do need to know how to write without a spell checker as you won’t be allowed to bring one into the examination room!

All the best



A TOEFL candidate should not view themself as a TOEFL candidate but as a person who is capable of using technology and tools to accomplish a task. Other important characteristics are self-initiative and courage. What’s the ultimate goal of a TOEFL candidate – to pass the TOEFL and do everything ETS wants them to or to join a team of professionals and create value for other people? A TOEFL candidate shouldn’t focus so much on passing the TOEFL but more on learning from other people and sharing experiences with them. TOEFL preparation should be a by-product of much more important and creative activities. If a person doesn’t know who to work on a project and share experiences with others then why should this person take the TOEFL in the first place?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A designer loft[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

Perhaps because in order to gain admission at a college/university you first need to pass the TOEFL? Passing or doing well in the test could and should be one of a dedicated test candidate’s intermediate goals. Learning from other people and sharing experiences with them is something you can do at university - or following graduation.

All the best



You can and should learn from other people and share experiences at any point in your life, not only at university. Following your logic, a person should start using Internet forums only after they pass the TOEFL since test takers aren’t allowed to use forums during the test.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A wooden house structure[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

The point I am trying to make is that I believe it is important to let TOEFL candidates practise TOEFL writing skills. You may not agree, but if that’s the case I am not sure you are the best person to coach those who really want and need a good TOEFL score in order to pursue a career or course of study.

I’ll leave you with a relevant example supporting my idea of how important test-specific coaching can be. Candidate A did the IELTS test but did not know that articles counted as words in the Listening and Reading modules. Candidate A also did not fully realise how important the ‘Task Response’ marking criteria is with regard to the Writing module. As a result candidate A’s overall band score was half a band lower than expected. These things matter to people.

All the best



How can you pursue ‘a career or course of study’ if you are not used to using a computer properly? Employers frequently complain about university graduates who have never really learned to think for themselves and see a situation from a practical point of view. Telling people not to use a spell checker means they will develop the habit of creating texts with typos. What you are suggesting is to have a human being do the same job a machine can do: You tell TOEFL candidates not use an electronic spell checker but a human spell checker. Why would it be better to have a person correct my typos when I can do it myself? In the TOEFL exam I’m neither allowed to use a human spell checker nor an electronic one.

By the way, a person who wants to ‘pursue a career’ should be capable of deciding who will be the best person to ‘coach’ them.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A windmill[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

If a candidate uses an electronic spell checker no one will be in a position to tell them what kind of spelling errors they make. Some people only misspell difficult words in which case it could be good to advise the candidate not to use unnecessarily complicated vocabulary in the examination room. When you write a TOEFL essay I think you should do so under examination conditions. Only in this way will it be possible for instructors and/or examiners to make suggestions for improvement.

You make it sound as if a TOEFL candidate would be able to focus on one thing only at a time. I think it’s possible for someone to use a spell checker when writing business letters but refrain from using one when revising for the TOEFL test. And this is precisely what I suggest TOEFL candidates do. Don’t use a spell checker when you write TOEFL essays as you will not be using one in the examination room. Do be all means use a spell checker when you create documents for other purposes.

I am aware that you, Torsten, are an excellent English language trainer and so I do not seek to offend you personally. I just got the impression that you are intentionally misinterpreting what I am trying to say and I don’t find that highly professional.

All the best



Here are some examples of spelling errors found in the essays submitted to our forum:


Now, what you suggest is that a TOEFL candidate posts words like the examples above so we can tell them that “helpfull” is spelled incorrectly and that the correct spelling is “helpful”? What kind of comment would you give a person who writes “dont” instead of “don’t” or “english” instead of “English”? Somebody who writes “somthing” instead of “something” simply hasn’t proofread their essay before posting it. So what would be your suggestion for that person?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: A city skyline[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

I would tell the candidate what kind of errors they are making. I have listed some possible categories below:

  • errors severely distorting the message
  • errors causing strain for the reader
  • errors causing some difficulty for the reader
  • errors that do not impede communication
  • rare minor errors
  • slip-ups

Most of the errors you have listed are obvious mistakes which would not, as such, impede communication. However, misspelling such simple words would likely reduce a candidate’s ‘Lexical Resource’ mark quite a lot. This is what I would tell a test candidate submitting an essay/essays containing inappropriacies of the kind you have listed.

All the best



And what will you tell them if they ask you how they can improve their spelling? Also, how do you make sure you yourself catch all the typos and spelling mistakes their essays contain?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: The Eiffel tower[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Torsten,

The first thing I would do would be to try to specify why the candidate misspells words. Is the candidate merely making typing errors because he or she is writing under pressure or is it a real spelling issue? If a candidate uses ‘chatroom English’, for instance, my advice would be quite different from the advice I would give to a candidate misspelling words because their English level is inadequate for the mark they need.

All the best



so its not allowed to use a dictionary in the TOEFL test?


of course it is not allowed.


Hi everybody
In my own personal opinion, since using a spell-checker makes learners lazy, the learners should not use a spell-checker all the time. a spell-checker should be used whenever you finish your essay in order to check spell of some words…
Let me know if you have any suggestions.


I would like to know whether computers use in writing TOEFL indicate errors as other computers do?


I don’t think they do.


Hi my friend Nzuahp,
Thank you.
I couldn’t have understood Irvanie’s question.

It is undoubtedly clear that in the real exams there is no installed spell-checker on the computers. :wink:


You are right, especially in an exam like the TOEFL.