Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Education




Dr. Pam Bishop


In today’s globalized world, students have the opportunity to apply to universities around the world. At most universities where the dominant language of instruction is English, applicants whose first language is not English have to prove their English language proficiency by submitting test scores such as the internet-based Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) as part of the application process. This study investigated the ability of TOEFL iBT and IELTS to identify applicants with sufficient English language proficiency to succeed academically during undergraduate study at one Ontario university between 2012 and 2014. A specific focus was placed on applicants who were studying the Ontario high school curriculum at the time of their application.

With appropriate institutional approval, this exploratory quantitative study probed University-owned data and conducted correlation and multiple regression analyses to determine the relationships between a sample of participants’ (n = 200) TOEFL iBT or IELTS test scores with their academic success (as measured by first-year grade point average). Similar analyses were conducted between each participants’ (n = 2,810) TOEFL iBT or IELTS test score with their grade 12 university level English (ENG4U) grade to determine if ENG4U grade could be used as a marker for identifying potentially fraudulent test scores.

The results of this study did not support the use of TOEFL iBT or IELTS as being the sole determining factor when identifying applicants with sufficient English language skills to succeed academically, nor did they provide statistically reliable support for increasing the current minimum test score required for admission. Although significant, the weak zero-order and partial correlations representing the relationship between TOEFL iBT or IELTS and ENG4U grade raised questions about the potential use of ENG4U grade as a marker for identifying fraud in practice. Based on those findings, it is recommended that diagnostic assessments be used in combination with existing standardized tests, such as TOEFL iBT and IELTS, to aid in the academic success of future students. Although the results of this study may help inform this Ontario university’s policies and procedures, further studies that employ qualitative designs may be useful by providing a rich understanding of first-year academic experiences of students who were required to submit proof of English language proficiency.