English Proficiency Tests
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UNDERSTANDING ENGLISH PROFICIENCY TESTS
English proficiency tests are important to know about candidates' listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. They determine how effectively a candidate can communicate with colleagues and customers in English.
If you want to study abroad but English isn't your native language, it’s very likely you will need to pass a language test to get admitted to an international university offering English-taught degrees. But which English language test should you take? The answer depends on many factors, like which test/exam is recognized by the university where you want to apply, what exam centers are available near you, how much you’re willing to pay, etc.
International English Language Testing System
The IELTS Academic exam is structured in 4 parts:
Listening: 30 minutes. You will listen to four recordings of native speakers. Afterwards, you’ll need to answer 40 questions.
Academic Reading: 60 minutes. You will read 3 texts, and then you’ll have to answer 40 questions.
Academic Writing: 60 minutes. There are 2 tasks. For the first one, you have to describe a graph, table, chart or other visual information in your own words. For the second one, you need to write an essay as a response to a point of view, problem, or argument. You need to write in a formal style for both tasks.
Speaking: 11-14 minutes. There are three parts, during which you will talk with the examiner about yourself, you will describe or express your opinion about a particular topic and end with discussing more abstract ideas or concepts.
The PTE Academic or Pearson Test of English has 3 parts:
Speaking & Writing: 54 – 67 minutes. You’ll have to complete several tasks, including introducing yourself, reading aloud, describing an image, summarising a text, writing an essay, and others.
Reading: 29 – 30 minutes. You’ll have to complete tasks like filling in the blanks, answering multiple-choice questions, and re-ordering paragraphs.
Listening: 30 – 43 minutes. You’ll have to answer a series of questions after listening or watching audio or video clips.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
The TOEFL® iBT exam has 4 sections:
Reading: 54 – 72 minutes. You’ll read 3 or 4 passages from academic texts. Then, you’ll need to answer 30-40 questions.
Listening: 41-57 minutes. You’ll listen to 4 recordings of native speakers, and then you’ll have to answer 28-39 questions.
Speaking: 17 minutes. You need to express your opinion on a familiar topic and provide answers based on reading and listening tasks.
Writing: 50 minutes. There are 2 tasks. You’ll need to write essay responses and support your opinions.
The number of questions in the Reading and Listening sections for TOEFL® varies. Why? Because the number depends on the length, type, and difficulty of the text(s) and audio recording(s).
What is the IELTS, TOEFL® and PTE tests duration?
IELTS Academic: 2 hours and 45 minutes
PTE Academic: 2 hours starting from November 16, 2021 (used to be 3 hours before)
TOEFL® iBT: 3 hours
Minimum Test Scores for University Admissions
Each exam uses a different grading system. The IELTS Academic test is graded on a 0 – 9 scale. Each test part (or section) receives a score. The 4 scores are then averaged and rounded to obtain an overall score.
The PTE Academic exam is graded from 10 – 90 using the Global Scale of English.
The TOEFL® iBT test is graded from 0 – 120. Each section has a maximum of 30 points. To receive an official score, you must answer at least 1 question in both Reading and Listening, write at least 1 essay, and complete at least 1 Speaking task.
Each university or college is free to establish the minimum grade you need in order to be admitted. Most educational institutions require:
A minimum score of 6.0 or 6.5 for IELTS Academic. Some universities accept scores as low as 5.0 – 5.5.
A minimum score of 70 – 80 for TOEFL® iBT. Some universities accept scores as low as 65.
A minimum score of 55 – 60 for PTE Academic. Some universities accept scores as low as 50.
How long is each English test valid for?
All three tests (IELTS, TOEFL®, and PTE) are valid for 2 years after the results are released. If you have to prove your English skills after that period, you’ll need to retake the exam.
How much does each language test cost?
Prices are set in your local currency; therefore, costs vary depending on the country and centre where you take the exam:
215 – 240 USD in the USA
162 – 180 GBP (210 – 234 USD) in the UK
2,950 – 3,000 NOK (331 – 337 USD) in Norway
229 (255 USD) in Germany
340 AUD (236 USD) in Australia
Likewise, prices vary depending on the country in which you take the test:
200 USD in the USA
155 GBP (201 USD) in the UK
255 USD in Spain
231 USD in Germany
357 AUD (246 USD) in Australia
Prices vary depending on the country:
205 USD in the USA
210 USD in the UK
290 USD in Norway
255 USD in Germany
300 USD in Australia
The prices and countries mentioned above are only given as examples. The exams are offered in many other countries and test centers around the world. You should always use the official IELTS, TOEFL®, and PTE pages to find the closest exam center and register. Keep in mind that prices will increase if you choose to register late.
Does the exam test British or American English?
If you’re taking IELTS Academic, TOEFL® iBT, or PTE Academic, you can use either British or American English.
However, make sure you are consistent throughout the exam. For instance, if you start using “colour” and “specialise” don’t switch to “color” and “specialize” later during the exam. It’s your choice.
Where are the English language tests accepted?
All 3 English language tests are popular and recognised by thousands of institutions worldwide:
IELTS is accepted by over 10,000 institutions in over 140 countries. IELTS is especially popular in the UK, Australia, Ireland, and South Africa.
TOEFL® is accepted by more than 11,500 universities and other organisations in over 160 countries. TOEFL® is usually preferred by universities from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, and Germany.
PTE Academic is also accepted by thousands of institutions in numerous countries. It is especially popular in Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.
It is common for universities and colleges to accept two (or more) English language proficiency tests. If you plan on studying at a specific university, make sure you check what language tests it accepts so you know which English test to take.
How and where can I take each test?
Where can I take IELTS Academic?
You can take the IELTS Academic test on a computer or on paper at a test centre. If you register for the computer-based IELTS, there are more exam dates available from which you can choose.
Starting from early 2023, you will also be able to take IELTS Academic online, from the comfort of your home.
In terms of structure, content and timing of the test, there are no differences between the computer, paper-based, and online test. The Speaking part is face-to-face with a certified IELTS examiner or through a video call (only for the online test).
Where can I take PTE Academic?
The PTE Academic test used to only be available in a computer-based format at test centres. But from November 16th, 2021, you can also register for PTE Academic Online.
It has the same format, difficulty, and scoring as the regular PTE Academic, but you can take it from the comfort of your home.
Where can I take TOEFL® iBT?
TOEFL® iBT is offered as a computer-based exam in official test centers, but there is a Home Edition (can be taken using a personal computer at home) and a Paper Edition (for locations where internet is not available. The Speaking part will be taken from home, using a personal computer).
How difficult are IELTS, TOEFL® and PTE?
It’s challenging to assess which English proficiency test is more difficult. But an easy way to evaluate your current English level is to try out the free materials offered by IELTS, TOEFL®, and PTE on their websites.
Keep in mind that the way you prepare for an exam is more important than how difficult it is or what people say. These tests are not meant to be obstacles, but rather an opportunity to prove you have the English skills to live and study in a foreign country.
Successfully passing an English language test shows you’re motivated and disciplined enough to work hard, which makes you an ideal candidate for undergraduate (Bachelor’s) or postgraduate (Master’s, PhD) studies.
How much time to dedicate for exam preparation?
It depends a lot on your current English level. Some students already have advanced English skills; for them, the test is only a way to receive official certification. For others, the exam will be a real challenge, so they need to start preparing well in advance. From my experience, I’d say that it’s wise to begin learning and practicing 1 or 2 years before the exam, if it’s possible. If not, you can improve a lot even in a few months, but it will involve a lot more effort, discipline, and stress.
How to find the study material for online practice
You can find free practice materials on the official IELTS, TOEFL®, and PTE websites. If you’re going to use the IELTS materials available online, make sure you work on the Academic Reading and Academic Writing sections. The General Reading and General Writing parts are used for the IELTS General Training test, which is not designed for students interested in higher education (Bachelor’s, Master’s, or PhD studies).
These free online materials are a great way to evaluate your current English level and understand what the exam will actually be like. Other websites also offer free practice samples, but you should always check if the materials are up-to-date and if they follow the exam structure.
Useful learning resources.
There are other ways to prepare for your English proficiency exam. If you’re still a high school or university student, check with your teacher/professor(s) and see if they have any book or materials which can help you. Make sure you don’t miss that opportunity if it’s available. You can also find a teacher who specializes in preparing students for this type of exams. Some of them work individually, others have classes in private English language centers. If prices aren’t too high, that’s always a great option.
What are the common subjects in English proficiency tests and how to prepare for them
How to prepare for the Listening section
To improve your listening skills, start watching online videos and movies without subtitles. It might be a bit difficult in the beginning, but it will get a lot easier with time. You’ll end up surprised by how fast you progress.
If you find this too difficult, use subtitles in English, but not in your native language. Found a word you didn’t know? Great! Look for its meaning and learn it. Make sure you understand how it is used and in what contexts. The next time you hear it, you won’t have to stop the audio/video again.
Another great way to practise is to choose random songs in English and try to write down the lyrics while listening to them. You might be surprised by how many words are different when compared to what you initially heard while listening to the song.
Make sure you don’t always go for easy audio/video materials. Explore different accents (American, British, Australian, etc.), native speakers, and have patience because listening is a skill that takes time to develop.
How to prepare for the Reading section
You saw this coming: read more! You don’t even have to read books, just read as many English texts as possible.
During the Reading section, you might have to answer tricky questions. They will test how well you understand the text and if you’re able to catch things that are implied, but not said directly. It’s best to look at different types of content (descriptive, persuasive, informative), different styles (formal, informal), and try to understand what the author tries to express directly, indirectly, and also what he/she doesn’t say.
A great way to practice is to start reading English articles on topics you’re interested in. If you like sports, politics, nature, or any other topic, start reading content written in English, especially content created by native English speakers. Also, check out academic texts, see how they are different from other written materials, and where you might encounter difficulties understanding them.
How to prepare for the Writing section
Your reading practice will also help you prepare for the writing section. You cannot write great texts if you don’t even know how one looks/sounds, right? Reading will also help you develop your vocabulary, which is a great asset for any future international student.
While writing might be hard, start where you are and don’t overcomplicate things. See if you can describe something you love in one or two paragraphs. Then try to do it better: use the right adjectives, split long sentences in two, check if ideas are linked well. Is the grammar okay? What about the punctuation? Spelling? Is the main idea clear? These are all aspects you need to keep in mind while writing a text.
There’s also style. It would be a huge mistake to write an informal text when you’re asked for a formal one. Or vice versa. Also, a persuasive text has a different approach when compared to an informative text. You need to know these things. You also need to know the structure of an essay and what differentiates a good essay from a bad one.
All this preparation requires a lot of writing, reviewing, improving and writing again. You might not like it, and it can become frustrating, but it would be a shame to be a great English speaker without mastering the art of writing.
How to prepare for the Speaking section
Many students feel the Speaking part is the most challenging. Why? Because being nervous and speaking with an examiner isn’t easy. You can make mistakes, lose your ideas, or not know how to continue what you want to say. That’s okay. Speaking, like any other skill, takes time to master.
You’ll be happy to hear that only the IELTS exam requires you to speak face-to-face with an examiner. TOEFL® and PTE allow you to record your answers using a microphone. If you really don’t want to speak face-to-face, you can choose one of the other two exams as long as your university accepts them.
You will still need to speak, so practise, practise, practise! The fear of making a mistake is often the biggest challenge. But that’s alright. Many people make mistakes when they learn something new. You need to overcome that fear and keep on talking even if you know you didn’t pronounce a word right or maybe you missed the right adverb.
Vocabulary is a great way to improve your confidence. Often, not finding the right word is both annoying and discouraging; you might have something to say, but don’t know how. To overcome this, try to create a new sentence (or even sentences if needed), which explains the missing word or allows you to leave it out. It doesn’t sound great, but it allows you to keep speaking and keep practicing. As you learn new words, you’ll hesitate less and one day you’ll be proud knowing that you can express yourself in English without problems.
Which English language test should I take?
The IELTS, TOEFL® and PTE tests are similar in structure, prices, and availability. Your choice might be limited by the university where you want to apply. While some institutions accept all 3 English tests, others only accept IELTS or TOEFL®, or maybe only one of them. Even if you can choose between these tests, you should first see what exam dates and test centers are available near you. Travelling to another city is an option, but if the distance is too long, you might be inclined to choose a center that’s closer to you. You should also try free online materials and see if one exam seems easier than the others. This is an easy way to make up your mind.
Overall, it doesn’t matter if you choose IELTS Academic, TOEFL® iBT, or PTE Academic. They are all great exams which enable students to go abroad and fulfil their dreams. If you have the ambition and willpower to work hard and prepare yourself, you can ace any English proficiency test and start your international studies on the right foot.
Occupational English Test (OET)
What is OET?
OET is the international English language test that assesses the language communication skills of healthcare professionals who seek to register and practise in an English-speaking environment. OET has been developed specifically for 12 healthcare professions: Dentistry, Dietetics, Medicine, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Optometry, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Radiography, Speech Pathology and Veterinary Science.
How is OET different from IETLS?
The IELTS exam generally tests academic English whereas the OET tests your knowledge of medical English. This includes your ability to understand patients, conduct medical consultations and write discharge and referral letters.
What are the modules of OET exam?
There is no passing or failing grade for OET, but most boards and councils require a score of at least 350 in order to consider a candidate for employment. There are 4 modules of OET exam:
Listening (approximately 45 minutes)
Reading (60 minutes)
Writing (45 minutes)
Speaking (approximately 20 minutes).
Is OET difficult?
It will take approximately three hours for the written tests, and 20 minutes for the Speaking test. You must be available for a full day to complete the test. Please read the test information page for more details. The reading and writing sections are usually challenging, and it is advisable to practice before the actual exam.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
What is GMAT?
The GMAT exam is designed to test skills that are highly important to business and management programs. It assesses analytical writing and problem-solving abilities, along with the data sufficiency, logic, and critical reasoning skills that are vital to real-world business and management success. GMAT is a graduate admissions entrance exam designed specifically for students who want to go to graduate school for business. A GMAT score is often required when submitting a graduate program application for an MBA, Master of Accountancy, or Master of Finance.
Is GMAT more challenging than CAT?
The difficulty level of both CAT and GMAT exams is high. However, GMAT is considered easier than CAT as it has a predefined syllabus unlike CAT. Also, in GMAT candidates can make multiple attempts.
Who is eligible for GMAT?
There are no specific GMAT eligibility criteria set by the GMAC except for the one related to age, i.e. anyone who is 18 years or above can appear for the GMAT exam and those who are less than 18 need to provide a signed GMAT Parental Consent/Authorization form.
What is the GMAT exam format?
The entire GMAT Syllabus is divided into four sections,
Integrated Reasoning, and
Analytical Writing Assessment.
GMAT Exam Syllabus includes Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency in the Quantitative Reasoning section; Sentence Correction (SC), Critical Reasoning (CR), and Reading Comprehension (RC) in the Verbal Reasoning section; Table Analysis, Two-Part Analysis, Multi-Source Reasoning, and Graphics Interpretation in the Integrated Reasoning section; and a 30-minute Essay in the Analytical Writing Assessment section.
GMAC introduced the GMAT Focus Edition in 2023. The current GMAT exam will be available until at least early 2024; hence, candidates will have the option to register for both the GMAT exam formats from 29 August 2023 onwards. In the GMAT Syllabus Update section of this article, we will inform you of the new syllabus of the GMAT (i.e. GMAT Focus Edition Syllabus). The GMAT syllabus for the GMAT Focus Edition is different from the GMAT syllabus of the current exam. AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) and SC (Sentence Correction) have been removed. In addition, a new section called Data Insights (DI) has been launched which is based on IR (Integrated Reasoning) and will also contain DS (Data Sufficiency).
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
What is GRE?
The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is an important step in the graduate school or business school application process. The GRE is a multiple-choice, computer-based, standardized exam that is often required for admission to graduate programs and graduate business programs (MBA) globally. The GRE General Test helps admissions committees get a more complete picture of applicant strengths by providing information about applicants' reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. Learn more about the GRE General Test.
Who is eligible for GRE?
There are no specific eligibility criteria for the GRE Exam. With that, the GRE test is accessible to all aspirants. But since GRE is exclusively for master's admission, a candidate must have an undergraduate degree in the relevant subject.
Is GRE better or ielts?
GRE and IELTS are two very different standardised tests that serve different purposes. GRE is primarily used for admission to graduate-level programs in the United States, while IELTS is used to assess English language proficiency for non-native speakers who are planning to study or work in English-speaking countries.
Is GRE exams difficult?
It is because the GRE paper contains a lot of geometrical questions. Hence, if you are asking, is GRE exam tough in comparison to other tests? The answer is GRE is harder than tests such as SAT, TOEFL, or IELTS but not as difficult as GMAT.
What is the minimum GRE score for admission in USA?
However, GRE is not a requirement for undergraduate courses in USA. Prospects must strive to get minimum GRE score for USA that is 315 - 320. However, top GRE colleges in USA consider a score of 325 or higher for acceptance to their MS/MBA programs.
How long is a GRE score valid?
GRE scores are valid for five years. ETS will keep your score report on file for five years after you take the test. Since the makers of the GRE consider scores to be valid for five years, schools also accept scores that were originally issued up to five years ago.
Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
What is SAT?
The SAT is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test created and administered by the College Board. The purpose of the SAT is to measure a high school student's readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants.
What is SAT exam given for?
SAT exam is given by high school students who are applying for admission to universities abroad. Most of the US, Canada, UK, Italy and a few Australian universities accept SAT scores for undergraduate admissions from international students. In some cases, students may have a choice to either submit a SAT score or ACT score or even exempt them from submitting any of these standardised tests for admission. SAT exam pattern is very different from ACT, with new changes in SAT, the duration has reduced for SAT exam as well.
Who is eligible for SAT?
As such there are no eligibility criteria laid down by The College Board for taking the SAT exam. However, since SAT is for admission to undergraduate programs candidates are advised to appear for their SAT while in standard 11th or 12th.
Is SAT easier than JEE?
SAT is considered easier than JEE mains in terms of syllabus, stress level, acceptance rate, number of candidates giving the exam. The SAT by itself can be challenging due to time constraints and the way the questions are formatted. The PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT because it is a shorter practice test. Understanding how the questions are structured and taking SAT practice tests can improve your score.
What are the subjects in SAT?
The current SAT exam syllabus covers reading, writing and language and math. In reading and writing, sections cover various subjects, like social sciences, history, psychology and science. The math section covers algebra, data, problem-solving and advanced math.
What is the range of scores in SAT exam?
There are two sections on the SAT - reading + writing and mathematics, each section is for 400-800 marks. Overall, SAT exam is scored on a total of 1600 marks. SAT scores are consolidated, that is, they are based on marks per section and once the section-wise marks are calculated the total scores are released. Your total SAT score is comprised of a Math section score and an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score. Each SAT section is scored between 200 and 800 points.