English Proficiency Testing
The whole point of moving to the USA to get a higher education is to actually learn something. But how can you learn anything if you don’t speak English? That’s why most schools require that international students from non-native English-speaking countries (there’s usually a list) must take a test to prove their proficiency in English. Doing so ensures that students make the most out of their experience and that schools make the most out of their resources. But be aware that depending on the results of the test, some schools may request that students sign up for additional English language courses as part of their academic requirements.
There are several accredited English-language tests, though not all may be approved by your school. They’re also all thorough – both your speaking ability and your reading and writing comprehension will be assessed. As always, each test has a fee that should be considered when determining your budget.
Which test is best?
- The most well-known English-language test is the TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a Foreign Language), which is accepted by more than 10,000 universities and other institutions in more than 150 countries throughout the world. The TOEFL takes three hours, and must be completed at a test center. The test has four skill areas that are all scored in a range of 0-30 – reading, listening, speaking, and writing – for a total maximum score of 120.
There is no limit for the number of times you can take the TOEFL as long as you wait 12 days in between, so don’t be upset if you don’t like your score on the first try. But with fees ranging from approximately $150-$300 per test, you may want additional resources to help you study so you’ll only have to take it once.
- There are two types of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), the academic version and the general training version, though they both assess listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It’s safest to check which version is required by your school so that you don’t need to take the other version, as it costs at least $250 per test (fees vary). IELTS results are scaled from 1 (lowest score) to 9 (highest score) and most sections can be completed either on paper or on a computer. However, the speaking test must be done face to face so you can show your stress about your score to someone else.
- Duolingo – yes, the language-learning app – has an English test that is computer based and adjusts its questions based on the test taker’s abilities. Even though it can be completed at home at any time, a real person will watch a recording of you taking the test after it’s completed to verify that you didn’t cheat (you turn on your webcam when you begin). Like other English-language tests, the Duolingo English test has sections on speaking, listening, reading, and writing, as well as an additional video interview and writing sample. It’s scored on a scale of 0-100, to align with the international CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference).
Compared to other tests, Duolingo is a bargain, less than hour to complete and costing only $49. But not every school accepts it, and for some that do it’s only considered supplementary to another English-language test.
- The PTE Academic test (Pearson Test of English) can be completed at any Pearson test center in 50 countries around the world. Like many other English-proficiency tests, the PTE Academic test takes three hours and costs $150-300. To ensure that you can actually handle English in the real world (or at school, which is not at all like the real world), some of the test includes looking at graphs and listening to short lectures. Plus, as a reminder that American English is not the only English out there, some of the listening parts include various English-speaking accents from both native and non-native speakers. PTE Academic scores results on a scale of 1-90, but if you leave the test center unhappy you can’t register to retake the test until you have received your score.
- Linguaskill, the English-language test offered by Cambridge English, is available anytime on any computer with an internet connection, microphone, and headphones. There are two versions of the test, though you’re most likely to take Linguaskill General, as it focuses on the English we use every day rather than specialized business terms. Linguaskill is scored on a scale of 82-180+, which aligns with CEFR’s international standards. But don’t make plans for later that night, as there are no set amounts of time or number of questions – the test keeps going until the program determines if it has enough information to assess your English skills.