So let us now focus on the specifics of some of the most popular language proficiency exams that leading universities and business schools require for admission. The basic common feature of all four – TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge English Qualifications, and PTE – is that they assess the four main language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Note that in all four tests each section is given an equal weight in the forming of the overall score. However, admissions officers can take a closer look at your results on each part of the test in order to make sure that your skills are well balanced.

Check out: How to Self-Prepare for English Tests

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

One way for you to demonstrate your English proficiency is to sit the TOEFL test. It comes in three versions: two computerized versions – the TOEFL iBT Test and TOEFL Computer-based Test – plus the TOEFL Paper-delivered Test. The two computerized versions follow exactly the same format, except for the Speaking part. It is worth noting that the test structure combines two or three of the main language skills – for instance, you read, listen and then speak in response to questions, or you read, listen and then write in response to questions. Currently the most popular is the iBT version, although accessibility depends on location. All tests must be taken in certified testing centers, including the iBT – Internet-Based Test – despite the misleading name suggesting that one can take it from any location via the Internet. The total test time is four hours.

The maximum test score on the TOEFL iBT is 120 points, divided equally between the four sections. TOEFL test scores can be reported up to two years after the test date. There is no fixed passing score; individual higher education institutions and programs set their own score requirements. You should aim for 90 or higher if you want to make sure you have the skills for graduate study in English.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

Another popular language proficiency exam is the IELTS. The total IELTS exam time is 2 hours 45 minutes. It is also worth noting that while the Listening, Reading, and Writing components of the test are completed on the same day, the Speaking component can be completed up to a week before or after the other tests. For almost 30 years, IELTS has been a paper-based English test, but it is now also delivered on a computer in some locations. However, the Speaking part is only delivered face-to-face with an examiner.

Do You Speak Academic English?

IELTS results are valid for two years and are reported as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). A separate score is given for each of the four test components, then the individual scores are averaged and rounded to form the overall band score. There is no fixed passing score, but you can expect Master’s degree programs to require a minimum of 6.5 or over.

Check out: IELTS Success Story: “Hard Work Always Pays Off”

Cambridge C1 Advanced (CAE) and C2 Proficiency (CPE)

C1 Advanced, formerly known as Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE), is one of the Cambridge English Qualifications. The exam has four parts - Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. The Speaking part is taken face to face, with two candidates and two examiners. The test takes about four hours. It is delivered in a computer and paper-based format.

Results are reported on a single Cambridge English Scale that is used to measure all levels of proficiency. It ranges from 80 to 230 and the C1 Advanced is within the 180–199 range. The skills evaluated at the top of the scale (between 200 and 230) are covered by the Cambridge C2 Proficiency (CPE) exam. Admission to most Master’s degree programs taught in English will require you to have at least the C1 level. Depending on the field of study and selectivity of the program, you might also be expected to present a C2 certificate.

Pearson Test of English (PTE)

The Pearson Test of English (PTE) also comes in two formats – for academic and general purposes. PTE Academic is computer-based and as expected tests the four main language skills, sometimes combining two in the same task, like in the TOEFL. The total test time is three hours and all tasks are done at a computer, including the speaking part. An advantage of this test is that the results are available very quickly – in only five days.

The range for the overall score is 10-90 points. The score report lists the assessment on two types of skills – communicative (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) and enabling (grammar, oral fluency, pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary, and written discourse). Each skill is evaluated on the same scale. You should aim to achieve at least 60 points on your overall score to be competitive for admission to graduate programs.

So when you plan to conquer the world with a Master’s degree taught in English, you should first ask yourself the question: Do I speak academic English? Preparing to achieve a competitive score on language proficiency tests is the first step to making your graduate school experience really worthwhile.

Authors: Iliana Bobova and Dessislava Tsoneva