Taking an English Proficiency Test

Everything you need to know about an English proficiency test

Published October 29, 2010

Applying to a U.S. graduate school as an international student can be a complicated procedure. Each program will probably have different application requirements and different deadlines for materials. That is why planning ahead is crucial.

One requirement most graduate schools have in common for international students is proof of English proficiency. Non-native English speakers will likely be asked to submit a test score that reflects their ability to communicate in English. The research and planning that you do for this portion of the application may affect your admission decision.

Here are three prominent English tests accepted by graduate programs:
1) Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)
2) Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
3) The International English Language Testing Systems (IELTS)
There are several factors that you should consider when deciding which test to take.
How do I prepare for the test?
Some students take special English training courses. Other students may choose to study on their own. Research available materials and plan accordingly. Ensure that the preparation materials are from credible sources. Just because someone has a test training video on YouTube doesn’t mean it will prepare you for the test.   
What will the test tell me?
It is important for you and the schools to which you’re applying know that you can communicate effectively in English. Graduate schools seek students who can actively participate in the classroom and community. You will need to be confident that your English skills will not keep you from succeeding.
When can I take the test?
Plan ahead when deciding which test to take. Some tests may be available only on specific dates at certain times, and competition is fierce to reserve a seat. Other tests may allow flexibility in scheduling. Ensure that you plan ahead so that you don’t find yourself without test scores on the date your application is due.
How and when does the school get my scores?
Find out how long it will take to receive your scores and to how many schools you can send them. Some tests return scores in a matter of days while other tests may take several weeks.
Once you receive your scores, find out to how many programs you can send them. Some tests limit the number of free score reports that you can send and will charge a free for additional reports. Other tests allow you to send unlimited score reports at no charge.
After you’ve selected the test that’s right for you, made the necessary arrangements and brushed up on your English skills, then you should be ready to go. Good luck!
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