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Are English Proficiency Tests Important?

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

What can members do?

Short answer: Yes! If you are going to study abroad, you need to speak and understand English. This is especially important if you wish to study in an English-native country such as the USA or the UK. These tests are also required by Canadian universities.

To determine an international student’s proficiency in the English language, universities rely on English Language Proficiency Tests. There are several such tests that a student can take. Here are the three most common ones:

  1. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

  2. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

  3. Duolingo English Test

Before you choose which test to take, you must consider their parameters, as well as country and university requirements.

The IELTS Academic Version is a test of both written and spoken English. It is conducted at an examination center and takes three hours to complete. The format includes a 40 minutes listening component, a 60 minutes reading component, a 60 minutes writing component and a 10-15 minutes speaking component. Questions include multiple-choice questions (MCQs), diagram labeling, matching, short answer and sentence completion. The scoring for this test occurs on a nine-band scale and includes half scores. If you fail the test on your first try, the IELTS allows you to take as many re-tests as you like.

The TOEFL, specifically the TOEFL IBT (Internet Based Test), can be taken online, but you still need to visit a center. This test takes a total of four hours: 54-72 minutes for reading, 41-57 minutes for listening, 50 minutes for writing and 17 minutes for the speaking component. The format includes multiple-choice, summaries, completing tables, narratives and short essays. The TOEFL has a maximum score of 120 with 30 points per section. This test also allows you to take as many re-tests as you want, after a 12-day mandatory waiting period.

The third, and most recently introduced option for an English proficiency test is Duolingo. It is a language-learning website (also available as an app) that has started to be accepted as proof of English proficiency in universities worldwide. This test has a video interview of 10 minutes and a graded section which tests the student’s literacy, comprehension, conversation and production. The question types range from word and letter selection to short answers, narratives and short essays. The scoring for this test is 160 points in 5-point increments. With Duolingo, you are eligible to take two tests within a 30-day time frame.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the traditional tests have also evolved in their approach. For instance, the IELTS has added the IELTS Indicator, an online test that can be taken from your home. It still holds the same four components as the IELTS academic version—reading, listening, writing and speaking. However, it only provides an indicative score, so not all universities readily accept it. Check with the one you are applying to, so that you are sure.

The IELTS, TOEFL and Duolingo are all accepted by various colleges in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. However, we recommend you go through the websites of each university you wish to attend to understand their specific requirements and pick the test that suits you best. Another good strategy is to take a few practice tests for each and see which one seems the easiest.

When taking English proficiency tests, it is also important to consider other logistical and cost-related factors, especially since two out of the three tests need to be taken at a specific center. The IELTS is conducted about twice a month at the respective designated centers, while TOEFL IBT happens 60 times a year but on specific dates. Duolingo is the most flexible—you can take it any time you like.

All three test scores stay valid for two years, meaning that you can take a test now and use that result in a university application up to two years from now. From a cost point of view, Duolingo is the cheapest at 49 US dollars, the TOEFL IBT costs 180 US dollars, and IELTS is the most expensive, costing anywhere between 215 to 250 US dollars (as of July 2022).

Now here’s some good news: if you’ve spent your whole life speaking English and been educated in English-medium schools, the college you are applying to could grant you a waiver. To find out if you qualify, check each university’s specific guidelines.

Do know, though, that while some universities may waiver the test for you, it is often required for visa applications. Also, some universities may have a blanket policy for international students, meaning that no matter how strong your English is, if you reside in a country where English is not the primary language, then you have to give the English proficiency test.

Hope this helps you understand the ‘English Proficiency Tests’ domain a bit more and helps you on your college application journey!

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