Discover Studying Abroad

Here's What You Need to Know about English Proficiency Tests

English language tests are a critical part of your university application. BrainGain magazine brings you the basics so you can get the jumpstart on the application process.
BY Tina Varghese |   26-11-2015

Should I take the IELTs or TOEFL? When should I take it? Is it required?

Many a time, students hoping to study abroad are caught up in a maelstrom of questions about English Proficiency Tests. It’s true that with the increasing number of international students heading abroad, universities have changed their requirements; and with each university posing a different English Language requirement, students are often left confused.

BrainGain magazine brings you basic information on the English proficiency tests, so that you can get started with your application.


IELTS or International English Language Tests are one of the most globally recognized English Language tests, with over 2 million takers every year. Jointly administered by the British Council, IDP and Cambridge English Language Assessment; IELTs are recognized as one of the most reliable mediums for a proof of English proficiency, for both education and immigration.

The test is structured into 4 parts: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking, with a total time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. While the Listening, Reading and Writing parts have to be completed in one sitting, the Speaking part can be extended for up to seven days. 

IELTS scores are categorized by bands ranging from 0 to 9, with 0 being ‘Did not attempt’ to 9 being ‘Expert User.’ Most schools require a student to score at least 6-6.5 on their test, while the IVY leagues such as MIT, Harvard and Yale go with a minimum score of 7.0. While the British Council acts as the official center for the test, you can contact the IDP or British Council in your country to find your nearest test center.


TOEFLS are one of the most widely accepted proficiency tests, acknowledged in over 100 countries, including the hottest study abroad destinations like UK, USA, and Australia.

The ‘Test of English Foreign Language’ is generally offered in two formats; traditional paper based, computer based, and the recently popular TOEFL iBT i.e the internet based test. Typically, the iBT test, a 4 hour test (compared to paper-based and cBT which are 3 and 3.5 hours, respectively) is split into 4 areas, namely, Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing, with a possibility of integrated questions to test a combination of your skills.

Each phase of the test has a fixed time allotted to complete the specific area of skill. For example, the Reading section requires you to demonstrate your ability to read and comprehend short passages. You will be given up to 100 minutes to read and respond to the questions given in the passages. Although there isn’t anything such as a good TOEFL score, to get accepted into the top colleges like Columbia or Duke, it is always better to maintain an average score of 80-100 in iBT, and 550-600 in paper based TOEFL.

Since TOEFLs have more than 50 test dates in a year, there is always scope for a stronger score, but remember that you cannot take the test more than once in a 12 day period. In order to know more about your nearest test center, test dates and fees, you can sign up for an iBT account at the ETS website.

Cambridge Proficiency Exam (CPE)

The CPE test is one of the highest qualifications for an English Speaker. It is usually for those who require an English Language accreditation for professional or post graduate programs.

The Certificate of Proficiency exam was initially developed by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate in 1913 for foreign students who needed a proof of language.  Clearing the CPE with the highest grades ascertain that you have mastered the English language at an exceptional level and are able to lead teams at senior management levels.

The test is structured as a 2 hour test of a candidate’s skill in the four key areas of Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Upon giving their tests, candidates receive a statement of results, where they receive a grade from A to C. Candidates who manage to score a grade from A to C achieve a CEFR level C2, and grades lower than that would qualify for a CEFR C1 certificate.

The CPE exams are widely accepted in European Universities, with growing acceptance in many of the top universities in US, Canada and Australia. In order to know your nearest exam center and costs, you can contact the British Council or check out the website.

PTE Academic

The Pearson Test of English is one of the most renowned computer based English Proficiency Tests, created to provide a much more accurate method for testing non-native English speakers, who wish to enroll in English medium courses.

PTE will test a student’s Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking skills, within a single 3 hour seating. This test is often preferred as you can get your test results in 5 working days, and a student can register for it 48 hours prior to taking the test.

Steadily growing popular in various schools, the PTE is acknowledged in over 400 business schools, including IVY leagues such as Harvard Business School and Yale Business School and INSEAD. Currently, PTE has test centers in 12 Indian cities.



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