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English Language Proficiency Tests

English Language Proficiency Tests


International students must be able to listen, read, write and speak English well, or they will not be successful at a U.S. college or university. Most U.S. colleges and universities require international students to demonstrate their English language skills, usually by taking an English language proficiency test.

Test Waivers

English language testing requirements may be waived in certain circumstances:

  • Your first language is English
  • You were educated in a country where the native language is English
  • You graduated from a high school where English was the primary language of instruction

English Language Tests

The most popular English language tests are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). The TOEFL is the most popular test for studying in the U.S. The IELTS is used to test English language skills for studying, migration and work. The TOEFL tests American English while the IELTS tests British English. The TOEFL is available in Internet-based (iBT) and paper-based (pBT) versions.

A fast-growing competitor is DuoLingo, which is a shorter computer-adaptive test combined with a video interview. Not only does this integrate testing and identity verification, it also provides insights into how well the student performs on open-ended questions in a conversational English setting. The computer-adaptive nature of the test also helps prevent fraud, since each administration of the test is different. The test is much less expensive than the TOEFL and IELTS tests and has a quicker turnaround time for test scores. There is a strong correlation between DuoLingo test scores and TOEFL/IELTS test scores. DuoLingo offers iPhone, Android and web-based versions.

Other common English language proficiency tests besides the TOEFL, IELTS and DuoLingo include the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE-A)Cambridge English Language AssessmentMichigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB) and the Michigan English Test (MET).

Minimum Test Score Requirements

Each college sets its own standards for each test. Generally, the most prestigious U.S. colleges require at least a seven on the IELTS, an 80 on the iBT or a 550 on the pBT. Other colleges typically require at least a six and a half on the IELTS, 75 on the iBT or a 510 on the pBT.

A six on the IELTS is labeled as competent, a seven as good, an eight as very good and a nine as expert. On the TOEFL iBT, a 60 is competent, 94 is good, 110 is very good and 118 is expert.

Students who do not score at least in the competent range might be offered conditional admission, which requires them to take additional English classes.

Students also can qualify by taking a standard college admissions test, such as the ACT or SAT and perform well on the English sections of the tests. Generally, international students must score at least an 18 on the English and Reading sections of the ACT and at least a 510 on the evidence-based reading and writing sections of the new SAT.

One also can satisfy English language proficiency requirements by receiving at least a four in an Advanced Placement (AP) English test, such as the AP English Language & Composition or AP Literature & Composition tests. Scores are valid for two years after taking a test.

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