Decoding English Proficiency Tests

By April 18, 2017Language

Most of us have gone through the long and cumbersome process of filling applications, submitting resumes, writing SOPs and taking English Proficiency Tests when applying to universities. For those of us, who may not have had English as a medium of study or those who do not belong to countries where English is the first or second language, it is required that we take certain exams to prove our English fluency when we wish to study in certain universities. These institutions ask for our test scores to make sure we will be able to handle the medium of instruction and therefore, be able to study and perform well. Although various language proficiency tests exist to gauge performance ability in many languages across the world, let us take a look at the various English proficiency tests.

Proficiency refers to one’s ability to use language to accomplish real world linguistic tasks, across a wide range of topics and settings.
There are many global associations/ language bodies that conduct standardized tests and the scores are considered as a measure of our ability to use English.


The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages is an American organization that aims to expand the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction. The ACTFL offers reading, writing, listening and speaking proficiency tests in 18 languages; one of them being English. It also provides testing support for the U.S. Department of Defense.


Test of English as a Foreign Language is a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers wishing to enroll in English-speaking universities. The TOEFL test is recognized by more than 9,000 colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States.

TOEFL has two types of tests- TOEFL iBT and TOEFL PBT, the former being administered via Internet while the latter is in a paper-delivered format.
The TOEFL iBT test measures reading, listening, speaking and writing skills. It is offered more than 50 times a year and is administered online at testing sites around the world. The entire TOEFL iBT test session (including check-in) is approximately 4 and a half hours.

The TOEFL PBT test measures reading, listening, grammar and writing skills and is currently offered only in locations where testing via the Internet is not available.

There is also an exam for younger students called TOEFL Junior®.

TOEFL test scores are valid for 2yrs after the test date.


The International English Language Testing System is the world’s most popular English language test. More than 2.5 million IELTS tests are taken each year. More than 9,000 organizations in 140 countries accept IELTS, including schools, universities, employers, immigration authorities and professional bodies. IELTS assesses all English skills — reading, writing, listening and speaking, and is designed to reflect how one will use English at study and at work in a new country. If one is applying for a visa to stay in the UK, IELTS is on the UK Home Office’s list of approved secure English Language Tests. IELTS score has a validity of 2yrs as well.

Cambridge English Language Assessment

Cambridge English helps one learn and prove English language skills. Cambridge English exams are designed to assess how learners use English to communicate in real-life situations. All exams are aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) – the international standard for describing language ability.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF or CEFR) was put together by the Council of Europe as a way of standardizing the levels of language exams in different regions. It is very widely used internationally and all important exams are mapped to the CEFR. There are six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2.

Cambridge English offers various English exams depending on level and purpose. Be it for young learners, for academic purposes or for business, one can find the most suitable exam through a quick free online test. 15,000 universities, employers and governments around the world accept Cambridge English exams. Many Cambridge English exams are also accepted for visa and study purposes in the UK, Australia, USA and Canada.


PTE tests assess real-life English skills one needs at university and while living abroad. These are of two types- Academic (for study and immigration purposes) and General (for schools and non-visa purposes). PTE tests are known for providing results in just 5 business days and often in a record 2 days time as well. With this single 3hr test and such quick results, one can apply to desired universities in just 7 days.

PTE Academic is accepted by thousands of universities worldwide, including prestigious institutions such as Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Yale.


The Test of English for International Communication is produced by ETS (Educational Testing Service). TOEIC test questions are based on real-life work settings in an international environment (meetings, travel, telephone conversations, etc). TOEIC Bridge is an easier version of the exam. It was developed especially for beginning to lower-intermediate learners of English.


The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer-adaptive test which assesses a person’s analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal and reading skills in standard written English for use in admission to a graduate management program. The GMAT is a 3 and a half hour standardized exam designed to predict how test takers will perform academically in MBA programs. GMAT scores are used by graduate business schools to make admission decisions. The GMAT exam is accepted at more than 6,500 programs around the world and is administered at more than 600 test centers in 114 countries. It is the most widely used assessment for graduate management admissions and the most reliable predictor of academic success in graduate business studies.


The GRE General Test is the only admission test for graduate or business school that lets one skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and decide which section one would like to answer first. The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you’ll do in graduate or business school like verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. The GRE General Test is available at more than 1,000 test centers in more than 160 countries. In most regions of the world, the computer-delivered test is available on a continuous basis throughout the year. The total testing time for the computer-delivered test is around three hours and 45 minutes, plus short breaks. GRE scores are generally valid for a period of 5 yrs.

With so many options, we can always find a test suitable for our needs. But be sure to check the requirements of the immigration office or university that you are applying to as well.

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