Tips for taking a standardized test of English proficiency

International students applying for admission at a US university will often have to show proof of English proficiency to receive full admission. If you are not enrolled in our BridgePathways program, or select a non-partner university, it is likely you will have to take the IELTS, TOEFL, iTEP or another standardized test.

Each one of these tests has different sections, demands and expectations. They are certainly not all the same, and there is great debate as to which one is the best measure of your English level. However, there are things you can do to prepare to take any of these tests so you can be confident that you have made the right choice:

1. Confirm with your universityMany universities will only list one of the tests on their website, but will accept another test if you inquire further. It never hurts to introduce yourself to the Office of Admissions and ask which tests they accept, their period of validity and the deadline to submit your scores. You should also ask how they would like to receive the scores, which can vary depending on the test and university.

2. Learn more about the differencesRead about the structure of each test, which can often be found on their website. While they all aim to test the same thing, they will do it in distinct ways. Find out if you will have a speaking section with a person or a microphone. Sometimes you will have multiple-choice questions or you might have to write extensive answers. Is it an online test or a paper-based test? Knowing the answers to these questions will enable you to choose the test that plays to your strengths. If your have trouble with spelling, maybe select a test with more multiple-choice questions.

3. Location, location, location!Most of these tests need to be administered in pre-approved test centers. These centers will only offer the tests on certain dates and at certain times, and might fill up weeks before the test date. Be prepared by knowing when the test is available and when you should register to secure your spot.

4. Know the timelineBesides knowing when to register, you should also know when to expect your results. Some tests provide immediate results and some can take weeks. You want to make sure that you take the test with enough time to provide the results to your university in a timely manner.

5. Take classesSince each test is different, you want to prepare for a specific test. This goes beyond improving your general English into knowing which skills you should focus on to get your desired score. If possible, take a prep-test or a mock-test so you can see where you should spend more time studying. Find a tutor or someone with experience preparing for the test you want to take, who can help you in the areas you need most.