A Guide to Popular English Proficiency Tests

A Guide to Popular English Proficiency Tests

A Guide to Popular English Proficiency Tests

If you are planning to study abroad, especially in English-speaking countries such as the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand—and even in countries where English is not the first official language such as Malaysia, the UAE, and France—chances are, you may have to take an English proficiency test first. 

Most higher educational institutions (HEIs) usually prefer some English proficiency tests, or all of them, depending on the need of the institution. Just like other types of assessment tests, you must prepare yourself if you want to pass an English language proficiency test and get the required score as stated by your institution of choice. 

Below are some of the popular English proficiency tests that many institutions require from incoming international students

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic

IELTS Academic can be taken by individuals who want to study or work in another country and is accepted by more than 10,000 HEIs, governments, and corporations all over the world. 

The test is divided into four sections, which are: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The whole test may take around three hours. The exam uses a 0–9 grading scale and can be valid for at least two years from the test date. 

IELTS is accepted in all English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, Canada, and Ireland—and even countries where English is not the official language. 

Ways to Take Them

You can choose to take IELTS on paper, or via a computer. On the IELTS computer, you have to take reading, listening, and writing tests via the computer. However, for listening, it has to be carried out face to face, the same with IELTS paper. 


There is no standard fee for taking the IELTS exam; the cost may vary per country. 

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

Among the popular English proficiency tests, TOEFL may be the most well-known and most commonly used in the academic institutions of English-speaking countries. TOEFL is accepted worldwide by more than 11,000 HEI’s from over 150 countries. 

Acing this test assures admission officers that the students are prepared for university and beyond. The test is divided into four parts, which are: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The test may last for around three hours. It uses a scale of 0–120 for the whole test and 0–30 for each section. It is valid for two years after the test is taken.

Ways to Take Them

TOEFL is usually conducted via the internet (TOEFL iBT). However, in case the TOEFL test center has limited or no internet connection, then it can be taken on paper instead. 


TOEFL iBT cost may vary per location. 

Pearson English Test (PTE) Academic

PTE Academic is accepted by thousands of HEIs and governments worldwide. It prides itself on its unbiased approach to testing. Unlike other English proficiency tests such as IELTS and TOEFL, PTE only has three sections: Speaking & Writing, Reading, and Listening. It may take around three hours to finish. PTE Academic is valid for up to two years after the test is taken. 
PTE uses the Global Scale of English, and the scores range from 10–90. 

Ways to Take Them

PTE is only available in a computer-based format.


Just like the other tests, the cost may vary per country. 

Other English proficiency tests not included in this list are TOEIC, Cambridge English Qualifications, Integrated Skills in English Exams (ISE), Business English Certificate (BEC), and Duolingo English Test. Although they are less popular, many HEI’s worldwide still accept them. 

Learn useful assessment and language proficiency test exams by reading MSM Unify’s articles. To start. Check out MSM Unify’s article on 7 Tips to Pass an English Language Proficiency Test. 


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