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Common English Language Proficiency Tests

Common English Language Proficiency Tests

When applying to colleges abroad, international students might be required to submit an English Language Proficiency Test as a part of their application. This demonstrates to the colleges that the applicant’s English is at an adequate level to cope with college-level lectures and classes. These tests may be required even if English is your first language. 

There are many tests that you could take, however, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic Version, Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) iBT® and Duolingo test are most popular.

Here is a breakdown of each:

Duration Three hours Four hours One hour
Mode of exam Written + Spoken component at a centre Internet-based at a centre Online at home (including the video component)
Format Listening (40 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes) and Speaking (10-15 minutes) Reading (54–72 minutes), Listening (41–57 minutes), Speaking (17 minutes) and Writing (50 minutes) A video interview (10 minutes) and a graded section that tests Literacy, Comprehension, Conversation and Production
Question types Multiple-choice, diagram labelling, matching, short answer and sentence completion Multiple-choice, summaries, completing tables, narratives and short essays Adaptive questions – word and letter selection, short answer, narratives and short essay
Scoring* Nine band scale including half scores 30 points per section with a maximum score of 120 160 in 5-point increments
Cost USD 215–250 USD 180 USD 49
Frequency Usually twice a month 60 times a year on specific dates Anytime during the year
Validity Two years Two years Two years
Acceptance Widely accepted, including colleges in the US, UK, Canada and Australia Widely accepted, including colleges in the US, UK, Canada and Australia Accepted by various colleges in the US, UK, Canada and Australia

IELTS Indicator: 

In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, IELTS has added a new test called IELTS Indicator that provides an indicative score. An online test, which can be taken from your home, it will still test the same skills (listening, reading, writing and speaking) giving you an indication of your English skills. As this is a new test, it may not be accepted by all colleges, therefore before you sign up, ensure that your college will accept this score. 


  1. A computer (Mac or PC only) with a working microphone and speakers or headphones. No mobile or tablet devices are accepted
  2. A stable internet connection
  3. A quiet and comfortable space to take your test

Retest Policy: 

If your test results do not meet the minimum requirement for your college, you can take the test again. If you send in more than one score, this will not negatively affect your application. Most colleges will take the highest overall score.

IELTS: There is no limit on the number of times you can take the test and there is no mandatory waiting period. You can opt to send your IELTS results to your colleges at the time of registration or you can also wait until you know your score before sending it to your schools if you are unsure about meeting the requirement. 

TOEFL: The TOEFL as well does not have a cap on the number of test attempts, however, there is a  mandatory 12-day waiting period. On registration, you can send in your test scores to four colleges for free. If you are unsure about your score, you can opt out of this option and choose to send your scores once you receive the results.  

Duolingo: Duolingo allows you to take two tests in a 30-day period, which starts on the completion date of your first certified test. Once you receive your certificate, you can opt to send your results to your college, ensuring that if you do not meet the college’s requirement, you don’t need to send it to the college.  

If you have a good command over English, each of these tests will be fairly easy with a little practice. Before you decide which test to take, take a practice test for each. Most colleges do not have any preference, however, require you to achieve a minimum score. So when choosing, ensure that you will be able to meet the score. Moreover, ensure that the test dates and centres are convenient and make sure you register in time. With the high volume of international applicants, test dates can get full quickly, so plan in advance. 

For more information about why you need to take an English Language Proficiency Test, click here (will be linked to article 2). For advice on how to apply to US colleges, click here and to know how to create a college list, click here. If you require any further information, get in touch with us.

*Interpreting scores: 

9=Expert user 
The test taker has fully operational command of the language. Their use of English is appropriate, accurate and fluent, and shows complete understanding.

8=Very good user
The test taker has fully operational command of the language with only occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. They may misunderstand some things in unfamiliar situations. They handle complex and detailed argumentation well.

7=Good user
The test taker has operational command of the language, though with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings in some situations. They generally handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning.

6=Competent user
The test taker has an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.

5=Modest user
The test taker has a partial command of the language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many mistakes. They should be able to handle basic communication in their own field.

4=Limited user
The test taker’s basic competence is limited to familiar situations. They frequently show problems in understanding and expression. They are not able to use complex language.

3=Extremely limited user
The test taker conveys and understands only general meaning in very familiar situations. There are frequent breakdowns in communication.

2=Intermittent user
The test taker has great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.

The test taker has no ability to use the language except a few isolated words.

0=Did not attempt the test
The test taker did not answer the questions.

(Source: IELTS Website)

Advanced (24–30)
High-Intermediate (18–23)
Low-Intermediate (4–17)
Below Low-Intermediate (0–3)

Advanced (22–30)
High-Intermediate (17–21)
Low-Intermediate (9–16)
Below Low-Intermediate (0–8)

Advanced (25–30)
High-Intermediate (20–24)
Low-Intermediate (16–19)
Basic (10–15)
Below Basic (0–9)

Advanced (24–30)
High-Intermediate (17–23)
Low-Intermediate (13–16)
Basic (7–12)
Below Basic (0–6)

(Source: TOEFL Website)

Can understand very basic English words and phrases
Can understand straightforward information and express themselves in familiar contexts

Can understand the main points of concrete speech or writing on routine matters such as work and school
Can describe experiences, ambitions, opinions, and plans, although with some awkwardness or hesitation

Can fulfil most communication goals, even on unfamiliar topics
Can understand the main ideas of both concrete and abstract writing
Can interact with proficient speakers fairly easily

Can understand a variety of demanding written and spoken language including some specialized language use situations
Can grasp implicit, figurative, pragmatic, and idiomatic language
Can use language flexibly and effectively for most social, academic, and professional purposes

(Source: Duolingo Website)

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The fundamental role of independent educational consultants is to help students explore college opportunities and find the right place for them to succeed academically and socially. IECs don’t get students admitted—they help students demonstrate why they deserve to be admitted at appropriately chosen schools. They help students find colleges they might not have heard of—often out of their region—and they help students put their best foot forward.

Here are 5 things families should consider when looking to hire an IEC:

  1. Does the IEC belong to a professional association such as IECA with established and rigorous standards for membership?
  2. Do not trust any offers of guaranteed admission to a school or a certain minimum dollar value in scholarships.
  3. Ensure that the IEC adheres to the ethical guidelines for private counseling established by IECA.
  4. Find an IEC that visits college, school, and program campuses and meets with admissions representatives regularly in order to keep up with new trends, academic changes and evolving campus cultures.
  5. Do they attend professional conferences or training workshops on a regular basis to keep up with regional and national trends and changes in the law?