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Graduate Matters

The international graduate students’ guide to English language proficiency tests – Part 2

No matter which exam you choose, preparation is key.


In the previous column, we explored CELPIP and IELTS English proficiency tests. I will now discuss the remaining two widely used assessments, PTE and TOEFL, that provide additional options for international students seeking to demonstrate their English language skills.

3. Pearson Test of English (PTE)

The PTE is growing in popularity among graduate programs in Canada. Known for its user-friendly format, the test is administered entirely on a computer, with features such as a timer, spellcheck and word count helping test-takers stay on track during the exam.

The PTE academic – the test often used for school admission applications – offers a quick and convenient way to assess your English skills, providing detailed scores ranging from 10 to 90. Within 48 hours of taking the test, results are viewable online. Free unlimited score reports can be sent to your chosen institutions, giving them a detailed view of your language proficiency. In addition to the scores, you create your own “skills profile,” which shows your performance across eight language skill categories, each with a progress bar to indicate your proficiency. The skills profile also includes personalized recommendations to help you focus on areas that need improvement and further enhance your English language skills. This feedback will guide you on how to achieve your desired score and excel in your academic pursuits.

The cost of the PTE varies depending on the country and testing centre. In Canada, the cost is currently $330, with additional fees for late registration or rescheduling.

4. Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL is a U.S.-based test known for its assessment in an academic setting. The computer-based test covers reading, speaking, writing, and listening, with each section of the test worth 30 points. Test takers receive a score for each section, as well as an overall score (a total of 120 points). In addition to the numerical scores, test-takers are provided with detailed feedback on performance, highlighting strengths and weaknesses in each section of the test.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, test-takers are given the option to take the test from home. To this day, TOEFL continues to offer this format, as long as test-takers have a working computer, keyboard, headphones, webcam and a quiet space. While in-person testing centres remain open, this home-based option provides flexibility and convenience, especially for people from regions where testing centres may be difficult to reach. The home option offers the exact same TOEFL test administered in testing centres – the only difference is that the exam is monitored by a proctor via live video call.

The exam fee is around $320, and this includes an online practice test that features a full exam with past questions from all four sections and review materials. If you are applying to several schools, additional reports can be provided for around $27 each. Score reports are sent out within 10 days after the exam date.

Key takeaways

No matter which exam you take, preparation is key. Maximize the review materials and go through the practice tests. Booking your test ahead of time will not only give you more time to practice, but increase your confidence, skill and mental preparedness as well.

Keep in mind that these tests usually last approximately three hours, with a short break in between. Be sure to be well rested and fed prior to the exam, and allot about four hours of your day for the whole process. Arrive at least 45 minutes early to the testing site to help you get comfortable and relaxed before the start of the test.

Prioritize clarity over sounding impressive. Remember that the goal here is to assess your English language skills. While it may be tempting to impress the examiner and strive for advanced vocabulary and grammar, remember that the purpose of these tests is to evaluate your language proficiency. Focus on the prompts and give a clear response to questions. Speak or write in a way that effectively conveys your ideas and meaning, even if it means using simpler language or sentence structures.

Read also: Telling the story of who you are through a scholarship application

Lastly, see this as a great opportunity to prepare for your studies. Writing and speaking skills are critical to master as a graduate student. No matter which English test you opt for, all of these assessments are well-curated educational resources that guarantee you a rewarding learning experience. Good luck!

Have you taken an English proficiency test below? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Zyrene Estallo
Zyrene Estallo is an academic project specialist at the University of New Brunswick with research interests in curriculum development, inclusive education, and higher education.
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