Are you an international student who is interested in attending business school in the US or UK?
If English is not your first language, and it was not the primary language of instruction for your undergraduate degree, you will likely be required to take an English proficiency exam as a part of your MBA application.
The TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE are the English exams accepted by most graduate business school programs.
For some students who have been studying and speaking English for years, a proficiency exam will feel like a formality. For others who have less experience with the English language, a test like the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE can be a real challenge.
Take the Test (TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE ) Seriously
Even if you feel like your English skills are very strong and the test will be simple for you, you still shouldn’t blow off studying for the test. After all, the TOEFL, PTE, and IELTS are all tests of academic English as spoken in the US or the UK.
This is particularly true if your language skills are not as strong. Learning a language requires far more than memorization; you can’t cram for an English proficiency exam in a week or even a month.
Preparing for a proficiency exam is a long-term project that should start well before you take the test, and continue even after it’s done. After all, a good TOEFL score won’t help you much if you can’t communicate well during your MBA admissions interview.
Get Up to Speed
Being able to read, write, speak, and understand English fluently is a great start to being ready for an English proficiency exam. But it’s only the first half of the battle – the other half is being able to do it all quickly.
All three of the major proficiency exams are timed. You may be able to understand a passage perfectly, but if it takes you so long to read that you don’t have time to answer the accompanying questions, it won’t do you any good.
When it comes to improving fluency, practice makes perfect.
Make Learning Fun
You can get free and paid practice materials from the makers of all three major tests: the TOEFL, the PTE, and the IELTS. Depending on your location, you may be able to find test prep books in a local library or bookstore. And of course, there are tons of resources available online.
But while books are a great starting place for your studying, they shouldn’t be your only resource. In order to do well with all portions of an English proficiency exam – and prepare yourself for b-school classes taught entirely in English – you need to immerse yourself in the language as much as you can.
Luckily, there are lots of great ways to do that: listening to podcasts and music in English; watching movies in English, with or without subtitles; connecting with English speakers online to have conversations through Skype or FaceTime or similar programs.
Ultimately, the more you are able to use English in your day-to-day life, the better prepared you will be – not just for a test, but for your MBA program as a whole.
Gauge Your Speaking Skills
Reading and writing in a second language tend to be the easiest skills for most people to acquire, followed by listening. Gaining the ability to speak the language confidently, clearly, and correctly can be much harder, however.
The three major tests all differ significantly in their speaking portion. When you are deciding whether to take the IELTS, the TOEFL, or the PTE, pay attention to which speaking section makes the most sense for your skills.
For example, the IELTS requires students to have a face-to-face conversation with a live examiner. The PTE has several spoken sections which students need to record into the computer, with strict time limits for completion and no chances to re-do if you stumble over your speech.
Take a Full-Length Practice Test
Practicing your skills in isolation is great for getting started, but it doesn’t always give you the best insight into how you’ll do on the real test. In order to get a true snapshot of your skills – and your likely score – you need to put yourself to the test.
A full-length practice test lets you focus on the big picture, and find out how you’ll react to the two biggest stumbling blocks most students face: test anxiety and test fatigue.
While the IELTS takes less than three hours to complete and can be split across two days of testing, the PTE takes three hours and the TOEFL can take upwards of four. Learning to manage your energy levels so that you’re still able to focus by the end of the test is an important step.
As with all parts of the MBA application process, different schools place different weights on your English proficiency exam score. Some schools have strict minimum scores; others will focus more on your interviews to assess language skills.
If you’d like a sense of how your proficiency exam score will reflect on your b-school application as a whole, sign up for a free MBA application assessment today. We’ll give you an unbiased look at the strengths and weaknesses of your app, and how you can improve your chances of admission.