What do MBA Applicants need to know about Language Tests?

Language Tests- All international business schools and universities require their applicants to take a language test that proves their proficiency in English and thereby their capacity to complete the rigorous coursework. There are several language tests like TOEFL iBT, TOEFL ITP, TOEFL CBT, TOEFL PBT, TOEIC, IELTS General, IELTS Academic, PTE General, PTE Academic, Cambridge English CAE, CPE, FCE, BEC Vantage, BEC Higher, Michigan ECCE, Michigan ECPE, Trinity ISE II, etc. Although this list is really lengthy, MBA applicants are not required to give all of them. A few years ago, TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language (which was created in the US) was the only test that had to be taken prior to applying to any international university. However, the UK has been successful in creating IELTS or International English Language Training System.

Language Tests:

Now, that brings us to the important question, “Which language test should be taken by MBA applicants?” Although there is no single answer to this question, the TOEFL iBT (internet-based test) is usually accepted by most business schools in the US. However, sometimes the IELTS or other tests may also be accepted. The IELTS and generally, the TOEFL iBT (or its variants) are always accepted by universities and schools in the UK and other European countries. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to this rule and it is always advisable to check the websites of these universities in order to find out the language tests that need to be taken.

Another important aspect that needs to be looked at is the scoring pattern. The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is used for every European language test. There are six levels namely, A1 (Breakthrough), A2 (Waystage), B1 (Threshold), B2 (Vantage), C1 (Effective Operational Proficiency) and C2 (Mastery). Applicants may be placed on any one of these levels depending on the final scores. Usually, B-schools prefer applicants with B2 or upper intermediate level although top B-schools might only admit students with a C1 or even C2 on all parts of the test.

Let us now look at some of the most popular and widely taken language tests.

1. TOEFL iBT: ETS or Educational Testing Service created this test and it is now the most widely accepted language test in business schools and universities in US, Europe and other western countries. The TOEFL PBT (Paper-Based Test) is accepted in countries where there is little or no access to the internet. The TOEFL ITP (Institutional Testing Program) is very similar to the TOEFL PBT in terms of content but is administered to students applying to institutions and universities for higher studies and not MBA in particular. The TOEFL CBT (Computer-Based Test) is no longer administered.

The TOEFL iBT includes four sections namely, Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. The duration of the test is four hours and 30 minutes with a compulsory 10-minute break halfway through the test. Each section is scored out of 30 with a total score of 120. The test-taker will also receive a performance feedback after the test. Most business schools require a score of 80-100 on this rigorous test. However, it would be advisable to contact your shortlisted school or university for exact details.

2. TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication): This test is closely related to the TOEFL and specifically for candidates applying to English-speaking companies. Because of its focus on business, it is now being included as part of the testing procedure in some schools like HEC Paris and ESMT Berlin. The overall score is 990 and includes a paper-pencil based listening and reading test with a duration of 2 hours.

3. IELTS (International English Language Training System): This test was created by the Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council. There are two versions of this test: IELTS General Training designed for immigrants and IELTS Academic which assesses the language proficiency of students. This is designed for MBA applicants. This test includes four sections – Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. The duration of this test is two hours and 45 minutes with a scoring system of bands ranging from 1 to 9 with 9 being equivalent to C2.

4. CAE, CPE, FCE and BEC: The Cambridge Language Assessment created the Cambridge Advanced English (CAE), Cambridge Proficiency English (CPE), First Certificate English (FCE), Business English Certificate (BEC) Higher and BEC Vantage.

5. PTE Academic and PTE General: PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic and PTE General assess listening, reading, speaking and comprehension. The duration of this test is three hours.

6. Michigan ECCE and Michigan ECPE: ECCE (Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English) and ECPE (Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English) is administered by CaMLA (Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments). However, it is only recognised in a few countries like Greece, Brazil and Colombia. The duration of this test is two hours and 45 minutes and all the four aspects of language skills are assessed.

7. Trinity’s ISE: The Integrated Skills in English (ISE) test was created by Trinity College, London. Some MBA programs might accept this test. This test includes two modules – Reading & Writing (2 hours) and Speaking & Listening (13-25 minutes). Applicants who successfully pass the test will be handed one of three certificates – Distinction, Merit or Pass.