As an international MBA applicant you will need to submit a complete and well-prepared application package which normally has to include an English test certificate. Depending on the tests that are administered in your country, there can be different options to choose from including TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, PTE Academic, Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) or Proficiency (CPE), etc.

Get to know the admissions requirements of top schools.

However, it is only natural that for many non-native speakers the process of deciding which specific language test to take may be unfamiliar. Here are some important factors to consider before making your final choice.

What are the most common English language certificates?

When it comes to MBA admissions, the most commonly accepted English tests are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). While TOEFL offers test takers the choice between an internet-based (iBT) exam and a paper-delivered test, The IELTS can be taken on paper or on computer. Both the TOEFL iBT and the IELTS are designed to test the reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills of non-native English speakers. The Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is also a computer-based test.

Applicants that prefer the pen-and-paper format can consider taking the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) as well. The TOEIC assesses “Listening and Reading” separately from “Speaking and Writing”. Although they are grouped into two different tests, business schools typically require only your “Listening and Reading” results. You can consult the table below to get a better idea of the ranges of scores used by different English language tests.


 Score range

 Cambridge English: Advanced


 Cambridge English: Proficiency




 PTE Academic






How long will your results be valid?

It is generally considered that a person’s language skills and fluency diminish over time if they are not practised regularly. This is why most tests including TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, and PTE Academic are valid for two years after the exam date. In comparison, Cambridge English exams do not have an expiration date and are valid for an indefinite period of time. However, it is very likely that schools or potential employers will still have a preference as to how long ago you sat the exam. If you have taken this language test over two or three years ago, you will probably need to sit the exam once again even if technically the certificate is still valid. In this way, the business school that receives your test scores will have a more accurate understanding of your English language skills.

Read: The TOEFL Test to Be Shortened by 30 Minutes

What scores do B-schools require?

One piece of good news for test takers is that English language exams are not graded on a pass/fail basis; instead, there is a range of scores that people can receive based on their performance. Requirements for the minimum score that you should achieve in order to be eligible for an MBA programme differ between business schools. It is a good idea to research the requirements of your preferred schools in advance in order to find out how high you need to set the bar for yourself. Or even better – if you do not have a shortlist of business schools to apply to just yet, always aim as high as possible during the test.

Read: Why Do B-Schools Require Language Tests?

Business schools need to make sure that you are fluent in oral and written English for academic and professional communication in the MBA classroom and standardised English proficiency tests enable them to do so. Most of the recognised international schools that require an English test certificate usually expect a minimum score of 6.5 or 7 for IELTS and 100 for TOEFL iBT. Of course, this is not a standard minimum for all institutions. Saïd Business School (UK), for instance, requires that applicants submit an IELTS score of at least 7.5 or a TOEFL iBT score of at least 110. You can also expect some regional differences when it comes to the scores required by schools in different locations. The minimum test scores requested by European MBA programmes may differ from those expected from universities in North America. If you choose to take PTE Academic, be prepared to submit a score of around 68-70. For TOEIC, the preferred range for most international MBA programmes is 700-720.

Learn more about MBA programmes at Saïd Business School by taking a look at this handy school profile.

Some institutions such as Copenhagen Business School (Denmark) exempt applicants from taking an English language test if their previous education was conducted entirely in English. Others take measures themselves to evaluate the language abilities of applicants during the admissions process. For example, the written or video essay you submit as well as your admissions interview conducted with the admissions committee will reveal how well you can communicate and work with English.

Why is it important to prepare for your English test?

Your timely preparation for the language test will result in much more than a good score. Aiming at a high score actually helps you improve your language skills in all aspects – speaking, reading, writing, listening comprehension, but also grammar, vocabulary, and style. As English will be your language of everyday communication in and out of the MBA classroom for the full duration of your studies, it should not create any barriers to your performance at business school.

In addition to obtaining a certificate for English proficiency, you might be required to submit an aptitude test score such as GMAT or GRE. Although both of them are conducted entirely in English, make sure not to mix them up with tests such as TOEFL and IELTS. The purpose of an aptitude test is not to measure your English skills but to estimate your higher-order reasoning, analytical, and quantitative skills. Your results in the GMAT or GRE cannot be used as a substitute for an English exam so make sure to check the specific requirements listed by the business school of your choice.

Ultimately, creating your own study routine and getting used to the intensity of English studies will help your overall performance once you start your MBA programme. The earlier you grow accustomed to what is required from a business school student, the more confident and prepared you will be for what comes next.

How do you choose which test to take?

Most business schools will accept several of the international English proficiency tests such as TOEFL and IELTS, which means there is a good variety of options to choose from. Although all tests evaluate the same skills, they do it in different ways. So, even if you are already fluent in English, you need to prepare for the specifics of your chosen test in advance. Plan your practice and test dates carefully and take into account the overall MBA application timeline as well as your individual schedule. Here is what you should consider when selecting an English proficiency test for your MBA or graduate school application:

  • Find out which tests are available in the location that is most convenient for you. Tests, even the internet-based ones, can only be taken in certified testing locations on certain dates.
  • Take sample tests to get a feel for the format – whether it is pen-and-paper, computer, speaking with an examiner face-to-face, taking the test on a single day or splitting it into two days, etc. Choose the format that you are comfortable with and that will enable you to perform at your best. No test is easier than another. The one that fits your personal style will make the difference.
  • Check the available test dates, as well as the registration dates which can be as early as several months before the actual test date.
  • Plan your test date based on the time needed for the official score to reach the admissions offices of your selected schools. This may take up to four weeks after the test date.
  • Allow enough time for a second try in case you are not happy with your first score. Do not forget to factor in some additional preparation before you sit the test for a second time.

Whichever English proficiency test you decide to take, your successful performance will always boil down to preparation and good planning. As long as you approach this process and the rest of your application with dedication, you will certainly enter your dream MBA programme with an extra dose of confidence!