If you have difficulty speaking, writing, reading or understanding spoken English, it is all too easy to fall behind in an intense academic environment like that of an MBA programme. To keep that from happening, B-schools regularly require a minimum score on an English language proficiency test for international students, such as TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, Cambridge CAE or CPE, etc.
Who is required to take a language test?
In most cases, international students from countries in which English is not an official language will be required to achieve a high score on a language proficiency test. There are exceptions to the rule that depend on a particular school’s policies. For example, the Bentley University Business School’s graduate programme offers a language test waiver to students who have completed their entire undergraduate study and degree in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Uganda.
If you think your academic or professional record demonstrates a high level of English proficiency, contact the admissions offices at the schools you are considering to see if your particular situation requires a language test.
Since most universities or B-schools offering MBA programmes require either a minimum Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score for admission, some argue that a high score on one of those tests should be sufficient proof of English proficiency since the tests are administered in English. However, the GMAT and GRE tests are aptitude tests conducted in English, but are not designed to test your mastery of the English language.
Types of language tests
There are several language proficiency tests accepted as part of the admission process to MBA programmes. Therefore, before you take one, ensure to check with the B-schools or universities on your short list to see which tests they accept.
TOEFL and IELTS
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) are standardised tests designed specifically to test the reading, speaking, listening, and writing of the English language by a non-native English speaker. They are by far the most common language proficiency tests accepted by B-schools and universities. The tests are administered at thousands of testing centres around the world and take approximately four hours to complete.
Most MBA programmes will require one or the other, but not both, so you are likely to be able to choose either. The most substantive difference between the two tests is that the speaking part of the IELTS is tested face-to-face with an examiner, while the corresponding section of the TOEFL is tested with online recordings. Another difference is that TOEFL is conducted on a computer, while the IELTS is a pen-and-paper test. If you have any doubt about the score you will receive on either, practice tests are available to help you prepare.
Cambridge Assessment offers testing and certificates that reveal a student’s English proficiency level. These assessments are sometimes accepted in lieu of a TOEFL or IELTS score, depending on the particular school.
Some B-schools have a class designed specifically to help international students increase their English proficiency to a point where they can be successful in an all-English language degree programme. For example, the Monash Business School (Australia) will accept a TOEFL or IELTS score or the successful completion of the Monash University English Language Bridging Programme.
Each B-school has established its own criteria regarding minimum language proficiency scores to be accepted into their MBA programme. Those criteria might be vague or subjective, and left up to admissions officers to determine as part of a complete evaluation of your admission packet. Or they may be explicitly stated, such as at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, at which a minimum TOEFL Internet-based test score of 90 or an IELTS score of 6.5 is required for admission into their MBA programme.
Check out: How Long to Study for TOEFL or IELTS
Other admission requirements
An English language proficiency test is certainly not the only requirement for admission to MBA programmes. It is just one part of your overall admissions packet, which typically includes an application, personal essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a sufficient GMAT or GRE score. Admissions officers may or may not be able to waive the language test requirement for your particular situation, so check with them first.
However, sitting a language test matters quite a lot because of the actual preparation that goes into it. Thus, you will ensure you have the level of language skills that will enable you to be successful during your studies and networking in a B-school.