Acing the English Language Proficiency Tests


First things first – before you start to prepare for your English Language Tests, you need to know which tests are accepted by the university.  So contact your university and once you have that information, you’ll need to start preparing.

Here’s your go-to guide for all that you need to know about the English Language Tests.

Here’s what we’ll cover here

  • Which are the popular tests
  • How do you select the tests
  • Preparing for the Tests
  • Tips for the Test Day

The two most popular tests are the TOEFL and IELTS. Here’s a look at how they’re structured


The TOEFL paper delivered test is offered in locations where internet testing is not possible. The iBT (Internet Based TOEFL) is structured in the following manner:

  1. Reading: This section has 30-40 question and can take 54-72 minutes to complete. It tests reading comprehension skills.
  2. Listening: This section has 28-39 questions and can take 51-57 minutes to complete. It comprises of first listening to a lecture of discussion, and then answering the questions.
  3. Speaking: This section has 4 tasks and can take 17 minutes to complete. You speak into a microphone about topics you’re versed with and based on the material you read or listened to.
  4. Writing: This section has 2 tasks and takes 50 minutes to complete. You need to read a passage, listen to a recording and then formulate a typed response, while the other task is essay writing.

The IELTS test can either be taken on a computer or on paper, but in both cases the format remains the same. The exam is structured in the following manner:

  1. Listening: This section is 30 minutes long. It requires you to listen to 4 recordings and then write respond to the objective-type questions asked.
  2. Reading: This section is 60 minutes long and has 40 questions. It has a wide variety of texts—analytical, descriptive, discursive and factual. Questions are based on these texts.
  3. Writing: This section is 60 minutes long. You are required to draft a response to two tasks, in formal language.
  4. Speaking: This section is 11-14 minutes long. You are asked questions about topics you’re familiar with and based on a cue card. The speaking section doesn’t necessarily take place on the day of the written exam—it can take place on any date one week prior to or within a week after the exam.

Overall, the test is 2 hours 45 minutes.

The score ranges from 0-9 band for each section, and overall band on a scale of 0-9 is calculated.

How do you select the test?

If taking both tests is an option for you, then you can consider the following while choosing which one to opt for:

  1. Take the free practice exams: If you want to determine which exam you may be more comfortable taking, you could attempt the IELTS practice test and the TOEFL practice test.
  2. Multiple Choice versus Short Answers: While the TOEFL largely requires candidates to chose correct answers from multiple options for the reading and listening sections, the IELTS will require you to put down your own answers.
  3. Computer vs Paper: Unless there is no access to internet-based testing in a region, the TOEFL exam is computerized, whereas the IELTS examination presents test takers with both options.
  4. Reading Section: The text material in the reading sections of both these tests are different. The TOEFL exam focuses on academic texts only, while the IELTS reading section also includes articles from newspapers and magazines.
  5. Speaking Section: The TOEFL exam requires you to speak into a microphone and is completely computerized, while the speaking section of the IELTS exam takes place with an examiner who interviews the candidate (which is recorded). Moreover, while the entire TOEFL exam is completed in one sitting, the IELTS speaking test needs to be taken up to a week before or a week after the written exam.
  6. Costs: Both the TOEFL and IELTS test cost approximately $200 (INR 14,000).
  7. Validity: Both are valid for a period of two years.
Other English Language Tests

The TOEFL and IELTS are not the only English Language tests you can opt for.

The Cambridge Exams are widely accepted in the United Kingdom (they also meet the Government’s requirements for visa applications). Apart from that, there are two more options – Duolingo and PTE.

In Cambridge Exams, there are two popularly attempted tests:

  • Cambridge C1 Advanced English: This exam, like the others, has four sections—Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. It takes place over a span of 4 hours and is graded on a scale of 180-199.
  • Cambridge C2 Proficiency in English: This exam is evidence of high-level proficiency in the English Language. The four sections of the exam is the same as the C1 exam, it takes 4 hours to complete and is graded on a scale of 200-230.

Duolingo, is not just one of the most popular language apps, but also offers an English Language Test that is accepted by over 2000 institutions across the world. This test is significantly shorter and has a less complex testing structure. 45 minutes are dedicated to an adaptive test that covers topics in reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Then, there is a 10-minute section where the test-taker responds to open-ended questions. This test can be taken from the comfort of your home, over an online platform. Overall, it takes less than an hour to complete. The exam is graded on a scale of 10-160, and you can see how scores may compare against other popular exams here. This test costs $49.

The Pearson Test of English (PTE) is accepted in UK, New Zealand and Australia. A complete list of all universities accepting this test can be found here. Like the other tests, the PTE evaluates candidates across four language modules in three sections:

  1. Speaking and Writing skills: This section lasts between 77-93 minutes and tests your ability to structure sentencing, repeat sentences, describe images and summarize arguments. The essay portion of this section takes 20 minutes.
  2. Reading: This section lasts 32-40 minutes and includes MCQ’s, fill in the blanks and re-order paragraphs.
  3. Listening: This section lasts for 45-57 minutes and includes MCQ’s, fill in the blanks, choose the correct words, and writing from dictation.

Overall, the test takes 3 hours to complete and is scored on the Global Scale of English, which ranges from 10-90. The cost of this test in INR 13,300.

Acing English Language Tests
  1. Book your exam! Once you’ve managed to decide which test you’d like to take, the next step would be to choose a date and venue and book your test. Remember to book your test well in advance.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the format of the exam and prepare accordingly.
  3. Practice will take you closer to perfection, so it always advisable to chart out a study plan (and try your best to follow it.)
  4. Preparation courses. You may find a number of preparatory courses around you. At TCGlobal, we offer language test preparation for the IELTS, TOEFL and PTE tests—to get you ready for the one you need!
  5. When you begin preparation, you will find a plethora of online resources at your disposal. Use them! The IELTS, TOEFL, PTE and Cambridge Exam websites all offer practice questions, mock exams and official guides to these tests.
  6. Physical copies of study material are also widely available online on Amazon and Flipkart, as well as the test’s official website.
  7. Maintain a vocabulary journal. Make a conscious effort to take note of new or unfamiliar words and understand the different contexts in which they are used.
  8. Netflix! There’s no easier way of getting better acquainted with a language than just listening to podcasts or watching video content without subtitles.
  9. Read. There are a large number of English language newspapers or magazines that could help improve your vocabulary and grammar, while keeping you up-to-date with the latest.
  10. Be open to learning. For some who have been comfortable with the language from a young age, it may be harder to receive feedback on language usage we believe are correct. However, being open to correction is imperative if you want to achieve success on your test.
  11. Get a study group. If you’re applying for higher education straight out of school, chances are, your friends are too. If you think you benefit from group learning, it is advisable to initiate a study group with your peers—that way, you can keep track of your collective progress.
  12. Get the app. For a generation that’s always on the go, the test providers have also developed apps that can further ease your test preparation journey.
Tips for the Test Day

It’s the big day! Here are a few things we recommend you do.

  1. Make sure you’ve double (rather, quadruple) checked your test date, time and location details.
  2. Be early, or on time—definitely not late. Typically, candidates are expected to reach 30 minutes before the test starts.
  3. Pack everything you’ll need to carry well in advance, and make sure that you’re not carrying any restricted items. Don’t forget to make a checklist and ensure that you have all the necessary items.
  4. Carry all necessary identification documents. This is essential.
  5. Remember you cannot carry any personal devices into the testing area. Generally, personal time devices are also prohibited, but don’t worry, there will be wall clocks everywhere.
  6. Relax! Try to stay calm for the duration of the test, after all that preparation, you’re sure to ace it.

If you’d opted for a paper-based test, the results will come within 13 days. The results for online tests typically take on 5-7 days.

Wish you all the best for your test. Acing the English language proficiency tests it’s not difficult at all, just be organized and follow the tips.

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