Before deciding which test to take, you need to know the answers to two important questions:
- Is a testing center available near you?, and
- Is the test accepted by the schools where you want to apply?
While all three tests are available in hundreds of countries worldwide, that does not always mean that the test is available at a location and test date that is convenient (or even feasible) for you.
Your first step in deciding on a test should be to check for the closest test center for the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. The website should also give you a sense of how often the test is available – some centers offer the test multiple times a week, while others may only offer it once or twice a month.
And finally, it doesn’t matter how well a given test is suited to your learning or test-taking style if it isn’t accepted at the schools you want to attend.
5 Ways to Decide Which Test to Take
If all three English proficiency tests are available in your area and accepted by your target schools, it’s time to start looking at the differences between the tests themselves. Here are five elements to consider:
What is the Length of Each Test?
The TOEFL is the longest of the three tests by a significant margin, typically taking four hours to complete. The PTE generally takes 3 hours. The IELTS requires only 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it can even be split over two separate testing days.
If you are someone who is uncomfortable taking very long tests, whether because you are easily fatigued or because your attention wanders, it may make sense to choose a shorter test. However, a longer test may offer greater opportunity to showcase your English skills.
What is the Cost of Each Test?
When it comes to cost, the three tests are roughly on par with one another. Specific cost varies by location, but in the United States the cost for the TOEFL is $190, the IELTS is $235, and the PTE is $200.
How is Each Test Scored?
Both the TOEFL and IELTS use human scorers – the TOEFL in conjunction with automated scoring, and the IELTS exclusively. The PTE uses automated scoring for all sections, with no human raters.
Some students would much prefer to have a real person interpreting their responses, while others feel most comfortable with less subjective automated scoring.
The speaking portion of the IELTS incorporates an actual face-to-face conversation with a test proctor. Depending on your preference, that can either be a much more stressful experience or a much more natural one than an exclusively computer-based test.
How is the Content of Each Test Different?
When it comes to content, all three tests assess a student’s English listening, speaking, reading, and writing ability. But they go about it in different ways.
The TOEFL is very much a typical American-style standardized test, with two essays, 6 brief spoken responses, and lots of multiple choice or fill in the blank questions.
The IELTS has a similar format, with two essays, lots of multiple choice and fill in the blank questions, and a spoken interview.
The PTE is the newest of the three tests, and avoids a lot of the typical standardized test format. The test includes just one required essay, and nearly twenty different types of questions and tasks.
How is the Format of Each Test Different?
What really sets the PTE apart is its format: most spoken questions cannot be repeated, and spoken answers have a very tight window where they can be entered.
For example, if you begin a recorded response for a question on the speaking section, and stumble over your words, you must continue – there is no option to pause or re-record your answer.
This strictness makes the PTE a very challenging option for anyone with text anxiety, or anyone who does not feel completely confident in their speaking and listening skills.
But if you feel like you have near-native level fluency, then the PTE may be just the right test for you to showcase your skills.
In sum, familiarize yourself with all the options you have for each MBA program. Don’t just assume that a program will take a certain test, and don’t just assume that even though the tests say they all deliver equatable scoring, that you’ll score the same on each test. Find the exam that suits your testing personality best!