ielts or toeflWhen applying to most universities in the United States, proof of knowledge of the English language might have to be presented.  The standard way institutions of higher education check for this is through standardized tests such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

The IELTS is an examination established in 1989 and managed by the University of Cambridge, the British Council, and IPD Education.  Although preparing for the exam may be stressful and challenging for those wishing to be admitted to a university with a set minimum score, performing well is far from impossible.

The IELTS is broken down into four main components – Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking.  It’s very important to read and listen to directions carefully, as not closely following them can mean bad marks earned.  Simple mistakes are often made by not conforming to the directions given.

The TOEFL is headed by the Educational Testing Service, and was originally created by faculty at Stanford University in the 1960s.  Like the IELTS, it is also broken down into Reading Speaking, Listening, and Writing sections – though it’s a bit different.

There exists a variety of preparation courses that aid in getting a better grasp of the language and scoring high on these examinations.  A quick search online can lead an inquisitive student in the right direction to a local or online resource.  With proper preparation, exam scores can be raised significantly after completion of a course.  Universities are generally told not to accept neither IELTS nor TOEF scores older than two years, so an up-to-date report is necessary for most applications.

What to Expect from TOEFL

Many U.S. colleges and universities require their applicants, whether international or not, to take one or more standardized tests, including one in particular called the TOEFL.

TOEFL, which stands for test of English as a foreign language, evaluates the ability of an individual to use and understand English in an academic setting. Nearly one million individuals of all ages take the Interned-based test (iBT) or the Paper-based Test (PBT) TOEFL test each year. International students can expect to complete portions reading, listening, speaking and writing in English, with a 10-minute break after two portions have been completed. Each examination is about 4.5 hours long and is scored using both an automated system and human raters to ensure that an accurate picture of an applicant’s ability is obtained.

Once the test has been complete, scores are usually posted online within two weeks, and scores can be sent out to universities and institutions where the applicant is applying upon the student’s request. Once the test has been taken, a TOEFL score is valid for two years. After two years, the score is considered invalid, since a candidate’s language proficiency could have changed since the date of the test.

International students taking the TOEFL should prepare in advance before they sit down at a computer or travel to a test center to take the test. A number of preparation materials are also available that can help individuals prepare for the test in advance, including books, guides and online practice tests. However, if an undesirable score is obtained, students may retake the TOEFL as many times as they wish. For more information on TOEFL, test dates and locations, visit