If you are considering a Masters programme taught in English, and that is not your native language, you will need to determine if a minimum IELTS or TOEFL score is required for admission at the universities you are considering.

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Both the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) attempt to accurately measure your ability to read, write, listen to, and speak the English language, skills that are vital to successfully attaining your Masters degree. Unless you demonstrate English proficiency by submitting either an IELTS or TOEFL score report at or above the university’s minimum score, you may not be admitted into its Masters programme.

TOEFL structure

The older of the two testing options, the TOEFL was developed more than 50 years ago as a means of ensuring a minimum level of English proficiency among university-level students in the U.S. and has grown to become a global testing standard. The digital age prompted the TOEFL’s evolution from a paper-based test to a computer-based test, although there are still some areas of the world that use the paper-based format. Currently, the computer-based test has been entirely replaced by the Internet-based test (iBT). The TOEFL is a four-hour test with four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, with the shortest being Speaking at 20 minutes and the longest being Listening at 60-90 minutes.

Read: The TOEFL Test to Be Shortened by 30 Minutes

TOEFL scores

The best overall score you can achieve on the iBT TOEFL is 120. The score report also contains the scores for each section. Universities differ as to the minimum score required for admission into their Masters programme. At your request, the Educational Testing Service, which is located in the U.S. and is the company responsible for administering the tests, will send your TOEFL score to up to four institutions that you designate when you take the test. This service is covered by your test fee. Once your scores are available, you may request score reports be sent to other universities for a small fee per report. Scores are valid for up to two years, and you are able to retake the test as long as 12 days have passed since the previous examination. Most universities require that you send them a score report before your official application is processed.

IELTS structure

Although half the age of its counterpart, the IELTS has surpassed the TOEFL as the most widespread and commonly accepted standardised testing option for demonstrating English proficiency. It consists of the same four parts as the TOEFL (Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing), but you can elect to take the Speaking section either on the same day as the other tests or up to seven days before or after them. It is roughly an hour less in duration than the TOEFL and differs in terms of the content included, but the time allocation of the four sections is equally proportionate.

IELTS scores

Scores for a completed IELTS range from 1 to 9, with 1 categorised as a non-user and 9 as an expert user. Unlike the TOEFL, there is no minimum wait time before you can re-take the test, but you are limited to available testing dates and locations. The IELTS allows you to select up to five universities to send your scores (in addition to the paper copy you will receive) at no additional cost, provided you list them at the time you take the test. After that, you can request additional copies be sent for a small fee.

Check out: TOEFL vs. IELTS - What's the Difference? (VIDEO)

TOEFL/IELTS and other admission requirements

Each post-graduate university establishes its own minimum English proficiency criteria, so your first step should be to research this requirement among the universities you are considering for your Masters programme, beginning with whether or not you are even required to take it.

If you are a native of (or completed your undergraduate studies in) a country where English is the official language, you will, in most cases, be exempt from the English proficiency requirement. However, there are some countries in which English is an official language, but its usage is not as common or widespread as required. In such a case, you may still be required to demonstrate your proficiency. At the London Business School, you may be considered exempt from the English proficiency requirement if you demonstrate that your undergraduate degree was conducted fully in English.

Minimum scores for post-graduate admissions

Most universities ask that you submit your test score before beginning the application process, which is wise advice. You do not want to waste valuable time and money completing a particular school’s other admissions requirements only to find out your score did not meet its minimum requirement.

Minimum scores accepted for Masters programmes range widely among post-graduate universities, as do other criteria. For example, Copenhagen Business School requires applicants for its MSc in Advanced Economics and Finance to achieve scores of at least 91 on the TOEFL iBT and 6.5 on the IELTS exam. The EADA Business School in Barcelona requires a higher level of your English skills demonstrated by a minimum TOEFL iBT score of 100 or a minimum IELTS score of 7 before acceptance into its post-graduate programme before you take its own online admissions test.

In addition to the overall test score, the score of each section you take is revealed in the scoring report as well, and this could have an impact on your admission process. Universities appreciate well balanced test scores demonstrating equally good level of skills in the different sections – reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Other standardised testing

The TOEFL or IELTS is not the only standardised test you may be required to take before acceptance into the university of your choice. You will likely have to take either the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) for entry into post-graduate business programmes. Standardised testing must be scheduled in advance, and is only offered on certain dates in certain locations, so you need to allow plenty of time to schedule, prepare for, and take these tests. After you take them, additional time is needed for the testing to be scored and sent to the universities you select.

Additional tips

Keep in mind that TOEFL and IELTS scores are only valid for two years, after which you will have to re-take the test. That is plenty of time to fully research your top university selections and complete the entire admissions process if you are diligent in your efforts. Prepare in advance with the myriad paid and free preparatory materials and instruction services available, and if you don’t score well enough initially, simply try again.