The English language is the most widely spoken language in the world today. We are used to hearing it everywhere around us – in movies, on TV, on the news, and on social media. Nevertheless, for a large part of the world, this is a foreign language and watching a TV show or reading an article does not make us fluent speakers. But is the level of your English skills sufficient for success in a Masters programme taught in English?
How is the English language used in international studies?
Enrolling in a university programme taught in English means that you will have to speak, read, and write entirely in English. You will participate in discussions and group assignments, make presentations, write academic essays and papers, sit tests, and read a large amount of specialised texts within short deadlines. You will also listen to professors and guest lecturers who will conduct their classes in English. And all of this takes place in an academic setting which requires mastering more than a conversational level of the language. Therefore, it is no coincidence that all the internationally recognised exams on English proficiency include these four components – speaking, reading, writing, and listening. Their purpose is to evaluate your fluency in English specifically for academic studies.
English proficiency tests and how to plan them
The good news is that you can start accustoming yourself to studying in a foreign country before you actually get there. As you know, all non-native English speakers who wish to get admitted to an English-taught Masters programme are required to submit a language proficiency test score as part of their application package. You can choose to take an exam such as IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge English Qualifications among others. If you take your preparation seriously and give it your best, your final test score will give you a good idea of your English fluency level and you will be able to proceed with your Masters application successfully. You can make the most of the test if you follow this three-step plan.
Step 1: Make a self-evaluation of your skills
First, start by being realistic with yourself. Try to think critically about your English proficiency and establish how well you can perform in this language. For example, have you studied English at school and how difficult was this subject for you? Do you feel comfortable talking to other people in English? Do you read articles or books in English often and can you easily understand most of the content you come across, especially if it’s in your field of study? It is a great idea to consult a teacher and ask for their opinion about your foreign language skills. In addition, do some mock tests and exercises to see what aspects you still need to improve. All of this will help you understand how advanced your preparation is and whether you are on the right track to mastering a better proficiency in the language.
A great eye-opener is for you to visit an actual university campus and attend classes taught in English in the academic field that you have chosen. Most universities welcome prospective applicants to Open Days and actual classes. This experience will enable you to put yourself in the shoes of other students and judge for yourself what you need to improve in order to make the most of your studies. Joining summer schools in English in your academic field will also help you build more of the academic vocabulary and feel more at ease during your Masters studies.
Step 2: Do your best during test prep and on the test itself
Once you have a realistic view of your performance in English, it is time to choose which proficiency test to take and to start preparing for it. Whether you go with IELTS or TOEFL, bear in mind that different tests have their own structure and logic. For instance, the IELTS starts with the Listening section, while the TOEFL starts with the Reading section. In addition, the IELTS is administered on paper and on computer (with the Speaking part conducted face-to-face with an examiner), while other tests such as TOEFL and PTE Academic are taken on a computer. With sufficient preparation, all test takers eventually get used to the specific format and learn how to manage their time during the test in the most efficient way.
Taking an English language test has another considerable benefit in addition to helping you secure your spot in a prestigious Masters programme abroad. In the process of studying for the test, you will also gradually prepare yourself for the intensity of your future Masters studies. In order to achieve the scores that universities require for admission to Masters programmes, you will need to upgrade your entire language skill set. Although admissions requirements typically ask for an overall test score, scores are reported by section. If one or two of your sections have considerably lower scores, this will be a red flag to the admissions committee and may affect your chances of admission.
Step 3: Choose where to apply based on your test score
Finally, after taking the test, comes the test score. That would be the right time to choose the most suitable Masters programme to apply for because you can immediately exclude programmes that require a score higher than yours. Universities that ask for a test score higher than average, do so for a reason. Their requirement reflects the level of difficulty of the programme and indicates that students who have difficulties with the language will also struggle to keep up with the pace of this particular course.
Of course, there is often a possibility for a so-called waiver. If your undergraduate studies were conducted entirely in English, you may not need to submit a separate TOEFL or IELTS score in your Masters application package at all. Some universities also offer short pre-Master courses in English which can help non-native speakers get accustomed to their new setting.
If you are one of those people who find studying and working in English difficult, do not give up on your dreams and goals just yet. Think of it as another healthy challenge to overcome. With so many global opportunities, international studies, and exchange programmes available today, you will certainly manage to find your place in this world!