In 2017, there are three major English language proficiency exams that MBA and other programs use to test an applicant’s ability to speak in English. In the past, the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) were the most common.
In 2009, Pearson–one of the most prominent educational companies and publishing houses in the US–launched its own Proficiency Exam: the Pearson Test of English, Academic (PTE Academic).
Although each exam claims to be a test of “English” in the most universal sense of that word, this is not exactly true. The IELTS relies on more British and Australian English, while TOEFL and PTE Academic draw from a more distinctly American idiom.
[Related: Learn more about what’s tested on the TOEFL.]
These three tests claim to deliver equatable results (see chart below); yet, not every MBA program, for example, accepts all three exams. In general, the IELTS is more accepted in Europe and Australia while the TOEFL is much more commonly accepted by MBA programs in the US. The PTE Academic, though the newest of the three, is making good headway into being accepted by MBA programs all over the world.
Because not every MBA program accepts all three tests, be sure you take the necessary exam for each program you apply to. This might mean you have to take two of these tests: The IELTS for one program and the TOEFL for another. Since the PTE Academic is the newest of the exams, most schools that accept it also accept one of the other two exams.
If you are lucky enough to apply to a program that accepts more than one of these exams, you might want to think about which exam suits your testing style best. For example, the Speaking section of each test is very different. And since this language skill is often the most difficult for test-takers to master, you might want to consider which test’s Speaking section is best suited to your strengths.
On the IELTS, you speak face-to-face with the Rater, which for some test-takers is more comforting, while for others is more anxious-making. On both the TOEFL and the PTE Academic you speak into a microphone and the computer captures the audio. Again, this might be more relaxing for some people or more unsettling. (NOTE: your TOEFL speaking is evaluated by a human Rater, while your PTE speaking is evaluated by a computer program.)
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!