In 2019, 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).
[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.
It is recommended that you check with the schools you are applying to in order to see which test they accept. Generally, the IELTS is more readily accepted in universities within the Commonwealth although many US universities are starting to accept it too. The US tends to prefer the TOEFL with over 8,000 universities that accept it. Ultimately you will need to take the corresponding exam to that which your schools require, although many now accept both.
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.
Is the TOEFL or IELTS available to closer to you? The TOEFL is available in 4,500 centers in 165 countries, whereas the IELTS exam is available in 1,100 centers across 140 countries. The newer PTE is only available in 250 testing centers in 50 countries. It may also be the case that one test has more convenient test dates available for you.
Test section differences between TOEFL and IELTS are another factor to consider, as whether or not an exam plays to your strengths will greatly impact the maximum score you can achieve. Here are the main differences between the TOEFL and IELTS exams that students usually find play to/against their strengths: