Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to school... decisions, decisions

September means that everyone is getting back to real life.  For lots of people, that means contacting an English tutor to schedule lessons.  I meet many students who are preparing to study abroad at an English-speaking university and the first thing everyone asks is:


The answer depends on a number of factors.  The first factor is:  which test does the school you are applying to accept?   When I worked in Higher Education in the US, I remember some schools accepted only TOEFL.  Perhaps that has changed now.   University websites always have a section where they write which tests of English they accept.  Look at the schools you want before you make your decision.

The second factor is:  what kind of tests do you like?  The vast majority of test centers now offer the Internet-based TOEFL (ibT).  For the computer-savvy, this is great.  However, it is a timed test so if your typing skills in English are not as fast as you need them to be, you may find yourself a little anxious.  The same is true for speaking.  You will be speaking into a computer that switches questions when your time is up and some people find this really stressful.  On the plus side, some people find speaking to a computer, not a person, less stressful.  It's a matter of personal preference.

The IELTS is a paper-based test and the day of the speaking test you will speak with a trained examiner.  The test is recorded.  Of course, the IELTS is also a timed test.  However, some people may find that sitting before a smiling examiner may ease their nerves a little.

Another factor is:  what kind of test questions do you like?  TOEFL is multiple choice, which is great for some people but stressful for others.  On the other hand, IELTS features different types of questions in Listening and Reading, so you will not be limited only to multiple choice.

Another thing to keep in mind is the material covered.  IELTS consists of a reading, listening, writing and speaking section.  It doesn't directly test grammar or vocabulary anywhere.  That is not to say, of course, that good grammar and vocabulary are not necessary.  You will need to have a solid foundation in both to do well in all parts of the test.  TOEFL, on the other hand, has questions that directly test your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary.  For some people that may mean they need to study more in order to feel confident for the test.

The conclusion is:  take the test that fits your needs better.  The IELTS is a more traditional paper-based test while the TOEFL ibt is a more modern test that may fit some people better than others.

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