Published: 30th October 2023
English proficiency tests: Choosing the right ones and preparing for it
English Proficiency tests might seem easy to crack but they are more than a language test, experts advise. Here are some tips you can use while preparing to move abroad
In India, lakhs of students appear for English proficiency tests every year before moving abroad for higher education or career opportunities. With a post-pandemic boost in overseas education, the appeal for proficiency tests like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) has also gone up.
While there are a number of proficiency tests available for students today, we reached out to experts to understand how to choose the best test for yourself and how to score well.
Choosing the right test
Experts opined that today when a huge number of alternatives are available for anyone looking to appear for an English language proficiency test, it is extremely important to choose the test which is right for you.
Arun TK, Regional Director (English), Cambridge University Press & Assessment, South Asia, explained, “There are many tests available out there today and that is a good thing as it opens many more opportunities for the students but we want the candidate to make sure that they are taking the right test which is recognised by their desired universities so they do not waste so much money on the test.”
Experts said that before choosing and investing in an English proficiency test, it is important to research well about the test you are going to take as well as the universities you are applying for.
Moreover, there have been several changes introduced to the English proficiency tests like IELTS and TOEFL. For example, IELTS has changed its pattern so that the students can reappear for a particular skill to improve their scores, instead of appearing for the whole test.
Moreover, TOEFL has also introduced changes like reduced time frame and number of questions.
“The changes in test format do not require any additional preparation as they are being done by the companies to help the students to prepare well because that's being changed as per their personalised need,” said Ratnesh Jha, CEO, Burlington Group of Companies, Asia-Pacific
English as a ‘skill’
While preparing for an English proficiency test, it is important to look at English as more than just a language, experts said.
“Writing, which is a productive skill, is where many students face difficulty. Even if there is some problem with your handwriting or your grammar is not perfect, we instead look to see if you can communicate. There are a lot more requirements but if the students do not prepare for English as a ‘skill’, it creates a barrier and they might not score well,” said Arun TK.
When you are preparing for an English proficiency test, you are looking to communicate, create, and absorb the English language. At this stage, the language must go beyond just a mode of exchanging ideas.
Ratnesh Jha, CEO, Burlington Group, said “When you are preparing for this test, remember that it is not only so you can get admission, like medical or engineering tests. English skill is something that you carry forward further in your life and it keeps growing. At the university, when you find a student you can communicate and think within the English language, you will know that this preparation was more than for a test.”
Move beyond mock tests
With companies like Cambridge and Burlington providing assistance and mentorship to students for English proficiency tests, there are several mock tests available online and offline. Experts say that while these tests can be helpful for you to determine where you stand and to understand the test pattern, they might not be so helpful in improving skills.
“When you are preparing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) or the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), you need to practice more and more questions to get better. But here, solving too many practice tests wouldn’t improve your skills. You can use the tests to see where you stand and what areas you might need improvement. But there are several resources like newspapers, journals, videos, movies and so on that will help you in actually improving your reading, writing, and listening skills,” said Arun TK.
Movies, videos, and other audio-visual tools can help the students with their pronunciation and confidence level, experts added. Moreover, they also suggested that the students can make use of online tools like speaking speed tests to improve their skills without a mentor.
“You have to take it up as a habit to regularly enhance your skills. Start looking at audio-visual tools. Animated movies like Inside Out are amazing because they are engaging as well. Another example is Dead Poet’s Society. For reading, you really have to make it a habit to read newspapers, books, journals, and travel vlogs, this will help your vocabulary and form thoughts and ideas in that language,” stated Ratnesh Jha.