English Proficiency Exams for University Admissions

By: Cheryl P. Weiss

Presentation from the 2002 NAFSA Annual Conference discussing information from 21 UCIEP member schools about what tests are presently used for admission.


Educational Testing Services (ETS)

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

  • Administered by ETS since 1965.
  • Available in paper-based format in 173 countries on specific dates (12 times in 2001-2002 and five times in 2002-2003) and in computer-based format (CBT) by open appointment since 1998; currently available in 140 countries. Paper-based test was taken by 231,000 between July 2001 and June 2002 and CBT was taken by 472,000 during the same time period.
  • Paper-based: Three sections: Listening, Structure and Written Expression (25 minutes), and Reading Comprehension (55 minutes) Test of Written English (TWE) administered with some; not all, of the paper-based tests. CBT: four sections: Listening (40-60 minutes) and Structure (15-20 minutes), both computer-adaptive; Reading (70-90 minutes) not computer-adaptive and Writing, (30 minutes).
  • Paper-based: scaled scores from 310 to 677 total. TWE is scored form 0.0 to 6.0
  • Computer-based: scaled scores from 3 to 300 total (Essay ratings integrated into section and total scores [structure/writing], but also reported separately on official score reports – scaled 0-6).


Other tests available through ETS not used for direct university admission



University of Michigan: MELAB and ECPE from the ELI

Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB)

  • In use since 1985
  • Available in the United States and Canada with testing schedules determined by each testing center.
  • 3 sections: Composition (30 minutes); Listening (25 minutes); Grammar, Cloze, Vocabulary, Reading (75 minutes).
  • Graded on a 100-point scale.

Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (ECPE)

  • In use since 1953
  • Available in 125 test centers in 20 countries. Designed primarily for use in one’s home country, but scores can be converted to MELAB scores and sent to United States university admissions officers.
  • 5 sections: Speaking (15-minutes), Composition (30-minutes), Listening (40-minutes), cloze reading test (25-minutes), and Grammar, Vocabulary, Reading (60 minutes).
  • Certificate of Proficiency or Certificated of Proficiency with Honors for those who pass all 5 sections (scoring based on percentages for cloze and multiple choice or specific criteria for writing and speaking).
  • Comparable to Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or TOEFL scores from 567 (229) to 677 (300).


Tests from University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES)



International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

  • Established in 1989 to replace English Language Testing Service (ELTS). Modified in 1995. Annual candidature increased from fewer than 30,000 in 1991 to 1,000,000 in 2008. (Top nationalities taking tests in descending order: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Taiwanese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Greek, and South Korean).
  • Administered on demand at least once a month and more often at peak time in 500 centers worldwide including 32 centers in the USA.
  • 4 sections: Listening (30 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes) Speaking (10-15 minutes).
  • Graded in 9 bands: 0 Nonuser to 9.0 Expert User. Half grades (e.g. 7.5) are also used An Overall Band Score as well as a band score for each skill is reported.
  • Most universities and colleges in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada accept the Overall Band Score of 6.0 or 6.5 for entry to academic programs of study. Most colleges/universities in the US accept 5.5-6.5 for undergraduate admissions; 6.0-7.0 for graduate admissions. Recognized by 1800 colleges and universities in the United States and 6000 organizations worldwide.
  • Test score reports are sent directly from the test center to the receiving organization, or can be electronically downloaded by receiving organizations.


University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES)

Certificate in Proficiency of English (CPE)

  • Offered since 1913; new revision of 1984 test slated for 2002 completion.
  • Level 5 of 5 levels of exams (Proficient User)
  • Administered in June and December at about 700 centers worldwide
  • 5 sections: Reading (90 minutes), Writing (2 hours), Usage (90 minutes), Listening (40 minutes), Speaking (19 minutes)
  • Pass with grades A,B,C; fail with grades D,E,U. Grade C and above widely recognized by universities in UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada as proof of language ability needed to study in English at degree level.


Certificate in Advanced English (CAE)

  • Offered since December 1991
  • Level 4 of 5 levels of exams (Competent User)
  • Administered in June and December in about 1,000 centers worldwide
  • 5 sections: Reading (75 minutes), Writing (2 hours), Usage (90 minutes), Listening (45 minutes), Speaking (15 minutes).
  • Pass with grades A,B,C; fail with grades D and E. Grade C and above recognized by British Universities as proof of language ability needed to study in English at degree level.


First Certificate in English (FCE)

  • Offered since 1939; most recent revision in 1996
  • Intermediate; Level 3 of 5 levels of exams (Independent User)
  • Administered in March, June and December in a out 1,900 centers worldwide
  • 5 sections: Reading (75 minutes), Writing (90 minutes), Usage (75 minutes), Listening (40 minutes), Speaking (14 minutes)
  • Pass with grades A, B, and; fail with grades D and E. Test widely used to gain employment; also used by community colleges and some four-year institutions where there is language support on campus.


College Board

Advanced Placement English Language (APIEL)

  • Began in 1997
  • Advanced Placement course and exam now offered in nine countries to approximately 8,000 secondary students whose native language is not English.
  • 4 sections: Listening (35 minutes), Writing (80 minutes), Reading (50 minutes), Speaking (15 minutes).
  • Used to measure readiness for university-level work in English.
  • Graded on a 1 to 5 scale; 5 is the top score.

English Language Proficiency Test

  • SAT II subject test for students whose primary language is not English attending high school in the U. S. and American schools in other countries.
  • Administered in November and January at test centers, and April in selected high schools.
  • 84 multiple-choice questions based on narratives and dialogues in listening sections (30 minutes) and on realia and prose in reading section (30 minutes) Offered in a two-hour version in April 2002 as a "school-based test:" (3 listening sections; two reading sections).
  • ELPT scores are on a scale of 901-999 with an average score of 962 and proficiency level ratings from "below intermediate to advanced high."
  • Used for college admission and placement.