An excellent approach to TOEFL prep is to think beyond your targeted score and admission to the university of your choice.
Admission is a promise of success
Ann Ferren, the provost of a highly international American university once shared: “Granting admission to an applicant means that the admissions committee gives this person a promise that he/she has the potential to succeed in college.”
The university admission process is a thorough evaluation of each applicant’s skills and potential for academic study and contribution to the university’s community life. This is especially true for American universities, which put a lot of emphasis on extracurricular activities with the belief that learning experience goes far beyond the classroom.
Standard admission requirements
Admission to a university for a Bachelor’s, Master’s or an MBA degree requires a set of documents that provide evidence of your qualifications and skills, and English language tests are just one piece of the puzzle. Normally, applicants need to submit:
- a diploma of the relevant level of education (a high school diploma for Bachelor’s degree admission and a first university degree for admission to a Master’s or an MBA programme) and academic transcripts
- letters of reference
- essays/statement of purpose
- application form with data about the applicant and his/her academic and professional background
- official scores of English language (TOEFL, IELTS) and aptitude tests (SAT I, SAT II Subject Tests for college admission, GRE for a Master’s of MBA degree, GMAT for MBA degree).
English language and aptitude tests
English language proficiency tests, such as the TOEFL, are required when you apply for admission to university programmes that are taught in English. Test scores are evidence that you have the fluency in English to enable you to study and contribute to the programme of your choice.
Most universities require a certain overall score, but they can look into the breakdown by section as well. If the score in one section is very low compared to the others this can be an issue. Likewise, a very high score in one section cannot compensate for the rest being low.
TOEFL is required from international applicants who are not native speakers of English. This requirement can be waived for international students if they have completed a Bachelor’s degree programme entirely taught in English. However, this is not a general rule and each university has its own policy.
Universities have different minimum requirements for a TOEFL score. The requirements vary per university depending on the selectivity as well as by degree level. Master’s and MBA programmes require higher TOEFL scores than Bachelor’s degree programmes.
Just for initial orientation, let’s take a look at the minimum scores Yale University expects from applicants for undergraduate education in each of the three versions of the TOEFL exam currently available:
- 100 (the maximum being 120) in the internet-based TOEFL
- 600 (the maximum being 677) in the paper-based TOEFL
- 250 (the maximum being 300) in the computer-based TOEFL
You might also have heard of tests such as the SAT, GRE or GMAT. The Scholastic Aptitude Test is conducted in English, but it is not a language test. It is not only required by international students, as the TOEFL test is, but by native speakers as well. It is a test assessing the level of your analytical skills and potential for academic studies. The SAT I has sections that require maths knowledge, and the SAT subject tests require knowledge of maths, science, history, English and one of nine other foreign languages. However, to be successful in the SAT, you should be fluent in English and be able to pass the TOEFL with flying colours.
Similarly, the GRE (revised General Test and seven Subject Tests) and the GMAT tests check skills relevant to graduate studies in a subject of your choice.
The skills you need to succeed in the TOEFL
The TOEFL, as well as its British counterpart – IELTS — assesses all the skills that you need in order to communicate effectively in an academic environment – reading, listening, speaking and writing. Grammar and university-level vocabulary are embedded in the tests. You will need these skills outside the classroom as well.
Reading seems like the easy part of your university experience. However, when it comes to comprehending large specialised texts in a limited time, your task is getting challenging.
Moreover, you will be mastering new subjects and gaining knowledge on the academic level.
This can be pretty challenging in your own language as well and when English is not your first language, the challenge is much bigger. You should practise a lot in advance in order to achieve the level of easily capturing the information in an academic text in English. You will have no time to check each new word in the dictionary. So, you should build a rich vocabulary in advance and this doesn’t happen overnight.
Listening and Speaking
You will be attending classes where the sole language of communication is English, so you should be able to understand what the professors and tutors say. You will also be expected to participate in class discussions. Very often university professors and your peers in class will be international, so you should also be ready to comprehend various accents in English.
Communication in English usually extends outside of the lecture hall. You will have team projects to prepare with your peers, and you will need it to communicate with the university administration and the local community.
Written assignments and exams are an essential part of university studies in the English-speaking world. But, to start with, you will have to prepare you university application package in excellent English including your CV/resume, statement of purpose/motivation letter or essays, and an application form with various details about your academic and professional background, your career plans, etc.
Clearly, TOEFL is not just about a score. TOEFL preparation is a great opportunity to improve your skills and master the language both for academic success and for plunging into a new culture.
About the Author: This post was written by Iliana Bobova, Head of Admissions Consulting, at PrepAdviser. Visit PrepAdviser – the global preparation network for MBA and Master’s applicants – for more details on each step of your preparation for admission to graduate business school.