English Language Ability
English Language Ability

A basic requirement for successful study in the United States is the ability to communicate in English. If English is not your native language, U.S. universities and colleges will ask you to take an English language proficiency test before admitting you to a degree program. Almost all institutions require that this test be the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). A few may accept scores from other examinations or administer their own tests. For further information, check each college's catalog or contact the admissions office to discuss your situation. As with many areas of U.S. education, each institution sets its own English language admission standard, but some general guidelines on requirements are given in the section on TOEFL scores below. Some institutions may grant conditional acceptance with the understanding that you must attend English language classes at their college prior to starting your degree program. Once you have reached the required English language level, you will be able to start your studies. Keep in mind, however, that in some cases it may be difficult for you to obtain a student visa in your country if you cannot prove sufficient command of the English language to begin study in the United States.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
TOEFL is currently given in most countries around the world on computer, and the paper-based version is being phased out. The test is offered on many days in the month, but only at a limited number of computer-based testing centers. You may have to travel some distance to reach the nearest test center.

Test Registration: Pre-registration is required, and it is NOT possible to go to the testing center and hope to find space available that same day. Computer-based testing registration deadlines vary. According to TOEFL instructions, mail-in registration deadlines are three weeks ahead of your desired test date, one week ahead of the test date for fax registrations, and two days ahead of the test date for registration by telephone. Note that a credit card is required to register by fax or telephone. You can indicate the days when you would prefer to take the test, and the test administrators will try to accommodate your request. However, at certain times of the year, or in certain cities, centers may be very busy. It is therefore advisable to register at least two to three months in advance of your desired test date. For those countries where paper-based testing is still offered, the test is given on certain dates during the year, and registration deadlines are approximately six weeks ahead of those dates.

TOEFL registration bulletins are available from either the test administrators in the United States, the regional registration center for your country (see the TOEFL Web site at http://www.toefl.org or the test registration bulletin for further details), or from a U.S. educational information or advising center. These centers may ask you to pay postage costs, and they may also have test preparation materials for the TOEFL available for reference use, loan, or purchase.

TOEFL Waivers: If you are a non-U.S. citizen and non-native speaker of English who has been educated in English for most of your school life, your TOEFL requirement may be waived. Allow sufficient time in the application process to correspond with the U.S. university about this issue. American universities will probably not accept secondary school English language examination results as proof of your language ability.

Content: The test uses a multiple choice and essay format to measure each examinee's ability to understand North American English. The test is divided into four sections: listening, structure, reading, and writing. The writing section requires the test taker to write an essay. TOEFL is a computer-adaptive test, which means that not all students answer exactly the same questions on the test. Instead, depending on how the student performs on each question, the computer determines whether the level of the next question should be harder or easier.

Scores: The total number of questions you answer correctly and your score on the essay form the raw scores for each section. Raw scores are then converted to a scaled score for each section, which for the computer-based test ranges from 0 to 30. From these a total score is calculated, which ranges between 40 and 300 for the computer-based test. Each college decides for itself what score is acceptable. In general, colleges consider a total score of 250 or above to be excellent and a score below 97 as inadequate. Average scores range between 173 and 250 for undergraduate applicants.