Do American schools accept the IELTS for international graduate students in biology? 

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What is the IELTS?

It is the International English Language Testing System that measures someone’s proficiency to communicate in English. The test assesses a person’s skill to read, write, listen, and speak comprehensively in English. Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Canada also employ the IELTS. Launched in 1980 as the Cambridge English Language Assessment (UCLES), the purpose was to test individuals’ language skills as required in the real world. The name changed to the IELTS in 1989 by the British Council. Initially, there were few test-takers – about 4,000 in 1981 and 43,000 by 1995. In 2017, according to the British Council, more than three million took the test in the past year.

The IELTS is available at 50+ locations in the U.S. and more than 1,600 worldwide.

There are two parts to the test: the Academic and the General Test; the former is for individuals who plan their university study abroad. The General Test focuses on social skills and workplace contexts and aims at those planning to work in an English-speaking environment or take courses outside the academic field.  More than 3,000 learning institutions in the U.S. and many in Australia, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand accept the IELTS. Also, over 10,000 employers recognize the test globally.

This is the breakdown of the IELTS:

Listening:  Listen to recordings of English and answer questions (30 minutes).

Reading:  Tests a range of reading abilities by answering 40 questions (60 minutes).

Writing:  Measures technical ability as you describe the information based on a table, graph, or chart (60 minutes).

Speaking:  Involves speaking in-person to an examiner for 11-14 minutes answering questions while recording. Similar to a job interview, you may be asked about interests, work, family, education, and more.

For International Students

International students applying to American colleges and universities will encounter another communication test – TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language. Generally, the IELTS uses British English, whereas the TOEFL measures proficiency in American English. The Educational Testing Services (ETS) administers this particular test and is accepted at more than 11,000 universities globally in 150 countries.

Whether your graduate application is for Biology or another discipline, the admission requirements in most cases are the same regarding English language skills. If there are two acceptable tests, the TOEFL and the IELTS, does it matter which one you take? Most learning institutions in the United States accept both. Some schools don’t require either one because they offer a Conditional Admission Program (CAP). A student might receive acceptance to the graduate program provided he or she agrees to attend an English immersion program. Another possibility is the school offers acceptance while waiting for either the TOEFL or IELTS scores.

The following are random examples of the admission requirements for a Master of Science in Biology at U.S. colleges or universities.

Boston University (BU) requires all international students, except residents in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK, to submit results from the TOEFL or IELTS. The school does not accept the TOEFL ITP as proficiency in English. This version, also administered by the ETS, doesn’t have a Writing section. It does contain the other three areas outlined above.

All students who have not graduated from a baccalaureate or graduate program in the United Kingdom, Canada (not including Quebec), Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, or an English-speaking Caribbean island country must submit the TOEFL or IELTS scores. The admissions department at Chatham University in Pittsburgh also specifies the necessary minimum scores for a master’s degree.

Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo requires international students to provide English competency by one of ten possible means. It would be best to have a score of 80 on the TOEFL iBt or 6.5 on the IELTS for graduate school. WMU will accept an international undergraduate grade of 5 in English (Higher Level) and a Cambridge Advanced English Certificate with an A or B for masters’ degree applicants. Other acceptable tests are available on the WMU admissions page.

There are advantages to the IELTS and the TOEFL is given the choice. The former is shorter (about 2 hours and 45 minutes vs four hours for the TOEFL) and provides the opportunity to manually write your answers, whereas the latter requires typing in the writing section. Also, the IELTS has a range of question types: multiple-choice, matching exercises, fill in the gap etc. The TOEFL is all primarily multiple-choice. If you dread the face-to-face speaking portion, then the TOEFL is more suitable as you record your answers on a computer.

Important Point

International students set on earning a master’s degree in biology or any other in the United States needs to take the Academic test – not the General. The latter is for people emigrating to this country to work or use English in a non-academic or research setting. You may find exceptions with particular schools. However, to be safe, it is imperative to take the Academic tests.

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