If you are considering higher education in the United States, you no doubt know that before you can be accepted into most programs, you must demonstrate a certain degree of proficiency in English.
Many people are familiar with the Test of English as a Foreign Language (or TOEFL), which is the standardized exam most commonly used by colleges and universities when evaluating international applicants. What you may be less familiar with, however, is the Test of English for International Communication (or TOEIC).
There are important similarities and differences between these two exams that you should examine before deciding which test is right for you.
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
First offered in 1964, the TOEFL is frequently used by American schools to determine how well potential international students can read, speak, write, and understand English. The test consists of four sections: Reading, in which you answer questions about several passages; Listening, in which you answer questions about conversations and lectures; Speaking, in which you verbally make an argument, state an opinion, and so on; and Writing, in which you write essays based on exam tasks. The TOEFL is typically proctored electronically, but a paper option does exist for certain circumstances.
For current students, the content of the TOEFL will likely feel familiar, as the test is largely oriented toward testing your academic knowledge via classroom tasks, textbook passages, etc. Moreover, there is no official passing or failing grade—rather, each portion of the exam is given a score of 0-30 points, for a total score of 0-120.
The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)
The largest difference between the TOEIC and the TOEFL is who takes each test and why. Unlike the TOEFL, which is designed for academia, the TOEIC assesses a person’s ability to use English in a real-world context like business.
For instance, a person who was pursuing a position working in a luxury resort would need to know how to work with basic business concepts in English. In this case, he or she might decide to take the TOEIC, as it demonstrates the test-taker’s proficiency in this field.
The content of the TOEIC is otherwise similar to the TOEFL—both assess listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills.
Choosing the right exam
When deciding which test is right for you, there are three critically important items to take into consideration. First, do the universities to which you are applying have any requirements for English language assessment? Most schools will accept TOEFL scores, but fewer will accept the TOEIC. Before registering for either exam, contact each university to determine which it prefers or accepts.
The second item to consider is what you plan to do with your test scores. If the schools do not have a preference and you plan to enter the business community in an English-speaking country, taking the TOEIC might be in your best interest because it measures your ability to use English in a real-world context.
Finally, take a moment to consider the ways in which you have studied English to date, as well as which areas are your strengths. As previously mentioned, the TOEFL is primarily intended for academic environments, which means that the exam is oriented toward those who have learned English through textbooks and in classrooms.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.