Students, here are other alternatives to IELTS and TOEFL

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Interested in studying abroad? Consider these options to showcase your mastery over the English language. Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

Studying abroad is expensive. In London, it costs approximately 1,500 pounds per month, according to Imperial College. That is not including the fees to take tests to show you can use English in unis.

Most unis require students to achieve a minimum score for their IELTS or TOEFL. These tests are popular for assessing a student’s English language competency — that is, how well you can read, write, listen and speak in English. In 2018, James Shipton, Head of IELTS, British Council, reported that 3.5 million people took the test

These tests aren’t free. In India, the registration fee for the IELTS and TOEFL exam is Rs 15,500 (around US$190.84 at the time of writing). It’s not a small amount and if you fail, you have to pay to retake it again.

If you are planning to study abroad, you may have wondered if there was a way to take your IELTS or TOEFL for free. We explore this myth and the alternatives you should consider if you can’t afford these tests:

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While there are free practice tests for IELTS, taking the IELTS or TOEFL tests is not free. Source: Philippe Lopez/AFP

Is it possible to take the IELTS or TOEFL for free?

No. The cost of an IELTS test differs from country to country and whether you’re doing it on paper or on the computer. For example, it costs 375 Australian dollars to do the test in Australia, while it ranges between US$245 to US$255 in the US. 

Likewise, it costs approximately US$180 to US$325 to take the TOEFL test. This includes your registration fees, score reports, and four score reports sent to your chosen institutions. Don’t forget the additional costs for late registration, retaking, rescheduling, and cancelling a test.

What are the alternatives to IELTS or TOEFL?

Is it too expensive for you to take the IELTS or TOEFL test? Don’t worry. Some international scholarships do not require students to show proof of English proficiency with formal certifications. Instead, prove your English proficiency through other means, such as asking for an English proficiency report from your university.

For example, the Chevening Scholarship committee waived English proficiency requirements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This prestigious scholarship covers full payment of tuition fees, an arrival and departure allowance, an economy return flight ticket(s) and an early visa clearance application. 

Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT) Scholarship applicants can show proof of their English proficiency in more accessible English test formats such as Duolingo or the Cambridge English test.

At some universities, an IELTS result exemption is possible. The University of Nottingham allows you to skip IELTS if you can show that you have achieved an English-language qualification equivalent to a GCSE English Language or English Literature grade of C or above. 

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The University of Alberta has removed Nigeria from the list of countries that have to present proof of their English language proficiency before admission. Source: Chris Jackson/Chris Jackson Collection/Getty Images/AFP

In some cases, students have reportedly succeeded in getting a uni to exempt a group of students from taking English proficiency tests. In Canada, a Nigerian academic has reportedly succeeded in getting the University of Alberta to remove Nigeria from the list of countries that have to present proof of their English language proficiency before admission. 

Do look for alternative measures to assess the English competency of international students as well. In the UK, these measures could include:

  1. English score obtained in high school exams: Achieving at least 70% in your senior year English exam in high school. Some universities may accept your English score obtained in either grades 10 or 12, with a minimum score of 75%.
  2. Medium of instruction: Submit proof that English is the medium of instruction in your school so your IELTS score may be waived.
  3. Online interview: University representatives may conduct an online interview session to gauge your English compatibility before considering you for admission to your selected programme.
  4. University-specific admission tests: A university may request that international students take their English proficiency test to satisfy the English requirements for specific programmes.
  5. Prior English-based courses: Some universities may waive IELTS requirements if you have achieved above-average grades in English-taught courses taken for one or two years.
  6. Pre-sessional English courses: UK universities may offer international students an alternative pathway into diploma or degree courses through intensive or pre-sessional English courses. These pathway programmes equip international students with the language comprehension to handle most English-taught courses at selected UK universities.