Do UK universities accept TOEFL®?


The TOEFL is a test made by an organization based in the US. What does that mean for the TOEFL? Will it be accepted in the UK?

The TOEFL is currently accepted by all UK universities, including all of the Russell Group schools. However, as of July 2014, the UK government has no longer been accepting the TOEFL for immigration purposes for student visas. Therefore it may be a better option to do the IELTS or another government-approved exam.

The TOEFL and the UK

ETS® (Educational Testing Service) came up with TOEFL in 1964 to be able to test the English language abilities of foreign students that wanted to study at US universities. Much time has passed since the TOEFL started, and now over 2 million people take it every year to measure their English communication abilities in the four areas: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Since then, the TOEFL has gained credibility not only in the US, but worldwide. The TOEFL is by far the most popular test among students needing to prove their English competency before going abroad. This is because there are over 11,000 universities across 150+ countries worldwide that accept it, making it the most widely-accepted test for certifying your level of English.

Compared to other English tests, TOEFL is generally the most convenient testing option also. The fact that the ETS offers 60 TOEFL testing dates in 4000 testing centers worldwide per year also makes TOEFL a great choice – it is easy to find a date and center to suit your needs.

In addition, you are sure to do the TOEFL test all in one go. Since the IELTS speaking portion is done with a live examiner, Cambridge may schedule your speaking test up to a week before the rest of your test, which can be inconvenient.

The TOEFL, therefore, seems like the best option. Or is it? While it seems like the best option, it may not be the best one for immigration, as you will hit some roadblocks once you start your visa application process.

Does the UK accept TOEFL for immigration purposes?

It’s true: 100% of UK universities accept the TOEFL as proof of your English level. However, the UK government stopped accepting the TOEFL for student visas (previously known as “Tier 4” visas) in mid-2014. That July, the coalition government removed ETS (the makers of TOEFL) from the list of the UK’s approved suppliers of the English language.

While the TOEFL seems like the best option, it may not be the best one for immigration, as you will hit some roadblocks once you start your UK visa application process.

Because of this change, you will need to take another English language test, also called a SELT (Secure English Language Test), approved by the government of the United Kingdom. IELTS is one of these such tests.

What is the IELTS?

The most obvious option at this point would be the IELTS, which stands for International English Language Testing System. The IELTS is also well-known across the world.

In the 1980s the British Council, Cambridge, and IDP (the Australian International Development Program) developed what today is called IELTS to test students on their English capabilities for academic purposes.

Since the British Council is part of the UK government, the IELTS is definitely valid proof of your English abilities.

The IELTS measures scores a little differently than the TOEFL, as it is scored on a scale of 1 to 9. Each of these point values is called a “band.” Each section (reading, listening, writing, and speaking) is scored on that scale, and then your comprehensive score is an average of the four scores, rounded to the nearest whole or half band (point).

For instance, if you get a 7 in reading, a 6 in listening, a 6.5 in writing, and a 5.5 in speaking, your average score is 6.5 (the sum of the scores is 25, divided by the four sections gives you 6.25, which rounds up to 6.5). 

What score do you need on the IELTS to get your UK student visa?

If you are going to be studying at degree level or higher, you will need to achieve the equivalent of 5.5 on each of the four sections on the IELTS for UKVI.

Degree level or higher means that you are enrolled in a level 6, 7 or 8 course on the RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework). The most common degrees that this would include are a bachelor’s/undergraduate degree (level 6), a master’s degree (level 7), or a doctorate (level 8).

If you will be studying below degree level (RQF 3, 4 and 5), you will need to get a 4.0 on each of the four sections. These 3 levels of education generally comprise the awards that grant you access to higher education, apprenticeships, and studies that count up to two years towards a degree.

Does the UK government accept other tests besides IELTS?

While the IELTS is the most popular choice for gaining access to the UK and its universities, the government of the United Kingdom also accepts other means of proving your English abilities.  

Apart from IELTS, the Government of the United Kingdom accepts certificates from the following providers: 

LanguageCert

The UK government has approved the LanguageCert International ESOL SELT as a way for proving your level of English. While IELTS is one test with a score based on how well you do, LanguageCert International ESOL SELT tests how well you do at the tested level on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). 

For instance, if you are studying below degree level, you can take LanguageCert’s B1 Achiever test. In order to achieve a passing grade in the eyes of UK immigration, you will need to score at least 33/50 on each of the four sections.

If you will be studying at a degree level or higher, you can take LanguageCert’s B2 Communicator test. On this test, just like the B1, UK immigration will require you to score at least 33/50 in each of the four sections in order to meet the requirements for your visa.

LanguageCert’s tests cost about the same as the IELTS although the test cost varies based on the country you take it in. The major drawback is that they have fewer testing centers (usually one per country, if at all), so if you are not allowed to take the test online, it may prove a little more inconvenient than the IELTS. 

Pearson

The UK government has also approved Pearson’s PTE (Pearson Test of English) Academic UKVI. This test is similar to IELTS in that it is one test, and they determine your level based on your score.

If you are studying below degree level, you will need to score 43/90 in each of the four sections. If you are studying at a degree level or higher, you will need to score at least 59/90 in each of the four sections.

Pearson currently has about 250 testing centers in approximately 50 countries globally, so you will need to see if this option is convenient for you. The test costs about the same as the IELTS, although testing costs vary from country to country.

Trinity College London (UK only)

While TCL has testing centers in the UK and outside of the UK, this test can only be taken in the UK for it to be valid for your visa application. Like LanguageCert, you take Trinity’s Integrated Skills in English test at the level you need in order to get your visa. 

If you are studying below degree level, you will need to achieve a “pass” on the ISE I. If you are studying at degree level or higher, you will need to get a “pass” on the ISE II.

The test costs £180, and there are 7 testing centers in the UK:

  • Glasgow
  • Leeds
  • Birmingham
  • Manchester
  • London (3 locations – Hammersmith, Blackfriars, Croydon Stephenson House) 

Are there exemptions for the English language requirement for UK immigration?

Yes, there are! There are fundamentally four categories that would make you exempt from this requirement. 

  1. You are currently studying in the US, and want to study in the UK as part of your degree programme
  2. You are a Canadian national
  3. You have already had a UK visa that required you to prove your level of English
  4. You come from one of the following countries, or you completed the UK equivalent of a degree there:
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Republic of Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

Happy studying!

Ryan

Hey English Learners! I'm Ryan and I have over 4000 hours of English teaching experience. Even though I am now a management consultant in Ireland by day, I have created this blog because I am a teacher at heart and am passionate about the English language! Look forward to help you get your English Exam Passport. Cheers!

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