Language Tests for Executive MBA (Part I)

Language Tests for Executive MBA (Part I)

You are a business professional with five or more years of experience in a company of international make-up in a senior or middle management position. You wish to improve your leadership skills or acquire new ones that will help you advance in your career. You may even wish to set up your own company and become better at creating business strategies leading to success. For many, one of the Executive MBA (EMBA) programmes offered by business schools across the globe, is the necessary path to accomplishing all these goals and refreshing their perspective.

Check out: How Language Tests Differ from GMAT and GRE

You must be aware by now that before you consider applying for an EMBA degree you will need to be a university graduate, have a minimum of five years working experience, score a satisfactory result in a GMAT exam or an equivalent and be able to obtain glowing references from present or past employers. In addition to these prerequisites all international EMBA programmes would expect you to demonstrate a sufficiently high level of proficiency in English and more often than not – show a certificate to prove it. TOEFL or IELTS are the most commonly required exam formats. In some places TOEIC or PTE would also qualify.

But many EMBA applicants frown at having to submit proof of their English language skills. The most common reaction to this requirement goes like this:

I have been doing business in English for the last 10 years now. So why do I need to prove how good I am with English?

The reason

First of all TOEFL and IELTS are designed to test all four language skills, i.e. Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. In your working experience you may get to practise let’s say, mostly listening and speaking and do less reading and writing, or vice-versa depending on your job description. The preparation for TOEFL or IELTS would give you the chance to brush up on those language skills which might have inadvertently lapsed while your work demanded perfecting others.

Moreover, re-entering the academic world comes with an expectation to demonstrate a standard of English that is uniformly higher than you would normally employ in your day-to-day interactions with colleagues or in business communication with clients. Work in any company usually revolves around a particular set of business vocabulary which can sometimes be narrowing. Academic work, on the other hand, is intended to expand your horizons, not only in business leadership, and take your usage of English to a higher level. Once enrolled on an EMBA programme you will be taught in academic English, use materials written in academic style, participate in class discussions where you should be able to back your opinions with strong argumentation, and – not least – you will be assigned various writing tasks such as projects, papers and essays, where your standard of English will truly show.

To that end, preparing for a TOEFL or IELTS exam would be beneficial in evaluating your level of command of all four language skills and making the necessary adjustments. You could regard English exams as a stepping stone which will test your readiness to face the challenges of academia. Passing them successfully would guarantee a smooth ride through your future EMBA studies.

The options

So let us now focus on the specifics of the most popular exams and point to certain differences. The basic common feature of the top two – TOEFL and, IELTS – is the four-section format which tests the four main language skills: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. In both tests each section is given an equal weight in the forming of the overall score.


TOEFL is the most popular and widely accepted of the four standardised tests. The test comes in three versions: two computerised tests – the TOEFL iBT Test and TOEFL Computer-based Test – plus the TOEFL Paper-delivered Test. The two computerised versions follow exactly the same format, apart from the Speaking part. Currently the most popular is the iBT version, although accessibility depends on location. All tests must be taken in certified testing centres. The name iBT – Internet-Based Test – might lead you to think that it can be taken in any location, via the Internet, but this is not the case. The maximum test score in the TOEFL iBT is 120 points, divided equally between the 4 sections. TOEFL test scores can be reported up to two years after the test date.

Check out: How to Self-Prepare for English Tests

It is worth noting that the structure of the tests combines two or three of the main language skills. For instance, you read, listen and then speak in response to questions, or you read, listen and then write in response to questions. The total test time is 4.5 hours, which makes it the longest of the four featured tests. There is no fixed pass or fail score, and individual higher education institutions set their own score requirements. For instance, Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University in Canada requires a 93 score with a minimum of 20 for each component, which clearly indicates the expectation of a uniformly high level of command of all four language skills; EU Business School (Barcelona, Geneva, Montreux, Munich) has 89 as a minimum requirement; whilst ESADE (Spain, Singapore, US, Finland, Costa Rica) expects a slightly higher score of 100. The TOEFL certificate is valid for three years.


Let us now take a look at the second most popular test recognised by universities around the world – IELTS. This exam offers two variations, depending on whether you are planning to study, or to migrate and work in an English-speaking country. Thus the IELTS Academic Test is designed for people applying for higher education institutions or professional registration in English-speaking countries, with a special emphasis on academic language and tasks that students would face in university. IELTS General Training Test, on the other hand, is for those who wish to go to English speaking countries for secondary education, work or training. EMBA programmes require the Academic Test.

The total IELTS exam time is two hours and 45 minutes. This is nearly two hours shorter than the TOEFL– something to bear in mind when deciding whether to sit the TOEFL or IELTS. It is also worth noting that while the Listening, Reading and Writing components of the IELTS are completed on the same day, the Speaking component can be done up to a week earlier or later. The IELTS test is normally only paper-based and the speaking part is conducted face-to-face by an examiner. However, if you are taking the IELTS to get a visa through UK immigration, you might be able to take it on a computer.

IELTS results are reported as band scores on a scale from 1 (the lowest) to 9 (the highest). A separate score is given for each of the four test components, then the individual scores are averaged and rounded to form the overall band score.

Read Part 2 of this article here.



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