Many international applicants are curious as to why graduate schools require an English language test along with the GMAT or the GRE. The latter tests are quite challenging and are already conducted in English, so why take TOEFL or IELTS, in addition?
Well, the reason is actually quite simple. Although the GMAT and GRE are administered in English, they do not truly test language proficiency.
Language vs. Aptitude Tests
Test-takers should be fluent in English to take GMAT and GRE, but these exams are just reasoning tests. The GMAT and GRE measure your aptitude for graduate school success by assessing your analytical thinking, quantitative skills, comprehension of complex texts, ability to identify arguments, etc.
These tests do require fluency in English because this is the language of the test. As such, you will need to brush-up your knowledge of standard English grammar and upgrade your vocabulary to an academic level to cope with the Verbal Sections and the Analytical Writing assessments. In addition, the GMAT and GRE will both require a refresher of high school and college math skills.
What language skills do you use on the GMAT and GRE?
1) Reading Comprehension
Both the GRE and GMAT are conducted entirely in English, so you should be able to comprehend all instructions and test questions, as well as be able to read quickly and understand what you are reading in detail.
The vocabulary in some parts of these tests can be at a very high academic level, or can be highly specialized in a certain field. On the GMAT, for example, you can find texts about history, biology and chemistry with very specific terminology. Don’t be surprised – the GMAT opens the door to business school, which prepares future managers. Managers have to be able to make decisions in any industry, not necessarily knowing all the details and terminology in the field.
Reading long, specialized text is essential for success in graduate school, but the GMAT and GRE do not test other equally important language skills such as your listening, comprehension and speaking abilities.
2) Applying Grammar Rules
Mastery of grammar rules and having an experienced eye for tiny details is essential for the Verbal Sections of the GRE and GMAT. Your grammar expertise will help you with, for example, GMAT Sentence Correction questions. Let’s look at how you can work on this using the following practice question; you have to choose which of the five answer choices is correct in order to replace the underlined part of the sentence:
SARS coronavirus – the virus that causes Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome – does not seem to transmit easily from person to person, though in China it has infected the family members and health care personnel taking care of them.
(A) it has infected the family members and health care personnel taking care of them
(B) it has infected the family members and health care personnel who had taken care of them
(C) the virus has infected the family members and health care personnel who have taken care of them
(D) the virus had infected the family members and health care personnel who took care of victims
E) it has infected the family members and health care personnel taking care of victims
Can you see how having a knowledge of grammar rules and a decision-point strategy can help you find the right answer? Veritas Prep experts explain:
“In the original sentence, you will probably not notice the error with “them” at the end until you see the choice of “victims” in (D) and (E). The “them” in (A), (B), and (C) has no antecedent in the sentence. When you say “has infected THE family members and health personnel taking care of them” you need to have something for “them” to refer back to (it is not referring to family members or health personnel as that would be illogical – they are THE people doing the taking care of). In (D) the past perfect “had infected” is illogical as the virus did not infect the people BEFORE they took care of the people with the virus (the victims). (E) gets everything correct – it uses the proper, logical tense and uses “victims” instead of “them”. Answer is (E).”
3) Writing and Style
Both the GMAT and the GRE have writing components. For the GRE, you are required to write two essays – Analysis of an Argument and Analysis of a Statement. The GMAT has only one essay – Analysis of the Argument. Although the focus of this part of the test is on your analytical skills, your presentation, use of correct grammar, level of vocabulary, structure and writing style will also count towards your score.
What language skills do the TOEFL and IELTS test?
The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are the most well-known English proficiency tests required by universities. Although there are a number of differences between these tests, they both check all English language skills. In this way, university Admissions Committees make sure that prospective applicants can freely communicate in English in an academic environment, as well as make the most of their extracurricular activities and social life while at school.
The TOEFL and IELTS both assess:
1) Listening Comprehension
During these tests, you will listen to recordings of native speakers talking about different topics. Some of them are related to university life, such as lectures, class discussions, and talks between professors and students or among students. These tests reflect the variety of native English accents around the world, just as most of the international university classrooms do.
2) Reading Comprehension
You will have to read (within a specified time) large chunks of text on different topics. Vocabulary is at an academic level here, and the topics are from various fields of study and everyday situations. Your understanding of these texts will be verified in different ways.
As with the GMAT and GRE, you will have questions that require a mastery of standard English grammar. You will have to find the best answer for certain Verbal questions, or decide whether a sentence is correct or incorrect (and how to correct it).
Both the IELTS and TOEFL exams have a written section. During this part of the test, you will have to write an essay – vocabulary used, clarity of expression, grammar, style, structure and focus on the topic are all considered in evaluating your essay.
Oral communication is essential in graduate school, especially when the teaching methodology focuses on class discussion, group projects, presentations, and networking. While the Oral Section tests listening comprehension again, its primary purpose is to assess your ability to express yourself orally. For the TOEFL exam, the Oral Section, like the rest of the test, is carried out on a computer – you will listen to the instructions and then record your oral presentation. For the IELTS exam, your oral ability is assessed though a live, face-to-face conversation with the examiners.
Can language tests be waived?
Some universities will waive the requirement for a language test for international applicants who have recently completed a Bachelor’s Degree course studied entirely in English. In rare cases, some business schools will not require applicants to take the IELTS or TOEFL, since they will have the chance to evaluate candidates’ language skills during the admissions interview. This does not mean that all schools requiring an admission interview will waive the TOEFL/IELTS requirement, however, so it is best to check with the schools you are applying to for their policies on the matter.
Now you can clearly see how these two types of tests differ, and why most universities and business schools require both an aptitude test (the GMAT and GRE) and a language proficiency test. Admissions Committees require evidence that you have the potential to succeed with your studies, and that neither your language nor reasoning skills will be barriers.