English fluency testing requirements for international students pose admissions barriers

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Photo Credit: Taylor Sweet | Daily Texan Staff

A lack of available standardized testing for English proficiency in other countries has led to technological and financial challenges for international students applying to UT and other colleges in the U.S.

Testing centers for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the preferred English proficiency test for UT admissions, closed testing sites around the world due to COVID-19 in March. This closure reduced opportunities to take the test for those who wanted to take it last spring.

Depending on the country and testing center, some locations have decided to reopen for in-person tests. However, students who live in countries where centers have not reopened must search for alternatives and support from prospective universities. 

“English proficiency exams are important to assessing a student’s ability to manage the coursework if admitted to UT,” said Robert Watkins, special assistant to the director at the Graduate and International Admissions Center. “The graduate and international admissions center is not providing financial aid as grants for taking English proficiency tests as this would be the purview of the testing agencies. Technologically, there is nothing our office can do to interdict the testing procedures of outside entities.”

The price of TOEFL ranges from $160 to $300 depending on the country. UT admissions also accepts the international English Language Testing System, another English proficiency test set up similarly to the TOEFL with a price range from $215 to $250. 

 

While cheaper and more accessible alternatives to these two tests exist, Watkins said they are not widely accepted.

Arthur Freitas, a mechanical engineering senior from Brazil, said he is part of a mentor program for other Brazilian students looking to study abroad and recently, taking the exam has become challenging for his mentees.

“(A mentee) was going to take the TOEFL last weekend, but they canceled it, so he had to reschedule for next month,” Freitas said. “He thought about taking it at home, but he was very scared that he might lose internet connection, which leads to losing the test.”

ProctorU, the proctor system used for TOEFL tests, requires “a strong and stable internet connection to support screen sharing and remote proctoring software,” as well as a moveable camera and speaker, according to their website. 

The test center availability page on the TOEFL website shows no available seats in any testing center in Brazil for the next two months.

Manas Kale, a graduate computer science applicant from India, said being able to take the test in the testing center in the summer of 2019 helped her concentrate.  

“Personally, I think the testing center helps with your concentration compared to home,” Kale said.

There is only one testing center open in India for the test in the next two scheduled months, according to the TOEFL website.

“Applicants should choose the best options among the tests we require (TOEFL or IELTS), locality, distance to nearest test site and dates most convenient to their own personal situation,” Watkins said.