Students considering an LLM are understandably concerned about the general testing requirements for admission into LLM programs in the United States. The good news is that because an LLM is a post-graduate academic degree, the testing requirements are rather limited. All students are required to submit transcripts from their previous law school, and international students are required to provide proof of English competency.
Most LLM programs require completion of a JD, LLB or equivalent degree prior to admission. Students must submit official transcripts to the LLM programs of their choice to prove completion of their law degree. Transcripts prove educational legal competency, and as a result, no independent test of legal knowledge is required.
English Language Competency
LLM programs may require certain international students to prove English competency. For students who did not complete high school in an English language school or English-speaking country, English language competency must be proven via test for most LLM programs. There are several tests for English language competency, the most popular being the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Some LLM programs also accept the International English Language Testing System (IETLS) and the International Legal English Certificate (ILEC) as proof of English language competency. We will discuss each of these tests below, but we encourage you to look at the testing requirements for each school you are interested in, so that you have ample time to prepare for and take the required tests.
The TOEFL is available in three forms: a paper-based test (PBT), computer-based test (CBT) and Internet-based test (IBT). The TOEFL tests university-level English in listening, reading, speaking and writing skills. The TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). ETS offers a number of different preparation tools for students who wish to work to import their English language skills prior to testing, and there are a number of outside sources for students to use in preparation as well.
The IETLS is another widely used English language proficiency test. IETLS is available in two different tests: the Academic and General Training tests. The Academic test is used in academic settings and is the required test for most LLM programs. The General Training test is not accepted for LLM admissions. Like the TOEFL, the IETLS also tests listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.
The ILEC is a Cambridge ESOL examination. Non-native English speakers are tested to determine whether or not they are able to communicate effectively in English in the legal environment. Like the TOEFL and IETLS, the ILEC also tests reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, but within the context of the practice of law.
The required score for program admission for any of the above-mentioned tests varies across LLM programs, but generally speaking, top law schools require the following minimum scores:
TOEFL PBT: 600
TOEFL CBT: 250
TOEFL IBT: 100
Some law schools waive the testing requirement for non-native English speakers if the student attended an English-language college or law school. Waiver allows the student to avoid taking one of the English competency tests mentioned above. It is important to check with your intended schools directly to see if you can waive the English-language testing requirement.
The only direct testing requirement for an LL.M. is proof of English competency. The TOEFL is the most widely accepted test but may not be accepted by every program you intend to apply to. We encourage you to explore the required tests for each of the law schools you would like to attend early in the application process so that you have ample time to prepare for and take the necessary tests.