A Guide to English Language Proficiency Tests

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English language requirements vary across universities and degrees. Higher test scores are often required for medicine and law.

Performing well on the required test is important for international students' applications. The tests are required to show your potential university or college how well you can communicate in English.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

Recognition: The IELTS test is widely recognised around the world. Universities in the UK prefer IELTS to other tests.

Format: The test takes just under three hours. There are four parts to the IELTS test: reading, writing, listening and speaking. IELTS is either paper-based or computer-based. Computer-delivered IELTS have more test dates to choose from and results are available in 5-7 days.

Qualifications: There are two qualifications – Academic and General Training. The Academic test is aimed at those wishing to study undergraduate or postgraduate courses in a British university or college. The General Training test is recommended for people wishing to study below degree level, work or undertake work-related training in an English-speaking country, or migrate to an English-speaking country.

Grading: Applicants will receive a score between 1 and 9, with the latter being the highest.

Validity: The mark obtained is valid for 2 years after the exam date.

For more information and sample test questions: https://www.ielts.org

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

Recognition: TOEFL is recognised around the world. It is usually accepted by American universities.

Format: The TOEFL test may be administered via the internet (TOEFL iBT Test) or paper-based exam is available (TOEFL PBT) if the TOEFL test centre is without internet access. The test takes place over the course of a day and is in four different parts: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Qualifications: The target test-taker for the TOEFL is a candidate for higher education in an English-speaking country. TOEFL measures the test-taker's ability to function in an English-speaking academic environment.

Grading: Applicants will receive an individual score for each of these four areas as well as an overall score (on a scale from 0–120).

Validity: The mark obtained is valid for 2 years after the exam date.

For more information and sample test questions: https://www.ets.org/toefl

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)

Recognition: PTE Academic is accepted by over 80% of universities and colleges in the UK, Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland and is approved by the UK Border Agency for Tier 4 visa applications. It is approved by the Australian government for all visa applications. PTE exam is not valid for a Canadian permanent residency process.

Format: It tests English language ability in a three-hour exam, which involves a number of real-life settings. There are 20 different types of tasks and a computer-based exam on speaking, writing, reading and listening skills. Test results are received in around five working days.

Qualifications: PTE Academic is aimed at students wishing to study undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA studies in the UK. Pearson also administer the Pearson Test of English General, aimed at general English language learning for immigration purposes but not recognised by the UK Border Agency, or by UK universities.

Grading: Test takers receive an overall score between 1 and 90, as well as scores for each skill area.

Validity: PTE Academic is valid for two years after the exam date.

For more information and sample test questions: https://pearsonpte.com/

Cambridge English Language Assessment (CAE/Cambridge ESOL)

Recognition: It is widely recognised by institutions in 130 countries and can be used for student visa applications.

Format: The exam is divided into five sections: reading, writing, use of English, listening and speaking, with each section counting as 20% towards the final mark. The speaking test is carried out with two candidates and two examiners to create a more realistic situation. Exams are offered at many levels, from Starter and Schools through to Advanced and Business.

Qualifications: The Cambridge English Advanced exam is aimed at students following a degree-level course at university. Cambridge also offer qualifications targeted at those studying or working in international law, accountancy or finance.

Grading: The Cambridge exams are traditional ‘pass or fail’ exams whereas the others give you an English score on a graded scale.

Validity: Cambridge English exams do not have an expiration date and are valid for an indefinite period of time.

For more information and sample test questions: https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/

Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)

Recognition: The CELPIP Tests are Canada's leading general English tests for immigration, citizenship, and professional designation. CELPIP Tests sittings are available in Canada, UAE, USA, Philippines, and India.

Format: The CELPIP - General Test has four components: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. The CELPIP - General LS Test has two components: Listening and Speaking. The test is computer-delivered done in just one sitting. CELPIP - General total test time is about 3 hours. CELPIP - General LS total test time is about 1h10m. Results are available online in just 4 to 5 calendar days.

Qualifications: There are two types of CELPIP tests to choose from. The CELPIP - General evaluates test taker’s English listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills and is officially designated for permanent residence applications by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), and is also accepted for professional designations. The CELPIP - General LS evaluates test taker’s English listening and speaking skills and is officially designated for citizenship applications by IRCC, and is also accepted for professional designations.

Grading: Each component of the CELPIP-General Test and the CELPIP-General LS Test is given a CELPIP level from M to 12, with the latter being the highest.

Validity: The scores are made available for 2 years from the date of the test. The length of time that your scores are considered valid by various institutions, however, is determined by their individual policies.

For more information and sample test questions: https://www.celpip.ca/

Other English Language Qualifications

Test of English for International Communication® (TOEIC) - An international standardised test of English language proficiency for non-native speakers designed specifically to measure the everyday English skills of people working in an international environment. TOEIC was specifically designed to be a test of Business English and the English that people need to use in the workplace.

Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) – a teaching qualification that focuses on core teaching concepts for teachers of English as a foreign language. TKT is a test of the skills you need to be successful in teaching English to speakers of other languages.

Test of Legal English Skills (TOLES) – professional English language training for international lawyers, law students and legal translators. The TOLES exams are issued by Global Legal English, members of the International Division of the Law Society of England and Wales.

Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI) - measures your ability to speak in a particular language.

Oral Proficiency Interview by Computer (OPIc) - is a test of spoken English fluency. OPIC is an online test where students answer questions set by a computer.

Canadian Academic English Language Assessment (CAEL) - is a test designed to measure the English language proficiency of students planning to study in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

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