In today’s globalised world, it is increasingly important not only to be proficient in English but also to be able to prove your level of proficiency. Companies with international business often require job applicants to present a certificate that shows how fluent they are in English, while for non-natives applying to universities in English-speaking countries, demonstrating you have a high enough level of the language to study your chosen subject is a basic entry requirement. With so many options available, the first question has to be, ‘Which English exams should I choose?’ Here we look at what’s on offer. For some top tips on how to prepare, click here.
Which English exams should I choose?
1. PTE (Pearson Test of English), a globally recognised English language accreditation, focuses on assessing candidates’ ability to communicate in English in realistic situations and as such makes use of a range of real-life scenarios as opposed to direct tests of grammar and vocabulary. PTE tests both productive and receptive skills. There are six levels and candidates are assigned a score that maps to all six core bands of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (A1 – C2).
The tasks in the test follow on naturally from what happens in the EFL classroom, which, coupled with the score-based result, makes it ideal if you need to demonstrate your current level of English without taking a specialised exam preparation course.
A computer-based Academic version is also available, which is not only perfect if you’re planning to study overseas but is also accepted by the UK and Australian governments for visa applications. It can be taken any time, and unlike some other English language certificates, PTE certificates do not expire.
2. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is designed to test the academic English skills required in the university lecture hall or classroom. It is an essential requirement for entry to university in the US and emphasises North American English, making it the first choice for anyone looking to study in the States.
In the test, you may be asked to read a passage from a textbook or listen to a lecture and then speak or write in response. TOEFL is available both as a paper exam (PBT version) and online (iBT version) and is offered around 50 times a year. Candidates receive a score based on their aggregate performance in the four different parts of the test (speaking, listening, reading and writing).
3. IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is designed to measure your ability to use English in an academic environment. It tests all four skills and is most commonly used for college, school or university applications. It is especially popular with UK universities but is recognised by over 8,000 universities, schools, colleges, agencies, companies and employers in more than 135 countries.
Candidates get a score between 1 (non-user) and 9 (expert user) for each section. Universities often demand an IELTS score of 6 or 7. They may also demand a minimum score in each of the 4 sections. Certificates have a recommended validity of two years.
4. TOEIC is used mainly for business. Companies, especially in Asia, often require employees to have a certain TOEIC score to prove their English is good enough to work with and understand English-speaking clients and colleagues. The exam is available in two formats, which can be taken separately: TOEIC Speaking and Writing and TOEIC Reading and Listening.
5. Cambridge ESOL provide a wide range of English language exams, all of which are known and recognised by schools, universities and employers across the English-speaking world. They focus heavily on skills and consists of sections dedicated to speaking, listening, reading, writing and Use of English (a test of grammar, vocabulary and collocation), with the speaking exam taken with another candidate. Most in demand are the First Certificate (FCE) at B2 of the CEF and the Cambridge Advanced (CAE) at C1.
Unlike the above exams, the Cambridge exams are pass or fail, so it’s essential to choose the one that is appropriate to your level and to make sure you are as fully prepared as possible before sitting it.
Once you’ve answered the question ‘Which English exam should I choose?‘, it’s time to think about how best to prepare.
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