Nov 24, 2023

Our Guide to English Language Proficiency Exams

Blog hero banner

If you want to live, work, or study abroad then you might need to take a language proficiency test as part of your visa conditions. When it comes to English language proficiency tests, there are lots of different options, and you might be asking yourself questions like:

  • Is IELTS difficult?
  • What is the TOEIC exam for?
  • Why should I do the Cambridge English test?

We know the importance of these tests, and that’s why we’re here to make it a bit simpler. We’ll look at three of the biggest and most well known English proficiency tests, what makes each one unique, and why you might need to study them!

Struggling to decide which English exam to take

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam is the most popular and common English language proficiency test in the world, with over 3 million tests taken each year. It is the international standard for academic English.

IELTS is accepted by most Australian, British, Canadian, European, Irish, and New Zealand universities and academic institutions. It is also accepted by some schools in the United States such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT.

The exam consists of four different parts, each one covering a different skill. The listening paper takes 40 minutes, and the speaking session lasts around 10-15 minutes. The reading and writing portions of the exam are each 60 minutes long, meaning an IELTS exam takes 3 hours to complete.

After you’ve completed the exam, it will be marked, and you’ll receive a ‘band’ score from 0-9.0, with each level going up by 0.5. Most universities will expect students to have an IELTS band score of 6.5 or above, but some like Cambridge and Oxford will only accept 7.5 and above.

However, IELTS exams aren’t just for university admissions – many countries will accept IELTS for immigration purposes. While each country is slightly different, IELTS is accepted as proof of a person’s competence in English in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

If you’re interested in taking the exam, don’t worry! IELTS exams take place at over 1,600 locations in more than 140 countries. Each exam centre can run the test up to four times per month, so you might not need to wait too long to take it!


TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication)

The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is another English language proficiency exam, which unlike IELTS focuses more on the kind of communication you’ll need every day in the workplace and everyday life.

TOEIC exams are accepted by some universities and educational institutions, but isn’t as widely accepted as IELTS is, so make sure you do your research!

Unlike IELTS, which requires you to take an exam in all four skills, the TOEIC is split into two tests. The Listening and Reading Test focuses on comprehension and lasts two hours in total. There is also a TOEIC Speaking and Writing Test, which was introduced in 2006. You can take an exam in only speaking or writing, but the total test takes around 80 minutes to complete.

When it comes to receiving a grade, TOEIC also uses a number system. The Listening and Reading tests are each made up of a score from 0-495. The two scores are added up to give you a score between 0 and 990. The Speaking and Writing tests are similar, but each one is graded from 0-200. Test takers are then placed into one of several proficiency levels.

While it might not be as popular, the TOEIC is still a great test to show your level of English. Exams take place often, but make sure you check when your next local exam is!

IELTS exams are one of the most popular proficiency exams, and are accepted by thousands of universities across the world

Cambridge English Proficiency

Cambridge English is another popular choice for English language proficiency tests, and originally started in 1913! The Cambridge English exams are run by the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Press.

Cambridge English is a well trusted name, with more than 25,000 organisations in over 130 countries around the world accepting them as proof of English language ability. They even have a handy tool on their website, where you can check what places accept the exams!

The format of Cambridge English exams is slightly different. Unlike IELTS or TOEIC, Cambridge English has many different exams you can take. Cambridge exams are available in a range of levels from Key to Proficiency, and are made up of four different tests, covering reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

In terms of grades, Cambridge will give you a result according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), with the Key exam being around A2 level, and the Proficiency exam being a C2 (or fluent) level.

Exam dates depend on each individual centre, but there are over 2,800 exam centres around the world, so it’s best to check when your local centre is holding exams!

Studying hard towards their IELTS exam

What Next?

If you’re wondering how to study at a university in the UK, or maybe how to make yourself look more attractive to employers, then taking an English language proficiency test is a great idea. Make sure to research which exam would suit you, and get studying!

If you’re looking for help getting ready for your exam, why not check out our Exam Preparation Courses?

You may also like

We use technology on our website to personalize content, customize and measure advertising, and analyze website traffic. By clicking OK, you agree to the use of these technologies in their entirety.

Learn more in our Privacy Policy.