What are English Proficiency Tests?

TOEFL, IELTS, CAE and the CPE

International students applying to programs taught in English must provide proof their of English proficiency as part of their applications. This ensures that they have the necessary English skills to understand academic writing, produce scholarly writing, and communicate effectively with their supervisor. Here is an overview of the four most widely-accepted English proficiency tests: the TOEFL, the IELTS, the CAE, and the CPE.

Onsite testing

On this site there are English proficiency tests for you to try. Some start easy, and go tot he more difficult ones you will find in the real exams.

TOEFL

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is probably the best-known and most commonly used English proficiency test. Along with the IELTS, it is one of the two tests that are usually accepted by American universities. The TOEFL was designed specifically to test knowledge of English as it is used in a college or university setting.

Length

Four hours

Format

There are currently two formats: the internet-based test (iBT) and a new paper-delivered test that replaces the old paper-based test which is no longer administered. The internet-based test is done entirely on a computer, including the speaking portion of the test. Answers are recorded and evaluated by the graders.

Sections

Reading comprehension, listening comprehension, speaking, and written expression

Scoring

Each section is worth 30 points for a maximum score of 120. Scores are good for two years.

Commonly required score

Many universities require scores in the range of 90-100, which is equivalent to B2 in the Common European Framework (CEF) proficiency levels. Some universities also require a minimum score in each section in addition to a minimum overall score.

Price

The cost of the test varies according to location, but $200 USD is average.

Where

You can register to take the TOEFL at your nearest test centre.

How often

The test is administered on fixed dates more than 50 times a year.

IELTS-Academic Version

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is widely recognized by universities and employers around the world. There are two versions of the test: an academic version and a general training version. While universities require the academic version, the general training version is used by some government bodies for work and immigration permits.

Length

Three hours

Format

Unlike the TOEFL, the speaking portion of the IELTS is done in person with an examiner. The IELTS has more diverse question formats as well, with a mix of multiple choice, diagram labelling, matching, short answer, and sentence completion.

Sections

Listening (40 minutes), reading (60 minutes), writing (60 minutes), and speaking (11-14 minutes)

Scoring

Scores range from 1 to 9 including half scores. The results are delivered within 13 days of taking the test and are valid for two years.

Commonly required score

Many universities require scores in the range of 6-7, which is equivalent to B2/C1 in the CEF proficiency levels.

Price

$240 USD

Where

You can register to take the test at your local testing centre.

How often

Testing centres usually offer the IELTS twice a month on the weekends.

CAE

The Cambridge exams are not as common globally as the TOEFL or IELTS, however they are often required for admission to UK universities. The Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) is best suited to someone who is already confident in their English communication. As the name implies, it is an advanced test accepted as proof of C1 level English (equivalent to a score of 7-8 on the IELTS or 110-120 on the TOEFL).

Length

Four hours

Format

The test can be done in person or on the computer, though not all test centres offer both versions. The questions are a mix of multiple choice, fill in the blanks, and matching. The speaking test is done in person with another test taker and two examiners. One examiner conducts the test while the other evaluates you and the other test taker.

Sections

Reading and use of English (90 minutes), writing (90 minutes), listening (40 minutes), speaking (15 minutes)

Scoring

Test takers can earn a grade of (from lowest to highest) B2, C, B, or A. C is the lowest passing grade and those who score a B or A will earn a C1 Advanced certificate. This certificate and score do not expire.

Commonly required score

Most universities require a grade of B or higher for admission.

Price

The CAE costs around 150 EUR.

Where

You can take the CAE at your nearest test centre. Both the paper-based and computer-based test can be done monthly.

How often

This test can be taken monthly.

CPE

The Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English is most advanced of these four exams. Like the CAE, this exam is often used in UK university admissions. It tests knowledge of English at the C2 level (equivalent to a score of 8.5-9 on the IELTS and above the maximum score of the TOEFL).

Length

Four hours

Format

The test can be done in person or on the computer, though not all test centres offer both versions. The questions are a mix of multiple choice, fill in the blanks, and matching. The speaking test is done in person with another test taker and two examiners. One examiner conducts the test while the other evaluates you and the other test taker.

Sections

Reading and use of English (90 minutes), writing (90 minutes), listening (40 minutes), and speaking (16 minutes)

Scoring

Test takers can earn a grade of (from lowest to highest) C1, C, B, or A. C is the lowest passing grade and those who score a B or A will earn a C2 Proficiency certificate. This certificate and score do not expire.

Commonly required score

Most universities require a grade of C or higher for admission.

Price

The CPE costs around 150 EUR.

Where

You can register and take the test at your nearest test centre.

How often

This test is only offered twice per year in June and December.

English proficiency test

The two most important English proficiency tests that Indian students take while seeking admission in an English country are: International English Language Testing System (IELTS), and Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL).

In Europe and Australia, IELTS is more popular while in the USA, TOEFL is more popular. However, scores of both the tests are now accepted as proof of student's English proficiency by almost all the universities, irrespective of the continent where they are located.

If you are specifically targeting European universities and educational institutions, IELTS is more widely accepted there. Conducted jointly by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British Council and IDP Education Australia, IELTS is considered slightly more difficult than TOEFL. Both TOEFL and IELTS evaluate student's skills in English writing, listening and reading skills. But while TOEFL focuses on sentence structure in its paper-based and computer-based formats, IELTS focuses on ‘speaking' skills of the candidates.

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