There are a range of English language tests available for students applying to university in the UK, with the main ones listed here. These can be taken in your home country and are needed when applying for university - each university will state a score they need for you to be considered and the score depends on the test taken, the level of your degree, the university you are choosing to apply to, and the subject you are looking to study. 

Most tests consist of four elements - speaking, listening, reading and writing - with the individual scores of each being added together to create an overall score. Universities might ask for an overall score and a particular score in one element, for example 92 (with minimum scores of listening 21, reading 22, speaking 23 and writing 23)

Most of the tests listed here are accepted by English speaking universities such as those in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, as well as countries that teach their courses in English; however IELTS (British) and TOEFL (American) are the most common soif you are unsure what to take we would recommend one of these. 

It might be in your interest to look at how the tests are structured and administered, as one may suit your style of learning more. Some of the differences between tests include the time required to take the exam, the order the sections are done, the time required to receive the results and the number of times per year the exam is administered in the area. Furthermore, there are differences in the skills tested: all of the exams have sections dedicated to reading, listening, writing and speaking while the Cambridge suite also includes a specific grammar and vocabulary section which is known as the use of English. The IELTS and TOEFL test these areas implicitly in the other sections of their exams. The TOEFL also has approximately 30 minutes of experimental material under consideration for future exams which is mixed in with either the reading or listening section.

IELTS and TOEFL are shorter than the Cambridge exams and they have the additional advantage of being completed in one day; the exams in the Cambridge suite require students to come on separate days for the written test and the oral test, usually about one or two weeks apart. In addition to the quicker assessment and delivery of results, the IELTS and TOEFL are administered much more frequently than the Cambridge main suite, and the British Council and Educational Testing Service can arrange for private sessions if the demand is large enough. See here for more information.

You can also choose from computer-based and paper-based tests.

As well as English language tests, universities also accept GCSE and iGCSE (generally at grade C or above) English if this is what you studied at school.

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The university might ask for a specific IELTS score and then say 'and equivalent' for all other English language tests, so if you are confused about what level your score is at, here is an indicator:

IELTS ScoreTOEFL iBT ScoreCAE ScoreCPE Score
9 118-120 -

80-100 (A C2)

8.5

115-117

-

75-79 (B C2)

8

110-114

80 (A C2)

60-74 (C C2)

7.5

102-109

74 (B C1)

45-59 (CEFR C1)

7

94-101

67 (C C1)

 

6.5

79-93

58 (C C1)

 

6

60-78

 52 (CEFR B2)

 

5.5

46-59

47 (CEFR B2) 

 

5

35-45

 41

 

4.5

32-34

36 

 

0-4

0-31

 0-32

 

Furthermore, if you are looking to choose a test, we've a table to show how the differ:

 IELTSTOEFL iBTCAECPEPTE

Total Time

3 hours

4 hours

4 1/2 hours

4 hours

3 hours

Reading

 

80 minutes

75 minutes

90 minutes

35 minutes

Writing

 

50 minutes

90 minutes

90 minutes

85 minutes

Listening

 

75 minutes

40 minutes

40 minutes

50 minutes

Speaking

12 minutes

20 minutes

15 minutes

16 minutes

-

Use of English

-

-

 60 minutes

-

-

Results

 

 

Computer-based - 2 weekss

Computer-based - 2 weeks

5 days

 

 

 

Paper-based - 4 weeks

Paper-based - 4-6 weeks

 

Exams per year

 

 

Computer-based- 16

Computer-based - 4

 

 

 

 

Paper-based - 23

Paper-based - 6

 

IELTS

For those who want to enroll in university, prospective students can take the academic module of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). It tests a student's ability in four sub-skills - Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking - and you can obtain a converted score from 0 to 9 with 9 being an classified as ‘expert user’. The four individual skills are averaged and rounded together to produce an Overall Band Score. You will receive a Test Report Form with your results. 

There are two test formats, the Academic module and the General Training module, and prospective students are required to undertake the Academic module. There are no restrictions to the number of times you attempt this test, with most university English language requirements falling between 5.5 and 7.0. 

The test is a fixed amount which depends on the country you are taking the test, but it will cost approximatey £150. There are 48 fixed test dates per year, and you can specify the date and location of the test you want to take - there are more than 900 test centres and locations in more than 130 countries.

The website offers a number of example questions so you can see prepared for the exams, while you can also buy example papers from the IELTS website. 

Overall, the test takes approximately 3 hours with the speaking section taking about 11-14 minutes involving a 3-part interview with an examiner. You'll receive your results 13 days after taking the test. 

TOEFL

 The Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-based Test (TOEFL iBT) is administered via the internet and measures your ability to use and understand English at university level in listening, reading, speaking and writing. 

The test is the American equivalent of IELTS (which is British), although both qualifications are accepted at British and American universities. They are also accepted at Australian and New Zealand universities (as are all the qualifications listed here). 

The test cost depends on the country you are taking it in, but is approximately £100-£150. The test focuses on language used in an academic, higher-education environment. You can re-take the test as many times as you like, but you cannot take it more than once in a 12-day period. There are more than 50 test dates to choose from and they claim that there are more locations than any other English-language test in the world. 

The whole test takes about 4 hours with a 10 minute break and consists of:

  • Reading - questions on 4-6 passages, each approximately 700 words in length on academic topics found in an undergraduate textbook. The passages involve cause and effect, comparing and contrast, and arguments with questions being answered about main ideas, details, inferences, essential information, vocubulary, rhetorical purpose and overall ideas. You do not need knowledge of the subject under discussion. This section takes about 80 minutes.
  • Listening - questions on six passages, each about 3-5 minute long including two student conversatons and four academic lectures or discussions which are only heard once. The conversations have five questions and the lecture/discussion has six questions which aim to measure the your ability to understand the main ideas, important details, implications, relationships between ideas, organisation of information, speaker purpose and speaker attitude. This sections takes about 75 minutes
  • Speaking - six tasks consisting of two independent tasks and four intergrated tasks. In the independent tasks, students answer questions on familiar topics and are evaluated on their ability to speak spontaneously and convey their ideas coherently. In two of the integrated tasks, students read a short passage, listen to an academic course lecture or a conversation about campus life and answer a question by combining appropriate information for the text and talk. In the other two integrated tasks students are evaluated on their ability to appropriately synthesise and effectively convey information from reading and listening material. The responses are digitally recorded and marked by three to six raters. This section takes about 20 minutes.
  • Writing - the writing section tests your ability to write in an academic setting and consists of two tasks - one integrated task and one independent task. In the integrated task, students read a passage on an academic topic and then listen to a speaker discuss it. The student then writes a summary of these most importnant points in the listening passage and explains how these relate to the key points of the reading passage. In the independent task, students write an essay that states their opinion and then explain it. This section takes about 50 minutes

The website offers a variety of preparation materials, some of which is free so you can get an idea of the format of the test, and some, such as workbooks, you have to pay for. 

You are rated on a score from 0 to 120 points - each of the four sections receives a score from 0-30 and these are added together to give an overall score. 

As the TOEFL iBT and IELTS are the most popular English language tests available here are the score comparisons:

IELTS ScoreTOEFL iBT Score

9

118-120

8.5

115-117

8

110-114

7.5

102-109

7

94-101

6.5

79-93

6

60-78

5.5

46-59

5

35-45

4.5

32-34

0-4

0-31

CAE

The Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) is suitable for use in academic and professional life and was developed to encourage language skills in real-life situations. 

The cost of the CAE depends on the country you do it in - there are over 1,400 exam centres in 117 countries and there are monthly test dates with registration taking place as little as one week before the test. 

The CAE website offers free pack of sample papers while you can also buy further resources from their website to help you with your studying. 

The test consists of five parts each making up a fifth of the grade:

Reading - 1 hour 15 minutes - 34 questions with various type of texts and comprehensions tasks. Candidates are expected to be able to read and understand texts from a range of sources such as fiction, magazines, newspapers and leaflets, and complete tasks like multiple choice, gapped text and multiple matching. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a variety of reading skills including skimming, scanning, deduction of meaning from context and selection of relevant information. 

Writing - 1 hour 30 minutes - two parts. The first part involves writing an article, report, proposal or letter in response to a text such as an article, leaflet, notice, or formal or informal letter. The second part involves a writing task such as a letter, articles, instructions, message, or report. You are assessed with the criteria of content, communicative achievement, organisation and language. 

Use of English - 1 hour - tests student's underlying knowlegde of vocabulary and grammar. 50 questions and five parts. Parts 1- 3 are text-based and involve supplying a missing word, or forming a new word. Parts 4 and 5 are sentence-based and involve supplying a missing word to complete sentences and writing a sentence in a different way. 

Listening - approximately 40 minutes - 30 snippets of audio which include short extracts, a long monologue, and interview or discussion, and short monolgues on a particular theme. Students need to demonstrate a wide range of listening skills needed for real-life purposes, such as understanding the gist of an extract, understanding specific information or the speakers' opinion, attitude or feeling. Recordings take the form of announcements, speeches and radio broadcasts.

Speaking - 15 minutes - taken face-to-face with two candidates and two examiners. One examiner acts as interlocutor and assessor, interacting with the candidates and managing the test. The other acts as assessor and does not join in the conversation. Candidates speak alone with the interlocutor and the other candidate. There are four parts. The first part involves an exchange between each candidate and the interlocutor. The second part involves each candidate talking about a set of pictures. In the third part the candidates are given some pictures and a task and they have to discuss the task, exchange ideas and reach a decision through negotiation. In the fourth part the candidates and examiner discuss the topics from part 3. The examiner asks questions so you can discuss the issues in more depth than in part 3. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a range of speaking skills such as pronounciation, intonation, speed of delivery, initiation and maintaining of a discussion, ability to organise thoughts and use of appropriate grammar and vocabulary. 

On completion of the test you are given a Statement of Results which is made up of three elements: a grade A-C; a score out of 100; and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level. The Statement of Results also includes a Candidate Profile which shows the students' performance on each of the individual elements against the scale of:

  • exceptional
  • good
  • borderline
  • weak
  • GradeScore (out of 100)CEFR Level

    A

    80-100

    C2

    B

    75-79

    C1

    C

    60-74

    C1

    CEFR Level B2

    45-59

    B2

    Candidates who acheive a score of 45 or more receive a certificate which states the grade and the CEFR level that has been achieved whith universities generally ask for a A at undergraduate level. 

    The test is available in computer-based and paper-based forms - the Reading, Writing, Use of English and Listening elements are taken on the same day, while the Speaking element may be taken a few days before or after the other tests. 

    CPE

    The Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) has approximately 2,800 centres worldwide offer the Cambridge English exams. 

    The test consists of four paper exams, each of which test each of the four language skills:

    Reading and Use of English - 1 hour and 30 minutes - 40% of the total mark. There are 7 parts with parts 1 to 4 focusing on Use of English and test underlying knowledge of vocabulary and grammar through exercises such as suppyling missing words, forming new words in a given text and rewriting sentences. Parts 5 to 7 focus on Reading and test understanding of texts through tasks such as multiple-choice, gapped paragraphs and multiple matching exercises. Candidtaes are expected to be able to read and understand a range of different texts, e.g. fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and manuals. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a variety of reading skills including skimming, detailed reading, following an argument, coherence and linking, and looking for specific information. 

    Writing - 1 hour 30 minutes - 20% of the total mark - There are two parts. Part one involves writing an essay of approximately 240-280 words, which summarises and evaluates the key points contained in two texts of approximately 100 words each. Part 2 requires candidates to answer one question from a choice of four which may involve writing an article, a letter, a report or a review of approximately 240-280 words. You are assessed on your ability to structure and develop ideas of a given topic, the impresson your wiritng makes on the reader, usage of language and how well you achieve your writing purpose. 

    Listening - approximately 40 minutes - 20% of the total marks - There are four parts. Part 1 has four short, unrelated recordings each lasting approximately 1 minute and six multiple-choice questions to complete. Part 2 has a monologue lasting 3-4 minutes and 9 incomplete sentences. Candidates must fill in the gap of each sentence based on the information in the recording. Part 3 has a recording with interacting speakers lastering 3-4 minutes and 5 multiple-choice questions to complete. Part 4 has five short, themed monologues each lasting approximately 35 seconds and two multiple-matching tasks. Each task contains 5 questions. Recordings come from a range of spoken materials, such as lectures, speeches and interviews, and feature language that a candidate might encounter in work situtations, at university, or in everyday life. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a wide range of listening skills, such as understanidng the gist of an extract, understanding specific information or noting the speakers' opinions, attitudes or feelings.

    Speaking - 16 minutes - 20% of the total marks. There are three parts with two candidates paired together and two examiners. One examiner acts as an interlocutor and assessor and manages the test by asking questions and setting-up tasks for the candidates. The other acts as assessor only and does not join in the conversation. Part 1 is a short conversation with the examiner. The examiner asks a series of questions which give candidates the opportunity to talk about themselves. Part two is a colloborative task with the other candidate. The examiner gives the camdidates spoken instructions, and one or more pictures to look at. Each candidate answers a question about the pictures and then undertakes a decision-making task with the other candidate. Part 3 is a long monologue and group discussion. The examiner gives a candidate a card with a question and some ideas. The candidate must speak for about 2 minutes on their own. When they finish the other candidate is asked to comment and the examiner asks both candidates a question on the topic. This procedure is repeated with the second candidate, then the examiners leads a discussion with both candidates. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a range of oral skills such as organisation of thoughts, negotiation, extended discourse and maintaining a discussion with appropriate pronounciation, intonation and speed of delivery. 

    You'll receive a Statement of Results with those scoring high enough (above 45 out of 100) also receiving a certificate. There are three elements in the Statement of Results: a grade (A-C); a score out of 100; and a CEFR level. The Statement of Results also features a Candidate Profile which shows your performance on each of the individual papers against the scale of:

  • exceptional
  • good
  • borderline
  • weak
  • Most universities as for a grade C at undergraduate level. The test can be taken in both computer-based or paper-based form and the speaking element may be taken a few days before or after the other elements. 

    PTE

    The Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) is desgined to test non-native English speakers' English ability at a university-level progamme. The PTE is a computer-based exam which focuses on real-life English used in academic surroundings and in this way candidates will have to listen to a variety of accents and academic language they will encounter at English-speaking higher education institutions. 

    The qualification is additionally recognised by the UK Border Agency and the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship for visa applications.