As a student of English you will need to take English tests, as well as other tests. Of course, learners need to take English tests at school, but they are often required to take English tests such as the TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC or FCE. Sometimes you get to decide which test you will take. This guide will help you begin to choose the best English test to take for your English learning needs and goals for both further education and furthering your career.
Which English Test Should You Take?
Here is a look at the major English tests available in different parts of the world.
- TOEFL ‐ Test of English as a Foreign Language
- IELTS ‐ International English Language Testing System
- TOEIC ‐ Test of English for International Communication
- B2 First (FCE) ‐ Most commonly used conversational English test, intermediate level
- C1 Advanced (CAE) ‐ Certificate in Advanced English
- B2 Business Vantage ‐ Business English test for entering the international business world
These English tests are created by two companies that dominate the English learning system word wide: ETS and the University of Cambridge. TOEFL and TOEIC are provided by ETS; IELTS, FCE, CAE, and BULATS are developed by the University of Cambridge.
ETS stands for Educational Testing Service. ETS provides the TOEFL and the TOEIC test of English. It is an American company with headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey. ETS tests focus on North American English and are computer based.
Questions are almost exclusively multiple choice and ask you to choose from four choices based on information you have read, heard or have to deal with in some manner. Writing is also tested on the computer, so if you have difficulties typing you may have difficulties with these questions. Expect North American accents on all listening selections.
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge based in Cambridge, England is responsible for a wide range of English exams. However, the main international tests that are discussed in this overview are the IELTS the FCE and the CAE. For business English, the BULATS is also an option. Currently, the BULATS is not as popular as the other tests, but that may change in the future. The University of Cambridge is a dominate force in the entire English learning world, producing many English learning titles, as well as administering tests. Cambridge exams have a wide variety of question types including multiple choice, gap‐fill, matching, etc. You will hear a wider variety of accents on University of Cambridge exams, but they tend towards British English.
The first and most important question to ask yourself when choosing your English test is:
Why do I need to take an English test?
Choose from the following for your answer:
- I need to take an English test to enter a university
- I need to take an English test to get a job or improve my career
- I want to improve my overall skills in English, for my own self‐improvement
Study for Entry to a University
If you need to take an English test for studying at a university or other academic setting you have a few choices.
To focus solely on academic English, take the TOEFL or the IELTS academic. Both are used as qualifications for entrance into universities. There are some important differences. Many universities around the world now accept either test, but they are more common in certain countries.
TOEFL ‐ Most common exam for study in North American (Canada, United States, also France and Germany)
GRE ‐ Highly popular university entry English exam from ETS
IELTS ‐ Most common exam for study in Australia or New Zealand
Keep this in mind: the TOEFL is specifically a test for academic purposes. This is a quote from there own website, "e;The TOEFL iBT® test measures your ability to use and understand English at the university level. And it evaluates how well you combine your reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills to perform academic tasks."e; It is not a test of conversational or business English. Do not use it for such a test.
The GRE is also a university English exam. From the ETS website: "e;The GRE General Test features question types that closely reflect the kind of thinking you'll do in graduate and professional school, including business and law."e; Also, "e;Who Takes It? Prospective graduate and business school applicants from all around the world who are interested in pursuing a master's, specialized master's in business, MBA, J.D. degree, or doctoral degree take the GRE General Test."e;
The IELTS has two exams, the IELTS Academic and the IELTS General Training.
From the IELTS site about the Academic exam: "e;The IELTS Academic test is for people applying for higher education or professional registration in an English speaking environment. It reflects some of the features of academic language and assesses whether you are ready to begin studying or training."e;
For personal improvement
B2 First (FCE) and CAE are more general in nature but are often requested by universities throughout the European Union. For people who live in the European Union, the best choice is either the B2 First or the CAE.
About the B2 First, from their own website: "e;A B2 First qualification proves you have the language skills to live and work independently in an English‐speaking country or study on courses taught in English. This exam is the logical step in your language learning journey between B1 Preliminary and C1 Advanced."e;
About the CAE, again, from their website: "e;C1 Advanced helps learners develop the skills to make the most of studying, working and living in English‐speaking countries. This exam is the logical step in your language learning journey between B2 First and C2 Proficiency."e;
From the IELTS site about the General Training exam: "e;The IELTS General Training test is for those who are going to English speaking countries for secondary education, work experience or training programs. It is also a requirement for migration to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. The test focuses on basic survival skills in broad social and workplace contexts."e;
Study for Career
If career motivations are the most important reason in your choice of English test, there are several level tests available from Cambridge.
Many international employers want employees to have at least a high intermediate level of English. For intermediate level business English look at the B2 Advantage exam, and for the highest level exam look at the C1 Business Higher (BEC Higher) exam, both from Cambridge.
For a business English test from ETS look at the TOEIC test. The TOEIC test measures your ability to use English in daily business situations covering such topics as corporate development, finance and budgeting, corporate property, IT, manufacturing, purchasing, offices, personnel, technical matters, health and business travel.