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Writer Helen Huthnance explains the many ways you can find out, with tests and certificates. A high score on these exams can open opportunities in your academic studies or professional career.
Text by: Helen Huthnance

eople study English for many reasons. Perhaps your job requires you to speak English, or you want to improve your skills to advance your career. Maybe you want to study at a university abroad or just converse with foreigners visiting your country or talk with others while you travel.

Whatever the reason, at some point you may wonder, “How good is my English?” Or your company or a university might want an objective assessment of your level of English. In some instances a recognized certificate of your level may be required.

To accomplish this goal, you can take many different types of internationally recognized tests, depending on your level and the purpose for taking the test. The most widely recognized English tests are the TOEFL and TOEIC by English Testing Services (ETS), the Cambridge English Assessment tests, Pearson English Exams, and the Trinity College assessments.

TOEFL

TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language and can be taken either on paper or on a computer (TOEFL iBT). However, the iBT is not available at all test centers. The TOEFL measures your ability to use and understand English at a university level by testing your reading, listening, and writing abilities. The iBT also measures your speaking. The test takes approximately four hours, plus an additional half-hour check-in.

The TOEFL may be taken at authorized test centers worldwide. To find an authorized center near you, visit the ETS website, ets.org. The TOEFL is offered 50 times a year. You can retake the test as many times as you want, but you may not take it more than once in a 12-day period. The paper-based TOEFL costs US$160 and the iBT varies from $160 to $240, depending on the country where you take it.

The test is recognized by over 10,000 colleges, universities, and agencies in more than 130 countries including Canada, the UK, and the United States. Most people who take the TOEFL are planning to study at an institution where the classes are taught in English. Many government agencies, scholarship programs and certification agencies also use the TOEFL to measure English proficiency. This test is not recommended if you have a beginner’s level of English.

TOEIC

The TOEIC is the Test of English for International Communication, and the questions are based on real-life work scenarios in an international environment, such as telephone conversations, meetings, and travel. Organizations around the world use it to hire, place, and promote employees based on their English proficiency.

It consists of two parts: the listening and reading part. It is a pencil-and-paper test that takes two and a half hours, and the speaking and writing part is an online test that takes 90 minutes and is not available at all centers. You may take either one or both of the TOEIC tests. There is also the TOEIC Bridge, which is an easier version of the exam for beginning to lower-intermediate learners of English.

The TOEIC can be taken at any level, and your score determines your proficiency. The listening section is scored out of 200. The reading and listening section gives you a score between 10 and 990, which is rated as follows:

● 10-180 No useful proficiency
● 185-250 Memorized proficiency
● 255-400 Elementary Proficiency
● 405-600 Elementary Proficiency Plus
● 605-780 Limited Working Proficiency
● 785-900 Working Proficiency Plus
● 905-990 International Proficiency

The TOEIC can be taken at an authorized test center, but not all centers offer all sections. Visit the ETS website,ets.org, to find a test center near you and determine what sections it offers. The fee for the test is set by the test center, but is approximately US$85 per section. The test results take about three to four weeks to arrive.

TOEIC and TOEFL preparation courses are offered through the ETS website, at your local test center, or through many websites online. There are also a variety of books and DVDs you can purchase to prepare for them, and even YouTube videos are available. Note that ETS is an American company and therefore the language used in both tests is American English.

CAMBRIDGE ENGLISH EXAMS

Cambridge English Exams can be either paper-based or computer-based. Cambridge can certify your level of English and offers three Business English Certificates (BEC), the BULATS (Business Language Testing Service), and the IELTS, (International English Language Testing System).

The BEC tests your English in a business context and has four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The tests are available monthly on fixed dates at test centers worldwide. There are both computer-based and paper formats of the tests, but some centers offer only one version. The speaking test is an interview with an examiner.

The BULATS is a multi-level test. There is no pass or fail; you are given a score depending on your level of English. The BULATS is designed for companies and organizations. The test has four sections: a 60-minute computer test, a 110-minute standard paper-based test of your listening and reading knowledge, a 12-minute speaking interview, and a 45-minute writing section.

The IELTS is one of the most popular tests for higher education and global migration. The test is designed for people who want to work or study where English is the primary language. IELTS is recognized by universities and employers in many countries including the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, and Australia.

There are two levels of the IELTS, and the academic version is harder than the general version. There are four sections to the test, and all candidates do the same listening and speaking sections. The listening section takes approximately 30 minutes and the speaking section is a 15-minute interview. The reading and writing sections each take 60 minutes and are more difficult in the academic version.

The IELTS is a multi-level test. You get a score between 1 and 9 and half scores such as 4.5 are acceptable. Most universities require a score of 6 or 7 and may have minimum score requirements per section.

Although the IELTS is produced in Britain, it is not necessary to have studied solely British English. “IELTS treats all test takers with the utmost fairness and respect by actively avoiding cultural bias, and accepting all standard varieties of native-speaker English, including North American, British, Australian and New Zealand English,” its website says.

The Cambridge English exams may be taken at authorized centers around the world. To find a center near you visit the website,cambridgeenglish.org. The tests are offered throughout the year and the fee is set by the center. The average price of the IELTS is around US$200.

Practice tests and material can be found online at various websites, including the Cambridge English Exam website. Cambridge also offers general proficiency tests if you simply wish to test your level. The results for paper-based exams take four to five weeks, but for computer based-exams you may receive your results about two weeks after you have taken the exam.

PEARSON ENGLISH EXAMS

Pearson exams are paper exams. There are two types of exams. The PTE General tests your level and is used mainly by businesses and civil service. It is not acceptable for visa purposes, nor is it accepted by most universities. The PTE Academic is a computer-based test accepted by most universities worldwide and by Australia and New Zealand for visa purposes.

The PTE Academic tests reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The computer-based test takes three hours and is administered at authorized test centers throughout the world. The cost varies by country but is between US$150-$210. The advantage of the PTE Academic is you receive your test grades quite quickly, in about five days.

TRINITY COLLEGE ASSESMENTS

Trinity College offers the ISE (Integrated Skills Assessment) and the GESE (General Exam in Spoken English), which is a speaking and listening exam. The tests can be taken at authorized centers in over 60 countries. These are acceptable for a UK visa and are accepted by most universities in the UK.

The ISE tests four skills in two modules: reading and writing, and speaking and listening. The modules can be taken together or at different times. The reading and writing section takes about two hours, and the speaking and listening section is an interview with a Trinity examiner that takes about 15 minutes. The cost for the ISE is around £180. If you pass your exams you will receive a certificate in six to eight weeks.

Most universities worldwide will accept the IELTS, the TOEFL, and the PTE Academic, with the IELTS and the TOEFL being the most popular. The score required varies by university, so be sure to check with your university of choice. To check the TOEFL scores required by different universities in the US, visit American Exam Services.

Various companies throughout the world may require a certain level of English for employment. These tend to accept the IELTS, the PTE General, and the TOEIC.

Before you decide which test to take, check the requirements and acceptable tests with the entity you are applying to. You can find free practice tests online to help you prepare. You may also want to watch English-language television and movies for more practice.

Be prepared for your exam and try to relax so you don’t make simple mistakes from being nervous. Good luck!

For immigration purposes:

● The UK accepts the ISE, GESE, and IELTS, but none of the other exams.

● Canada accepts the IELTS and the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index.

● Australia and New Zealand accept the IELTS, TOEFL iBT, the PTE Academic, and the Cambridge CAE exams. Health care professionals are also required to take the Occupational English Test.

● The United States does not have an English language requirement for visa purposes.




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How well do you speak English?


There are many options to help you determine your level of English. Here we share with you some of the most widely recognized assessments.

The TOEFL is the Test of English as a Foreign Language. It tests reading, listening, and writing abilities and takes about four hours. It is recognized by universities and agencies in over 130 countries.

The TOEIC is the Test of English for International Communication and the questions are about real-life work situations. It is used by organizations around the world for employment purposes.

Both of these tests are administered by authorized test centers and the center sets the fee. The tests were developed by ETS (English Testing Services) and more information can be found at www.ets.org.

Cambridge English Exams offers a Business English Certificate (BEC) that tests your reading, writing, listening and speaking in a business environment. It also offers the BULATS (Business Language Testing Service) for companies and organizations. And finally the IELTS (International Language Testing System), which is the most popular test for higher education and global migration. The IELTS is recognized by universities and employers in many countries. For more information visit cambridgeenglish.org.
Pearson offers two types of exams. The PTE General tests your level and is used mainly by businesses and civil service, but is not acceptable for visa purposes or for most universities. The PTE Academic is harder; it is computer-based and is accepted by most universities.

Trinity College offers the ISE (Integrated Skills Assessment), which tests your reading, writing, speaking and listening. And the GESE (General Exam in Spoken English), which is a speaking and listening exam. Both exams are acceptable for immigration to the UK and by many universities.

Before you decide which test to take, check the requirements and acceptable tests with the entity you are applying to. You can find free practice tests online to help you prepare. You may also want to watch English-language television and movies for more practice.

 

Comprehension

Below you will find text comprehension questions. Read and listen to the text and answer the questions (we recommend you read first and then listen).

How well do you speak English?

Quiz

 

Grammar in Use

Below you will find PDF documents with the Grammar in Use.

Elementary: Adjective Clause

intermediate: American Slang 2

Vocabulary

English tests

Summary Vocabulary

  • > TOEFL
  • > IELTS
  • Deacon Brodie and Do Jekyll and Mr Hyde
  • TOEFL iBT TEST

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