ESOL, IELTS or TOEFL exams, which is the best?
There are many exams that your students can take during their language learning. They can choose to take one at each level, or wait until they are happy with their progress and are ready for one final exam. The Cambridge Suite is generally accepted as the ultimate in qualifications:
Cambridge ESOL “The Main Suite.” (more details of the exams below)
- KET – The Key English Test is for students at the Pre-Intermediate level.
- PET – The Preliminary English Test is for the Intermediate level.
- FCE – The First Certificate in English is for the Upper-Intermediate level.
- CAE– The Certificate in Advanced English is for advanced level students.
- CPE – The Certificate of Proficiency in English is the highest level of all.
If however, they decide to take just one exam when they feel reasonably confident in the language, they still have a choice. Among the many available, the two most recognized in the world are:
- IELTS – International English Language Testing Service.
- TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language
Both of these English language exams are accepted world-wide by universities and employers alike. The main difference between the two is that the IELTS is jointly managed by the University of Cambridge, the British Council, and IDP-IELTS Education Australia; whereas the TOEFL is a U.S.A. qualification.
The two exams are very similar and both test the student’s reading, writing, listening and speaking abilities, but with the IELTS there is more focus on the speaking and the student is asked to spend between 10 and 15 minutes in conversation with the examiner. (See details below). With the TOEFL, the student merely answers a few questions, speaking into a microphone, and is then marked according to his/her answers.
The charge for both the IELTS and the TOEFL exams will be somewhere between 150 to 200 GBP (July 2015 – approximately 200-250 Euros, or 250-300 US Dollars) depending on which country you are living in. Click on IELTS and TOEFL to find more details for your country…
KET (Key English Test) – Pre-Intermediate
KET is the Cambridge ESOL exam which recognizes the ability to deal with everyday written and spoken English at a basic level. KET has three papers…
- Reading and Writing:1 hour 10 minutes. You will need to be able to understand simple written information such as signs, brochures, newspapers and magazines. You will also have to fill gaps in simple sentences and write a short piece of around 25 words.
- Listening: 30 minutes. You need to show your ability to understand announcements and other spoken material when given reasonably slowly.
- Speaking: up to 10 minutes. You will need to demonstrate that you can take part in a conversation by asking and answering simple questions. Speaking tests are normally held with two candidates.
- KET has two pass grades: ‘Pass’ and ‘Pass with merit’.
PET is a certificate for people who can use everyday written and spoken English at an intermediate level. The PET is also recognized by some employers and universities. PET has three papers:
- Reading and Writing: 1 hour 30 minutes. You need to be able to read texts from signs, journals, newspapers and magazines and understand the main points. You will need to show that you can use vocabulary and structure by completing tasks such as writing a short message, and a story or letter of around 100 words. You will also need to complete an exercise involving changing the meaning of sentences.
- Listening: 30 minutes (approximately). You have to show that you understand the meaning of recorded spoken material, including announcements and discussions about everyday life. You need to be able to follow the attitudes and intentions of the speakers.
- Speaking: up to 10 minutes. Candidates do the Speaking test in pairs. You have to take part in a conversation, asking and answering questions, and talking freely about your likes and dislikes.
- PET has two pass grades, ‘Pass’ and ‘Pass with merit’.
FCE (First Certificate in English) – Upper Intermediate
FCE is aimed at people who can use everyday written and spoken English at an upper-intermediate level. It is widely recognized by employers and educational institutions and is very popular with students who want to study or work abroad. FCE has five papers…
- Reading: 1 hour. You will need to be able to understand information in fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and magazines.
- Writing: 1 hour 20 minutes. You will have to produce two different pieces of writing such as a short story, a letter, an article, a report, a review or an essay.
- Use of English: 45 minutes. Your use of English will be tested by tasks which show how well you control your grammar and vocabulary.
- Listening: 40 minutes. You need to show you can understand the meaning of a range of spoken material, including news programmes, speeches, stories and anecdotes and public announcements.
- Speaking: 14 minutes. You will take the Speaking test with another candidate or in a group of three, and you will be tested on your ability to take part in different types of interaction: with the examiner, with the other candidates and by yourself.
- FCE has five grades, A to E, of which A to C are passes.
CAE (Certificate in Advanced English) – Advanced
CAE is an exam for advanced users of English. This exam is aimed at people who can use written and spoken English for professional and social purposes. It is widely recognized for work or study purposes. CAE has five papers…
- Reading: 1 hour 15 minutes. You will need to be able to understand texts from publications such as fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and magazines.
- Writing 1 hour 30 minutes. You will have to show you can produce two different pieces of writing such as an article, a report, a proposal or a review.
- Use of English Paper 1 hour. Your use of English will be tested by tasks which show how well you can control your grammar and vocabulary.
- Listening: 40 minutes. You need to show you can understand the meaning of a range of spoken material, including lectures, radio broadcasts, speeches and talks.
- Speaking: 15 minutes. You will take the Speaking test with another candidate or in a group of three, and you will be tested on your ability to take part in different types of interaction: with the examiner, with the other candidate and by yourself.
- CAE is ranked at C1 and C2 levels. Candidates who have obtained an A grade are awarded a C2 Certificate, those obtaining grades B or C are awarded a Certificate at C1.
- CAE is considered to be very valuable and is a required qualification for international students applying to many British universities.
CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) – Proficiency
CPE is Cambridge ESOL’s most advanced exam. It is aimed at people who can use English for professional or study purposes and is a typical requirement for non-native speakers who want to train as English teachers. CPE has five papers…
- Reading 1 hour 30 minutes. You will need to be able to understand the meaning of written English at word, sentence, paragraph and whole text level.
- Writing 2 hours. You will have to show that you can produce a number of different items such as a short story, a letter, an article, a report or a composition, each of about 300 to 350 words.
- Use of English – 1 hour 30 minutes. Your use of English will be tested by tasks which show how well you control your grammar and vocabulary and how well you can summarize information.
- Listening: 45 minutes. You need to show you can understand the meaning of a range of spoken material, including lectures, news programmes and public announcements.
- Speaking – 20 minutes. You will take the Speaking test with another candidate or in groups of three, and you will be tested on your ability to take part in different types of interaction: with the examiner, with the other candidates and by yourself. CPE has five grades, A to E, of which A to C are passes.
- Note: Like all the other Cambridge exams, once the exam is passed, the qualification never expires.
IELTS – (International English Language Testing System)
IELTS is the world’s most popular, proven English testing system. Over 1.4 million candidates take this test each year in order to attain international education and employment. IELTS is recognized by more than 6000 institutions in over 135 countries.
You can choose from two types of IELTS test: Academic or General Training, and the test is made up of four modules: Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking.
- Listening Module of the IELTS. The Listening Module lasts for 30 minutes. You will listen to an audio and answer questions at the same time. There are four sections, containing between 10 and 12 questions each. This part is the same for both the Academic and General Modules.
- Reading Module of the IELTS. The Reading Module is made up of three reading ‘passages’ and you have one hour to answer around 40 questions. The questions will be varied, for example: choosing titles for certain paragraphs from the text, completing sentences, matching words, etc.
- Writing Module of the IELTS. The Writing Module has two tasks:
Task I (Academic) requires you to study certain charts, graphs or tables and you are given 20 minutes to write 150 words about them.
Task I (General) requires you to write formal and informal letters, deal with complaints and requests, recognize notices etc.
Task-II is the same for both the Academic and the General Training and gives you 40 minutes to write an essay of 250 words.
Total time for Writing Module is one hour.
- Speaking Module of the IELTS. The IELTS speaking test is separated into three parts. Each part takes about 4 or 5 minutes, 15 minutes in total.
In Part 1 you will introduce yourself and answer questions about your family, your work and other personal and familiar themes.
In Part 2 you will speak for 4 or 5 minutes on a given topic. (See example topics below).
Then in Part 3 there will be a short conversation between yourself and the examiner.
- Note: IELTS test results are valid for two years only.
There are more than 6,000 schools in over 100 countries that include TOEFL as a bench mark for accepting applicants who are not native English speakers.
The test lasts 4.5 hours, with four individually timed sections and you need a Pass mark in all four sections. The reading comprehension takes between 60 and 100 minutes, the listening section takes from 60 to 90 minutes, the writing section is 50 minutes and the speaking section lasts for 20 minutes. There should also be a 10 minute break.
- Listening Section of the TOEFL. The Listening Section of TOEFL test is made up of three parts. In the first part you will hear short conversations, usually containing two sentences, which are followed by a single question.In the second part you will hear a longer dialogue between two people. After the dialogue there will be 4 or 5 multiple choice questions. You must select the answer A, B, C, or D.Some questions however, may ask you to recognize pictures and may have two correct answers. There may also be some questions that ask you to match certain objects, words, or phrases.In the third part there are longer pieces of spoken dialogue given by a single speaker. For example: TV announcements, radio broadcasts, lectures etc. Each of these talks will last for 1 or 2 minutes and then you must answer 4 or 5 questions.
- Structure Section of the TOEFL. In the Structure Section of the TOEFL you have to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in vocabulary, grammar and proper usage of standard North American written English. You will have to recognize vocabulary items of an academic nature, this means, there will be subjects related to science, the arts, literature, culture and history. To answer the questions correctly, it will be sufficient if you have an average level of knowledge on those subjects.You will find two types of questions in the Structure Section of the TOEFL test. The first question type is a sentence containing a gap. You must select a word or phrase that fills in the gap appropriately.The second question type can be called “Errors in Sentences”. These questions consist of complete sentences with four separate underlined words. You must select which of the four underlined words or word combinations contains an error in grammar or usage.
- Reading Section of TOEFL. In the Reading Section of TOEFL you will find short passages similar to the sort of texts used for academic purposes in the US, Canada or other internationally recognized universities. For example there will be texts about the arts, literature, biographies of important people, science and scientific research as well as history related to North America. Even if you know a lot about any of the subjects covered in the Reading Section of the TOEFL test, it will not necessarily be to your advantage in answering the questions correctly because the TOEFL measures your English language proficiency rather than your knowledge of a specific area.
- Writing Section of TOEFL. In the Writing Section of TOEFL you have to compose an essay based on one single given topic. Your essay should include original thought, analysis, examples, evidence and organization in English.
Thirty percent of the TOEFL test questions are categorized as easy, forty percent are medium and thirty percent are difficult. At the beginning of each section you will find easy-level questions which are followed by medium-level questions and difficult questions at the end.
- Note: A TOEFL score is valid for two years and then will no longer be officially reported.
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