Guide to English Language Examinations

There are so many English language exams available these days that it can be hard to know which one is best for you. In today’s modern world it is not enough to say you speak English, you need to prove it. It is becoming more and more important to have a recognised international English qualification. Churchill House School of English is the perfect place to study for and take one of these exams. We have over 40 years’ worth of experience in teaching exams and we have skilled exam teachers. So, the question should not be “will I take an exam?” but “which one shall I take?”

Elementary Exam Guides

There are not many exams that you can do as an elementary learner of English. However we can recommend the following:

The Cambridge Key English Test (KET)

This exam is aimed at students at a basic level (A2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This is a student who can understand and use basic phrases and expressions. There are three parts to the exam covering the four skills of Speaking, listening, reading and writing (along with the associated vocabulary and grammar):

Reading and Writing
1 hour 10 minutes, 50% of total marks
Shows you can understand simple written information and write short messages related to personal information.

Listening
30 minutes, 25% of total marks
Shows you can understand key information in everyday conversations.

Speaking
8–10 minutes, 25% of total marks
Shows you can take part in a conversation. You take the test face to face with one or two other candidates.

Intermediate Exam Guides

"Intermediate" is one of the broadest levels in English. It covers such a wide variety of abilities that it is often sub-divided (low intermediate, mid-intermediate and upper intermediate) but for the purposes of simplicity we have left it as one, broad level here.

At intermediate level there is one exam which is more famous than all the rest put together – the Cambridge First Certificate Exam. However, it is not the only option and it may not be the best option for you. Please read through each of the following headings to help find the right exam for you:

Cambridge First Certificate (FCE)

The Cambridge First Certificate is probably the best known of all English language exams. Over 250,000 learners take the exam every year, and it is widely recognised by employers as evidence of English ability at intermediate level. The exam has been around for a long time, but was extensivelyrevised in 1996 to give a greater focus on the ability to use language in realistic and practical ways.

There are 5 papers in the exam (which takes place in March – August and October – December). These are: Reading, Writing, Use of English, Speaking and Listening. Each paper carries 20% of the total marks. Like all the Cambridge exams, this means you need to be confident in all the major skills areas (speaking, listening, reading and writing).

If you are thinking of taking First Certificate, you are strongly advised to follow an exam preparation course first as you will need to be strong in each of the areas to pass the test.

For more information about the FCE exam please visit: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/first/.

Cambridge Preliminary English Test (PET)

The Preliminary English Test is another exam from the University of Cambridge. It is similar in some ways to the First Certificate but is at a lower level ("low" intermediate compared to FCE's "upper" intermediate). PET is therefore a good choice if you want to take an easier exam as part of your preparation for FCE. A pass at PET level is evidence of your ability to survive using English in social and work situations.

There are 3 parts of the test – Reading and Writing, Listening and Speaking. The reading and writing paper is worth 50% of the total marks and each of the other papers is worth 25%.

PET takes place throughout the year - usually in March, May, June, November and December.

Visit the following website for more information about the PET exam: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/preliminary/

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Exam

At a good intermediate level you could begin to consider taking an IELTS exam. This is not a pass or fail exam so it is a good test for students who want to assess their current level of progress. Some students who are thinking of applying for a British University course at some point in their future may like to take this test at intermediate level to work out how far along this road they are, or as a practice exam for a more serious attempt at a higher level. This is very widely recognised by universities in Britain and many other English-speaking countries. It is definitely the first test to think about if you want to study at a British university.

At Churchill House we run IELTS classes all year and have very experienced teachers that can help students achieve their best possible grades. The IELTS exam is different from most of the other tests on offer. It is not an exam that you pass or fail; it is a test of your current level of English and your result will be expressed as a score of between 1 (very elementary) and 9 (for the highest, very expert users) It is also an exam that you can take at any time - most centres offer the test regularly throughout the year. Universities would usually ask for an entry level of 6 or 6.5 (depending on the university and the course you want to take) some universities may allow entry at only 5.5 for special cases or foundation courses.

IELTS tests your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. The listening and speaking modules are the same for all candidates. However you can choose which reading and writing modules to take - the Academic modules are best if you are thinking of taking a university course. The General modules are suitable if you are going for secondary education in an English-speaking country, for work experience or immigration purposes.

For more information on IELTS please visit the following website: http://www.ielts.org/

The TOEIC® Listening and reading Test

The Test of English for International Communication assesses the English of non-native speakers who use the language in their jobs. It is designed as a global tool that can be applied to any work environment where English is used. As a result, the exam is widely accepted by corporate human resource directors worldwide.

The TOEIC® Test is very different from exams such as FCE, CAE or LCCI exams in that you do not pass or fail it. Instead you get a score which reflects your overall ability in English. The higher your score, the better your level. An employer may, for example, insist on a minimum score before confirmingyour appointment to a job.

Churchill House is an officially Approved Test Centre (by ETS) TOEIC® exam centre. The test itself is a two-hour multiple-choice test that consists of 200 questions divided into two sections - Listening and Reading. Each section is in multiple-choice format - you select the correct answer from a list of four possibilities.
The test measures listening and reading directly and is also promoted as an indirect measure of speaking and writing. Studies with large samples of non-native speakers of English from around the world have confirmed a strong link between The TOEIC® Test results and an oral interview.

There is also a TOEIC Speaking and Writing test. For more information on both The TOEIC® Tests please visit: http://www.ets.org/toeic.

Advanced Exam Guides

At this level there are quite a few options open to you. You need to think carefully about how you intend to use English in the future and choose the most appropriate exam accordingly. Please read through each of the following headings to help find the right exam for you:

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Exam

IELTS is very widely recognised by universities in Britain and many other English-speaking countries. It is definitely the first test to think about if you want to study at a British university.

At Churchill House we run IELTS classes all year and have very experienced teachers that can help students achieve their best possible grades. The IELTS exam is different from most of the other tests on offer. It is not an exam that you pass or fail; it is a test of your current level of English and your result will be expressed as a score of between 1 (very elementary) and 9 (for the highest, very expert users). It is also an exam that you can take at any time - most centres offer the test regularly throughout the year. Universities would usually ask for an entry pass level of 6 or 6.5, (depending on the university and the course you want to take) some universities may allow entry at only 5.5 for special cases or foundation courses.

IELTS tests your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. The listening and speaking modules are the same for all candidates. However you can choose which reading and writing modules to take - the Academic modules are best if you are thinking of taking a university course. The General modules are suitable if you are going for secondary education in an English-speaking country, for work experience or immigration purposes.

For more information on IELTS please visit the following website: http://www.ielts.org/.

Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) Exam

The Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English is a much more recent exam than the Certificate of Proficiency and it is a much more modern exam in its approach. CAE tests your ability to use English in practical, varied tasks and you are marked as much on your ability to complete the task as you are on your use of English. CAE is accepted by many universities as fulfilling the English language requirement but you may need to get a certain grade (e.g. B or above) depending on the university or course in question.

There are 5 papers in the exam. These are: Reading, Writing, Use of English, Speaking and Listening. Each paper carries 20% of the total marks. Testing takes place throughout the year.

It is important to remember that the practical bias in CAE doesn't make it easy - to get a decent pass at this level you will definitely need a good advanced level of English!

If you are thinking of taking CAE you are strongly advised to follow an exam preparation course first.

For more information on the CAE exam please visit: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/advanced/

Very Advanced Exam Guides

The more advanced your level, the fewer language exam options there are open to you! As a very advanced "learner" of English, you may in fact be better obtaining an appropriate professional qualification in English (e.g. an MBA, MA in a relevant discipline) rather than an English exam itself. However if you want the satisfaction of a top level English language exam, try one (or more) of the following:

Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency (CPE) Exam

The Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency is the highest level general English exam offered by the University of Cambridge. It has been around for a long time and is still regarded by many as the benchmark level for advanced English. A CPE pass (C or above) is also widely accepted as the English language requirement by British and many international universities.

Proficiency takes place mainly in June and December each year. There are 4 parts of the exam (Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking). Reading and Use of English is worth 40% of the total marks and each of the other papers is worth 20%.

Proficiency is quite a popular exam - over 60,000 people sit it each year. Be warned however! It is the sort of exam that some native English speakers would have great difficulty in passing, and would probably be better suited to more advanced student. It demands a precise, academic and analytical approach to language and is probably best suited to those who want to use English academically - for example as teachers, lecturers or translators. If you want to use English at work, the Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) exam is probably more appropriate.

If you are thinking of taking Proficiency you are strongly advised to follow an exam preparation course first.

Please visit the following website for more information on the Proficiency exam: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/proficiency/.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL®) Exam

The Test of English as a Foreign Language evaluates general English proficiency and is required for admission to over 2,400 American and Canadian colleges and universities. It’s now also widely accepted by institutions in other countries where English is the language of instruction, including most UK universities and colleges.

The TOEFL® Test, like The TOEIC® Test and IELTS, is different from exams like the Cambridge First Certificate or the LCCI exams in that you do not pass or fail it. Instead, you get a score which reflects your overall ability in English. The higher your score, the better your level. An employer or university may insist on a minimum score before confirming your appointment to a job or your place on a course of study.

The TOEFL® Test also takes place much more frequently than the Cambridge exams.

Please visit the following website for more information: http://www.ets.org/toefl.

The TOEIC® Listening and Reading Test

The Test of English for International Communication assesses the English of non-native speakers who use the language in their jobs. It is designed as a global tool that can be applied to any work environment where English is used. As a result, the exam is widely accepted by corporate human resource directors worldwide.

The TOEIC® Test is very different from exams such as FCE, CAE or LCCI exams in that you do not pass or fail it. Instead you get a score which reflects your overall ability in English. The higher your score, the better your level. An employer may, for example, insist on a minimum score before confirming your appointment to a job.

Churchill House is an officially Approved Test Centre (by ETS) TOEIC exam centre. The test itself is a two-hour multiple-choice test that consists of 200 questions divided into two sections - Listening and Reading. Each section is in multiple-choice format - you select the correct answer from a list of four possibilities.

The test measures listening and reading directly and is also promoted as an indirect measure of speaking and writing. Studies with large samples of non-native speakers of English from around the world have confirmed a strong link between The TOEIC® Test results and an oral interview.

There is also a TOEIC Speaking and Writing test. For more information on both The TOEIC® Tests please visit: http://www.ets.org/toei.

Cambridge Business English Certificates (BEC)

The higher level of the Cambridge Business English Certificates is an advanced level test of your English within the context of international business. It would be unwise to attempt this exam without prior business experience or study of the commercial world.

The exam is divided into 4 papers - Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Each paper is worth 25% of the total marks. Tasks are practical - for example, you will need to show that you can understand a range of business texts, engage in discussions on work-related topics and produce quite complex memos, letters and reports.
The BEC exam takes place in March – June, September and October.

For more information on the BEC exam please visit: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/business-certificates/.

Need More Information? We're Here To Help