March 1, 2024

English-Language certificates

English-Language certificates
Deni Isic

Today, universities and colleges worldwide offer numerous courses taught solely in English, enabling international students to enroll in their courses more easily. In such instances, colleges and universities often ask for proof of English proficiency, which can be provided through an English-language certificate. So if you want to go to university, you'll need a certificate to prove that you have the ability and knowledge to participate in classes, read the textbooks and complete your assignments.

To earn the language certificate, you may need to invest a considerable amount of time, depending on your current English level. That's why it's better to start preparing and practicing early on. It's also a good idea to take the earliest exam possible, so you dont miss the universities application deadlines.

Below, we’ll go through some of the general information about the most popular English language certificates that are widely accepted around the world. This will help you understand their structure and grades better, and you’ll be able to decide which exam to take before studying abroad (if your university accepts more than one exam).

Language levels summary

The Common European Framework (CEFR) divides learners into 6 different levels:

A - Basic Speaker

  • A1: Breakthrough or beginner
  • A2: Waystage or elementary

B - Independent Speaker

  • B1: Threshold or intermediate
  • B2: Vantage or upper intermediate

C - Proficient Speaker

  • C1: Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
  • C2: Mastery or proficiency

For each level, there is a description of what the learner must be able to do in terms of reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills. Those descriptions apply to any language. Usually, the expected level for study programmes in most countries is B. However, certain academic university or programmes (e.g. English Literature) might require a higher level.

Most universities and colleges usually list the minimum English test score on their website or study pages. Always start with a consultation with a Uniclub advisor to make sure which certificates are accepted by your desired university. Remember, Uniclub's service is completely free for students.

1. TOEFL®: Test of English as a Foreign Language

TOEFL® is a very popular English certificate around the world. In most cases, it is offered as an internet-based test (TOEFL® iBT), but there is also a paper-based test offered only in locations without an internet connection. Normally, both the internet and paper-based versions can only be taken in specialised test centres.

Due to the current coronavirus outbreak, TOEFL® iBT can also be taken online, from the comfort of your home.

TOEFL® iBT takes 3 hours to complete. The TOEFL® paper-delivered test only takes 2 hours and 25 minutes because it doesn’t include the Speaking part (answers cannot be recorded without a microphone and an internet connection).

TOEFL® iBT has 4 parts. Each part is graded with up to 30 points, which adds up to a maximum score of 120 points:

  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Writing

During the entire test, you are interacting with a computer. In the first two parts, you read texts and listen to recordings about various topics and answer multiple-choice questions about the content afterwards.

For the Speaking part, your answers are recorded, sent to an online scoring network and evaluated by three to six examiners. The Written part is evaluated by this online scoring network as well.

The most common scores required by universities range between 70–90. Some universities also require a specific minimum score in one of the 4 sections. Prices for TOEFL® iBT vary a lot depending on the country and the test centre where you take the exam. For example, it costs 205 USD in the US and 255 USD in Germany.

The TOEFL certificate is valid for two years.

2. IELTS: International English Language Testing System

IELTS offers an Academic version of their test, designed for academic and professional environments. Like TOEFL®, IELTS is one of the most popular English language tests in the world. IELTS is also accepted as language proof for certain work permits, as well as for immigration. IELTS Academic has 4 parts:

  • Listening
  • Academic Reading
  • Academic Writing
  • Speaking

They add up to a test duration of around 2 hours and 45 minutes.

IELTS Academic is available both computer and paper-based. To avoid any confusion, computer-based means you’ll take the exam using a computer, not that you can take it from your home. In either situation, you’ll need to register and take the exam at an official test centre. For both versions, the Speaking part is face-to-face with a certified examiner.

IELTS test results use a 0-9 grading scale. To be admitted for English-taught programmes, commonly required scores range between 5.5 and 6.5. Like TOEFL®, IELTS prices vary from one country to another. For example, IELTS Academic costs between 215–240 USD in the US and between 331–337 USD in Norway.

The IELTS certificate is valid for two years.

3. Duolingo English Language Test

Duolingo launched an online English language proficiency exam in order to come out as an alternative for other English language proficiency exams such as IELTS/TOEFL.

The test offered by Duolingo is an adaptive test which means that the test keeps on getting more difficult with more right answers and vice versa. The test measures different aspects of the English language through:

  • Completing missing letters from section of a text
  • Finding out real English words from the fake ones
  • Typing the statement which the candidates hear
  • Describing an image

After this, the candidates are required to take a video interview wherein they can speak on any one of the two topics and the same process happens with writing as well. The score comes on a scale of 10-160 within 2 days of completion of the exam. Apart from all this, even schools accepting Duolingo score benefit from a much larger applicant pool, providing them with a comprehensive approach to look at the students by looking at their video interviews, written samples and their score.

There are various benefits of taking the Duolingo test. We have listed them below for your reference:

  • Accessibility - The biggest advantage of the Duolingo English Test is that it can be taken from the comfort of our home which might not be an advantage earlier but with the pandemic entering our lives, Duolingo became the most feasible option at this time to conduct English proficiency tests. Although IELTS also recently launched its online test named IELTS Indicator but by this time Duolingo has already taken a big share in the market and has become one of the easiest options for students as well as schools.

  • Affordability - While other English proficiency exams cost around $200 or above, Duolingo costs just $49. This comes as a major relief to students trying to study abroad as they have to face many expenses and anything that can cut those expenses down to even a little bit makes a lot of difference for them.

  • Faster Results - This test provides the result within 24-48 hours as compared to IELTS/TOEFL which takes about 4-5 days to announce the result. The results provided by Duolingo are much faster as compared to other english proficiency exams.

  • Time Duration - The duration of the test is 45-60 minutes as compared to IELTS which is 2 hour and 45 minutes. So, the time commitment is much lower in comparison to other traditional tests.

  • Flexibility - Flexibility is yet another factor that differentiates this English test from the other ones. A Duolingo test can be taken anywhere, anytime and you just need a reliable internet connection.

  • Mock Tests - This test also offers the option of attempting multiple mock tests before taking the actual test which gives students all the relevant knowledge regarding the final test.

4. PTE Academic: Pearson English Language Test

The PTE Academic test has grown a lot in terms of popularity; an increasing number of universities accept it as relevant proof of English knowledge from aspiring international students.

Unlike TOEFL® iBT, IELTS Academic, and the Cambridge exams, which have 4 parts, the PTE test is divided into 3 sections:

  • Speaking and Writing
  • Reading
  • Listening

Starting from November 16, 2021, the PTE Academic takes 2 hours to complete (used to take 3 hours before) and is currently only available in a computer-based format. Grades range between 10–90, using the Global Scale of English. Most universities and colleges have minimum scores of 50–60.

In terms of pricing, we encounter a similar story. They vary depending on the country where you take the exam. For example, PTE costs 200 USD in the US and 246 USD in Australia.

The PTE certificate is valid for two years.

5. Cambridge English Qualifications

Cambridge English Language Assessment (formerly the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations) is a non-profit organisation offering English language certificates for different language levels. They offer many types of exams, but the most popular ones are:

B2 First (formerly known as FCE: First Certificate in English)

B2 First is about the same level as the common scores for the TOEFL® test (B1–B2) and IELTS 5.5–6.5. It takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete.

C1 Advanced (formerly known as CAE: Certificate in Advanced English)

C1 Advanced is oriented at the high C1–C2 levels (comparable to IELTS 6.5–8.0) and is accepted by many British universities and over 9,000 educational institutions and businesses worldwide. It takes around 4 hours to complete.

C2 Proficiency (formerly known as CPE: Certificate of Proficiency in English)

C2 Proficiency is the most advanced exam, ranked at the C2 level, which is well above the maximum scale of the TOEFL® test and similar to an 8.5 and above in the IELTS test. It takes around 4 hours to complete.

All 3 English exams (B2 First, C1 Advanced, C2 Proficiency) are divided into 4 parts:

  • Reading and Use of English
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

Cambridge certificates are mainly used in the United Kingdom, but they are also accepted by numerous universities and colleges worldwide. Still, they are not as popular as TOEFL® and IELTS.

Unlike other certificates, Cambridge qualifications do not have an expiry date. However, universities and other organisations can choose if they accept results older than 2–3 years.

If you can prove you’ve been practising or using English in the years after passing your Cambridge exam, you might be on the safe side. But if you passed an examination 5 years ago and then only used English occasionally, you should not expect any university to accept your certificate.

6. Alternative English language certificates

In addition to the certificates mentioned above, there are other English language tests you can look at. They may be less popular, but they are accepted by some academic institutions, businesses, and governments:

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