You want to take an English level test to get a certification of your level, but you have no idea which one is right for you: the International Language Testing System ( IELTS ), the Test of English as a Foreign Language ( TOEFL ) or the Cambridge English exam? How are they different and what are the costs? Is there a test to check your level before deciding to do one of these expensive exams?
Check our guide to help you sort through the mountains of information and make a quick decision.
How do I choose the right test?
An important difference between the three diplomas is the validity of the results. A Cambridge certificate will be valid for the rest of your life, while the IELTS and the TOEFL provide a temporary assessment of your level of English with a validity of two years.
If you want to get a certificate to show your level of English and have something to show on your CV, a Cambridge English exam is probably the best choice. The IELTS and TOEFL exams are usually more convenient for a visa, work or university admission procedures that require a certain level of English. Between these two exams, the IELTS is the most used and requested in the United Kingdom, while the TOEFL is predominant in the United States (however, there are exceptions and many institutions accept both).
How do I do the exam?
For the TOEFL test, most people choose the online test (TOEFL iBT). This exam is done on the computer and takes between three and four and a half hours (plus ten minutes of rest). The exam will evaluate your oral expression, oral comprehension, writing and reading comprehension. You can get a total of 120 points, 30 for each module. Your qualification in the certificate will be between 0 and 120, and this certificate will be valid for two years.
The IELTS also focuses on the four modules of auditory compression, writing, reading comprehension, and oral expression. The first three modules are evaluated with a written test of 160 minutes without interruption between the modules. The oral expression part lasts about 15 minutes and is done the same day (after resting 10 minutes) or another day. This depends on the examination center. They qualify between 1 and 9, and like the TOEFL, the IELTS only has validity for two years.
The content of Cambridge English depends on the type of exam you are going to take. In general, a Cambridge exam lasts two days. On the first day, the comprehension of reading, writing and listening comprehension is evaluated. Each module lasts from one to two hours, depending on your level. The oral expression part of the exam usually takes place another day and lasts about 15 minutes. This part of the exam is usually done in conjunction with another applicant. The Cambridge exam can be done online or in writing, depending on a little on the exam center. The exam will be graded according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), from A1 to C2. Even if you are short of reaching another level, you will be qualified with a lower level of the CEFR.
Who issues the exam?
The TOEFL certificate is issued by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a US non-profit organization, while the IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP Education, and the Cambridge English Language Assessment. The Cambridge diploma is issued by the Cambridge English Language Assessment, based at the University of Cambridge, England.
Where and when can I do the exam?
You can do the three exams (almost) anywhere in the world. On the websites of the different organizations, you can find the nearest exam center, and you can even register online for the exam. There are TOEFL and IELTS exams almost every week, while Cambridge English exams are only done a few times a year, so you have to plan.
Remember that if you do a preparation course with a language organization, such as EF, we will help you to register for the exam and, of course, to get the score you need.
How much does the exam cost?
A TOEFL exam costs between 180 and 245 dollars, an IELTS around 200 euros, and the Cambridge English exam between 165 and 255 euros (depending on the level). Keep in mind that these prices may vary based on your location and are subject to change.
How do I prepare?
Preparation is the key. Do not underestimate the exam and start studying on time. You can do it on your own or with an online course; but if what you are looking for is to progress to obtain the best possible score, your best bet is to take a language course. Language organizations such as EF offer courses that adapt to the exam you are going to do, with a lot of specific preparation for certification and practice exams. If you can go abroad to do a course (study English in the United Kingdom, USA or Canada, for example), you will maximize the chances of doing well in the oral part of the exam, since you will be practicing and using English during the months or weeks before the exam.
Before you decide
Get an idea of your current level and find out if an English level exam preparation course is the right one for you by doing our free online test, the EFSET, EF Standard English Test. Consider making the EFSET PLUS version to get a more complete and accurate assessment of your level.