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TOEFL, IELTS or Cambridge English Exams

Choosing an International English Exam can be confusing and stressful, there are many exams to choose from such as TOEFL iBT, IELTS, Cambridge FCE (First) and CAE (Advanced). When choosing what International English Exam to study for it is important you do a bit of research first.


Step 1 – Why are you taking an International English Exam?

This is the most important question to ask yourself before choosing an International English Exam. If you don’t know why you are taking an exam, it is very difficult to make a good choice! For example if you want to study at a UK university, then you will need to take IELTS. If you are looking to take a General English exam, that proves your level of English internationally, take Cambridge English exams such as PET (B1 Intermediate), FCE/First (B2 Upper-Intermediate) or CAE/Advanced (C1 Advanced).

If you are applying to go to university, it is very important that you check what English exams the university accepts and what score you need to get. All universities have an International Students section where you can find information about the minimum level of English required and what International English Exams they accept. The golden rule is if you are not sure ask the university admissions department or ask an Education Agent in your home country.

english language requirements

Remember with universities abroad, you must also check the visa requirements too. Some countries have specific English language requirements for international student visas. For example in the United Kingdom to get a Tier 4 visa you must take a Secure English Language Test like IELTS. TOEFL iBT is not accepted by the UK Border Agency / Immigration for Tier 4 student visas.

If you are taking an International English Exam to get a job abroad, check to see if the exam is recognised by the employer. IELTS, TOEFL and Cambridge all provide exam recognition search tools on their websites. If the employer is not listed, you could try emailing the HR department.


Step 2 – Research the exam choices.

Not all exams are the same! Some English exams scores are only valid for 2 years, this is the case for TOEFL and IELTS. However, some exams like Cambridge English exams are valid for life. Some exams are computer based, some are paper based. Some focus on one region of the world, some are international English. When you have a choice of two exams, look at the style of questions and the topics and think which one are you most comfortable with.

For example TOEFL iBT is an online test using a computer. The questions are mainly multiple choice and the speaking test is not done with a teacher but instead you have to speak your answer into a microphone which is recorded by the software. The exam also has integrated tasks where you listen and read about a topic, then write or speak your answer. This means you need to have good note-taking skills. The TOEFL iBT is very USA focussed and most of the listenings use American English speakers. So this exam would suit students that are familiar with US history and topics, American accents and for students that are good at taking notes and comfortable giving speeches.


Step 3 – Check test dates and test centres.

Most exam providers like TOEFL iBT, IELTS and Cambridge ESOL exams hold exams on many dates throughout the year in many cities across your country. Make sure you start your preparation well in advance of the test date and also check how long it takes for the results to be published. For English exams like IELTS and TOEFL, the test results are sent directly to the universities that you are applying to. You need to nominate the universities when signing up for the test.


If you are not sure about what exam to take or want to discuss your options, then please contact Bucksmore Homelingua and we will give you a free exam consultation. You can send us a message or why not start a live chat in the bottom-right corner. We have a full range of English exam preparation courses for adults and junior students, including IELTS, TOEFL iBT and Cambridge English exams (KET, PET, FCE and CAE).


Useful International English Exam links



Cambridge ESOL examinations

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