You want to take an English exam to get your level certified, but have no idea which test out there is right for you: Is it the International Language Testing System (IELTS) or a Cambridge English exam? How are they different and what are the costs involved, and is there a way to test your level before committing to taking a certification exam?
We’ve put together this little guide with information to help you make an informed decision.
HOW DO I PICK THE RIGHT EXAM?
An important difference between the two diplomas is the validity of the result. A Cambridge certificate (KEY, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE) will be valid for the rest of your life, whereas IELTS is an overview of your level of English and only valid for two years. Moreover, when doing a Cambridge English exam there is a chance you won’t pass and therefore don’t receive a diploma. With IELTS you always get a diploma with your score, no matter how high or low your score is.
If you want to get a language diploma to prove your level and have something to showcase on your CV, the Cambridge English exam is probably the best choice. IELTS exams is often more relevant for visa, job and university or college applications where a certain level of English is required to get accepted, it is the most commonly used in the UK.
WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO DURING THE EXAM?
The IELTS focuses on four modules of speaking, listening, writing and reading. The first three modules (listening, reading and writing) are tested with a written test that takes 160 minutes and is done without a break. The oral part of the exam takes 15 minutes and is either on the same day (after a 10 minute break) or on another day. This depends on the exam centre. You receive a score between 1 and 9, and like is only valid for two years.
The content of the Cambridge English exam depends on the type of exam you will be taking (KEY, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE). In general, a Cambridge exam takes two days. The first day covers reading, writing and listening. Every module takes one to two hours, depending on your level. The oral part of the exam usually takes place on another day and takes about 15 minutes. This part of the exam is often conducted together with a fellow student. A Cambridge Exam can be done on a computer or in writing, depending a bit on the exam centre. The exam will be marked according to the The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), from A1 to C2, and if you fail narrowly you will be marked one level lower on the CEFR scale.
WHO ISSUES THE EXAM?
The IELTS is jointly ‘owned’ by the British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge English Language Assessment. The Cambridge diploma is issued by Cambridge English Language Assessment, based at the University of Cambridge in England.
WHERE AND WHEN DO I TAKE THE EXAM?
You can take both exams (almost) anywhere in the world. On the websites of the different organisations you will find the exam centre that is closest to you and you can even enrol for an exam online. IELTS offers exams almost every week, while Cambridge English exams are only offered a few times a year, so you’ll need to plan ahead. Remember that if you do a preparation course with a language organisation like The Language House, we’ll help you enrol for the exam and ace it, of course.
A very common question we get asked at our Language school: "It is easier to take the exam in the UK or in my country?"
Examiners are trained in the same way wherever they work. They follow a strict scoring system when assessing your writing and speaking. Finally, examiners are individuals who work alone; they don't have time to discuss or compare scores.
One factor will help you in the exams: confidence. If you take the exam in your own country, you will probably feel more confident. The exams aren’t easier, they just feel easier.
WHAT DOES THE EXAM COST?
IELTS - The 2017 test fee is £160. Click here to pay your 2017 IELTS English Language Test fee online. You must only make your payment after you have obtained a reference number from submitting your on-line application.
A Cambridge English exam is between £95 and £160 - depending on the level (Between 165 and 255 Euros). Please be aware that these prices might differ depending on your location and are subject to change.
HOW DO I PREPARE?
Preparation is key. Don’t underestimate the exam and start studying in time. You can do this by yourself or with an online course, but if you’re really looking to improve and progress and to get the best score possible, your best bet is to do a language course. We at The Language House offer courses that are tailored to the exam you’re going to take, and will include lots of targeted preparation and practice exams. Studying English in the UK, you’ll maximise your chances of doing well in the oral part of the exam as you’ll be practising and using English in the months and weeks.
BEFORE YOU DECIDE
Get a sense of your current level and whether an exam prep course is right for you by doing a free online-based Standard English Test with Cambridge.