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Which English Test Should I Prepare for to Get Admitted to University?

By Katrin Vares

If you want to study abroad, you’re probably looking for English-taught degrees. And certainly, you’ll find plenty, regardless of where you plan on studying. You’ll also notice you need a minimum English language score to prove you can understand the lectures, participate in seminars, and complete your assignments.

This is a mandatory requirement even if you may excel at your English skills. The only exception applies to native English speakers, but each academic institution decides under which conditions students don’t have to provide an English language certificate.

Most international universities worldwide accept one, two, and sometimes 3 of the following English language tests:

  • IELTS Academic
  • TOEFL® iBT
  • PTE Academic
  • C1 Advanced (formerly known as CAE)
  • B2 First (formerly known as FCE)

These language tests are similar, but there are significant differences. If you’re not sure which one to choose, just find more information about each one and look for online platforms that simulate the exam. This might be the best and most useful way to figure out which one you like more and brings you more comfort.

Find English preparation courses

Top international places to learn English

Here are the most popular international destinations offering plenty of English exam preparation courses to help you get into university:

You can also check out online English preparation courses, but there are fewer options when compared to on-campus programmes.

Status of English tests during the Coronavirus outbreak

Due to the current situation and temporary lockdown, most exam centres around the world are closed. Here’s which English exams are available online:

1. What is IELTS?

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is an international standardised test of English language proficiency. No minimum score is required to pass the test - it measures the candidate’s level of English from A1-C2.

There are two types of IELTS tests:

  • IELTS Academic – for people who apply for higher education or professional registration in English speaking countries
  • IELTS General Training – for people attending secondary education, work experience, or training programmes in English speaking countries

Both tests have the same structure, but different levels of difficulty. We’ll focus on IELTS Academic as that’s the test required for students applying to a university abroad. It consists of four parts:

  • Listening (30 minutes)
  • Academic Reading (60 minutes)
  • Academic Writing (60 minutes)
  • Speaking (11-14 minutes with an examiner)

Book an IELTS test.

The total test duration is 2 hours and 45 minutes. IETLS tests are available in two formats: paper-based or computer-deliver, but you can only take them at official test centres, not online. Keep in mind that test results expire after two years.

Find out more about the experience of taking an IELTS test and check some online IELTS training platforms.

Students preparing for an English language test

2. What is TOEFL®?

TOEFL® (Test of English as a Foreign Language) was developed to address the problem of ensuring English language proficiency for non-native speakers wishing to study at U.S. universities. However, the TOEFL iBT® test is generally accepted around the world as proof of language proficiency for other purposes as well, including work and immigration.

TOEFL iBT® consists of four parts:

  • Reading (54-72 minutes)
  • Listening (41-57 minutes)
  • Speaking (17 minutes, answers are registered using a microphone)
  • Writing (50 minutes)

Book a TOEFL iBT® test.

This is a computer-based test. TOEFL® also offers a revised paper-delivered test, but it is only available in locations without an internet connection. The computer or internet-based test takes 3 hours to complete.

The paper-based examination is shorter – 2 hours and 25 minutes – because it doesn’t include the Speaking section (answers cannot be recorded). Just like the IELTS test, you can only take TOEFL® examinations at certified test centres, and the results expire after two years.

Check out some useful tips on how to prepare for TOEFL®.

3. What is PTE Academic?

PTE Academic is an English language test developed by Pearson. When compared to the other exams, it stands out through the computer (AI-based) evaluation system and the speed with which results are communicated to test takers (usually, in less than 5 business days).

The test has 3 parts and includes an optional 10-minute break:

  • Speaking and Writing (77-93 minutes)
  • Reading (32-40 minutes)
  • Part 3 (45-57 minutes)

Book a PTE Academic test.

PTE Academic is a computer-based examination and can only be taken in accredited test centres. It takes around 3 hours to complete the test. Like IELTS and TOEFL, PTE results are only valid for 2 years.

4. What is C1 Advanced?

C1 Advanced (formerly known as Cambridge English Advanced – CAE) is the advanced general English examination provided by the Cambridge English Language Assessment centre in England. The examination includes four parts:

  • Reading and Use of English (1 hour 30 minutes)
  • Writing (1 hour and 30 minutes)
  • Listening (40 minutes)
  • Speaking (15 minutes)

Book a C1 Advanced exam.

The C1 Advanced is available in both computer and paper-based formats. The entire examination takes around 4 hours. There are three pass grades (A, B, and C) and certificates are awarded to candidates who achieve these grades. Candidates who achieve a grade D or E are judged not to have reached the required standard for C1 Advanced.

Check out details on the format of the Cambridge test.

In order to get a C1 Advanced certificate, you need to pass the exam with a score between 180-199, which is equivalent to a C1 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Both C1 Advanced and B2 First must be taken at official test centres.

Candidates who have obtained an A grade are awarded a C2 certificate, those obtaining grade B or C, are awarded a C1 certificate. Like all the other Cambridge exams, once the exam is passed, the qualification never expires. However, universities or employers might not consider it if it is older than 2 years.

5. What is B2 First?

B2 First (formerly known as Cambridge English First – FCE) is developed by Cambridge English (part of the University of Cambridge) and is the most in-depth and focused exam available at Level B2 of the CEFR.

B2 First certificate can be used to apply for foundation, pathway, and higher education courses taught in English around the world. The exam is made up of four sections:

  • Reading and Use of English (1 hour 15 minutes)
  • Writing (1 hour 20 minutes)
  • Listening (40 minutes)
  • Speaking (14 minutes)

Like C1 Advanced, B2 First is available both in a paper and computer-based format. It takes around 3 hours and 30 minutes to finish. To get a B2 First certificate, you need to pass the exam with a score between 160-179, which is equivalent to a B2 level according to CEFR.

Find English preparation courses

Minimum required scores for English language exams

The minimum English language scores vary a lot depending on the type of the academic institution, its prestige, the curriculum complexity, and so on. To offer you a general idea:

  • Minimum IELTS Academic scores range between 5.0 – 6.5
  • Minimum TOEFL® iBT scores range between 65 – 80
  • Minimum PTE Academic scores range between 50 – 60
  • C1 Advanced scores: A, B, or C
  • B2 First scores: A, B, or C

Keep in mind that universities and colleges can have higher expectations for your English tests scores. Always check the requirements on the study programme or university page.

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