English Language Proficiency Tests: An Overview
Published on June 23, 2016 / Updated on November 10, 2022
When acquiring English as a foreign language, you may occasionally encounter instances where you need to be able to prove your current ability level. For example, this may be required if you apply for an English-speaking job, attempt to move to an English-speaking country, or apply to an English-speaking academic institution.
Fortunately, for such instances, there are a range of English language proficiency tests available to you. Many of these tests are recognised all around the world, while others test specific aspects of your English knowledge. Below, we take a more detailed look at some of the most prestigious proficiency tests for English learners.
An international proficiency test for non-native speakers, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is jointly administered by the British Council, IDP Education and the Cambridge English Language Assessment. It was established in 1989 and is accepted by many academic institutions in the US, UK, Australia and Canada.
The IELTS is the most popular English language test for immigration and higher education applications. There are over than 1,000 test centres, located in more than 140 different countries, and approximately 2.5 million people take the test each year. It is a condition of immigration into both Australia and New Zealand.
All test takers are given a score ranging from “Band 1” (“non-user”) to “Band 9” (“expert user”) and the required level is determined by specific institutions or immigration authorities. Skills that are tested include reading, writing, speaking and listening. Test results remain valid for a period of two years.
The second major English language proficiency test is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is specifically geared towards people applying for English-speaking academic institutions, such as universities. It is designed and administered by the Educational Testing Service and can be either paper or internet-based.
TOEFL was first established in 1964, while the internet-based test (iBT) was introduced in 2005. This has, for the most part, replaced computer-based and paper-based testing, although paper-based tests are still available in some areas. Again, the test includes reading, writing, speaking and listening components.
Each section of the test is scored from 0 to 30 and the results of each of the four sections are added together, giving the person a final test score on a scale of 0 to 120. The minimum score for acceptance at academic institutions varies greatly, with some universities accepting scores in the 60s, while Oxford University requires a 110 minimum.
With a history dating back to 1913, the Cambridge English Language Assessment is one of the oldest assessment boards in existence. It places a focus on delivering recognised qualifications for teachers and language students. In 2010, it began a collaboration with the University of Michigan, called the Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments.
The Cambridge English Language Assessment was a key contributor to the development of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and its tests are all aligned to that system. Moreover, there are different examinations for Business English, Academic English, English For Young Learners and Teaching Qualifications.
There are five levels, with Level 1 corresponding with CEFR level A2 and Level 5 corresponding with CEFR level C2. Results are given in accordance with the Cambridge English Scale, meaning students get a score for each skill and an overall score. Cambridge English Language Assessment operate in 130 countries, testing 5 million people a year.
Founded by the US-based Educational Testing Service, the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) was devised in order to assess the English language skills of people working in an international environment. It was introduced during the 1970s and is accepted by many institutions around the world.
There are two separate tests, which focus on different elements of the language. The TOEIC Listening & Reading Test assessing both listening and reading comprehension, while the TOEIC Speaking & Writing Test assesses pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure and coherence.
The Listening & Reading Test results are measured on a scale from 10 to 990 points, while the Speaking & Writing Test has a maximum score of 400. Institutional TOEIC Tests can also be purchased for use internally, within businesses or academic institutions. However, TOEIC is no longer valid for the purposes of being issued a UK visa.
Notable because it is a free online examination, the EF Standard English Test (EFSET) is administrated by EF Education First and was established in 2014. There are three versions of the test available – a 15-minute test, a 50-minute test and a 2-hour test – with the latter two operating in accordance with the CEFR.
Unlike many other English language proficiency exams, the EF Standard English Test is exclusively online and only tests reading and listening comprehension. It can, therefore, be considered a test of receptive skills, but there are no components for testing written or speech-related skills.
The 2-hour version of the test (EFSET PLUS) is scored on a scale of 0 to 100. It also provides language students with an equivalent score for the TOEFL and and IELTS, as well as a placement on the 6-level CEFR scale. A technique called computerised adaptive testing is deployed, adjusting the difficulty depending on the user’s competency.
Introduced in 2008, the International Test of English Proficiency (iTEP) was created by Boston Educational Services and has quickly gained widespread credibility. Today, it is supported by hundreds of institutions around the world, including California State University and the governments of Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Colombia.
The administrators oversee a number of different tests, for different purposes. For example, the iTEP Academic test is designed for higher education application purposes, while the iTEP Business test measures English competency in the context of the language skills needed for employment.
People taking the test are scored on a scale of 1 to 6, with 0.5 intervals. These levels correspond with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. In total, there are more than 500 test centres in the world and these are spread across 40+ countries, including more than 100 test centres in China.
The online English courses offered by Lingoda are ideal preparation for any of these official language proficiency tests and we also offer certificates of our own, in accordance with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). As a result, our certificates are recognised by institutions worldwide.
With Lingoda, each time you complete a course at a certain level on the framework (from A1 through to C2) you will receive an official certificate. This certificate can then be used as proof of your current competency level. Certificates are included within the price of your course and a sample certificate can be viewed by clicking here.