If you’re thinking of taking an official English exam, you might be wondering: 

Are the tests all the same? 

How do I know which one to take?

What should I do to get ready?

If this sounds like you, we’re here to help! Read on to prepare for your big exam!

How to prepare for your language exam

1. Take an English course

Unsure of your skills? Online courses like the ones offered by Lingoda can help you gain confidence for test day.

2. Use your English every day

Here are some tips to make your English practice stick:

3. Know the details

Find out everything you can about the exam you’re considering – like question types and how long you have for each section.

Most websites also offer training resources like preparation sessions or practice exams.

5 English exams explained

Now, let’s get into the details about some of the major English exams!

1. TOEFL iBT

Purpose: TOEFL iBT is mainly for university admission.

Skills: Listening, speaking, reading and writing

Location: Official testing centres

Delivery: TOEFL is usually computer-based, unless a testing centre has no internet access.

Timing: About 3 hours

Scoring: Your English level is assessed based on your total score from 1 (non-user) to 120 (expert). Scores for university admission range from 61 to 110, depending on the school. 

Results: You can view your results online in 6 days. Results arrive in the mail within 11 days.

Cost: You can expect to pay up to 220. Check out more information about pricing in your area here

Practice materials: Find them here.

2. TOEIC 

Purpose: The TOEIC test assesses your English skills for professional international work environments. 

TOEIC also offers a beginner to lower-intermediate version called TOEIC Bridge, used for students in English-language courses and people who need some English for work or travel.

Skills: The standard TOEIC test consists of a listening/reading exam and separate speaking and writing exams. You can take one test or all of them. 

TOEIC Bridge is a multiple-choice reading and listening test. 

Location: It’s typically done at an official test centre, but is sometimes offered through employers or language schools.  

Delivery: The listening/reading exam is paper- or computer-based. The speaking and writing exams are computer-based. 

Timing: For the standard TOEIC test, listening/reading takes around 2.5 hours. Speaking takes 20 minutes and writing takes about 60. TOEIC Bridge is 1 hour. 

Scoring: On the standard TOEIC exam, your English level is assessed according to your test score. The reading/listening test is scored from 10 (no useful proficiency) to 990 (international proficiency). The speaking and writing tests are each out of 200. 

For TOEIC Bridge, you get a listening score and a reading score. Your total score determines whether your English is CEFR level A1 (beginner), A2 (elementary), or B1 (intermediate).

Results: 3 to 4 weeks

Cost: TOEIC is approximately €85 for listening/reading and €85 for speaking/writing. TOEIC Bridge is around €70

Contact your local test centre for details. 

Practice materials: Find listening and reading here, and speaking and writing here

3. IELTS

Purpose: IELTS offers an academic test for university admission and employment, and a general test for migration and travelling. 

Some test centres also offer Life Skills tests in CEFR levels A1, A2 and B1 to assess a person’s everyday English communication skills for UK visas and immigration. 

Skills: For the general and academic tests, all four skills are covered. Listening and speaking are the same for the academic and general tests, but reading and writing differ. For Life Skills, only speaking and listening are covered. 

Location: Official testing centres

Delivery: The academic and general tests are paper- or computer-based, except for speaking, which is face-to-face with an examiner. Life Skills exams are done with an examiner and one other test-taker, face-to-face.

Timing: Academic and general tests are just under 3 hours. The Life Skills exams range from 16 to 22 minutes.

Scoring: For IELTS academic and general, you get an overall score from 1 (non-user) to 9 (expert). Life Skills is a pass-or-fail test.

Results: General and academic paper-based test results are available in 13 days. Computer-based test results are available in 5 to 7 days. Life Skills results are ready within 7 days.

Cost: IELTS typically costs from 176 to 237. Search for your local test centre here, then click “Book now” to see specific pricing.

Practice materials: Get them here.

4. Cambridge

Purpose: Cambridge has separate exams for each English CEFR level, from A2 (elementary) to C2 (proficiency), which are for different purposes. For example, to assess your English for university or professional employment, you’ll likely have to pass the C1 (advanced) test. 

Skills: Tests generally consist of reading and use of English (one section), writing, speaking and listening. 

Location: Official testing centres

Delivery: Cambridge is computer- or paper-based, except for the speaking test, which is face-to-face with another test-taker.

Timing: Ranges from 90 minutes (A2) to 4 hours (C2). 

Scoring: This is a pass-or-fail exam. You will only get a certificate if you get a passing score.

Results: Paper-based test results are ready in 4 to 6 weeks. Computer-based results are delivered in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Cost: Contact your local test centre for specific pricing details – exams are usually around 150.

Practice materials: Check them out here.

5. Linguaskill

Purpose: Linguaskill is a Cambridge test that assesses your English skills for educational institutions, government bodies and prospective employers. 

Skills: You can take the general version or the business version. There’s a speaking section, reading/listening section and writing section. The test can assess one skill or all skills.

Location: Anywhere

Delivery: Linguaskill is delivered online; it’s even offered directly through Lingoda!

Timing: Between 120 and 135 minutes

Scoring: The test assesses your English using the CEFR levels from A1 (beginner) to C2 (proficiency). Unlike traditional Cambridge exams, it is not a pass-or-fail test.

Results: Typically available in 48 hours

Cost: Take the Linguaskill exam for 69 per section, or 149 for all four skills. 

Practice materials: Have a look here.

Take your pick

Now that you’ve got the details, you’re ready to choose the right test. Good luck!

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