Official ESL Exams – An Overview

English has become the language of the world, and as a result, it is often referred to as “Globish” because of its role in cross-border communication. Millions of people from over a hundred countries are pushing their citizens into learning English, lest they fall behind. Globalization has helped English become the worldwide language, as international business, politicians, and students use English when working in the global environment. But problems have occurred regarding the legitimacy of some people’s so-called “language skills”. Luckily, several tests have been designed to create recognized skills for non-English speakers. Here is an overview of the major tests recognized by institutions across the planet.

ESOL Exams – University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge’s ESOL exams (English for Speakers of Other Languages) are a comprehensive course and exam system with varying skill levels. The main tests of ESOL are: KET, FCE, and CAE tests.

-KET (Key English Test) is designed for everyday writing and conversational English at the most basic level. Valid for life, the KET is recognized globally for preparing students for basic English qualifications. This test is designed not for academics, but for conversational skills for people with limited exposure to English, such as tourists.

–       FCE (First Certificate in English) is designed for an upper-intermediate level student. The course deals with real life situations as opposed to a business or workplace English test. After the completion of the FCE exam, the student will be recognized as Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. The B2 level allows you to work in an English speaking environment or country. The exam is quite difficult and exhausting, as it runs 4 hours long. It is broken down into the following categories: Reading test which lasts for one hour; Writing for one hour 20 minute; Use of English for 45 minutes; Listening for 40 minutes; and finally Speaking for only 15 minutes. Many students have the most difficulty with the Speaking test.

–       CAE (Certificate in Advanced English) is designed for the most advanced students, as it concentrates on language skills for professionals and academics. Once again, like all of the exams offered for ESL students at the University of Cambridge, the CAE test focuses on real life language skills intertwined with academic and professional language skills.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

The IELTS tests are designed for students with a strong understanding of the English language. IELTS focuses on building the four basic skill sets of English: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Unlike other ESL tests, the IELTS will help students who have studied American English become accustomed to the subtle differences with British English. Since many ESL students have difficulty with the British accents and vocabulary (lorry vs. truck; lift vs. elevator), the IELTS exams can open doors to working or studying in the United Kingdom. As an advanced exam, it will take two hours and 45 minutes to complete. Ultimately, IELTS is designed for people who want to live or study in an English country. As an example of its popularity and reputation, 700,000 people write this exam every day.

TOEFL Test of English as a Foreign Language

Developed by ETS (English Testing Service), the TOEFL test is designed for people who wish to work, study, or live abroad in a predominately English speaking country. The TOEFL is the most famous of all ESL tests and is often considered compulsory for anyone wishing to study abroad. Because of this, the TOEFL is a formal academic test designed mainly for students, both high school and elementary. But it’s not just for studying abroad: TOEFL is mandatory for admission into English schools across the planet. TOEFL is very competitive since it is used by over 6,000 colleges globally. The test is also quit difficult in comparison to the others. The TOEFL comes in three formats: PBT (Paper Based Test), CBT (Computer Based Test), and iBT (internet Based Test). The test focuses on the four major skill sets: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication)

As TOEFL is designed for students wishing to study either overseas in an English speaking country, or study in an English school, TOEIC is designed for those wishing to work in an English environment. The exam is an intermediate test focusing on business, telephone, and workplace English skills. As a testament to its popularity, over 4.5 million people take it each year. TOEIC is broken down into two tests: Listening and Reading; and Speaking and Writing. Originally, the test only consisted of the one test (Listening and Reading) but in 2006, the ETS decided to divide the test into two parts. This is mainly a result of the overwhelming popularity of English in Japan and South Korea.

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