Sign up to receive tips and stay current with the latest IELTS news.

Close

If you wish to work, study or migrate to an English-speaking country, you must be able to demonstrate a high level of English language proficiency. Read on to learn the different types of English language proficiency tests, and which is the best fit for you.

English proficiency test types

There are a large number of English language proficiency test types. Each test has its own benefits that help you prove your English language proficiency to achieve your goals in studying or working abroad.

  • IELTS: The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is an English language test designed to help you study, work or migrate to a country where English is the native language.

  • TOEFL: Students take the TOEFL test to prepare for university, immigration as well as other things.

  • Cambridge English Exams: The Cambridge English tests are a collection of English certification examinations for different levels of English proficiency based on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference) whose results do not expire. This includes A2 Key, B1 Preliminary for Schools, B2 First for Schools, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency.

  • TOEIC: The TOEIC test is a global benchmark for evaluating English communication skills for the workplace and daily life.

Understanding the test formats

Understating each test format will help you decide which test is suitable for you based on your work, study or career goals.

IELTS

The IELTS test comes in two types: Academic and General Training and can be delivered on Paper or on Computer.

You take the same Speaking and Listening tests for Academic and General Training, but different Reading and Writing tests. Make sure to take the correct test type based on your goals.

The Listening, Reading and Writing components of any IELTS test are all completed on the same day.

However, it is possible to arrange the Speaking test up to a week before or after the other tests. The test lasts for 2 hours and 45 minutes in total.

TOEFL

  • TOEFL iBT

The TOEFL iBT test consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

The exam takes slightly less than 2 hours to complete in total, but you should allow 2.5 hours, including 30 minutes for check-in.

  • TOEFL iBT Paper Edition

The four areas of the TOEFL iBT Paper Edition test are Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The Reading, Listening and Writing tests are delivered on paper at testing centres. After finishing the paper test, you'll take the Speaking test online at home three days later. A human proctor will monitor your speaking session online.

The Reading, Speaking and Listening tests take roughly 3 hours to complete in a test centre; however, you should allow 3.5 hours, including 30 minutes for check-in.

It takes roughly 16 minutes to finish the Speaking test, which you will take at home, but you should allow 35 minutes for preparation and 20 minutes for check-in.

  • TOEFL Essentials

The four fundamental language abilities—Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking—are assessed in the TOEFL Essentials test. Short, interesting tasks that are relevant to both academic contexts and daily life are included in the exam style.

The test may be taken from home in about 1.5 hours.

Cambridge English Exams

  • A2 Key

This exam tests all four English language skills – reading, writing, listening and speaking. This test demonstrates your ability to communicate in simple situations in English.

  • B1 Preliminary

This test consists of four English language proficiency papers. The test format is the same for paper-based and computer-based tests.

The reading paper includes 2 parts with 32 questions (45 minutes), the writing paper includes 2 parts with 2 questions (45 minutes), the listening part has 4 parts with 25 questions (30 minutes, including 6 minutes transfer time) and the speaking part has 4 parts (10-12 minutes per pair of candidates; 15-17 minutes per group of three).

  • B2 First for Schools

This is the most popular of the Cambridge exams. The test includes four sections which are Reading & Use of English (75 minutes), Writing (2 essays, 80 minutes), Listening (40 minutes) and Speaking (interview, normally with another candidate, 14 minutes).

  • C1 Advanced

This test is for you if you can confidently speak in English for work and study purposes. This test includes four sections which are Reading & Use of English (90 minutes), Writing (2 tasks, 90 minutes), Listening (30 questions, 40 minutes) and Speaking (interview, with another candidate, 15 minutes).

  • C2 Proficiency

This test shows that you have mastered English to an exceptional level and consists of four papers to test your English skills. The test format is the same for paper-based and computer-based tests.

The reading paper includes 7 parts with 53 questions (1 hour and 30 minutes), the writing paper includes 2 parts (1 hour and 30 minutes), the listening part has 4 parts with 30 questions (about 40 minutes) and the speaking part has 3 parts (16 minutes per pair of candidates; 24 minutes per group of three).

TOEIC

The TOEIC is an objective test that uses an answer sheet that is optically scanned. Listening (about 45 minutes, 100 questions) and Reading (about 75 minutes, 100 questions) both include 200 questions that need to be answered. Every time a test is provided, the format remains the same, and each response is written on a separate answer sheet. The test is only available in English.

English language proficiency tests comparison

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is a worldwide benchmark for describing language proficiency. It has a six-point scale to language proficiency, with C2 being the highest rating for those who have mastered a language and A1 being the lowest.

Test/Level

A1

A2

B1

B2

C1

C2

IELTS

-

-

4.0-5.0

5.5-6.5

7.0-8.0

8.5, 9.0 

TOEFL

-

-

42-71

71-94

95-120

115-120

A2 Key

100-119

120-139

140-150

-

-

-

B2 First for Schools

-

-

140-159

160-179

180-190

-

C1 Advanced

-

-

-

160-179

180-199

200-210

C2 Proficiency

-

-

-

-

180-199

200-230

TOEIC

120-234

235-549

550-784

785-944

945-990

-

What is the ideal English language proficiency test for you?

You must be able to demonstrate a high level of English language proficiency if you want to work, study or migrate to an English-speaking country.

For people wishing to migrate to countries like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the UK, IELTS is the test of choice. Over 11,500 employers, universities, schools and immigration organisations worldwide, including 3,400 institutions in the USA, recognise IELTS as proof of English language proficiency.

Depending on your goals or purpose for moving abroad, you may choose to sit one of the following IELTS tests:

What is the best English language proficiency test for Canada?

To apply for immigration to Canada, you must submit the results of a language test from a recognised organisation. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) are the two currently recognised test providers in English. The Pearson Test of English (PTE) will also start to be accepted for immigration by the end of 2023.

Test preparation strategies

In order to become prepared for your test day, here are 7 tips you must know to help you with the preparation process!

How to prepare for the IELTS test?

At IDP, we offer a wide variety of preparation materials and information to help test takers improve their chances in their upcoming test. Some of these resources are free for all and can be found on IELTS Prepare – our one-stop shop for all official IDP IELTS preparation materials.