<<Which English exam should I take? and Which English exam is best for me?>> are the most common questions we get nowadays. 20 years ago, choosing the correct English exam was a really easy decision, as the Cambridge exams were the only ones that gave a universally recognized qualification.

However now, given the number of options available, there are many possibilities. So we thought it would be useful to have a look at the main exams and help you to decide on the best option for you.

The Cambridge English Exam Options

Young learners preparing for exam | How to choose the correct English Exam

Young Learners English Exams

Without a doubt, for young learners, Cambridge is the way to go, from the Flyers exams through to PET, there isn’t a lot of competition. Schools and colleges here in Spain increasingly offer these courses within the curriculum, and they are good, well balanced and normally age- related exams.  These exams are all internationally recognized.

Students preparing for First Certificate English exam | How to choose the correct English Exam

The First Certificate English Exam

First Certificate is still seen as the benchmark for having a “good, upper intermediate “ level of English . It is universally recognized, and is the equivalent to just under a B2 ( according to the European framework). The exam itself is well balanced between the different language skills and a good upper-intermediate level student would have a good chance of passing, even without a lot of help from a teacher as there are now so many good coursebooks, study aids available. The qualification has no expiry date.

Woman preparing for Advanced exam - How to choose the correct English Exam

The Advanced English exam

The Advanced exam is the equivalent of C1 (according to the European framework) and is a BIG JUMP from the First Certificate, both in level, and the complexity of the exam. This is probably why the number of people who have this qualification is much lower than the first certificate. There is a balance in skills, but it is impossible to pass without having a really good vocabulary level. The Use of English section is really complex, and an experienced teacher is recommended to help teach you “How to pass the Exam “. The qualification has no expiry date.

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The Proficiency English exam

The Proficiency exam is the equivalent of C2(according to the European framework). In real terms, there is less of a jump between Advanced and Proficiency, than between First and Advanced. Yes, the vocabulary is more difficult and the listening part is more complicated, but the real key with this exam is knowing how to pass it. Most students who already have the advanced exam will be able, with the help of a good experienced teacher, to pass the exam in a 1 or 2 year time period. The key with this exam is doing lots of exam simulations that are then corrected with explanations from a teacher. The qualification has no expiry date.

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IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

IELTS is becoming increasingly popular for many reasons, firstly, there is no pass or fail, applicants just get a score from 0-9.9. Secondly,  a lot of foreign universities ask for a certain IELTS score as an access prerequisite, and finally, many multinational, and indeed, Spanish companies ask for a specific IELTS score, which may vary according to the position.

It is recognized in over 140 countries, and in some areas, particularly Asia, it is the main tool for measuring language level. The exam has 4 skills: reading, listening, speaking and writing and is a fair balance of a student’s language ability. It also mixes British and American English. Some of the question formats are complicated and an experienced IELTS teacher is recommended to help prepare you for this exam.

So what is the drawback? It’s a big one, the expiry date. The IELTS score is only valid for 2 years. And depending on individual circumstances this can be a big disadvantage.

Be sure to check out our Tips for Passing the Speaking Part of English Exams!

Alternative English Exam Options

Could one of these English exams be right for you?

University students-TOEFL English exam | Melton Language Services

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

The TOEFL exam is used mainly for entry into universities in the United States. In addition, many government organizations, scholarship foundations and licensing/certification agencies use this exam to evaluate a candidate’s English level.

The exam is done on a computer, although a paper version is available for applicants without access to the internet. Like the IELTS, the TOEFL exam is on a point system scale. Scores are valid for 2 years, so you’ll need to keep this in mind when you are applying to universities.

Business people talking-TOEIC Exam | How to choose the correct English Exam

TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication)

The TOEIC exam is designed to measure the English proficiency for the workplace. Increasingly, you are seeing the term “professional working proficiency” used on CVs. The TOEIC exam is a good way to stand out from other applicants by having proof of your level. The exam is valid for 2 years, so be prepared to keep it up-to-date.

There are 2 exams: the TOEIC Listening and Reading Test and The TOEIC Speaking and Writing Test. The scores are also scaled, like in the TOEFL. For candidates with a beginner to intermediate level, The TOEIC Bridge is another option available to demonstrate a more basic level.

SLP Exam preparation | Melton Language Services

SLP Military Exam

STANAG (Standardization Agreement) was created by NATO to provide military standards for things such as equipment, tactics, training, procedures, etc. when armed forces from different countries work together. SLP is a way to report the language level. The term SLP is usually followed by four numbers that refer to the 4 areas of evaluation: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. Usually the individual organization or government body sets the exam as there is no official STANAG exam. If your company would like to provide exam preparation to your employees, please get in touch for more information.

Which exam is best for me?

As you have seen in this post, Cambridge exams are no longer the only internationally recognized options. Each test and each English level certification has its peculiarities. And since there will always be an exam type that best suits your specific needs, you should know how to choose an English exam the right way.

When choosing an English exam there are always a number of key questions to consider:

  • Is it internationally recognized?
  • Is it the right level for me?
  • Will it help me improve my employment or study options?
  • How much time will I have to dedicate to pass it?
  • Can I study alone, or do I need a teacher?
  • How long is the qualification valid for?

We have blog posts that could help you when preparing for the English exams, like Tips for Passing the Speaking Part of English Exams. We’ll be adding more on the other skills as well, so make sure to check back or sign up for more information.


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