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The deal with English exams

Cambridge, TOEFL, IELTS, Trinity...the Common European Framework...reading and use, writing, speaking, listening...HELP!

You've been studying so hard, and now you want to take an official exam to certify your level of English. Great, but which exam should you take? When should you take it? Should you prepare specifically for the exam or just wing it? This post will hopefully give you some guidance on which exam best fits your needs, and how to prepare for it.


CEFR certifications

There are so many different certifications that it can be hard to know which one is best for you. The most important thing to pay attention to when choosing an exam is that it is approved by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or the CEFR for short. In a nutshell, this program regulates the six common language levels, A1-C2, and makes sure that all the official certifications follow certain guidelines when formulating their exams.



That said, the most popular exams in Europe are the Cambridge exams. Cambridge offers exams not only for adults, but also for children and teenagers. Their certification is valid for most needs in Europe, be it for work, school, university or other. It may not be accepted if you want to study or work in an English speaking country, such as the USA or the UK, for example. The most popular exam is by far the B2, also known as the First, which, if you pass, declares that you,

have the language skills to live and work independently in an English-speaking country or study on courses taught in English.

It is a very difficult exam, and I would definitely recommend doing some specific exam preparation lessons before taking it, partly because of the level required to pass, and partly because the exam format is very specific and takes some getting used to.



The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS for short, is accepted throughout Europe, and if you plan to work or study in an English speaking country (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and USA), it may be necessary to have an IELTS certification in order to be accepted by an employer or university. The IELTS has a different scoring system than the Cambridge exams, and grades your level of English from 1-9, 9 being an expert user (comparable to the C1-C2 level of Cambridge). Each university or workplace will have a different requirement, so you'll need to check with them specifically to see what score you will need to enter. Most universities, for example, require a 7 to be able to access their courses. This exam, even more so than the Cambridge exams, requires a good level of preparation and also many hours of self study.



The TOEFL assessments are also accepted in all English speaking countries, and is sometimes preferred over the IELTS. TOEFL offers exams for all ages and levels, but their tests are most commonly taken by students looking to study abroad, or by someone looking for work in an English speaking country. They offer their own set of test prep courses, as well as a self study course that you can do if you want to study on your own.



The Trinity exams offer certifications for all ages and levels, as well as more specific exams, for example, for immigration purposes. They are aligned with the CEFR, and are also accepted outside of Europe.


Score comparisons

This chart should give you a bit more of an idea of how the scores compare between the exams that are certified by the CEFR. As I said earlier, for most users, a B1 or B2 level is all that is needed to work or study in Europe, but some more prestigious universities and oversees schools have different requirements. So, in short, if you're thinking about working or studying abroad, make sure you check the entry requirements in the country you want to go to, and then make your decision on what test to take!

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*My two cents about official certifications: they require a lot of preparation and sometimes don't resemble "real English", or the English spoken on the street between native English speakers. But, they are a very good way to challenge yourself and to learn many new things that maybe you wouldn't learn if you didn't choose to study for one, so all in all they are a good language learning tool. Just make sure you prepare adequately!



  • wing it: to do or try something without previous preparation

  • In a nutshell: to summarize

  • My two cents: my personal opinion

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