As an English student, you may be aware that you can complete several types of exams if you want to prove your English level.
From the IELTS to the PTS to the Cambridge and TOEFL tests, the exams measure your English language proficiency. Passing them can give you access to study, work or help migrate to English-speaking countries.
You may wonder how each exam differs, especially if you want to choose the right exam to prove your English expertise after learning English.
In this guide, I’ll explain the differences between the IELTS, PTE, Cambridge and TOEFL exams.
What’s the difference between IELTS, PTE, TOEFL and Cambridge tests?
The Cambridge test is known as the CAE exam (Certificate in Advanced English), a test of your advanced-level English language skills.
Let’s look at each of these tests in more detail.
What’s the IELTS?
The IELTS exam tests the language proficiency of people looking to work or study in a country where English is the native language.
These tests were developed in the United Kingdom, but more than 9,000 organisations accept this as proof of English proficiency.
From the IELTS for study to the IELTS test for migration and the IELTS test for work, there are a few main IELTS tests you can take.
Each of these tests serves a different purpose.
For example, if you are planning to migrate to New Zealand or Canada, you may take an IELTS test for immigration to show your English language proficiency to immigration authorities.
What are the main IELTS scores?
The scores you can achieve when taking an international English language test range from 0 to 9.0, divided into bands.
Each band reflects a different level of competency.
Band one means you can only use a few words in English and can’t use whole sentences; band six means you can use cohesive devices but use some uncommon vocabulary inaccurately; band nine indicates proficiency and shows that you only make minor errors.
Which IELTS scores do universities require?
Although the higher selection of IELTS scores ranges from 4.0 to 9.0, most universities accept students with an IELTS score of 6.5 - 7.
An IELTS score of 6.5 is the equivalent of C1-level English or advanced.
Which types of exams are part of the IELTS?
As part of the IELTS, you will speak face-to-face with an examiner and complete writing, reading and listening exams.
You can get the results within a 13-day timeframe.
What’s the PTE?
The PTE is an online, computer-based test of English proficiency if you want to get a visa application approved in New Zealand, Australia or the United Kingdom.
This test is also accepted by more than 3,000 universities and institutions of higher learning.
If you want to prove your speaking, writing, reading and listening skills to an immigration officer or an overseas business, you can get the test results after just 48 hours after the two-hour exam.
A few different PTE exams are available depending on your goals.
For example, if you want to work in the United Kingdom, you can use the PTE Academic UKVI to prove your English language proficiency.
If you want to study a course in New Zealand, you can use the PTE Academic or the PTE Academic Online to complete your test and prove your proficiency.
What are the main PTE scores?
The main scores you can achieve when you take a PTE exam range from 10 to 90.
The score you receive corresponds to the Global Scale of English (or the GSE), which is based on (but extends) the CEFR.
If you score between 10 and 22, your proficiency level is elementary or A1.
If you score between 51 and 59, your proficiency level is lower-intermediate or B2.
A score between 85 and 90 indicates full proficiency or C2 level English.
Which PTE scores do universities require?
Most universities will accept a PTE score of between 67 and 76 if you want to study for a bachelor’s degree.
This score is the equivalent of a B2, upper intermediate level of English on the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).
If you want to study in a foundation program, universities may accept scores of 51 and upwards, but this will depend on the university.
Which types of exams are part of the PTE?
The PTE Academic includes tests for reading, writing, speaking and listening.
There are 20 different question types, and the tests for speaking and writing are included in the same part.
What’s the TOEFL test?
The TOEFL test is an English-language test that more than 11,500 universities accept as proof of proficiency.
All universities in the United Kingdom accept the TOEFL test.
If you intend to work abroad or migrate to an English-speaking country, you can also use the results to prove your English proficiency.
This test is available worldwide - you can complete it in over 200 countries.
To complete the TOEFL test, you can complete the exams at home or a test centre in a three-hour test.
You can complete a practice test before the actual test.
What are the main TOEFL scores?
The main scores you can achieve in the TOEFL exams range from zero to 30.
Each part of the exam has its range of scores.
For example, if you score between zero and nine for the speaking part, you have below-basic level skills in this area.
If you score between 16 and 19, you have low-intermediate-level speaking skills.
If you score between 25 and 30, you have advanced speaking skills.
Your scores will be added for each part of the exam, equating to an established overall band score of between 1 - 1.5 and 12.
If you score a total of 1 - 1.5, this score is the equivalent of below A1 level (elementary).
If you score between 8 and 9.5, this score is the equivalent of B2-level English (intermediate), and a score of 12 means you have achieved the C2 level (advanced).
Which TOEFL scores do universities require?
If you want to apply to a university in the United States, most will accept a score of 100.
Therefore, you will need to achieve good marks for each section to gain admission, which may be 25 marks in each section.
Which types of exams are part of the TOEFL test?
There are four different parts of the TOEFL test; this test is divided into listening, reading, writing and speaking exams.
In the listening exam, you will respond to questions after listening to conversations about different topics.
In the reading exam, you will read academic and non-academic texts and answer questions based on the texts.
In the writing exam, you will write a response related to everyday and academic contexts.
You will speak to an interviewer about different subjects in the speaking exam.
You will also have to prepare a personal video statement.
This part of the exam does not count towards the final score.
What’s the Cambridge test?
The Cambridge English language assessment is another English language test offering a few different testing types.
The CAE test is a high-level qualification equivalent to the CEFR C1 level.
9,000 schools, companies and government departments recognise the Cambridge English test, so if you want to work abroad, study in another English-speaking country like the United Kingdom or Australia, or migrate to another country, the CAE is a good option.
What are the main Cambridge English CAE scores?
The CAE scores are aligned with the CEFR framework of languages and the Cambridge English Scale.
Your grades will range from B2 to C2 level, which is determined by the scores you receive after taking each part of the exam.
For example, if you achieve a score of between 160 and 179, you have an upper-intermediate English language proficiency (B2).
If you achieve a score of between 193 and 199, you have a lower-advanced English language proficiency (C1).
And if you achieve a score of between 200 and 210, you have reached the advanced level.
You will receive the results of your exams within two to three weeks after completing the computer-based tests and within four to six weeks after completing the paper-based exams.
Which CAE scores do universities require?
If you want to study at an English-speaking university, most will accept a CAE certificate that proves you have achieved the minimum grade on the CAE exams.
The minimum grade you can achieve after completing the CAE exams is a B2 (upper-intermediate level English), and the maximum grade you can achieve after completing the CAE exams is a B2 (upper-intermediate level English).
Which types of exams are part of the CAE?
There are four main parts of the Cambridge English exam (CAE).
You will complete the reading and use of English, writing, listening and speaking exams.
Each exam has different topics.
For example, the reading paper requires you to read texts such as fiction or non-fiction genres and respond to questions related to the texts.
The writing paper requires you to produce two written texts: letters or emails.
How different is IELTS from PTE?
With a different scoring system and the chance to choose the method of completion (either paper-based or computer-delivered), IELTS is different to PTE.
Both tests examine your speaking, reading, writing and listening skills, and the tests were not designed to be more complex than the other.
While the IELTS has a scoring system of 0 to 9, the PTE has a scoring system of 10 to 90, based on their global scale of English.
Which is more difficult, PTE or IELTS?
Neither the PTE nor the IELTS was designed to be more challenging than the other.
Yet some test takers may consider certain sections of each test simpler.
The PTE and the IETLS examine your reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
While the PTE exam doesn’t have a set number of questions, the IELTS does.
Is IELTS or TOEFL better for Europe?
It is best to complete the IELTS exam for studying in Europe since European universities will look for this test when reviewing your application.
For studying in North America, it’s best to take the TOEFL exam, as this is what American universities will look for on your application.
Is Cambridge English harder than IELTS?
Although these two exams are different, the IELTS tests aren’t easier or more difficult than the Cambridge exams.
The tests were not designed to be more challenging than each other, but you can expect a broader range of writing tasks in the Cambridge test and different speaking test requirements.
For example, in the Cambridge test, you must speak alone in some parts and with a partner in a natural conversation in other parts.
In the IELTS test, you must complete an interview, a long-term contribution, and a two-way dialogue with the interviewer.
Proficiency tests for English: What to remember
If you want to migrate, study or work in an English-speaking country, showing that you can speak English at an upper-intermediate level is essential.
A proficiency test for English can help you demonstrate this proficiency, but it’s also crucial to select the correct test.
Check the tests for more detail, and practice your English grammar (e.g. verbs) as much as possible.