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This brief editorial is intended to offer simply, easy-to-understand advice to people who want to know about examinations in English. For this reason the English used here is as simple and direct as possible. The information has been prepared by Severnvale Academy, Shrewsbury, U.K. - an examining centre for Cambridge ESOL examinations First Certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE). Severnvale also regularly prepares students for IELTS and other major English examinations (as described below.)

      
       

The page is not intended to give English teachers or examiners material to argue about… it is designed to give information about the different major English examinations which can be taken, along with an objective assessment of
    - the relative levels of different examinations (including Common European Framework or ‘CEF’ equivalence)
    - the approximate COST of the different exams
    - where, when and how frequently they can be taken
    - the potential VALUE (or ‘currency’) to you of each of the qualifications
1. Do I need to do an English exam?

You only need to do an exam if your boss or school or parents (etc.) say you must. But there can also be good reasons for doing one, even if you haven't got the pressure of need.

  • If you're doing an English course, why not do an exam at the end of it? There will be no better time (see Question 2, below)
  • "A bit of paper" (that is, a certificate) can always be useful. You never know what's going to happen in your career.
  • Motivation. Many people find that the feeling that they have to pass a test gives them greater motivation to work. If you think this is true for you, don't hesitate: the money you spend on entering and doing the exam will be money very well spent, even if you don't pass it. If it has helped you to ‘buy’ motivation, it’s worth it!

    2. Are there any good reasons for not doing exams?

    Yes, there can be good reasons for saying that you don't want to do an exam:
  • Some people are not motivated by the idea of doing an exam - it has the opposite effect.
  • Some people are motivated at the thought of doing an exam, but more by nervousness than excitement. Being nervous is not the best condition for learning a language.
  • There can be a difference between knowing English well and being able to do well in an exam in it. And some exams are better than others: with the good exams, if you know English well you will do well in the exam; with the bad ones, knowing how to do the exam is more important than knowing English. The more time you spend learning exam techniques, the less time you spend learning the English you're going to need in real life!

    3. When is the best time to do an exam?

    If you have only time to do one exam, it’s definitely best to take it at the end of your English course, and it's best to do it while you are still in an English-speaking country. It's not that you forget your English when you go home, but an exam which includes speaking or listening tests (most exams include listening) will be much easier if you do it while you are still hearing English every day.

    4. Do I need to follow an exam course?

    Yes, it's a good idea, but be careful! Some exam courses have a very narrow focus, and if these are long courses they are often bad even for the one job they are trying to do well - getting you through the exam. One problem is that a continuous diet of test exercises is easy and comforting: it's easy because there are many things you don't have to think about (for example in a test of grammar you don't usually have to worry about difficult vocabulary) and it's comforting because you concentrate, so you feel you are working hard.

    But the ease and comfort are - unfortunately - not really helping you to develop your language in the complex, demanding ways you need to be fluent and accurate in a wide range of communicative situations.

    Another problem is that too much practice at a limited range of tasks makes you bored in the end, and being bored is the very worst condition for learning language well. It's natural to want more confidence in doing the kinds of questions you have to answer, but if you spend too much time getting that confidence you are taking time away from learning really useful English (which is useful in exams too!)

    For an exam preparation course of 6 weeks or longer, you need a programme which will give you a good ‘diet’ of general English, with only a little exam work at first, intensifying as the exam gets nearer.

    If you are doing a short preparation course, however (say, for just the two or three weeks before an exam) then you obviously need a much higher proportion of intensive practice - but even then some general English is a good idea.

    In any preparation for an exam, never lose sight of the basic truth: Good English + a little Exam Technique has far more chance of success than Poor English + a lot of Exam Technique

    5. Which are the best exams to do?

    There is only one factor which really matters when making this choice: let's call it "currency" or "value". This simply means that the certificate or 'score' you get when you pass an exam must have value where you want to use it. So the first thing is to find out which exams have the best "currency value" in the country you want to work or study in, for the kinds of things you want to do. The following table may also help you decide which exam to take:-

    EXAM

    LEVEL(S)

    APPROX ‘CEF’ LEVEL

    FEES
    (about)

    CURRENCY
    (see, above)

    WHERE

    (course available at Severnvale?)

    WHEN

    RESULT(S)

    Cambridge Key English Test (KET)

    Elementary

    A2 –

    Waystage

    50-60 in UK (charges vary)

    Worldwide, but perhaps best known in Europe.

    Centres worldwide

    (no courses at Severnvale)

    Normally March, May, two in June, Nov. and Dec.

    Pass with merit
    Pass
    Narrow fail
    Fail

    Cambridge Preliminary English Test (PET)

    Lower Intermediate/ Intermediate interface

    B1 –

    Threshold Independent User

    60-65 in UK (charges vary)

    Worldwide, but perhaps best known in Europe.

    Centres worldwide

    (no courses at Severnvale)

    Normally March, May, two in June, Nov. and Dec.

    Pass with merit
    Pass
    Narrow fail
    Fail

    Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE)

    Upper Intermediate

    B2 –

    Vantage – Independent User

    65-90 in UK (charges vary)

    Worldwide.

    Centres worldwide

    (regular courses & exams at Severnvale)

    March, June, August, December

    A, B, C, = Pass grades
    D, E = Fail grades
    Result valid permanently

    Cambridge Advanced Certificate in English (CAE)

    Lower Advanced

    C1 –

    Effective Operational Efficiency (good user)

    70-95 in UK (charges vary)

    Worldwide. Adequate level for university entrance to most English University courses.

    Centres worldwide

    (regular courses & exams at Severnvale)

    March, June, December

    A, B, C, = Pass grades
    D, E = Fail grades
    Result valid permanently

    Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)

    Higher Advanced /
    Proficient

    C2 –

    Mastery

    (very good user)

    75-120 in UK (charges vary)

    Worldwide. Adequate level for university entrance to most English University courses. Some countries accept it as qualification for teaching English.

    Centres worldwide

    (regular courses & exams at Severnvale)

    June, December

    A, B, C, = Pass grades
    D, E = Fail grades
    Result valid permanently

    IELTS - 
    International English Language Testing System

    ALL LEVELS

    IELTS SCORE

    3.0 =

    4.0 =

    5.5 =

    6.5 =

    7.5-8.0=

     

    CEF

    A2

    B1

    B2

    C1

    C2

    110-125 in UK (charges vary)

    Scores of between 6.0 and 7.0 are accepted as showing adequate English for university entrance in most English-speaking countries

    300 centres in more than 120 countries Centres worldwide

    (regular courses at Severnvale)

    Most Saturdays throughout the year

    Result is a score, with a Test Profile which shows candidate's ability in 4 different areas (speaking, writing...)
    Result valid for 2 years

    TOEFL IBT - Test of English as a Foreign Language
    (Internet Based Test)

    Wide range test, but probably not much value doing it below Intermediate.

    TOEFL SCORE

     

    78-80 =

    100 =

    119 =

     

    CEF

     

    B2

    C1

    C2

    $185

    Widely recognised in universities and by employers, especially in USA and to some extent in the Far East

    Centres worldwide (Severnvale runs exam courses on demand)

    Most times of year

    Not pass - fail, but a TOEFL IBT score between 32 and 119.
    Result valid 2 years

    TSE - Test of Spoken English

    Test is 20 mins spoken onto tape - wide variety of level

    NO CLEAR CEF EQUIVALENTS

    $125

    Not nearly as well-known as TOEFL, and not so widely used by universities or employers

    Centres worldwide (no courses at Severnvale)

    About once a month on specified dates

    TSE score between 20 and 60.  Employers, universities, etc. fix their own required score.
    Result valid 1 year

    TOEIC - Test of English for International Communication

    Wide range test, but probably not  much value doing it below Intermediate

    TOEIC SCORE

     

    785 =

    945 =

     

    CEF

     

    B2

    C1

    $100+

    Claims to be 'the most widely used test in the world' though IELTS and TOEFL are perhaps becoming more important

    Centres worldwide (Severnvale runs exam courses on demand)

    6 times a year in USA
    Varies in other countries (
    UK is over 20 times a year)

    Not pass - fail, but a TOEIC score between 10 and 990.  Employers, universities, etc. fix their own required score.
    Result valid 2 years

    Business English Certificates (BEC)
    Run by UCLES (=
    Cambridge)

    LEVELS:-

     

    1-Preliminary


    2-Vantage

    3-Higher

     

     

    B1

     

    B2

     

    C1

    65-95 in UK (charges vary)

    Gaining currency value

    Centres throughout the world (Severnvale runs exam courses on demand)

    Varies, and depends on whether the paper or computer-based test is taken

    Pass-fail system

    Result valid permanently

    BULATS – Business Language Testing Service

    Assessment across the CEF framework levels

    BULATS SCORE

    0-19 =

    20-39 =

    40-59 =

    60-74 =

    75-89 =

    90-100 =

     

    CEF

    A1

    A2

    B1

    B2

    C1

    C2

    40-50 in UK

    Relatively new, but quickly gaining currency with companies (especially in Europe) which need rapid, accurate assessment of employee levels

    Worldwide

    (courses on demand at Severnvale & exam can be taken there)

    Available at all time

    Score system (see CEF equivalence)

    ILEC -

    International Legal English Certificate

    Set at levels B2 – C1

    B2 – C1

    125+

    Gaining recognition worldwide with the legal profession

    Centres worldwide (Severnvale runs exam courses on demand)

    May / November

    B2 – Pass

    C1 – Pass

    C1 – Pass with merit

    ICFT -

    International Certificate in Financial English

    Set at levels B2 – C1

    B2 – C1

    100+

    Gaining recognition worldwide as international career opportunities for accountants develop

    Centres worldwide (Severnvale runs exam courses on demand)

    May / November

    B2 – Pass

    C1 – Pass

    C1 – Pass with merit

     

     




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