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How to Choose the right Cambridge English Certificate?

By Joseph, published on 24/07/2017 Blog > Languages > ESOL (English) > A Guide to Cambridge English Exams

It’s almost impossible to get a job without knowing the English language nowadays. In an increasingly globalised economy, English has become world’s de facto second language. This means that you’ll need to learn English or at least improve your English!

However, you can’t just say your English is good on your CV, you have to prove it! Don’t worry, though! There are plenty of certificates that can tell a learner what their level is. Unfortunately, with so many, it can be difficult to decide which one you need.

Superprof is here to help. Throughout this article we’ll be looking at the different options available to you to test your English.

Cambridge English Language Assessment:

The University of Cambridge needs no introduction. It’s without a doubt one of the most famous educational institutions in the world.

Cambridge English Language Assessment was launched a long time ago in order to provide English language certificates and now there are almost 2,700 examination centres around the world! They run a variety of tests for those learning English which, depending on your level, can thoroughly test a whole variety of language skills including your English grammar, vocabulary, listening skills, speaking skills, and your reading and writing. While most of these exams focus on general English, the more advanced levels do require that you learn some specialised vocabulary.

Key English Test (KET)

The KET is also sometimes called “Cambridge English Key”.

In terms of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), where A1 is the lowest level and C2 the highest, the KET is considered A2 (a level higher than A2).

Where can I get do a Cambridge exam? Verify your level in English with a Cambridge Exam. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you pass the KET exam, it means you have an elementary level of English. The kind of level you should at least have when you leave school including a basic understanding of common verbs, English vocabulary, basic phrases, and simple spelling.

Thousands of people sit the KET exam every year. It comes in three parts:

  • Reading. 56 questions in 1 hour and 10 minutes. This part accounts for 50% of the final grade and establishes that the candidate can understand basic written information.

  • Listening. 25 questions in 30 minutes. This part accounts for 25% of the final grade and establishes that the candidate can understand a person speaking slowly in the language.

  • Speaking. Candidates working in pairs have a conversation and answer simple questions. This part accounts for 25% of the final grade and lasts between 8 and 10 minutes.

Preliminary English Test (PET)

The PET (or “Cambridge English Preliminary”) is very similar to the KET exam with a few differences. This is exam is equivalent to B1, a level above A2.

This indicates that a candidate has mastered “everyday English”.

Most multinational corporations require that their staff have at least this level of English and like all Cambridge exams, past papers can be downloaded.

In addition to having more complicated questions, the papers are set up as follows:

  • Reading (35 questions) and writing (7 questions). This part lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes and accounts for 50% of the final grade.

  • Listening (25 questions). This part lasts 36 minutes and accounts for 25% of the final grade.

  • Speaking. This part lasts 10-12 minutes. Candidates work as a pair.

First Certificate in English (FCE)

Let’s go up another level to the First CertificateThe FCE is a B2-level exam and is also known as “Cambridge English First”.

A good result indicates that the candidate is comfortable with spoken English and has fairly advanced writing skills. This is the exam that can separate the candidates with the best English skills when it comes to a number of different jobs.

A number of top multinational companies will expect candidates to have at least this level of English.

The test is divided into four parts:

  • Reading and Use of English (52 questions). This part lasts 1 hour and 15 minutes.

  • Writing. This part lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes.

  • Listening (30 questions). This part lasts 40 minutes.

  • Speaking. This part lasts 14 minutes and candidates work as a pair.

Certificate in Advanced English (CAE)

Let’s climb even higher to a C1-level English exam.

The Cambridge Advanced English exam is firmly rooted in bilingual territory. This is for anyone who’d like to study English in order to gain fluency and have the ability to comfortably boast about it in their second language.

Over 4,000 different businesses and governmental organisations recognise this level as the bare minimum. You will have to learn English at this level for certain student visas in Australia and the UK.

Where can I get an English certificate? Cambridge University, one of the most highly regarded universities in the world. (Source: StockSnap)

In 2015, a new version of the exam was implemented:

  • Reading and Use of English (56 questions). This part lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.

  • Writing. This part lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes.

  • Listening (30 questions). This part lasts 40 minutes.

  • Speaking. This part lasts 15 minutes and candidates work as a pair.

Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)

Do you speak English just like the locals? Then the Cambridge Proficiency Exam this is the exam for you!

This is the top of the CEFR, the C2. This exam will test all your language abilities and open the door to almost any company looking for bilingual candidates.

The test lasts four hours and follows the same structure as the CAE. However, it is obviously for difficult than the C1 exam.

Business Language Testing Service (BULATS)

Let’s have a look at multilingual business.

The BULATS went live in January 2017 and was designed in conjunction with the Alliance Française, Goethe-Institut, and the University of Salamanca to provide a more business-orientated exam.

Your reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills are tested over the course of two hours.

This is a multilingual test with either French, Spanish, or German.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The IELTS is the most successful and common English test in the world with over 2.7 million candidates a year. There are 9,000 organisations across 140 countries that recognise its validity including the Council of Europe!

This includes the British Council and the IDP. It costs £160.

There’s no pass or fail in this exam. Every candidate is scored somewhere on a scale between 2.5 and 9. Depending on your score, you’ll be given a CEFR above the A2 level.

This is the only test that is recognised by various immigration services in English-speaking countries.

ETS English Exams

Let’s head across the Atlantic…

The Educational Testing Service was founded in 1947 by Princeton University and for 70 years has been providing English language testing in a variety of fields. The tests can have a literary, academic, practical, or professional focus.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The TOEFL, created in 1964, is particularly popular amongst young candidates.

It’s basically key to university studies in English-speaking countries and costs around £100 to take.

Just like the IELTS, there isn’t a pass or fail, just an overall score that equates to the various levels.

How can I prepare for the TOEFL? There’s nothing better than interactive language tutorials for learning English. (Source: UIC)

The test is multiple choice and there were three different versions:

  • PBT (paper) scored out of 677 points.

  • CBT (computer) scored out of 300 points (later replaced by the iBT: see below).

  • iBT (internet) scored out of 120.

The test is broken down into 4 parts:

  • Reading: 1 hour.

  • Listening: 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes.

  • Speaking: 20 minutes.

  • Writing: 20 minutes.

You can also choose not to sit one of these parts (if you’d like to spend less) or choose to sit the TOEFL Speaking Academic Test (TAST). The TOEFL is recognised around the world and is valid for two years.

Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)

This is another of the ETS’ exams. Unlike the TOEFL, which is aimed at students, the TOEIC is aimed squarely at those in business.

Launched in 1979, the results are out of 990 points and arranged into colour grades: gold, blue, green, brown, and orange.

This is a multiple-choice test that includes Listening and Reading parts:

  • Listening (100 questions). This part lasts 45 minutes.

  • Reading (100 questions). This part lasts 1 hour 15 minutes.

The supplementary Speaking and Writing paper includes 20 minutes of speaking and an hour of writing.

The TOEIC Official Learning and Preparation Course is available to those preparing for the exam while the TOEIC Bridge is available for those just starting out.

Nationally-Recognised Exams for Proficiency in English

There are also number of English language exams around the world you could consider taking. However, these may be limited to the country you take them in.

These are not advised for those wanting to use English to work around the world or in English-speaking countries. However, if you’re thinking about teaching English in your country and they’re a requirement, you don’t really have a choice, do you?

Where can I get free English tutorials? You can learn English for free online. (Source: Unsplash)

Unless absolutely necessary, I wouldn’t recommend sitting one of these exams over one of the many internationally-recognised versions for which there’ll often be English classes and language courses designed for students sitting them available.

Whatever you do, make sure you think long and hard about the best English exam for you.

We’ve given you all the information we think you need to get started. Now the rest is up to you.

Learn what you need to take the GMAT exam for business school.

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