Testing English as a foreign language

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This page lists ways of testing English as a foreign language (EFL). It is for teachers of English who teach people whose first language is not English. It lists tests with brief descriptions.

Types of exam[change | edit source]

Cambridge exams[change | edit source]

The Cambridge exams are very popular in Europe. The University of Cambridge ESOL makes these exams. There are five exams for general English. Students take these exams in many schools. Students can take the exams in England or in schools in many other countries.

The Cambridge exams test:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Grammar
  • Speaking and listening.

The easiest exam is the KET. KET means Key English Test. The KET is the start of the Cambridge exams. The KET tests basic English.

The PET is more difficult. PET means Preliminary English Test. People with a PET know some English. They can survive social situations in English. They can also survive work situations in English. But they often find English difficult. They also make many mistakes.

The FCE is the most popular of the Cambridge English exam. FCE means First Certificate in English. The FCE is good for many businesses. People with a FCE can use English. They sometimes find English difficult. Normally they have no problems with English. But they make mistakes.

The CAE is a difficult exam. CAE means Certificate in Advanced English. The CAE is good for many universities. The CAE is also good for many businesses. People with a CAE have no problems working in England or United States of America.

The CPE is the most difficult exam. CPE stands for Certificate of Proficiency in English. People who have a CPE are very good at English. Their English is nearly as good as people who are from England or America. The CPE is good for universities. The CPE is also good for business. Many universities who teach courses in English want a CPE or CAE from foreign-language students.

There are two English exams systems for business. The Business English Certificate (BEC) is available at three levels comparable to PET, FCE and CAE above BEC means . The BULATS Business Language Testing Service is a single examination which can offer organisations or individuals the opportunity of assessing their current language level.

IELTS[change | edit source]

The IELTS is the International English Language Testing System. This system is from the University of Cambridge, the British Council and IDP Education in Australia. It has one exam for academics or professionals, and one for people who want to live in an English-speaking country. Universities in Britain, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and New Zealand often want an IELTS exam. IELTS is also becoming popular in North America. The IELTS tests: speaking, listening, writing and reading.

TOEFL[change | edit source]

The TOEFL is a very popular English exam. It is very useful for student who wish to study in the United States of America. TOEFL means Test of English as a Foreign Language. The TOEFL is an academic exam. Many universities in America want a TOEFL exam.

In 2005 a new TOEFL was made. The new TOEFL uses Internet. Its name is Internet-Based TOEFL (iBT). The old TOEFLs did not stop. They are called Computer-Based TOEFL (CBT) and Paper-Based TOEFL, but are not now available in all countries.

TOEIC[change | edit source]

The TOEIC is a general English exam. TOEIC means Test of English for International Communication. The exam has 200 questions. Every question is a multiple choice question. A multiple-choice question is a question where you choose which answer (e.g. a, b, c or d) is correct.

The result of the TOEIC is a number. This number is between 10 and 990. 990 is the best number. The TOEIC number is often used for jobs. Many jobs need a number higher than 600. Managers often need a number higher than 800.

TOEIC number Level
10 - 400 OK (beginner)
400-600 medium (intermediate)
600-700 good (high intermediate)
800-990 Very good (advanced)

LCCIEB[change | edit source]

LCCIEB means London Chamber of Commerce and Industry Examinations Board. The LCCIEB makes many English exams. Many businesses like LCCIEB exams.

The EFB means English for Business. The EFB is a business English exam. It tests basic general English. It also tests more difficult business English.

The EFC means English for Commerce. The EFC is a business English exam. It tests business writing. It also tests business skills. Business skills are ideas how to manage a business. The EFC is more difficult than the EFB.

The PBE means Practical Business English. The PBE is a business English exam. It tests business speaking. It also tests business listening. The PBE is for basic English. People with a PBE can have a basic business conversation.

The SEFIC means Spoken English for Industry and Commerce. The SEFIC is a business English exam. It tests business speaking. It is more difficult than the PBE. It tests difficult business speaking. It also tests difficult business listening.

The WEFT means Written English for Tourism. The WEFT is an English business exam. It tests business speaking. It tests speaking at hotels. It also tests speaking in other parts of tourism. The WEFT also tests listening.

BULATS[change | edit source]

The BULATS means Business Language Testing Service. The BULATS is a special exams for big companies. The BULATS are made for a company. The BULATS for another company is different.

Pitman[change | edit source]

Pitman exams are made by the City and Guilds Group. There are two important English exams by Pitman.

The ESOL means English for Speakers of Other Languages. The ESOL tests English at many levels. The ESOL is good for going to many colleges. The Spoken ESOL is like the ESOL. But the Spoken ESOL only tests speaking and listening.

The EBC means English for Business Communications. The EBS is a business English exam. There are three levels.

CELS (ARELS/Oxford)[change | edit source]

The CELS exams are English exams for people who want to study in England. CELS means "Certificates in Communicative Skills in English". The CELS exam comes from the old ARELS and Oxford exams; now they are Cambridge ESOL exams. The ARELS exam tests speaking and listening. The Oxford exam tests writing and reading. The new name of Arels and Oxford together is CELS.

There are three levels in the CELS exam. Preliminary is the easiest exam. Vantage is more difficult. Higher is the most difficult exam. People who have the CELS are very good at speaking English. These exams are good for universities.

This exam is different from some other exams because learners get one certificate (paper saying how good they are) for each part of the exam. A learner can have a high mark on the speaking certificate but a low one in writing, for example.

Compare exams[change | edit source]

It is very difficult to compare English exams. Every exam is a little different.

In Europe, the ALTE says how different exams compare. The ALTE is the Association of Language Testers in Europe. It has 28 exam makers in it, and compares their exams in 24 languages. The ALTE says what learners can do at every step of learning. Because of this, they say the ALTE list is a "can-do" list. The ALTE list is a simple way to talk about the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF). The CEF is from the Council of Europe.

This table shows what learners "can do" in normal English (not for work or studying) at the ALTE steps:

ALTE level Writing Reading Listening and speaking
Level 5 CAN write letters about anything and make notes at meetings in good, correct English. CAN understand documents, letters and reports, even complicated things. CAN tell people about complicated, difficult things, can understand slang and can answer hard questions.
Level 4 CAN write letters for work, if someone corrects them after. Can take OK notes in a meeting. Can write an essay which is OK for others to read. CAN read quickly enough to do an academic course, to read newspapers and magazines for information or to understand complicated letters. CAN talk effectively in meetings and seminars about their work. Can have a fast informal conversation, even about (including) abstract things, ideas.
Level 3 CAN make notes when someone is talking or write a letter, even with some unusual things in it. CAN look through texts for the information they need, and understand detailed (specific) instructions or advice. CAN understand people when they talk about things they know. Can give a talk about things they know well, or have a conversation about quite a lot of (many) things.
Level 2 CAN write letters or make notes on usual things. CAN understand everyday information and newspapers, and the general meaning of unusual information if they know the subject. CAN say simply what they think about abstract things (ideas) or culture. Can give information on things they know about. Can understand instructions or public announcements.
Level 1 CAN fill in forms and write short simple letters or postcards about simple things. CAN understand simple information they know about, for example on products and signs, or in simple textbooks or reports. CAN say what they think, or what they need, simply, about things they know well.
Breakthrough (sudden success) level CAN fill in simple forms, and write notes with times, dates and places. CAN understand simple notices, instructions or information. CAN understand simple instructions or have a simple conversation about things they know well.

This table compares exams in ALTE:

ALTE level CEF level IELTS exam BEC exam and CELS exam Cambridge exam Pitman ESOL TOEIC TOEFL
Level 5 C2 7.5+ - CPE Advanced 910+ 276+
Level 4 C1 6.5 - 7 Higher CAE Upper-Intermediate 701 - 910 236 - 275
Level 3 B2 5 - 6 Vantage FCE Intermediate 541 - 700 176 - 235
Level 2 B1 3.5 - 4.5 Preliminary PET Pre-Intermediate 381 - 540 126 - 175
Level 1 A2 3 - KET Elementary 246 - 380 96 - 125
Breakthrough level A1 1-2 - - Basic - -

Professional organizations[change | edit source]

There are many groups of teachers, professors, and other experts that do research on English language testing. Some of these may be have good information to help teachers understand testing better.

Other websites[change | edit source]