EFL Exams Explained

There are many different reasons your students might be learning English. Some might want to learn English for their own travelling pleasure. Some might want to study at an English-medium institution. Some might need to be able to communicate in English for their jobs. Some might be learning English at school. Because of these many different reasons, there are a variety of different English as a Foreign Language lessons you may be asked to teach. The majority of TEFL teachers teach General English or Business English. Some TEFL teachers teach English for Specific Purposes, which might include English for Medicine, English for Law, English for Aviation, English for Nursing or many other specialities of English. Another major EFL sector is English for Exams. 

Read more: Teaching English for Exams Vs General English

What English exams do my students need?

There are a number of different exams English learners can take, depending on their age and their need. As you can imagine, English exams for Young Learners and teens are very different to English exams for adults. At the same time, an exam in preparation for a degree is very different to an exam required for a job or immigration. 

Let’s look at the different exams in detail:

The Cambridge exams

The Cambridge exams are a suite of exams run by Cambridge Assessment, in connection with the University of Cambridge. There are a range of exams for Young Learners and also for adults. The Starters, Movers, Flyers and KET exams assess lower level learners at school. The PET for schools and FCE for schools exams assess school-age learners who are around Intermediate and Upper Intermediate level. 

Read more: Understanding Cambridge Exams for School Learners

Then there are the equivalent Cambridge exams for adult learners. The KET and PET exams assess lower level learners, while the First (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE) exams assess learners at the higher levels. Then there are also three Cambridge exams aimed at Business English:

  • Business Preliminary (BEC Preliminary)
  • Business Vantage (BEC Vantage)
  • Business Higher (BEC Higher)

Read more: Understanding Cambridge Exams for Adults

ISE (Integrated Skills in English)

The ISE exams are the Integrated Skills in English exams, run by Trinity College London. The exams assess authentic communicative skills in English. It is accepted by academic institutions and places of employment all over the world. The ISE exams are similar to the Cambridge exams in that there are different exams for different levels: ISE Foundation (A2), ISE I (B1), ISE II (B2), ISE III (C1) and ISE IV (C2).

The IELTS English Language Test

IELTS is an English language test used for study purposes, for work purposes or for immigration. IELTS is accepted by more than 11 000 academic institutions around the world as proof of an adequate English level of prospective students. It is also used as a requirement for immigration into Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Some organisations require their prospective employees to take the IELTS test as well. 

There are two IELTS tests: the General and the Academic. Both test all four skills and are similar but differ in the Reading and Writing exams. The IELTS test is run by the British Council. There is no pass mark for the IELTS test. Rather, the learners are given scores on a scale. Institutions and government agencies will decide what score is a requirement for the purpose of the test. The highest mark is 9.

TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)

Similar to the IELTS is the TOEFL family of assessments. These include the TOEFL Primary test for learners aged 8+, TOEFL Junior test for learners aged 11+ and the TOEFL ITP test for learners aged 16+. These tests are used to assess learner’s overall English communication skills. 

For adult learners there are the TOEFL Essentials test and the TOEFL iBT test. The Essentials test is used to test general proficiency and can be done at home, while the iBT test measures Academic English and is used by universities and tertiary institutions to evaluate potential students. 

As in the IELTS test, there is no pass mark for the TOEFL, but different levels. The highest mark is 120. Each academic institution will require their students to obtain a certain score on the test, but that score will be different for different institutions. 

TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication)

The TOEIC exams are used to assess a learner’s ability to communicate in English in a working environment. A job-seeker might choose to do the TOEIC exam so that their English level can be included on their CV. Alternatively, a company may ask potential employees to take the TOEIC exam to assess their English level, in order to offer additional language training or identify areas of weakness. The TOEIC Bridge test is a similar test for Beginner to Intermediate learners. The highest mark is 990.


Linguaskill is a relatively new exam from Cambridge Assessment. There is a Linguaskill General exam and a Linguaskill Business exam. The General exam is used to assess university students for admission or employees who need General English to perform the jobs. The Business exam is used in a business or corporate setting. It is an online exam.

PTE (Pearson Test of English)

Another new exam is the Pearson Test of English. It is used for general, academic, business or immigration purposes. There is a PTE Academic exam for students and PTE Home A1, PTE Home A2 and PTE Home B1 exams for immigration.

As you can see, there are a number of different exams for EFL students. Which exam they choose to take will depend on their need. They will come to you with a specific exam in mind and it will be your job to prepare them adequately. In order to do this you need to familiarise yourself with the exam and the many different resources there are at your disposal to prepare lessons. Even if you feel confused by the different EFL exams, over time you will get to know them and you can add exams specialist to your CV!

The post EFL Exams Explained appeared first on The TEFL Academy Blog.

I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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