English Exam Overviews: The MET

imagesAlthough several of Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment’s English proficiency exams are targeted at students who are at the C1 or C2 (that is, advanced) level, the MET offers intermediate-level students a great alternative. More than that, it also presents them with an opportunity to take advantage of what makes this series of English exams unique.

What is the MET and what makes it unique?
As noted above, the MET, or Michigan English Test, is designed to meet the needs of intermediate level English as a second language students. As a result, it is calibrated to assess students ranging all the way from the A2 (basic) to C1(proficient) level. As this is by far the widest range among the Michigan array of exams – and given the fact that the exam also emphasizes the standards of American English – it makes the MET perfect for a variety of contexts. As a result, student interested in assessing the English proficiency for academic, professional, and social reasons can all benefit from the MET.

How is the MET scored?
The MET is actually two tests in one. The first, the “listening, reading, and grammar test” is a pen-and-paper test evaluated by way of 135 questions over two sections. The second, the MET Speaking Test, is comprised of structured, one-on-one interaction between an examiner and test-taker that is based around five specific tasks. Though only about ten minutes long, these tasks allow graders to evaluate a candidate’s fluency, accuracy, and clarity according to a predetermined set of standards.

Where can I take the exam and how do I register?
The MET is offered on specific dates at authorized test centers around the world. For a complete list of upcoming exams and their locations, visit the official MET registration page. For more details about the MET itself, however, be sure to check our comprehensive exam overview.

English Exam Overviews: The TOEIC

toeic_logo_thumb_200While it is often confused with the similar-sounding TOEFL, the TOEIC is an English proficiency exam designed to meet the needs English students of a different sort. Indeed, unlike its sound-alike cousin, the Test of English for International Communication is, at its heart, designed not for students but for working professionals.

What is the TOEIC and what makes it unique?
The fact that the TOEIC is designed “to determine who can communicate effectively in English across borders and cultures with coworkers and clients” is not the only thing that makes the TOEIC unique. Indeed, though the TOEIC – like most other English proficiency assessments – also measures the ability of test takers to read, write, speak, and listen to English, the TOEIC accomplishes this feat using not one test but two. While most test takers do take both the “Listening and Reading” exam as well as the “Speaking and Writing” exam, it is not mandatory and individual organizations set their own standards. Because listening and reading are both passive tasks, the Listening and Reading test is comprised of multiple-choice questions. Because, on the other hand, speaking and writing are both active tasks, the newer Speaking and Writing exam is a computer-based test that assesses a candidate’s abilities using free response questions. Continue reading “English Exam Overviews: The TOEIC”

English Exam Overviews: The IELTS

New_IELTS_logo.gifAs the exam of choice for 2 million test takers from more than 130 countries around the world, the International English Language Testing System is a major player in English language examinations. The IELTS, as the exam is widely known, owes its popularity not only to its track record but, as we shall see, its uniquely adaptable design.

What is the IELTS and what makes it unique?
Jointly operated by the prestigious University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and the British Council, the IELTS exam is similar to other English assessments in that it measures the reading, writing, speaking, and listening abilities of test takers using a computer interface. Unlike other exams, however, the IELTS has two distinct formats whose names – Academic and General – are indicate the markets they are intended to serve. Though all candidates take the same speaking and listening sections, the content of the reading and writing will differ depending which version the a given candidate is taking. Because the content of the exam varies in this way, a single exam can help to serve the needs of both university admissions (Academic) and immigrations (General) offices while still maintaining consistency of style. Continue reading “English Exam Overviews: The IELTS”

English Exam Overviews: The TOEFL Exam

online exam 78742100As the most popular English language assessment test in the world, the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in English language exam market. Since more than 8,500 colleges and universities – not to mention quite a few immigration departments – accept the results of the TOEFL it is the natural place to start our overview of English proficiency exams.

What is the TOEFL and what makes it unique?
The TOEFL is designed to measure the ability of non-native English speakers to read, write, speak, and listen to English in both academic and non-academic situations. Its most recent iteration, the TOEFL iBT, is unique for several reasons. Not only is it, as its name suggests, an internet-based test, but also, unlike the paper-based version of the exam (which is still offered at select testing sites), many of the sections in TOEFL iBT contain integrated tasks. That means that the test contains sections which requite the test taker to combine several disparate language skills in order to complete a single task. One of the exam’s two essay sections, for example, asks candidates to respond in essay form to related reading and listening passages.

How is the TOEFL scored?
Each section of the TOEFL is scored separately on a scale of 0-30. While each section score is itself reported on a given score report, each score report also includes a composite score that, as the sum of each of the four sections, ranges from 0 to 120. What constitutes a “good” score varies from school to school and department to department. While many organizations are looking for a minimum composite score, some require section minimums, and still others utilize a combination of the two.

Where can I take the exam and how do I register?
The TOEFL exam is administered at testing centers around the world on upwards of 30 dates a year. For more information about a place and time that would be convenient for you, visit the TOEFL registration page.

>> Read more about the TOEFL exam

Which English Exam is Right for You

student with big pencil122460598English may have originated in England but its impact can be felt well beyond that European island. Today the language of Shakespeare is spoken natively by more than 500 million people in countries as far from the British Isles as Australia, Canada, and South Africa and as a second language in places as diverse as São Paulo and Seoul by fully another half a billion more. If you are interested in studying English, you are not alone.

Still more people – some estimates place the exact figure at fully a quarter of the world’s population – use English occasionally for business or pleasure. Indeed, boardrooms from Belgium to Burundi are dominated not by French or Swahili but by English making English proficiency a highly-demanded professional skill. In addition to the direct business advantages such proficiency imparts, many of the world’s best colleges and universities are located in English-speaking countries and, to be eligible to attend them, international students must demonstrate their English proficiency by completing an English exam. As a result, at the dawn of the 21st century English exams have become a big business around the world.

Making sense of the various English exam options, however, can be confusing to say the least. Between the TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC, and MELAB – just to name a few – the sheer variety of English language exams on the market can be bewildering to the uninitiated. Making sense of this alphabet soup, however, is exactly our goal. In the coming weeks our multi-part series on English language exams will give aspiring students the inside track on which exam is right for them and why. Along the way we will, of course, discuss the big names we have already mentioned as well as some of the lesser-known exams that may better suit the unique needs of would-be test takers. After all, as is befitting its prominent place in international affairs, people need to prove their English proficiency for many reasons and, as we will see, there is an English exam out there to meet almost any need.

BULATS Exam for International Students

Though the Business Language Testing Service’s proficiency assessment, known as the BULATS exam, has long been overshadowed by more famous English language tests like the TOEFL and TOEIC is slowly but surely winning over students and employers alike. Nor should this come as much of a surprise. Developed in part by the world-famous Cambridge ESOL Department, the English-language versions of the BULATS is the only standardized proficiency exam designed with working professionals in mind. Much like other standardized assessments, the BULATS provides potential employers with a consistent means by which to compare candidates from different backgrounds. What sets it apart from the pack – and makes it ideal for those who are seeking to learn English for business – is the fact that it alone is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to deal with real-life work situations in particular.

Better still, the BULATS recognizes the diversity of modern English as it is used around the world. As a result, though the exam was developed in the UK, it employs a mixture of the many accents and vocabularies found throughout the English-speaking world. As a result, regional variations are accepted if they are used consistently enable candidates to succeed no matter where they learned business English.

Given all of this, an increasingly large number of multinational employers are now using the BULATS exams to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their workforces. More than 12000 employers around the world – including such notable multinationals as Banco do Brasil, GlaxoSmithKline, and Hitachi – accept the exam as proof of English proficiency. Of course, such recognition has not escaped the notice of these companies’ would-be employees and international students, too, have signed on in greater numbers than ever before. If you would like to join them or just find out more about how the BULATS exam can help you learn English for business.

Study English at ELS

In its role as a leader in English immersion education, ELS Educational Services, Inc – better known as ELS – offers international students a variety of English courses at a wide range of proficiency levels at any of its more than 60 ELS Language Centers worldwide. Although all levels (which vary based on aptitude from 101 [Beginner] to 112 [Masters]) strive to emphasize the fundamental aspects of English proficiency, the distinctions between these levels are meant to ensure that students are enrolled in the program that best meets their needs.

Students are assessed by means of a specialized Pre-Arrival Test (PAT) administered by qualified ELS counselors before leaving their home country and are subsequently placed into one of the 12 proficiency levels. Regardless of the level, however, students at every level will take part in a curriculum comprised of roughly 20 to 30 hours of weekly, classroom-based instruction over the course of four weeks. Likewise, regardless of proficiency level, all levels focus on listening, speaking, reading, writing, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation skills (albeit at course-specific level).

At the completion of each four week unit, students who successfully demonstrate their improved proficiency through a combination of classroom participation, classwork, homework, quizzes, and – ultimately – a final examination in the form of a “Standardized Level Test” will automatically advance to the next ELS level of study.

In this way ELS strives to provide those study English at ELS with as a program of study that is simultaneously as well-structured as it is adaptable. This emphasis on consistency pays dividends in significant ways: because of its reputation for excellence students who study English at ELS Language Centers and complete its upper level courses can use their credentials as direct fulfillment of the English proficiency requirement at more than 600 colleges and universities around the world. Thus an ELS can be, in many ways, the first step in the journey of a lifetime.

English Language Institute’s Summer Programs

As part of its ongoing mission to meet the ever-changing needs of non-native English speakers, in addition to its comprehensive catalog of English proficiency exams such as the Michigan English Test (or MET exam), the University of Michigan’s English Language Institute also offers a range of summer programs. Although the ELI has offered ESL summer programs since 1941, they have undergone many changes in the seven decades since its inception. Then, at the ELI’s first language program, the character and demographics of the program were completely different. All 13 of the ELI Summer Program’s original students were Latin American professionals from a diverse array of fields who wished who wished to do advanced study in their fields.

Although the ELI still actively works to serve the non-native, academic English market, today the Michigan-based campus offers three specialized English programs to meet the specific needs of international students.

With its seven-week English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Program, for example, the ELI is actively working to serve the needs of international students who are proficient in English but who want to further their English studies in anticipation of courses at English language universities in the coming fall semester. As a result, the core focus of the EAP program is to help establish the academic language skills required to effectively participate in an English-only academic setting.

Similarly, its seven-week English for Business Studies Program emphasizes the development of those skills international students need in a rigorous, English-only MBA program. As a result, the program requires students to work on assignments and projects that are deliberately structured to mimic current MBA program practices.

Finally, its seven-week English for Legal Studies Program offers non-native English speakers the opportunity to concentrate their efforts on the language skills necessary to succeed in a rigorous English-only legal program. Accordingly, it is ideal for students who have been admitted to an LLM program in United States.

Thus, as you can see, regardless of your needs the ELI has a program for you!

Upcoming Changes to ECCE

Since its initial development some 20 years ago, the Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (or ECCE exam) has undergone constant study and refinement. Its last major revision took place in 2006 and affected the Speaking and Writing sections of the exam. Nevertheless, since then its developers at the University of Michigan English Language Institute have continued to update the parameters of the exam in order to create the most accurate and useful English proficiency exam possible. As a result of their work, beginning in 2013 the ECCE exam will include new changes to both the Listening and Reading sections.

While the length of the Listening section will not change (it will remain 30 minutes with a total of 50 questions), the second part of the listening test will have a new task in which test takers will listen to and answer questions about four short narratives (or “talks”). There will continue to be a total of 20 questions for this new aspect of the listening section and it will replace the extended listening task currently used on the exam. The ECCE feels that the older listening task, which simulates a radio interview related to a single event, can be improved by increasing the range of topics discussed.

While the Reading section of the exam is subdivided into three sections designed to assess grammar, vocabulary, and reading, there will be no changes to either the grammar or vocabulary sections in the new version. Instead, the 2013 version will include two new types of reading tasks: 2 short reading passages with 5 questions each and 4 short reading texts related to each other by topic with 10 questions each. As a result of these changes, the total number of questions on the Reading section will remain the same but the total amount of time allotted will be increased from 80 to 90 minutes.

Given the scope of these differences, a complete sample of the newly revised Listening and Reading sections will be made available online for test takers in early 2012.

Understanding BULATS Results

Because the BULATS exam is itself actually made up of four distinct parts with several different testing styles, understanding your BULATS Results can be almost as challenging as taking the exam itself!

Whether it is taken online or by CD-ROM, because the Reading and Listening Test is a computer adaptive test results are available immediately on-screen at the conclusion of the exam. Those scores, using an encrypted algorithm, will be broken down into three parts:

  • a listening score;
  • a reading and language knowledge score;
  • and an overall score.

The overall score is given in an easy to understand scale of 1 to 100 which corresponds to an achievement level based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:

75-89C1 (Effective proficiency)Advanced

BULATS Scores Common European Framework Ability
90-100 C2 (Mastery) Very Advanced
60-74 B2 (Vantage) Upper Intermediate
40-59 B1 (Threshold) Lower Intermediate
20-39 A2 (Waystage) Elementary
0-19 A1 (Breakthrough) Beginner

Regardless of whether taken online or at a testing center, applicants who take either the Speaking Test or the Writing Test will receive their test report after their exam has been graded by at least two trained examiners. The resulting score uses the same CEFR Framework listed above but also gives finer distinctions of ability using +, – and =. Optional CEFR “Can Do” Statements can also be included in score results to demonstrate applicants’ actual functional abilities.

Because of the fact that the exact format of the paper-based Standard Test is decided by the organization using it, results for this section are designed to allow for flexible reporting. For example, test administrators may place an increased emphasis on both accuracy and speed and curve exam results accordingly. As a result, it is especially important to check with the organizations requirements before attempting the exam.