English Language Exams

English language exams have grown in importance over the years as more individuals live, study and work overseas. For non-English native speakers, these English language exams are used to determine the level of proficiency and provide a means to compare fluency among individuals. English language exams can be divided into three categories: academic, business and general.

Academic English Language Exams

Many international students are required to take an English language exam in order to gain entrance into a college or university. Because applicants are from various schools with differing academic standards, there has been an ever increasing shift into standardized testing. These standardized exams are designed to evaluate student’s proficiency in English and to compare applicant’s performance.

Over the years, there have been more and more English language exams that are being accepted by schools and institutions across English speaking nations. The most commonly accepted exam for North American colleges and universities is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). This plan tests one’s ability to understand North American English as it is spoken, written, and heard. This exam is developed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit company that also administers the GRE exam.

Comparatively, the exam most commonly used throughout the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand is known as IELTS (International English Language Testing System). IELTS has recently gained recognition in the United States and is now being accepted in the United States’ higher education system as well. This English language exam is jointly managed by British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations.

These tests are, in many cases, used by government agencies, scholarship programs, and licensing/certification agencies to evaluate English proficiency.

Business English Language Exams

Another important examination that non-English speakers may be required to take is one that evaluates business and professional English. The most common business language exam is called the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) and BULATS (Business Language Testing Services). These exams evaluate the level of English based on real-life work examples like meetings, telephone conversations, reports, etc.

The TOEIC is used by organizations to determine whether an employee is suitable for a particular position. This exam is developed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit US company that also administers the TOEFL, and is also widely used in Asia.

The BULATS exam is also recognized around the world to help companies determine language fluency. This business language exam is popular in Europe since testing is also available in French, German and Spanish. The BULATS is developed and run by Cambridge ESOL (UK), the Alliance Française (France), Goethe-Institut (Germany) and the Universidad de Salamanca (Spain).

Because language fluency in a work environment requires a high level of written, spoken, and comprehension skills, exams like TOEIC and BULATS have been developed specifically for companies to evaluate an individual’s business English skills.

General English Language Exams

In less formal situations, many individuals sit for general English language exams to demonstrate their level of English proficiency. Testing well on one of these English language exams provide an additional credential which reflects a third party certification of proficiency. In general, these language exams may not be required however it demonstrates the mastery of English and can be beneficial for resume building, job and internship qualifications, scholarship applications, as well as educational background.

Another factor to consider is that some of the English language exams are ranked in terms of difficulty. The Common European Framework is a method to self-evaluate your fluency of English. The framework uses six levels to describe language ability from A1 to C2. Depending on your level, there is a test that is geared to that level of difficulty:

Level Exam Equivalent
A2 Key English Test
B1 Preliminary English Test
B2 First Certificate in English Test
C1 Certificate in Advanced English
C2 Certificate of Proficiency in English

Today, as English plays a greater role as the primary international means of communication, there are more exams available. Before you prepare for or take a test, make sure it is the right one for your situation.