Planning to take an english Exam? by Ana Guareschi - Profesor/a de inglés

Planning to take an english Exam?

Planning to take an english exam? 

There are many reasons why someone would take an english test and depending on the purpose there might be one that suits you better.

 Apart from testing your level of english; studying, working abroad, visa requirements and personal development are the common purposes to take a specific english exam.

There are different kinds of exams which are used to test the level of english but their approach and content may vary. I will only cover some of them in this article. Let’s take a look at some of them and hopefully this information can help you choose the appropriate one.

Firstly, I want to introduce the European framework (CEFR), divided into 3 main levels and each subdivided into two.

Language Levels

A Basic Speaker

       -A1 Beginner

       -A2 Elementary

B Independent Speaker

       -B1 Intermediat

       -B2 Upper intermediate

C Proficient Speaker

       -C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced

       -C2 Mastery or proficiency


TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS ( International English Language Testing Service) are both designed for those  wanting to study or work  in an English-speaking country or taking a course in english.

TOEFL and IELTS are both valid for two years , so take this into account when defining the test date.

TOEFL is mostly an american test while IELTS is mostly British.(Britain, New Zealand, Canada and Australia). But nowadays IELTS is accepted in some american universities. You should always check the university requirements and also the band score you need in order to be accepted.

TOEFL offers the IBT(internet-based test) and the PBT(paper-based test). The last option is not that common nowadays and its only available in some countries.This version is a bit different to the IBT in duration and structure, it’s shorter and does not include the oral part. 

IELTS offers two types of tests regardless of your level of english, a certain level of english is recommended such as of  B1, otherwise you will not have the required english knowledge for this test. The level also depends on the Band score required by the university or company asking for the test. Band scores below 4.0 are considered as A1 and A2 levels, B1 starting at  4.0  and 5.5 to 6.5 are considered as B2 level so to have an idea and so on.

The IELTS is divided into two different types of assessment.Academic and General.

  • Academic: used mostly for  admission requirements within universities, or other academic purposes.   It is harder than the General one, with the tests concerned primarily with performance in an academic setting.

  • General: This is a general purpose test used to meet visa requirements when immigrating to a country for example or for workplace.But some private companies prefer Ielts academic to test their job applicants in some specific industries such as Medicine, law, etc, which need more complex and specific vocabulary. It is easier than the Academic.Most of the questions are related to  performance in a real world, social setting.

When thinking about taking a Ielts test regardless of choosing an  academic or General version, take into account that not only the level of english is required to pass the exam or get the appropriate band score but you should also consider getting very familiarized with the structure pattern and practice as much as you can with the different types of options on each section. The more you practice and get up to speed with them you will be more successful. There are a tons of tools and examples of IELTS  tests on the internet you can access very easily.

  • Both versions are the same in duration and consist of 4 sections.

The total duration is of 2 hours and 45 minutes. They both have the following sections:

-Speaking (11-14  minutes)-3 sections

-Reading (60 minutes) 40 questions

-Writing (60 minutes) writing task 1 and task 2

-Listening (30 minutes) 40 questions 

Take into consideration that the Speaking section could be taken the same day or could be assigned for a another date, before or after the rest of the sections.

Similarities and differences between sections in Academic vs General.

Speaking and Listening are the same in both academic and General.

Speaking Section

 Consists of an oral interview between the test taker and the examiner.

  • Part 1 - the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. (4-5 minutes)

  • Part 2  - you will be given a cue card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes.(2-3 minutes)

  • Part 3 - you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. (4-5 minutes)


You will hear 4 recordings. You are asked to listen but you can hear the recording only ONCE. You are asked to fill  either in gaps, or choose a multiple choice option.You might hear different english accents. 

Whereas Listening and speaking are the same for Academic and General,  Writing and Reading are different . That is to say that Academic is harder and more complex than the General version. 

Reading Section

Both academic and General reading are the same in structure but different in content.While the general reading is based on texts related to everyday life, work & general interests, the academic Reading is a bit more complex and more challenging to the General version.

Writing Section 


  • Task 1 - you will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and asked to describe, summarise or explain the information in your own words. 150 works in 20 minutes time. 

  • Task 2 - you will have to  write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem, disadvantages vs advantages. Minimum of 250 words. Don’t write less but do not extend too much otherwise you will not complete it on time. You have 40 minutes to complete this section. 


  • Task 1-you will be asked to write a letter. Formal, informal or semi-formal.For instance, applying for a Job.About 150 words

  • Task 2- Writing module is always a discursive essay question that requires you to write about contemporary social issue.About 250 words



Both TOEFL and IELTS are divided in 4 sections. The structure within each section presents some differences from one test to the other. Below I will describe the TOEFL structure.

The TOEFL test takes 4 hour to be completed

Reading-30–40 questions (45-72 minutes)

3 or 4 passages from the academic texts and answering questions .

Listening- 28-38 questions(41-57 minutes)

Listening to lectures, conversations, classroom discussions, and then answer questions.

Speaking- 4 tasks(20 minutes)

Candidates need to give their opinion on a topic familiar and speak based on reading and listening tasks.

Writing- 2 tasks(50 minutes)

Candidates need to write essay responses based on reading and listening tasks, along with supporting the opinion in writing.

Overall differences between TOEFL and IELTs

The TOEFL is entirely multiple choice, while the IELTS has a mix of short answers and essay questions.

Regarding the speaking section, there is a a big difference between both tests. In the IELTS speaking you will be speaking privately face to face in recorded conversation while in the TOEFL you will be talking to a microphone. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable would be the right choice for you in order to evaluate IELTS vs TOEFL as the prefered one. The TOEFL will focus on Integrated Speaking. This means you will need to listen to or read something and then build a response to the recording or a passage. 


For the IELTS listening part of the test, you will have to answer  questions while the audio is playing. The question format includes filling in the blanks, completing the sentence, and answering true or false. In the listening section of the TOEFL, you will listen to some recordings and then answer questions based on what you heard. These questions will show your ability to understand the content that is being shared, and your ability to understand the speaker’s emotions and motivations. You will hear two types of recordings: conversation recordings and lecture recordings.


In the TOEFL, the first part requires you to read a short text about a certain topic and then listen to a two-minute lecture about this topic. Then, you will have to write 300 to 350 words in response to a question about this topic. The second part requires you to write another short essay.Different to the IELTS writing where you are only asked to develop your writing skills, the TOEFL integrates reading, writing and listening.


Both tests provide you with texts that are academic and followed by questions that test how well you understand the text. In the IELTS, this section consists of 40 questions in three parts, with  different styles of questions. In the TOEFL, as with every other section on this test, the questions will be multiple choice. You will need to read the passages before answering. 

Cambridge Exams

The Cambridge English exams are a little different to the English proficiency tests above. The Cambridge exams are traditional ‘pass or fail’ exams whereas the others give you an English score on a graded scale.

PET – Cambridge English: Preliminary
FCE – Cambridge English: First
CPE – Cambridge English: Proficiency

Unlike other certificates, Cambridge qualifications do not have an expiry date. However, universities and other organisations can choose if they accept results older than 2-3 years.

All 3 English exams are divided into 4 parts:

-Reading and Use of English




Hopefully the information provided helps you to have a clear understanding of each of the choices offered nowadays regarding English Test assessments. Good luck!!!!!



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