The different kinds of English Language Qualifications

For some students of English, merely being able to converse with native English speakers is reward enough for a course of study. Many students, however, want official recognition for their hard work; perhaps they need a specific qualification that is recognised for work or study purposes. Therefore it is important to know the main qualifications that are recognised internationally by employers and universities.

One of the main qualifications required for academic study in English speaking universities is the IELTS – the International English Language Testing System. Operated by Cambridge ESOL and the British Council, an IELTS score is also required for immigration into some English speaking countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are two IELTS exams – Academic for university level use of English and General Training for levels below. Both exams test Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking skills, with different Reading and Writing papers for the Academic and General Training levels. Scores range from 0 to 9, with most English speaking universities requiring a score between 6 and 7.

More information about the exam and the requirements can be found at The world-renowned Cambridge English as a Second Language (ESOL) exams are a choice of qualifications that are linked to the internationally recognised Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR) which has a scale ranging from A1 to C2, C2 being the highest. The exams begin with the Key English Test (KET), and increase in difficulty through the Preliminary English Test (PET), the First Certificate in English (FCE), the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) reaching the highest qualification, the CPE or Certificate of Proficiency in English.

Cambridge also offers a range of qualifications aimed for specific employment purposes, with exams available that test for knowledge of English used in Business, the law and the world of finance.

These qualifications are widely recognised internationally by universities and employers, and can be specified as an entry requirement for programmes of study. More information on each of the qualifications and what the exams entail can be found at the Cambridge University ESOL site. The third major examination provider is City & Guilds. Again, these qualifications are linked to the Common European Framework. The City & Guilds International ESOL Diploma is available in six levels. The top two, Expert and Mastery (C1 and C2 according to the Framework) are recognised as evidence of ability to study in many English speaking universities.

There are also specific exams for English used in business as well as purely spoken exams. For more information visit the City & Guilds website.

Some universities and colleges may offer their own qualifications, designed and tested by the institutions themselves. In the UK, these will be monitored and assessed for quality by government bodies. International students will need to be aware of the equivalent level of the qualification in their own country, so that employers and other institutions can assess the student’s level of English. Whatever your reasons for studying English, having a recognised qualification can open many doors of opportunity both in your own country and abroad