English Exams – Which One is for Me?

There are so many different types of English Exams out there, it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you. We summarise the most popular choices offered at the UCT English Language Centre here.

English exams UCT English Language Centre

There is still an enormous demand for people wanting to learn English worldwide, and their reasons for wanting to learn English vary, including for English exam purposes.

Some examples include learning English for:

  • Business or career prospects
  • Travel
  • Cross cultural communication
  • Specific industries which only/predominantly use English for communication such as science, aviation, computers and technology, diplomacy, tourism, media, etc.
  • Understanding and access to the internet and everything it entails

Considering the above, and the fact that English is spoken as a first language by over 400 million people across the globe and is the official language of 53 countries, it is no wonder people are interested in learning English as a foreign language.

At the UCT English Language Centre, one of the top reasons for studying English with us is for undergraduate or postgraduate studies at an English speaking university or tertiary institute of learning. This is not to say that we only have students who already speak a very good level of English. We have many students from all over the world that are starting with us from the very beginning, with limited grasp of the language, and are ambitiously and steadily working their way towards their ultimate goals of being accepted at an English speaking university or college.

In order to study at an English speaking university, you will need to prove that you are proficient enough in the language to be able to keep up in your lectures, seminars, classes and tutorials as well as do the homework, research, etc. which involves the ability to read and analyse academic writing and then reproduce this writing yourself. The way universities do this is by requesting your grades from an international test.

The two most popular international English exams are the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) run by the British Council, and the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language).

According to the TOEFL IBT website: “The TOEFL test is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by more than 10,000 colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there.”

According to the IELTS website: “IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is the world’s most popular English language test. More than two million IELTS tests are taken each year.”

Neither of these exams is a pass/fail exam. This means that your ability is scored and you will receive a score based on what your proficiency is. The catch is that depending on the educational institute you wish to study at, you will need to achieve a minimum score set by that institution. In addition, both exam results are only valid for 2 years. Thereafter, you will need to take the exam again if you need to prove your proficiency again. 

At our English school, the most popular exam preparation course is most definitely for the IELTS English exam.

There are two types of IELTS exam: the academic IELTS and the General IELTS. We focus on the academic IELTS exam and only allow students who are already at an upper intermediate or higher level to join this English exam preparation course. The reason for this is because the University of Cape Town only accepts applications from students with an IELTS band score of 7 or above. Note that the maximum band score for IELTS is a 9, so a 7 is very high. Many other institutions will accept a band of 6 or 6.5, but as we are a unit within the University of Cape Town, we align ourselves with these aims and our goal is to get students to achieve a minimum of a 6, ideally a 7. This can only be done, however, if we are not having to focus on the basics of English and can fully concentrate on training students in the strategies, tactics and tips for optimally doing their English exam with an aim for a high score.

Students who are looking to do some sort of English exam that is not necessarily academic, and does not expire, can opt for the Cambridge exams such as the First Certificate in English or the Advanced Certificate. These tests can be failed, and there is a minimum score for passing the test. However, if you do not pass the test, you can retake it.

We recommend the Cambridge exams for students who wish to have a certificate of some sort to prove to their employer’s, for example, that they have a minimum general English level. Our exam preparation courses for the Cambridge exams have fixed start and end dates, and this is due to the fact that there are only a handful of fixed times throughout the year that the exam dates take place. Our English exam preparation courses therefore start 10 weeks prior to those exam dates and the course is specifically geared to making sure students pass their exam.

Choossing the right English exam for you is important, but preparation is key. So much of the preparation for an English course will be based on knowing the exam and its structure, learning to get your timing right and getting to understand how to answer the questions, i.e. knowing what the exam is looking for in terms of your proficiency.

If you are still unsure about which exam preparation course to take, you are welcome to contact us for advice.

Happy Learning, and good luck with your English exam!

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