My students often ask me which EFL exam to choose. This is part 1 in a series of posts on the general characteristics of each of the main providers, with their pros and cons. If you’re trying to decide between Cambridge ESOL, IELTS, or TOEFL, you’ve come to the right place.
Cambridge ESOL exams are the most most widely recognized in Europe. The exams are designed along the lines of the Common European Framework (CEFR) for languages. The most popular tests are…
- First Certificate in English (FCE): This certificate proves that you have passed a B2 level of English. That’s about an upper-intermediate level if you’re not familiar with the CEFR. This is the first level that employers will really take notice of. It means that you can function using English in most contexts, despite errors.
- Certificate of Advanced English (CAE): Better known as the “Advanced,” this certificate proves C1 level of English. This means you can use the language fluently and spontaneously with minimal errors. Employers and Masters degrees taught in English often require this exam.
- Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE): The highest of the levels, passing C2 with the Proficiency exam is an accomplishment worth celebrating. It means that you have achieved a level similar to that of a highly educated native speaker, that you can understand virtually any input, and that you can differentiate even the nuances of the language as a native speaker would.
Cambridge ESOL Pros
If you live in Europe, these are the most widely recognised exams. Any employer would be impressed by your qualification. In addition to that, it’s easy to find a testing center and exam preparation courses.
Cambridge ESOL Cons
It’s a long and stressful exam. Also, while the organization states that the tests are designed to by fair for everybody whatever their age, gender, nationality, first language or ethnic background, I don’t believe this is possible.
Let me give you an example: Since the exams focus on academic writing skills, a test-taker of another European language has an advantage over non-European L1 speakers, given the amount of cognates between European languages for academic language. On top of that, test takers with a European background generally have more experience writing in the required format and discussing the type of topics that come up on the exam. Some of the speaking and writing prompts are impossibly abstract, and are more a test of your ability to think on your feet than to of your actual ability in English. While my Spanish students have no problem with discussing the concept of noise pollution, my Vietnamese learners found it difficult.
If you live in Europe, this is the best exam provider for you. If you are from another region of the world, you might find better option.
These are the exams that I have the most extensive experience with. If you need help preparing for the exam, get in touch!