English Language Tests and Requirements

Universities will state their English language requirement in various tests – the minimum grade overall, and usually the minimum grades required in writing, speaking, listening and reading.

Different universities require different test scores and even within institutions, these are often higher for courses such as medicine and law. You will also need to meet the requirements of the UK Border Agency if you require a student visa.

Each of the following English language tests are accepted by most countries and many institutions around the world, including universities, government agencies, professional and industry bodies, and multinational companies. They are approved by the UK Border Agency for entry into the UK.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

  • The IELTS test is widely recognised around the world.
  • The test takes just under three hours and (just like the TOEFL) there are four parts to the IELTS test: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
  • There are two qualifications – Academic and General Training.
  • The Academic test is aimed at those wishing to study undergraduate or postgraduate courses in a British university or college.
  • The General Training test is recommended for people wishing to study below degree level, work or undertake work-related training in an English-speaking country, or migrate to an English-speaking country.
  • You can check on the IELTS website to find out where you can sit the test in your home country.
  • Applicants will receive a score between 1 and 9, with the latter being the highest.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

  • The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is recognised the world over and shows your potential UK university or college how well you can communicate in English at undergraduate level.
  • The TOEFL test is generally administered via the internet and is known as the TOEFL iBT Test. If you are taking the TOEFL test in a test centre without internet access, a paper-based exam is available (TOEFL PBT).
  • The test takes place over the course of a day and is in four different parts: reading, writing, listening and speaking. You will receive an individual score for each of these four areas as well as an overall score (on a scale from 0–120).
  • Performing well on this test is important for your international student application. You can find some sample test questions on the TOEFL website to help with your preparation.
  • Submission of TOEFL in a visa application – as of 18 February 2014, ETS, one of the largest language testing companies, has been directed by the Home Office to suspend TOEIC and TOEFL testing in the UK for students already in the UK who plan to use their scores as part of their visa application. At this time, students already in the UK who are planning to apply for a visa may not use a TOEIC or TOEFL test to provide evidence of English proficiency.
  • There is no change for students applying for a visa and testing outside of the UK. TOEFL and TOEIC tests taken outside the UK may still be used for visa application.

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)

  • PTE Academic is the newest English language test, aimed at students wishing to study undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA studies in the UK.
  • It tests English language ability in a three-hour exam, which involves a number of real-life settings.
  • There are 20 different types of tasks and a computer-based exam on speaking, writing, reading and listening skills.
  • You’ll receive your results in around five working days. You can usually book a test at short notice.
  • Although the PTE Academic is still a relatively new test, it is accepted by over 80 per cent of universities and colleges in the UK and is approved by the UK Border Agency for Tier 4 visa applications.
  • Test takers receive an overall score between 1 and 90, as well as scores for each skill area.
  • Pearson also administer the Pearson Test of English General, aimed at general English language learning. However, this test is not recognised by the UK Border Agency, or by UK universities.

Cambridge English Language Assessment

  • Before 2013 this test was known as the Cambridge ESOL.
  • Exams are offered at many levels, from Starter and Schools through to Advanced and Business. Cambridge also offer qualifications targeted at those studying or working in international law, accountancy or finance.
  • The Cambridge English Advanced exam is aimed at students following a degree-level course at university.
  • It is widely recognised by institutions in 130 countries and can be used for student visa applications.
  • The exam is divided into five sections: reading, writing, use of English, listening and speaking, with each section counting as 20% towards the final mark.
  • The speaking test is carried out with two candidates and two examiners to create a more realistic situation.

Other qualifications

A number of other qualifications in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) may be encountered. They include:

  • Ascentis – tests in English proficiency, for all ages and levels.
  • City and Guilds (C&G) – English language skills (listening, speaking, reading and writing).
  • English Speaking Board International (ESB) – English language qualifications in speaking, listening, reading and writing for all ages and levels.
  • London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) – business-related English language qualifications.
  • Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT) – a teaching qualification to help teach English to schoolchildren and adult learners.
  • Test of Legal English Skills (TOLES) – professional English language training for international lawyers, law students and legal translators.
  • Trinity College London (TCL) – English language qualifications in speaking, listening, reading and writing.