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Applying to university

English language tests

A guide to what English language tests you can take for UK student visas, such as TOEFL and IELTS, plus university entry requirements.

International students writing an exam

CONTENTS

  1. What tests do you need?

  2. English language tests and requirements

What tests do you need?

If you want to study in the UK and English isn't your first language, you'll need to take an English language test. This is to show that your English language skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) are to a suitable level for studying.

You'll need to meet:

  • The visa requirements by UK Visas and Immigration to study in the UK
  • The entry requirements for the university you wish to study at

English language tests needed for a visa

As well as other entry requirements, you need to meet the English language requirements of UK Visas and Immigration if you need a student visa (Tier 4).

UK Visas and Immigration looks for a basic standard of English language, lower than what's required at universities. There are several different tests you can take, where you need to achieve a minimum grade. You can find more information on the UK government website.

English language tests needed for UK university study

Universities look for high English language standards. This is so you can make the most of your learning experience – degree-level study is demanding and you must have the language and academic skills to cope.

Different universities and courses ask for different test scores. Requirements are often higher for areas such as Medicine and Law. Universities state the minimum English language entrance requirements for a variety of different tests – see information about the tests below.

If you've been accepted for a particular course, the university will state what exam passes are needed before you start. If you haven’t yet applied to a UK university, the international or admissions office will be able to tell you what qualifications you're likely to need.

If you can’t quite meet the university’s language requirements, many offer preparation classes and exams to get you ready for degree-level study. Ongoing support is also available during your studies.

Diverse university students listening to lecture

English language tests and requirements

Universities will state their English language requirements in various tests: IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic or Cambridge English Advanced (also known as the Certificate in Advanced English/CAE or Cambridge ESOL). They give the minimum grade overall, and usually the minimum grades required in writing, speaking, listening and reading.

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're approved by UK Visas and Immigration for visa entry into the UK.

You can usually find support and sample test questions on each of the testing organisations’ websites to help with your preparation.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

IELTS is one of the most recognised English language tests around the world. There are four parts: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

There are two qualifications:

  • Academic test – if you want to study an undergraduate or postgraduate course in a British university or college
  • General Training test – if you want to study below degree level, work or undertake work-related training in an English-speaking country, or migrate to an English-speaking country

The test takes three hours to complete. You can check on the IELTS website to find out where you can sit it in your home country.

After completing the IELTS test, you receive a band score between 1 and 9 (9 being the highest).

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL is also one of the world’s most recognised English language tests. It shows your potential UK university or college how well you can communicate in English at undergraduate level. It’s in four parts: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

There are two tests:

  • TOEFL iBT – the internet-based test (most common)
  • TOEFL PBT – the paper-based exam, for when you take the test in a centre without internet access

The test takes place over the course of a day. You receive an individual score for each of the four areas as well as an overall score (on a scale of 0–120).

Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)

PTE Academic is aimed at students wishing to study undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA studies in the UK. There are 20 different types of tasks and a computer-based exam on speaking, writing, reading and listening skills.

It tests English language ability in a three-hour exam, which involves a number of real-life settings. You can usually book a test at short notice.

You’ll receive your results in around five working days, where you can receive a maximum overall score of 90. You’ll also get scores for each skill area.

Cambridge English Qualifications: C1 Advanced

The C1 Advanced exam is for students looking to follow a degree-level course at university. It’s 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 test takes around four hours and can be computer- or paper-based.

Cambridge language exams are offered at many levels, from Starter to Advanced and Business. There are also qualifications targeted at those studying or working in international law, accountancy or finance.

Other qualifications

There are a number of other qualifications in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), including:

  • Duolingo English Test – English language tests recognised by higher education institutions around the world
  • Trinity College London – English language qualifications
  • Teaching Knowledge Test – a teaching qualification to help teach English to school children and adult learners
  • City and Guilds – English language skills
  • English Speaking Board International – English language qualifications for all ages and levels
  • London Chamber of Commerce and Industry – business-related English language qualifications
  • Ascentis – tests in English proficiency for all ages and levels
  • Test of Legal English Skills – professional English language training for international lawyers, law students and legal translators

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