Exam English is a very broad term these days. As there over one billion non-native learners and speakers of English on the planet, that means there are lots and lots of people wanting to prove their competence in English with a recognised qualification. To accommodate this demand, there are a range of well-known English exams widely available that cover everything from pre-intermediate level all the way through to advanced.
Whichever variety of Exam English that you study, it can be compared with a CEFR level. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF or CEFR) is a system created by The Council of Europe, so that all language exams could be standardised. The CEF was developed to provide a common basis for the description of achievements and objectives in foreign language education. This means that students from all over Europe, no matter which country they come from, can sit an exam in English and have a result and qualification that people in other countries (mainly universities, employers and immigration services) will clearly understand. You can compare how the most popular English exams are scored in the table below.
As you would expect, some of the most demanded English tests are taken for furthering education prospects. Probably the most recognised worldwide qualification for entering into higher education, and also in the UK, is the IELTS exam. The content of this course focuses on academic skills, such as the ability to write high-level essays, understanding information from a scholarly text or lecture and able to give appropriate spoken responses in an educational debate. It has a marking system called ‘Band Scores’ from 1-9 (9 being better than an average mother-tongue speaker). UK university courses typically require a band score of 6 for entry, but certain programs of study such as medicine or sciences ask for higher: up to 7 or 7.5 for some of the best places like Oxford and Cambridge.
The Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic is another ‘university entrance’ exam in English. It has a different way of expressing the results (with scores going up to 100), but this exam is also accepted by over 95% of universities in the UK.
General Exam English
When it comes to general Exam English, the Cambridge suite of qualifications are king. There are several tests ranging from beginner to expert-user, testing all four language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. All of these English exams are recognised and accepted across the globe.
KET - Key English Test (A2)
PET - Preliminary English Test (B1)
FCE - First Certificate in English (B2)
CAE - Certificate of Advanced English (C1)
CPE - Certificate of Proficiency in English (C2)
Business Exam English
Another qualification available from Cambridge University is BULATS (Business Language Testing Service). As the name suggests, this is an exam in Business English to prove that you have the correct language skills to be successful in international business and industry. It is used for workplace language assessment, recruitment and is a great addition to your CV. Additionally, the BULATS exam is quick to take, flexible in terms of registration, retakes and number of testing centres and also very affordable.