Studying in the UK

Exam English

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.

Academic Exam English

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.

The General English exams offered by Cambridge range from tests for the youngest learners all the way through to native-like proficiency level. In between, there are exams for Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper-Intermediate and Advanced. All of the exams are commonly referred to by a 3 letter acronym, which are explained in the table below with the full name of the English exam and which language level each exam is appropriate for.

To find out information on Cambridge’s other English exams:

● Click here for IELTS (International English Language Testing System)

● Click here for BULATS (Business Language Testing Service)

The Cambridge General English exams have different scoring systems. So to help to understand all the range of exams and their results, here is a handy table that depicts all the different marks for the Cambridge exams in relation to the commonly known CEFR levels from A1 through to C2. Of all the Cambridge exams available, the FCE (First Certificate in English is probably the most popular in terms of candidates who sit the exam, and you can see below that the results for this exam range from B1 (lowest) through to C1 (highest).

The First Certificate in English is an upper intermediate English exam with test results including B1, B2 and C1 levels. Over 2,700 exam centres around the world hold the FCE exam each year, so it is a very popular English exam.

SGI's Cambridge FCE course (Evening Mini-Group) runs all year long for good Intermediate level or higher students wanting to take an exam preparation class. The FCE course fully prepares students for the format and content of the five test papers (see table below), helping students to approach the exam with confidence.

The Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) only has 3 grades (A, B and C) which are dispersed across the C1 and C2 levels on the CEFR language rating system. This means that this English exam is only for students who have an extremely high level and complete command of the language. Successful completion of this exam indicates students are highly proficient in English and are capable of operating in demanding academic and professional settings.

The CAE Exam Preparation Course at SGI (Tues & Thurs Evenings mini group) helps students familiarise themselves with the question types and demands of the exam. Candidates for this level of exam always have a very strong English level, but can often be let down by not being accustomed to the question types. It is very important to practise as speed is an important factor in the exam with students often running out of time, especially in the reading and writing test papers.

Cambridge’s International English Language Testing System (IELTS) English exam is probably the world’s most popular English level test for speakers of other languages.


● IELTS tests all four language skills - speaking, listening, reading and writing

● IELTS is used to assess a student’s English level for entry to a UK university course

● IELTS has a unique scoring system: called ‘Band Scores’. IELTS bands go from 0 - 9 (9 is the best score).

● A 6.0 IELTS band score is the minimum enrollment requirement for most British university courses (equivalent to B2 CEFR level and higher)

● Academic IELTS - for higher education entry or work purposes. General IELTS - for immigration purposes

SGI English School in Central London school runs several IELTS courses, allowing a choice of study options. Students can study in small group classes, and/or combine those with one-to-one classes with your own teacher. Every IELTS study option is based on morning group classes that are highly focussed on improving IELTS exam preparation tactics and academic English skills for formal writing tasks.

IELTS Exam Preparation courses at SGI London...

● Run every week of the year

● Enroll for lessons on any Monday

● IELTS Courses are only for confident intermediate or higher language level students.

● Are exam preparation lessons that are specifically focussed to improve your academic English ability

● Teach students vital exam tactics to maximise their IELTS Band scores, e.g. using an appropriate, formal, academic style.

● Every Thursday morning have a complete, mock IELTS exam for students. Test results are handed back on Fridays.

● Different options available: Group Classes, Private tuition, Afternoon Classes.