IELTS, CAE, or FCE? Which English exam should you take?

IELTS, CAE, or FCE? Are you thinking about taking a formal English exam for work, study or your personal development? Not sure which one to take? Here I talk about two of the most common tests taken by people who wish to work or study in English-speaking countries — the IELTS and the Cambridge CAE (Certificate of Advanced English). I also talk about Cambridge’s FCE test. I compare and contrast the exams in detail to help you decide which test is right for your needs.

I will tell you:
– Who takes these English exams?
– Which test is easier/more difficult?
– For what practical purposes do people take these exams?
– What are the exams themselves like and how do they compare?

Hi everyone. I’m Jade. What we’re going to talk about today is comparing Cambridge exams with the IELTS exam. These are exams that you might be thinking of taking as part of your journey with learning English for various reasons. And we’ll look at the different exams; we’ll look at the reasons to take Cambridge exams or IELTS exams. And then, we’ll generally compare what’s in the two exam systems.

So the Cambridge exams, we’ll be talking about these two. This one is the First Certificate of English, and that’s around intermediate level. And this is a harder exam. This is an advanced level exam also from Cambridge. So there are four different levels in this Cambridge exam series. And this compares to just one IELTS test that tests the same — a much broader span, okay? So what does that mean? If you take the IELTS test, and you’re someone with an intermediate or a lower intermediate level, the test will be really hard for you because it covers such a wide level of English whereas if you take the right test for your level in the Cambridge exams, what you’re doing in the test is closer to what you already know. So that’s a key difference between them.

Something else to say about IELTS as well is that there are two kinds of IELTS exams. One is IELTS Academic, and that test is designed for people who want to go to university in an English-speaking country or want to do a course that’s going to be in English. And the other IELTS test is IELTS General Training. And that one is different because you don’t have to do some of the writing questions which are based on university things. They’re not in this test. So it’s just a little bit more practical.

So why take these tests in the first place? People take these tests for different reasons. One reason, as I mentioned before, is if you want to go to university in England or maybe in Australia. You will need to have a test result that shows your level of English. So in that case, what test do you take? You either need to have the IELTS Academic test or you need to do the CAE test. You can take either exam. This FCE exam is too low — the level is too low, so it’s not useful for you if you want to go to university. In the UK, IELTS is the most popular. But for American universities, a lot of people do a different test, but I’m not talking about it today, which is the TOEFL test.

Then, what if your purpose for taking one of these tests is for work? Well, it depends, really, on the job that you’re doing. FCE would be okay if your purpose is work. I’ve known people who come to England with the purpose of learning English and to have a job here — like a service job or work with an English family and look after their children and things like that. And I’ve known them to usually choose to do the First Certificate because you can go to a language school; you can learn enough English to get by and enough English for your daily life and things like that. It’s useful. So you can do that in those kinds of jobs.

You could also do IELTS General. I mean, IELTS General will test you to a higher level. So it really depends on your job whether this will be useful for you. Some people like to have it on their CV and show what score of English they have. So for them, it’s useful.

And some people say for professions — for example, lawyers and doctors, things like that. They say the IELTS Academic is better for these people. From my experience of the two tests, what I would say is that IELTS Academic just has a different writing question in it, and that different writing question is academic language. It’s comparing graphs and things like that. So it really depends what suits you and what you feel is necessary or needed for your job. To do IELTS Academic but not intend to go to university or be using academic English would be a bit of a waste of effort for you because you would need to learn how to write these graph questions and this kind of extra work for you, which is probably never going to be useful in your life. So yeah. Again, it depends.

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