PART 1: PURPOSE
A quick search on the internet for “international English exams” will bring up a wide range of tests (exam, examination, test – all have the same meaning in this context). The exams are offered by different organisations, all of whom will try to convince you that their test is the best. They can’t all be right, so the issue comes down to which exam is the right one for you. To answer the question, you need only focus on the purpose for which you need or want the exam. This should narrow the choices down to a manageable number, to which you can apply other criteria to make your final decision.
The majority of candidates take English exams for one of these reasons: as a measure of their general progress in mastering the language; for academic purposes (to get into a university, for example); for vocational reasons (for an employer); or because it is required by the government (to get a visa). Each of these different purposes can result in a different choice of exam.
As a rule (there are, as with all aspects of English, lots of exceptions!), the main tests offered can be divided into our four categories as follows (the following list is based on a Google search in September 2021):
Obviously, some tests can be used for multiple purposes. However, this table should enable you to see at a glance which tests are most likely to suit you. I’ll look in more detail at these in the next post, but there is one category we can deal with immediately. There is little doubt that the most popular test provider for progression testing is the Cambridge organisation and its series of tests for children and adults, including GCSE, iGCSE, Young Learners, and B1, B2, C1, and C2. Cambridge really does dominate in this market, but it must be said that as a general measure of progress, any good-quality language school will offer regular, graded progression tests in the key skills areas. These may be perfectly fit for purpose for you or your children.
In the next article, we’ll look at Academic English tests, but if you can’t wait, and want to see more details of the tests listed here, by all means use the links below (please let me know if any don’t work or have become out of date):