Are you learning English? How good is your grammar? How do you know if you need to improve your English?
Could you have an interview fully in English? If so, get on the phone and organise one!
When you learn English, there are plenty of qualifications you can use to prove your proficiency or fluency in English. However, if you want to learn English for work, showing off your language skills on your CV is difficult since different people accept different exams.
Taking the right one can open doors for you. Once you have your certificate, you can put your results on your CV and most employers around the world will immediately understand what your level of English is without having to ask any more questions.
There are a number of educational systems around the world whose English classes aren’t recognised or would be disregarded when it comes to an interview. At least when talking about the English you learn in school. Don't worry, employers still tend to recognise degrees in English!
Unfortunately, not every English course is recognised. Even if you can speak English well, have amazing listening skills, and know every idiom under the sun, you'll probably still have to look at specialised English courses just to sit one of these exams.
However, thanks to increasing globalisation, these exams are becoming more and more widely accepted and internationally recognised.
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Furthermore, the English language is almost everyone's second language when it comes to business. If you're travelling, most tourist areas use the native language of the destination or English with tourists who don't speak the local language. Love it or hate it, the English language is here to stay so there's not much point in avoiding it any further.
If you’d like to be accredited for your written and spoken English, there are a number of different examinations you can consider, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
In this article we’re going to have a look at a number of these and which are recognised and where, tell you which ones test your English grammar, writing skills, listening skills, and which ones include conjugating verbs, or deciphering specialised English vocabulary and idiomatic expressions.
Let’s start with one of the most famous, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the TOEFL.
A TOEFL generally costs between £100 and £200 (but this can vary depending on where you are) and has been offered by the ETS (Educational Testing Service) since 1964.
It’s unlikely that this is going to be offered for free any time soon so you best make sure that you have the money for it. However, since almost all of these exams cost money, I wouldn't consider this a disadvantage of the TOEFL.
As a internationally-recognised exam that's been around for over 50 years, it’s been available in three formats: paper (PBT), computer (CBT), or online (iBT). However, only the paper and internet versions are currently available.
The tests are multiple choice and include four different parts:
- Reading, 60-80 minutes;
- Listening, 60-90 minutes;
- Speaking, 20 minutes;
- Writing, 50 minutes.
Speaking can also be done separately as the TOEFL Academic Speaking Test (TAST).
Scores are out 677 for the paper exam, 300 for the computer exam, and 120 for the online exam.
One disadvantage of the TOEFL is that it's only valid for two years. This is because language competency can change very quickly over time if the user isn't practising their language.
However, this is also probably a very good way for ETS to get customers coming back, right?
Most universities accept a TOEFL exam and it's also often used to check graduates’ and interns’ English level.
There are also plenty other disadvantages of the TOEFL:
For one, it’s a multiple-choice format exam. This isn't considered to be completely representative of language abilities and probably oversimplifies the whole language-learning process.
Additionally, it’s often criticised for how costly it is and the spoken part isn’t ideal, either.
Younger students can opt for “Junior” version if they're aged 11 and over. This can be a good way of gauging a student’s level and also evaluating the education system.
The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is also available from ETS. However, this one focuses on business English rather than general English.
The TOEIC was created in 1979. Following the demands of globalisation and the Japanese Minister of Commerce and Industry.
More than 14,000 businesses across 150 countries are happy to take your money to sit a TOEIC exam.
Unlike the TOEFL, this exam doesn't cover language creation. It's only really interested in understanding and includes just listening and reading parts, making it ideal for those that hate English speaking and writing exams.
It doesn’t differ too much from the TOEFL and even follows the multiple-choice format.
- The listening part includes photographs, dialogues, and monologues, lasts 45 minutes, and contains 100 questions.
- The reading part (gap-fill exercises, texts) also contains 100 questions and lasts an hour and 15 minutes.
The exam is out of 990 and is graded according to a colour.
The lowest grade is orange (10-215), then brown (220-465), green (470-725), and blue (730-855). The highest grade is gold (860-990).
In order to complement these comprehension activities, there is also the TOEIC Speaking and Writing with a 20-minute speaking part and an hour-long writing exam. Each of these parts is graded out of 200 points.
Finally, the ETS launched the TOEIC Bridge in 2001 in order to validate the abilities of intermediate non-native English speakers. While not as widely recognised, it focuses on secondary-school students or professionals just starting out in English. It can be useful for those wanting to take the TOEIC further down the line who'd like to see the format of these styles of exams.
There are a few tools to help you get ready for the TOEIC. The ETS also has a number of resources as part of the the TOEIC Official Learning and Preparation Course and there are also plenty of centres and private tutors around the world that would be happy to help you prepare for it.
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Let’s have a look at an exam not involving ETS.
While the TOEFL focuses on academic abilities and the TOEIC focuses on business English, the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is for those who decided to study English (or are currently taking English lessons) because they'd like to get into business management.
This certificate is required for anyone who’d like to study an MBA or go to business school. It was created in 1953 by the Graduate Management Admission Council in Virginia, USA.
It’s available in 3,000 business or management schools across 96 countries. Over 200,000 students take the exam and you can only take the exam a maximum of 5 times in a given year.
You need to be at least 13 years old to sign up and you’ll need to hand over around £200. You’ll need to be IT literate since the test takes place on a computer.
You should read the answers before the question. Then, after having read the question, eliminate the answers that are obviously incorrect before choosing the most logical answer. This technique can save you a lot of time in an exam where you have to be fairly quick.
The test lasts 4 hours but as I said before, you’ll have to carefully manage your time.
The results are split across several sections:
- AWA (Analytics Writing Assessment): 30 minutes: 6 points.
- IR (Integrated Reasoning): 12 questions, 20 minutes: 8 points.
- Quantitative Section: 37 questions, 1 hour 15 minutes, 60 points.
- Verbal Section: 41 questions, 1 hour 15 minutes, 60 points.
The final results will be on a scale between 200 and 800.
The GMAT results consider every GMAT a given candidate has sat over the last five years!
This means your score could either go up or down. It’s an interesting aspect of the GMAT that separates it from the other English language exams available.
Remember that most MBA programmes at the top universities require a GMAT score of at least 650.
In the event of tough competition, you’ll have to differentiate yourself from other candidates with your English abilities and your fluency in the language. Depending on your situation, you’ll have to choose which English test is for you.
All your linguistic abilities will be tested in practical and professional exams. Literary aspects, such as writing style, are largely ignored. However, that doesn’t mean you need to ignore all English literature in your personal life.
There's also Cambridge English tests, which offer internationally-recognised exams for almost everyone. Children can do the YLE (Young Learners) while teens and adults can get qualifications from A2 (KET) to C2 (Proficiency).
Make sure that you consider all your options before taking an English exam. Think about why you need a qualification in English, if you need extra online ESL classes, and whether the people you need to prove your level to are going to recognise it!