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The Guide To Choosing An Official English Exam

The guide to choosing an official English exam

Are you learning English for work? Or maybe you need a certain level of English to study at your dream university? Nowadays, it’s useful to be able to show your level of English with an official exam. But there are a lot of different types of English tests out there – and sometimes it’s hard to know which one to choose!  

Despite all the different types of English tests, there are only a limited number of official English exams which are accepted for things like immigration or university applications. So, if you need a recognized qualification, the main English language exams we recommend are IELTS, TOEFL, TOEIC, and PTE Academic

Think about why you need the test

So, which type of official English exam is right for you? Here’s a quick guide to the key qualifications and how to know which one to choose. 


IELTS format

The IELTS exam has two different options. IETLS Academic proves your English proficiency level in an academic context. IELTS General Training is better for non-academic goals. Both exams consist of four papers: Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. 

You can take the first 3 papers either on paper or using a computer but the Speaking exam must be done in person with a real-life examiner. The IELTS exam takes 2 hours and 45 minutes in total, with the Speaking exam taking 11-14 minutes.


Around $245 USD.


You’ll be awarded a grade, called a band, between 1 and 9 for each paper. Band 1 represents a non-user of English and 9 represents an expert user. Most universities ask for Band 6 or 7 which is the equivalent of B2/C1. The qualification lasts for 2 years.

Why take the IELTS exam?

IELTS Academic is recognized by many universities around the world, especially in the UK, while IELTS General is more common for immigration and visa requirements. 


TOEFL format

The TOEFL exam is specifically designed to test academic English to show that you’re ready for college life. It comes in paper format (TOEFL PBT) and computer-based (TOEFL iBT). There are 4 papers: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The Speaking part of the exam is recorded and sent off to be graded so you don’t have to face a real  examiner. 


$200 USD on average.


The maximum score is 120 points, with each paper offering 30 points. Most universities will want a TOEFL exam score of 90-100, equivalent to B2. The qualification expires in 2 years.

Why take the TOEFL exam?

Along with IELTS, TOEFL is the other widely-recognized exam, and it’s particularly common for North American universities to ask for it. 


TOEIC format

The TOEIC exam is designed to test business English. There are 3 parts to the exam which can be taken separately. TOEIC Listening and Reading is the most popular, but it’s also possible to take TOEIC Speaking and TOEIC Writing. TOEIC Listening and Reading gives you 2 hours to answer 200 multiple-choice questions. Unless you’re studying at a university, you’ll probably take the paper-based test, held at special testing centers.


The price varies according to where you live and which papers you’re taking but anything between $100-200 is possible.


The score you’ll need will depend on the employer. A score as high as 800-900 might be necessary for a very competitive job field. For reference, a score of 785-940 would be equivalent to B2 and 940-990 is C1. 

Why take the TOEIC exam?

TOEIC is mainly used by employers to make sure that candidates have a good enough level of English to communicate at work. (The ‘IC’ in TOEIC stands for International Communication.) TOEIC is especially popular with employers in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Also, some universities require a specific TOEIC exam score before you can graduate. 

PTE Academic 

PTE Academic format

The PTE Academic exam is a completely computer-based exam developed by Pearson. It has 3 parts: Speaking and Writing is one paper, plus there is Reading, and Listening. It takes 2 hours to complete the test at test centers and you can book at the last minute as exams are held often.


Prices vary according to country, and can range from $185 to $275 USD.


Each paper receives a score between 10-90 on the Pearson Global Scale of English. For reference you will typically need a score of 51-60 for an undergraduate university course and 57-67 to do a Masters. 

Why take PTE Academic?

This exam is scored by computer so results are available very quickly, usually within 48 hours, which is faster than the other exams. The exam is accepted by a wide number of universities, and by UK, Australian and New Zealand immigration boards for most visas. 

How can you prepare for your official English exam? 

Preparing for any type of official English exam can be very expensive. Often, you need to buy exam preparation books and study materials or pay for in-person exam preparation classes at a language school. 

Lucky for you, we’ve partnered with HarperCollins to bring you some of the best exam preparation materials available – straight to your ELSA app. 

Our new exam courses will help you prepare for IELTS, TOEFL or TOEIC. Not only that you will: 

  • Gain confidence 
  • Boost your vocabulary 
  • Increase your fluency and accuracy 
  • Learn how to answer real exam questions

Study for IELTS with ELSA

If you’re currently in IELTS band 3 or 4 and aiming for a higher score, choose our Get Ready for IELTS (Lower) course. There are 12 units covering all the common topics you’ll likely find in the IELTS exam. If you’re currently band 5-5.5 and looking for a speaking score of band 6 or higher then our 11-unit Speaking for IELTS (Upper) course is the one for you. 

Sign up to one of the courses now. 

Study for TOEFL with ELSA

Take ELSA’s TOEFL course to prepare for Listening and Speaking, Reading, and Writing. The 6-unit course, based on HarperCollins’ book Skills for the TOEFL iBT test will help you gain a top TOEFL exam score and improve your chances of getting accepted by the university of your dreams. 

Sign up to the course now

Study for TOEIC with ELSA

Our ELSA TOEIC exam course is based on Collins’ Skills for the TOEIC test: Speaking and Writing and its companion book, Listening and Reading. The course will give you full preparation for the TOEIC exam so that you can demonstrate your English proficiency in a business context.

Sign up to the course now. 

Study for PTE Academic with ELSA

A digital course based on the themes of Pearson’s PTE Academic will soon be available on the ELSA app. 

Sign up here and you’ll be notified once the course is available.

Access all of our HarperCollins English exam series directly from your ELSA app. 

Prepare for your speaking exam with ELSA

As well as taking one of our exam courses on the app, you can also prepare for your official speaking exam with Speech Analyzer. You’ll discover speaking exam prompts for IELTS, TOEFL and TOEIC where you can record your answer. Then ELSA’s powerful AI will give you a score, complete with a breakdown of your fluency, grammar, intonation, vocabulary, and pronunciation so you can do better next time. It’s just like having your own personal English teacher but without the high cost and difficult schedules. 

Discover more ways to practice speaking with ELSA Speech Analyzer. 

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