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English Proficiency Tests: IELTS Alternatives For International Students

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A major entry requirement for international students when applying for study in foreign universities is proof of English proficiency. This is to ensure students have the required skills to understand academic coursework, communicate with lecturers and peers, and produce quality articles. 

As one of the most common English proficiency tests, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), assesses the reading, writing, listening and speaking skills of candidates who want to work, study or migrate to an English speaking country. 

Over the years, IELTS and TOEFL have been the most accepted English Proficiency Tests worldwide. However, there are several other English Proficiency Tests accepted by universities as IELTS alternatives.

In this article, we discuss IELTS alternatives that are recognized around the world.

Click here to read How To Study In Canada Without IELTS

Top English Proficiency Tests for International Students

There are different reasons international students seek IELTS alternatives. For some, their reasons are cost-related, for others, it may be related to the structure of the exam or other reasons.

english proficiency test

Here are 5 globally recognized English Proficiency Tests to consider as IELTS alternatives:

  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) 

TOEFL is one of the most common alternatives to IELTS. As an English Proficiency Test, TOEFL is accepted by several universities in the US, Canada, Australia, UK and Europe. The TOEFL can also be accepted for immigration purposes in some countries. The test duration is 4 hours and can either be taken online with a computer or as a paper-based test.

The TOEFL test is scored on a 0-120 point scale, with each of the four sections – Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, making up 30 points. Most universities require a minimum of 70-80 points for undergraduate study and 90 points for postgraduate courses. The TOEFL costs around US$180-185 and is valid for 2 years.

  • Duolingo English Test (DET)

Popular as an emerging IELTS alternative, the Duolingo English Test is a modern English Proficiency Test that does not require candidates to book in advance. The test is available on-demand online and can be taken at home via a computer and webcam. The Duolingo English test evaluates candidates reading, writing, listening and speaking skills and can be completed within an hour.

DET results are certified within 48 hours of taking the exams and are valid for 2 years. Universities and other institutions across the globe are now accepting the DET as a valid English Proficiency Test from applicants. The DET costs US$49.

  • Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic

The PTE is a computer-based English Proficiency Test that assesses a candidate’s English proficiency based on real-life English. The test is conducted in three sections – speaking and writing, reading and listening. The PTE is globally recognized and can be used for international study and migration purposes.

PTE test takes a maximum of 3 hours to be completed and can be scheduled up to 24 hours in advance. Generally, results are released within 48 hours of taking the test and delivered to the selected university or institution. As an IELTS alternative, PTE scores are graded on a 10 to 90 point scale. The Pearson Test of English, like many other English Proficiency Tests, is valid for 2 years and costs around US$170-180.

IELTS Alternatives for International Students 1


  • Password English Language Test

Password English Language Test is an English Proficiency Test organized by CRELLA (The Center for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment). The Password English Language Test is recognized and accepted by a significant number of British universities as an IELTS alternative. This English Proficiency Test typically lasts for about 3 hours and assesses a candidate’s reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.

Password English Language Test is taken online and is available to students who hold a conditional offer to study at the university. The test score is graded on a 0-9 band basis. The required entry point for universities is a minimum of 6 for undergraduates and 6.5 for Masters programmes. The Password English Language Test is valid for 2 years.

  • Cambridge Advanced Exam (CAE)

The Cambridge Advanced Exam is an English Proficiency Test for more advanced English speakers. The CAE has four sections – reading and use of English, listening, writing and speaking. Unlike many other IELTS alternatives, Cambridge Advanced Exams are graded on a pass or fail system. To pass this exam, you need to score at least 60% in the examination, 40% for the reading section and the other 3 sections total 20%.

Though the CAE has global recognition, it has a wider acceptance in UK universities. The CAE lasts for approximately 4 hours and can be taken as a paper-based test or online. The CAE costs about €260 and should be booked at least 3 weeks before the desired exam date. Results are received 2-3 weeks after the exam.

Click here to read Masters Degree Admissions Requirements || What You Should Know

While all the various types of English Proficiency Tests seek to assess the candidate’s writing, reading, speaking and listening skills, they may adopt different exam structures. 

Before deciding to take an English Proficiency Test do your research to find out if it is accepted by the institution you are applying to. Also, consider your level of proficiency in English and determine which test will be an easier option for you. A good way to find out which English Proficiency Test is best for you is to explore learning resources like free online practice exams made available by the testing bodies. 

Most importantly, check that the English Proficiency Test you decide to take suits your needs and start preparing early enough.



If you need further guidance regarding English proficiency tests, please click here to chat with our counsellors who are always willing to guide you.


Explore related article: 5 Helpful Tips To Improve Your English Proficiency

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