Which Exam Should you Take: IELTS or Cambridge?

Sep 30, 2016

When documentation is required to prove proficiency in the English language, many non-native English speakers are unsure which examination to take. The two most popular British tests are the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Cambridge English (CAE). Although there are some similarities between them, it is worthwhile taking a look at some of the key differences, to help you decide which one is right for you.

The basics

IELTS is taken by almost 2 million people every year. It assesses writing, reading, speaking, and listening. The CAE also tests these core abilities, and in addition, it has a paper on grammar.


The IELTS is valid for two years and the Cambridge result is unlimited for life. However, many employers are happy to accept an outdated IELTS score, especially if the person has remained in the UK and continued to master the language. With IELTS you receive a score from 4 to 8.9, while Cambridge is a pass or fail and you need 60% to get a pass. This is equivalent to a 7 on IELTS. University entrance demands a minimum score of 6 on IELTS. It depends on the degree and the institution, as some degrees need a score of 7.5. Generally, IELTS is required and recognised for university admissions.

The exams

The Cambridge exam lasts for five hours and the IELTS for three. This is quite a difference to take into account for those who have trouble in concentrating for long periods. Both have a section for speaking. In CAE, this discussion is between yourself and another student, and in IELTS it takes place with the examiner. The writing part of IELTS is one hour, and in Cambridge an hour and half. The other difference is that the subject matter to write about is fixed in IELTS, where in Cambridge you get a choice.

Frequency of testing

If you are in a hurry, the IELTS runs exams every two weeks, with a faster turnaround on results. The Cambridge exams are held every six weeks and it can take a further eight weeks for the results to come back.


The IELTS course is focused on the academic outcome, and is narrower in its scope. The CAE could be said to be "more fun" in that it has a broader ambition to lift and improve the general level of English and takes in more subjects. Topics can include literature, love, finding a job, and owning a pet.

To conclude, for overall fluency in and command of the English language, the Cambridge test is more likely to lead to an overall improvement. The IELTS is much more exam-focused but it is a better test to take if you are planning on applying to university. It is worthwhile weighing up all of these above criteria to see which one best fits your circumstances.


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