English language testing systems

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

Speaking the native language can help to make the transition to live, study or work in a different country smooth and easy. There are many English testing systems that are used to rate your level of proficiency. Some of these tests can be completed online. Most Australian course units are studied in English, so students need to be proficient in all areas of the language, including speaking, writing, reading and listening. Knowing the English language is also important if you plan to work in Australia. Some businesses may require proof that you are fluent in the language.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is used as a reliable indicator of an applicant’s ability to speak English in an academic setting. The test was developed by the British Council in partnership with IELTS Australia and Cambridge ESOL. It covers speaking, writing, reading and listening components of the English language. The IELTS is recognised globally and can be used for education, employment and even immigration purposes. It is highly popular in the UK and Australia and is also recognised by most American and Canadian universities. Your IELTS test result is only valid for two years.

How does it work?

The IELTS works on a points system that grades your English language abilities. The highest possible score, a nine, demonstrates that the applicant has high-level English skills equivalent to a native speaker. Most undergraduate courses will accept a score of 5.5 overall, though this can differ between course providers. There are test centres worldwide that provide the IELTS exam throughout the year.


Language schools as well as tertiary education institutions offer IELTS preparation courses. These are usually year-long courses. You can also purchase official IELTS Practice Materials and the How to Prepare for IELTS book, which provides advice and practice in all four language areas. Open Universities Australia also offers an IELTS online preparation course through Macquarie University, which allows you to work through activities, quizzes and practice tests at your own pace with instant feedback.

English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) exams are designed to assess the skills and proficiency of English language students. Cambridge ESOL certificates can benefit you if you are looking to study, work, travel or live in areas where English is the native language. ESOL certificates are recognised by a range of universities and colleges as well as businesses and government sectors around the world. Except for the IELTS, your ESOL exam results are valid for the rest of your life.

How does it work?

ESOL covers a range of proficiency exams from general English KET exams to the IELTS exam for Academic English. ESOL allows you to choose the exam that suits the field or faculty in which you are studying. All the exams are linked to the Common European Framework of References for Languages levels, which allows English students to see where they sit on the scale and how they can move upwards. The tests assess the sitter’s proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking.


Preparation for any ESOL exam will depend on the level of English you are studying. General English exams will differ in content and skill requirement from Academic English. There are a huge range of books and materials on offer to help you prepare for your ESOL exam. You can download sample or past exam papers from the Cambridge ESOL website.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) also analyses your English language ability through reading, writing, listening and speaking. While it is mainly used by American and Canadian universities, it is widely accepted by top colleges and universities worldwide. The TOEFL exam is sat online through the Internet (iBT), and is also offered as a paper-based (PBT) test in a select number of areas. Your TOEFL score is valid for only two years.

How does it work?

Your iBT exam is scored on a scale of 0 to 120 points and is based on individual scaled scores in each of the four sections. The PBT is assessed differently to the iBT and gives you a score between 310 and 677. To earn a score on the test you must answer at least one question from each of the four sections. Get in contact with the tertiary education provider of your choice to find out what test score they require.


To prepare for the TOEFL iBT exam you should make sure you are adept at using a standard English-language (QWERTY) computer keyboard. Education Testing Service (ETS), the creator of TOEFL, also offers practice materials and sample tests to prepare for the four-hour examination. It is also recommended that you immerse yourself in different English resources, including newspapers, books and movies.

Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)

The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) is used to measure English language skills and proficiency in a business environment. However, it is also accepted by tertiary education providers.

How does it work?

The TOEIC is a two-hour test that is based on real-life work settings, with a focus on an international environment. This will include business transactions and communications in meetings, travel and telephone conversations. Some businesses may just require the listening and reading tests, which are conducted separately to the speaking and writing tests. You will be required to sit the TOEIC exam in an authorised public testing centre. Upon completion you will be given a score between 10 and 990 for the reading and listening components, while the speaking and writing components are scored out of 200.


Preparation for the TOEIC will depend on whether you plan on sitting the reading and listening test or the speaking and writing test, or both. The TOEIC is used to evaluate how proficient you will be when conducting business on an international level. This means that you will need to learn terminology and concepts that are relevant to the business world.

Andrea Riddell

AIM Business School
All Health Training
Australasian College of Health and Wellness
Australian College of Physical Education
Australian Institute of Business
Australian Institute of ICT
Australian Institute of Management Education and Training
Australian Institute of Personal Trainers
Builders Academy Australia
Building and Construction Training Australia
College Australia
College for Adult Learning
Deakin University
Ducere Global Business School
Edith Cowan University Online
Endeavour College of Natural Health
Foundation Education
Griffith University
Hammond Institute
Industry Skills Training
James Cook University Online
La Trobe University
La Trobe University Online (Delivered by Didasko)
MCI Institute
Mentor Education
Monarch Institute
Nepean Industry Edge Training
Onfit Training College
Open Colleges
RMIT Online
The Hotel School
TrainSmart Australia
UNE Partnerships
University of Adelaide
UNSW Online
UTS Online
Victoria University Online
Torrens University
University of East London
University of Mauritius
University of New England
University of Wales Trinity Saint David
Integrated Care & Management Training (ICMT)
Open Colleges School of Health
HTMi Australia
Southern Cross University