English language tests: Cambridge ESOL, IELTS and TOEFL

English language requirements for studying in the UK

As a non-native English speaker coming to study at a university in the UK, you legally need to prove by law that you have a B2-level proficiency in spoken and written English. There is a variety of English language tests available for you to take which all examine proficiency in listening, reading, writing and speaking.

Most UK universities accept the Cambridge English, IELTS and TOEFL exams as proof of English proficiency, however there is a range of other tests which are accepted: see the UKBA’s internet page of approved English tests for the full list as well as the recommended scores. It is also really important to check with specific universities for their guidelines and requirements for minimum scores in any of these tests. It might be that your desired university demands a score that is higher than the minimum score set out by the UKBA – particularly if the course you want to do demands a high level of literary (such as a course in English literature). Also, you may find that some universities only accept the results from one or another of the tests rather than from any of them.

It is also important to check the UK Border Agency’s page for specific requirements for students needing a Tier 4 visa which is the visa required for postgraduate study in the UK for international students.


Preparing for your English language test

Here are some top tips to help you to prepare for your English language test and hopefully pass first time!

1. There is a wealth of information and strategy guides available for the Cambridge English, IELTS and TEOFL tests, all of which are well-established tests with plenty of published material and help available. The first thing you should do is check the respective websites for more details information about what you need to do.
2. Make sure you do some practice tests – these are available through the companies’ websites – to give you a sound introduction into the format and expectations of the tests.
3. If you decide to get a tutor or pay for a class, make sure to look for a teacher with a DELTA qualification (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).
4. When preparing for any language exam, make sure to really put in the work. Enjoy immersing yourself in the language by listening to the radio, watching English TV programmes, reading books and talking to people in English – that way you’ll be able to take control of the situation.

Cambridge English Language Assessment

Cambridge ESOL Cambridge English: Advanced , also known as the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE)
Cambridge English: Proficiency , also known as the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)

Cambridge English exams are accepted by UK universities and colleges as proof of English language skills. You can also gain valuable UCAS Tariff Points with Cambridge English exams that you can use when applying to UK universities. The UK Border Agency accepts Cambridge English exams for Tier 4 student visas , so you only need to take one exam.

You can take your Cambridge English exam at one of 2,700 centres in over 130 countries. To find your nearest centre visit:  www.cambridgeenglish.org/find-a-centre/

Cambridge English exams are accepted by over 13,000 universities, colleges and employers around the world.  To find out if Cambridge English: Advanced or Cambridge English: Proficiency is the right exam for you, visit our Global Online Recognition Database to see where the exams are used and accepted.

Find out more in-depth information about Cambridge English exams.


IELTS, the International English Language Testing System is the world’s most popular high-stakes English test, jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. Over 1.7 million tests were taken last year by candidates seeking to prove their proficiency in the English language for work and study abroad. IELTS is accepted by over 7000 institutions around the world including almost all UK universities. You can use the IELTS Global Recognition System to check which institutions recognise IELTS certificates.

There are two versions of the IELTS test – General and Academic. Students will need to take the Academic test if they are planning to undertake postgraduate studies and will need to achieve the minimum bandscore required by the institution they are applying to. IELTS is the only major English language test giving you a two-way face to face language speaking assessment which gives candidates the confidence knowing that they are better equipped for real life situations – it is also one of the few remaining paper-based tests.

IELTS has over 48 fixed test dates a year, and these take place in over 800 different locations around the world, your test fee is likely to vary depending on your country. Click here to find your nearest test centre.

Find out more in-depth information about IELTS.


The TOEFL® test is possibly the most well-known and widely-recognised English language test internationally. Whilst the test has traditionally been available both on the internet and in a paper-based format, the paper-based test is being phased out beginning mid-2012 to be replaced solely by the internet version, know as the TOEFL iBT. 

TOEFL® offers the greatest range of test centres, and has around 30-40 test dates a year. Find your nearest test centre

For in-depth information about the tests, official test prep, and to register, click here .

Find out more in-depth information about TOEFL.

Related Editorial Links

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International students in the UK

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