Why Take a Language Exam or Language Test?

You may find yourself wondering why a language test would be useful for you at all, especially if you’re not studying for work or school. But there are a few excellent reasons to dive into the idea of test prep.

1) Gain a Solid Framework Instantly
Self-guided language study is a bit haphazard at times. You may lack the support network of a group class, and you may not have found the right tutor yet. You may even find yourself changing resources a lot of the time. One day you spend half an hour on Memrise, the next day it’s back to podcasts. If you find that your entire language learning system is not as good as it could be, working towards will help you grow from solid ground. Language exams are built on the four core skills principle of listening, reading, speaking and writing.

Read more about the core skills in my book Fluency Made Achievable

2) Achieve More, Faster
Believe it or not, putting a smaller goal such as a specific language test at the next level in front of you will make you feel better. It’s a bit like going on marathon training. You could try and run the whole 26 miles all in one go, and then you’ll feel frustrated when you haven’t got there after 1 hour. Or you could practice little and often, and aim for a level that’s the next sensible goal. As you approach the 5 mile marker for the first time you’ll feel pretty proud and you’ll know you can build onto this foundation. The same mindset will work for you when you aim to pass the right exam instead of spending all your days wondering “how long until I’m fluent?”.

The Most Popular Framework for Languages
These days, most accredited language tests are designed in line with the Common European Framework for Language Proficiency (CEFR), which is split into levels A1 to C2.

You may also see websites that refer to the amount of study hours a student has put in to achieve this level, but it’s a lot more helpful to think about it as the answer to the question “What can you do with your language skills at this level?”

The aspect that I like best about this framework is that it does not focus on numbers. Instead of checking which vocabulary words you know (like the scary/horrible American GED), these tests are about interaction. They are exactly what language learning is about in the 21st century. If you’re hoping to speak to a real person soon, then this system is exactly right for you.

The Most Popular Language Exams


TOEFL, most popular in the USA
IELTS, the most common exam in Britain and Australia
Both exams are accepted widely throughout the English speaking world. With both of these, you don’t study towards a specific level exam. Instead, you’re tested and your result will indicate which level the testers found you are at.


Goethe Certificates from A1 to C2
ÖSD, the Austrian language diploma which assesses the Austrian dialect of German

DELF and DAF are the official French government language exams and offer tests ranging from A1 to B2 and the DAF as the higher option
TCF, the Test de Connaissance du Français also has a Québec option if you’re looking at Canadian French in particular


DELE is the official Spanish government language exam and awards diplomas from A1 to C2


CILS, the Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera is particularly useful for people aiming to study at Italian universities, and also available from A1 to C2. It’s offered by the University of Siena.
The popular CELI is available at levels UNO, DUE and TRE. View all options at the University of Perugia website.


The JLPT is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test or Nihongo Nōryoku Shiken. It doesn’t follow the usual framework to the letter but instead runs from level N1 to N5.

Overview of IELTS

The IELTS academic and general training tests are used to assess reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills in non-native English speakers. The IELTS, which takes about three hours to complete, is primarily taken by prospective university students and applicants for immigration visas. The IELTS is a paper-and-pencil examination in which answers are filled in by hand. Each section of the exam contains a variety of exercises and question types.

IELTS Test fee is being revised to INR 14,000 for registrations from 1st-April-2020.

IELTS Listening Section
The IELTS listening section, which is the same for the academic and general training tests, includes four sections of 10 questions each. Total section timing is 30 minutes, and students are allowed an additional 10 minutes to fill out their answer sheets. Each set of questions is based on a recorded listening passage that will be played only once. Each listening passage is unique in terms of the topic and number of speakers. The first two passages are on topics of general interest, with one conversation and one monologue. The second pair of passages concern academic subjects, also with a conversation (such as a student discussion) and a monologue (such as a lecture). Test-takers should expect several types of questions, including chart completion, multiple choice, short-answer, sentence completion, labelling of a diagram, classification, and matching.

IELTS Speaking Section
The IELTS speaking section is also the same for academic and general training. On this portion of the IELTS, test-takers will be subjected to a live interview, which will be recorded for later assessment. The speaking paper has a three-part structure that lasts for a total of 11-14 minutes. In part 1 (4-5 minutes), students answer questions on topics with which they are familiar, such as current events, hobbies, or preferences. During part 2 (3-4 minutes), students must discuss a topic covered in a provided booklet, and they are given approximately one minute to prepare their discussion. In part 3 (4-5 minutes), the test-taker answers more in-depth questions on the topic discussed in part 2.

IELTS Reading Section
The IELTS academic and general training tests each have their own reading papers. The main difference between the two is the subject of the reading passages. The academic reading paper features three academic texts, while the general training reading section includes 5-6 texts, most of which are shorter and intended for wider readerships. The timing (one hour), number of sections (three), and number of questions (40) are the same on both versions, but there are slight discrepancies of structure. Each section of the academic test will have between 12 and 14 questions, but the sections of the general training test have exact sets of questions (14 for part 1 and 13 each for parts 2 and 3). The academic reading paper has 11 different types of exercises, while the general training test has 12. Test-takers are not given additional time to transfer their answers to the answer sheets on this section of the IELTS.

IELTS Writing Section
The IELTS writing paper is also unique to one version of the test or the other, although they have a great deal in common. On both versions, students are given one hour to complete two separately timed writing tasks. The first writing task (20 minutes) is worth half as much as the second (40 minutes), and all essays are evaluated according to similar assessment criteria. On both exams, the longer exercise is a “discursive essay” in which students must be able to argue a certain position or present a solution to a given problem. The general training short essay is a letter written in reaction to a given situation, while the academic short essay is a written description of a chart or graph. The recommended length for short essays is 150 words, and 250 words is the suggested length for long essays.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) generally has two formats- IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training. You can opt for either one of them depending upon your requirement or the university/ course you will be applying to. Candidates should be well informed that both the versions of the IELTS test are instrumental in providing a valid and accurate assessment of a candidates’ listening, reading, writing and speaking language skills.

Types of IELTS
As mentioned earlier, the IELTS exam is of two types:

IELTS Academic
IELTS Academic is for candidates who are interested in applying for higher education or professional registration to countries that use English as their fundamental language of communication. The main purpose of the examination is to judge whether a candidate is ready to begin studying or training in the English language. Countries that widely recognize IELTS for studying are US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

IELTS General Training
IELTS General Training is for aspirants who are looking to migrate to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, US, and the UK or applying for secondary education, training programs and work experience in an English-speaking environment. Here the examination focusses on the basic survival skills of a candidate in a broad social and workplace environment.

ListeningIt encompasses four recorded monologues and conversations4
30 minutes
ReadingThree long reading passages with tasks. Texts range from descriptive and factual to discursive, and analytical includes non-verbal material like diagrams, graphs, and illustrations texts are authentic.40
60 minutes
WritingA writing task of at least 150 words where the candidate must summarize, describe or explain table, graph, chart or diagram, and another short essay task of at least 250 words2
60 minutes
SpeakingThe face-to-face interview includes short questions, speaking at length about a familiar topic and a structured discussion3
11 to 14 minutes

IELTS Scoring Classification
IELTS has published descriptions of the skill levels associated with each full-point band score. The lowest band score of 0 is given to students who “did not attempt the test” and “did not answer any questions.” Test-takers who receive band scores of 1 are considered “non-users” who have “no ability to use the language.” A band score of 2 is associated with “intermittent” usership by students who have “great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.” Band 3 students, or “extremely limited” users, are capable of “convey[ing] and understand[ing] only general meaning in very familiar situations.” Band 4 (“limited” users) possess “basic competence” in “familiar situations,” but with “frequent problems in understanding and expression.” “Partial command of the language,” the ability to “cope with overall meaning in most situations,” and “basic communication in [one’s] own field,” but with “many mistakes,” is the description of band 5 scores, or “modest” usership. A band 6 user is regarded as “competent,” with “effective command of language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings.” Band 7, or “good” users, also show “effective command,” but with only “occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings in some situations.” Band 8 (“very good”) users have “fully operational command” with only “occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage.” Band 9 (“expert”) is characterized by “full operational command” and “complete understanding” of written and spoken English.

Examples of IELTS Score Requirements for Undergraduate and Graduate Study
Although many universities have a single IELTS requirement for all undergraduates, some universities establish IELTS score requirements for undergraduates within the institution’s constituent colleges. At the University of Missouri, the minimum standard is either 6.5 or 7.0, with sectional requirements between 6.0 and 6.5 each.

What is IELTS Cancellation Fees?
·        If you cancel your IELTS application more than five weeks before the test date, you will receive the refund minus 25% administrative fee.

·        If you cancel the IELTS exam less than five weeks ahead of the test date, you will receive no refund.

·        In case you fail to appear for the test, then also you will not receive any refund. This is also considered as a cancelation.

Those who can produce a medical certificate within 5 days of the test date can receive the refund after deducting the local administrative cost.

What is IELTS Rescheduling Fees?
If you want to change your test date, then you can request for a test day transfer at least five weeks before your already booked test date after deducting your cancellation/postponement fee. Also, make sure the new test date must be within three months of the original test date. Candidates need to pay an administrative charge of INR 3,300 inclusive of all taxes for transfer of test date.

What is TOEFL?

f you are a international student looking to study in a university in an English speaking country, then you may need to take a TOEFL test. TOEFL is an acronym of the Test of English as a Foreign Language, which is the official name for the test. It assesses your ability to both speak and understand English by analyzing your English ability in terms of reading, speaking, listening and writing. These are all skills which will be needed to carry out your academic studies and the test is used by institutions to ensure students are able to proceed and succeed on their chosen course in a country where the curriculum is taught in English.

The TOEFL test is usually conducted in the form of an online test, but if the test centre does not have an internet connection then a paper-based test can be offered.

Who needs to take a TOEFL test?
The TOEFL test has been taken by over 27 million people worldwide to ensure their English ability is adequate. The test is often taken by students who are planning to study at a university abroad and scholarship candidates, along with students and workers who are applying for visas and English-language learners tracking their English progress. Keep an eye out on the requirements for university courses, as it will be stated there whether you are required to take the TOEFL and the minimum grade required to apply for the course.

Why take a TOEFL test?
Educational institutions and governmental agencies in over 130 countries accept TOEFL scores when considering applications for certain positions or courses. As an admission requirement, you may find that some courses require a minimum TOEFL score which will allow you to proceed onto the course alongside the regular course requirements. Minimum score requirements can range between 61 and 100 depending on the institution and course.

The result you receive in your TOEFL test will only be valid for two years, after those two years they are no longer recorded, so if you’re looking to apply to study abroad after this time, you will have to sit the test again. It is important to ensure you take the test in time for your application if the result is part of the requirements; if you are only studying a course which lasts a year the same TOEFL results could be used to improve your opportunities for work in a foreign country also.

If it is part of the requirements for your admission then it is important to research in more depth and be prepared for the different elements of the test. Here are the different elements of each test:

Internet test (TOEFL iBT)
– A reading section of between 60-100 minutes which involves reading 3-5 passages, containing 12-14 question in each
– A listening section of between 60-90 minutes which involves 6-9 passages, containing 5-6 questions in each
– A speaking section which lasts 20 minutes and involves 6 spoken tasks
– A writing section which last 50 minutes and involves 2 tasks which need completion

Paper-based test (TOEFL PBT)
– A listening section of between 30-40 minutes consisting of 3 parts
– A structure and written expression section lasting 25 minutes which includes 15 exercises of sentence completion and 25 examples for error identification
– A reading section which lasts 50 minutes and includes answering 50 questions about passages
– A writing section which lasts 30 minutes, which involves one written essay containing around 250-300 words

The main difference between the two formats is the spoken section of the test which is replaced by structure and written expressions section in the paper-based test.

The cost of doing the TOEFL test varies between different countries, ranging from US$160 to US$250. It is important to see this as an investment rather than a cost, because if you achieve a score which helps you progress on to your course and you graduate it will improve your future job prospects.

Where can I take a TOEFL test?
There are many tests throughout the year across the world which you could possibly take. There are 4,500 TOEFL test centres in 165 countries, meaning there’s going to be a centre which is easily accessible to you. You can find your nearest test centre on the official TOEFL website, which contains the locations of test centres and which format they conduct the test in.

It is important to check the admission requirements for your chosen university or institution to see if TOEFL results are required for entry prior to applying. If so then the next step is ensuring that you find a test centre to carry out your test at. Once you have your TOEFL results, remember that a record of them only lasts for 2 years, so make the most of the hard work and money you put into it and improve your future prospects.

What are the Eligibility criteria for the TOEFL Exam?
Students wanting to study abroad are required to appear for the TOEFL exam. However, there are certain eligibility guidelines that students have to qualify before applying for the exam.

Age Criteria 
ETS – the conducting body of TOEFL has not specified any age limit required to appear for the TOEFL test.

Educational Eligibility
Students who have successfully passed out high school or equivalent are eligible to appear for the exam.

Special RequestsCharges
TOEFL Registration Fee$180
TOEFL Late Registration Fee$40
TOEFL Rescheduling Fees$60
Reinstatement of canceled TOEFL scores$20
Additional TOEFL score reports (per institution or agency)$20 each
Speaking or Writing Section score review$80
Speaking and Writing Section score review$160

TOEFL Exam Pattern
TOEFL exam pattern is as follows – four sections, namely, Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing – along with the total score. It goes without saying that the more you practice TOEFL sample papers, the better your scores will be. The total score is the sum of the scores of the four skill areas. Scores will be posted online 10 days after the test date. ETS will send up to four official score reports directly to the institutions the student selects. Here we cover the TOEFL iBT test pattern.

TOEFL Syllabus
The TOEFL iBT syllabus for students includes reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Here is the TOEFL exam format covering TOEFL writing syllabus, TOEFL reading syllabus, TOEFL listening syllabus, and TOEFL speaking syllabus:

TOEFL Reading Syllabus
In this section, you will read 3-4 passages and answer 10 questions on each passage. The section is scored based on the number of correct reading comprehension responses.
Question type: 3–4 passages, 10 questions each
Total no. of questions: About 40
Total time: 64-72 minutes

TOEFL Listening Syllabus
In the Listening test section, you will hear short conversations as well as long conversations. After the short conversation, you will be asked one question and multiple choices of answers will be given. You have to choose one answer. In long conversations, you will be asked multiple questions based on the conversation.
Question type: a) 3–4 lectures (3-5 minutes long, about 500-800 words), 6 questions each
b) 2–3 conversations (about 3 minutes long, about 12-25 exchanges), 5 questions each
Total time: 41–57 minutes

TOEFL Speaking Syllabus
For you to earn the highest scores in the Speaking Section, your responses must fulfill the demands of the task given with only minor mistakes or lapses. The test graders are looking for a highly intelligible and sustained conversation. There are three main factors that comprise scoring for the section.
Question type:
a) 1 independent task (prep time: 15 sec; response time: 45 sec)
b) 3 integrated tasks – Read/Listen/Speak (prep time: 30 sec; response time: 60 sec)
Total no. of questions: 4
Total time: 17 minutes

TOEFL Writing Syllabus
The essay should effectively address a topic. The response should be well-organized and well-developed using relevant explanations and detailed support. Furthermore, it should also display unity, progression, and coherence. If you want to achieve a high writing score, make sure that you demonstrate the syntactic variety and appropriate word choice with minor grammatical errors.
Question type:
a) 1 integrated task – Read/Listen/Write (20 minutes) (reading time: 3 min; listening
time: 2 min; writing: 15 min)
b) 1 independent task (30 minutes)
Total no. of questions: 2
Total time: 50 minutes





Students or professionals who plan for GRE, usually fall into the dilemma about What is GRE or how should they give a head start. The answer to what is GRE is explained below in detail.GRE General Test or Graduate Record Examination General Test is a standardized test that lets you showcase your ability to graduate schools. Many international universities including most in the US and Canada use GRE scores as a measure of a candidate’s potential.

GRE online test is conducted on almost all working days in a year, providing you flexibility with planning your GRE prep. You can attempt the GRE entrance test as many times as you like. With Score-select option, you can decide which GRE score should be shared with the graduate school of your choice.

Here’s a look at content covered in the three test sections — Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing.

Verbal Reasoning
The Verbal Reasoning section measures your ability to:

  • Analyse and draw conclusions from discourse; reason from incomplete data; identify author’s assumptions and/or perspective; understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author’s intent
  • select important points; distinguish major from minor or irrelevant points; summarize text; understand the structure of a text
  • understand the meanings of words, sentences and entire texts; understand relationships among words and among concepts

Get a quick view of the Verbal Reasoning question types.

Take a closer look at the Verbal Reasoning section, including sample questions with explanations, tips and more.

Quantitative Reasoning
The Quantitative Reasoning section measures your ability to:

  • understand, interpret and analyze quantitative information
  • solve problems using mathematical models
  • apply basic skills and elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis

The Quantitative Reasoning section includes an on-screen calculator. If you are taking the paper-delivered test, a calculator will be provided at the test center.

Get a quick view of the Quantitative Reasoning question types.

Take a closer look at the Quantitative Reasoning section, including sample questions with explanations, tips and more.

Analytical Writing
The Analytical Writing section measures your ability to:

  • articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
  • support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
  • examine claims and accompanying evidence
  • sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
  • control the elements of standard written English

The Analytical Writing section requires you to provide focused responses based on the tasks presented, so you can accurately demonstrate your skill in directly responding to a task.

The test you take may include questions that are modified versions of published questions or of questions you have already seen on the test. Some modifications are substantial; others are less apparent.

Even if a question appears to be similar to a question you have already seen, it may in fact be different and have a different answer. Pay careful attention to the wording of each question.

The GMAT or Graduate Management Admission Test is an important part of the business school application process. The GMAT is a multiple-choice, computer-based and computer-adaptive standardized exam that is often required for admission to graduate business programs (MBA) globally.

The GMAT is developed and administered by testmaker GMAC to provide business schools with common measures of applicants’ preparedness for graduate-level academic work. Business school admission committees look at your GMAT score, along with work experience, academic record, and supporting materials, to assess your readiness for the rigors of an MBA program.

What’s the takeaway? A high score on the GMAT will have a direct, positive impact on your business school application.

GMAT Exam Structure
The GMAT™ Exam Has Four Sections:
Analytical Writing Assessment—measures your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas
Integrated Reasoning—measures your ability to analyze data and evaluate information presented in multiple formats
Quantitative Reasoning—measures your ability to analyze data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills
Verbal Reasoning—measures your ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments and to correct written material to conform to standard written English
In total the test takes just under 3 1/2  hours to complete, including two optional breaks.

Structure of the GMAT Exam
The GMAT Exam has four separately timed sections. You will have the opportunity to take two optional eight-minute breaks during the exam.

Test SectionTime Limit / Number of QuestionsQuestion TypesScore Range
Analytical Writing Assessment30 minutesAnalysis of an Argument0-6
1 question(in 0.5-point increments)
Integrated Reasoning30 minutesGraphics Interpretation, Table Analysis, Multi-source Reasoning, Two-part Analysis 
12 questions(in 1-point increments)
Quantitative Reasoning62 minutesData Sufficiency, Problem Solving 
31 questions(in 1-point increments)
Verbal Reasoning65 minutesReading Comprehension, Critical Reasoning, Sentence Correction 
36 questions(in 1-point increments)

Control Your Test Taking Experience
When you arrive at your test center, you have the flexibility to choose from three options for your exam’s section order:

Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal
Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

General exams

  • GMAT – The Graduate Management Aptitude Test is used to measure the abilities of the potential MBA aspirant to undertake higher education in the field of business or management. It measures mathematical, English, and reasoning skills of the student.
  • GRE – The Graduate Record Examination is another test required to be taken by students applying to graduate schools to pursue MA or MS. Increasingly, many business schools are also accepting GRE scores for the purpose to granting admission for MBA.
  • LSAT – The Law School Admission Test is a standardized test and is an integral part of the law school admission process. It provides a measure of reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use in assessing applicants.
  • SAT – The Scholastic Assessment Test measures literacy and writing skills that are needed for academic success in college. This test assesses how well the test takers analyse and solve problems-skills they learned in school that they will need in college. SAT is typically taken by high school students to get into undergraduate courses.

 The university you will be applying to will mention which exam results will be applicable to the course of your choice. But if they give a choice to go for either of these, then the choice depends on you.

Repetition and Fee: You can give GMAT an unlimited number of times, subject to five times a year and a gap of 30 days between two tests. You can take these tests with a gap of 30 days from the first time. The cost of GMAT is Rs 16,000, GRE is Rs 12,000 and LSAT is Rs 3,800 approximately.
Ideally, if you are aiming at the September intake you should appear for these exams by November so that you can apply before the 1st deadline. The preparatory duration generally ranges from 4 to 6 months.

  • Average Scores: The average GMAT score accepted across universities is 540. The average GRE score is 151 for Verbal, 146 for Quantitative and 3.5 for Writing. Average LSAT score accepted across universities is 162.
  • It is important to note that these numbers are just for reference purpose, the actual scores may differ from university to university.


What to Keep in Mind
Ready to take the plunge? Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Preparing for a language exam is a great way to round out your skills, as they test your knowledge of more formal/academic vocabulary. You’ll generally be tested across four competences — reading, writing, listening, and speaking — which means you’ll need to feel comfortable in all four areas.
  • A private tutor or language academy can help you if you’re not sure which level to sit.
  • Even if you’re very fluent, don’t overestimate your abilities. Exams require extensive study, so if you want a good return on investment (they are pricey!), be prepared to put in some serious studying.

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and show what you know — or get started learning a new language so you can pass one of these tests in the future.

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