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What is the difference between various international English exams?

How can I practise and prepare for an international English examination?

First you must decide which examination is most appropriate for your present or future needs.  

If you want to develop your general English skills overall then the Cambridge First Certificate Examination (FCE) or Cambridge Advanced/Proficiency Examinations (CAE/CPE) might be a good choice for you. 

You might want a qualification for studying in an English-medium college or university and so you could take the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) examination to show your abilities in dealing with Academic English.

Alternatively, you might want to focus on a particular professional examination related to your current or future job. If you are a law student or lawyer, you could take the TOLES examination (or the ILEC). If you are more interested in business areas, you could take a BEC (Business English Certificate) examination or perhaps the ICFE (International Certificate in Financial English) examination if you are working in finance.

What does the exam involve?

When you have decided on an examination, you should check your present language level with regard to the examination. You can ask your teacher for advice on your level, you can do a level test (paper-based or online) or you can try a past paper and see how you get on.

You should then find out exactly what the examination involves and what skills it tests. Is the focus on speaking and listening or also on reading and writing? How does the examination test grammar knowledge – implicitly or explicitly?  You should read a test handbook published by the relevant examination board to find out as much information as you can. You will find all the information you need on the website of the examination board.

What can I study on my own and when do I need a teacher?

It is important to decide which areas or skills you can practise on your own and which you might need to attend a class for help. There is a lot of self-study material available in the form of practice tests, past papers and supplementary practice exercises. You can buy a book or go online for this material.  However, you may want a teacher to help you with writing skills or examination strategies.  It is useful to attend an intensive English course for 4 - 8 weeks in an English speaking country before you take the exam.  You will gain from using English everyday and become comfortable in using the language in the run up to the exam.  You should try to stay in homestay accommodation so you can practise English as much as possible outside the classroom.

Set aside time for study

Finally, you should set time aside regularly as examination study time and of course you should be realistic about how much time you need to practise and prepare for an examination.  Taking an examination is usually very hard work, but always worth the effort.  You need to be disaplined with your study plan.  Good Luck!

Exam preparation courses

ECS Scotland holds intensive Examination Preparation courses throughout the year. The 4 or 8 week block courses are held on suitable dates for the relevant exam throughout the year.  There is a maximum of 5 students per group for all Exam Preparation courses.

For information about our Cambridge Exam Preparation courses, please see here.

For information about our IELTS Exam Preparation courses, please see here.

Small group exam preparation class. Prepare for your FCE / CAE / IELTS exam in a small group.

Improve your general English speaking and listening skills as well as specific vocabulary and structures for your exam.


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