THIS WEEK – Should I do Cambridge or IELTS?
In the past, my higher level students have often asked me about studying on an exam course. They (rightly) think it would be a good idea for them to gain an English qualification but don’t know which exam would be most suitable for them.
Here, I will try to make the answer simple by asking you three questions.
1. What is your English level?
Basically the Cambridge First Certificate is an Upper Intermediate examination and the Cambridge Advanced Certificate is, you guessed it, Advanced. These courses and tests are written for students specifically at that particular level of English. A student needs to get 60% or above to pass, 75% or above for a B and 80% or above for an A.
IELTS is a bit different. There is no pass and fail rate and the material is not adapted for a particular level. The test is designed to find out a candidate’s English ability. Scoring is out of 9 and a score of 4-5 indicates roughly an Intermediate level while a score of 6.5 – 7.5 is Advanced.
2. What do you want the qualification for?
The majority of students who take the IELTS exam, do it because they have to. For example, if you want to study at a university or TAFE in Australia, the UK and various other countries around the world, you may be asked for an IELTS score. Also, if you are applying for a visa to immigrate to Australia and the UK you may be required to prove your level of English by taking an IELTS test.
In contrast, many people take the Cambridge exams for their own satisfaction, for the beneficial effects of taking an exam course or to be able to list their qualification on their resume. Many international businesses recognise the Cambridge courses as a great preparation for working with native speakers and the Cambridge exams have the benefit of being valid for life. Your IELTS score, on the other hand, can only be used for official purposes if less than two years old.
3. What kind of English do you want to learn?
This is probably the most important consideration. There are two different IELTS tests but most schools focus on the Academic one that students need for further study. This test involves skills such as listening to lectures, describing graphs and tables and reading academic articles from books and journals. It’s a very useful course for giving students the vocabulary and reading/writing skills they need for study, particularly at a university in an English speaking country.
On the other hand the Cambridge exam courses are more focused on everyday English; the English that people use in everyday conversations, in magazines, newspapers and films and in the workplace. It’s a great course for improving your accuracy, increasing your knowledge of phrasal verbs and idioms and learning how to write for different purposes and genres.
So to summarise this week’s Tip – My recommendation is to choose IELTS if you plan to study in English or if you have been told you need to provide an IELTS score but to choose Cambridge if you want to do a qualification that will help you focus on accuracy and equip you better for work, travel and conversing with native speakers.