TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC – the language test monsters measuring your English skills

These language test tongue-twisters may lurk in the dark for you until one day you get the opportunity or idea of studying in English. Most universities that offer teaching in English require you to take one of these tests in order to prove your proficiency in the language. You wish the acronyms would be the most complex part of them– but they are not. The tests vary in how they are composed and what they emphasise on, but also in their grading scale. And in Finland for example, you can only sit the IELTS in the capital city.


The Test Of English as Foreign Language is the most common requirement for entering American universities as a non-native English speaker, taken already by over 30 million people in the world. TOEFL is possible to take in two formats: paper (PBT) or internet (iBT). These two are executed in slightly different formats and also produce a different grade. The four sections (listening, reading, speaking, and writing) will take about 4,5 hours in total, and despite it being an internet based test, you need to take it in a test centre. [1] The paper version takes about the same amount of time but excludes the speaking section, focusing more heavily on writing performance. [2]The PBT is scored on a range between 310-677, writing given a separate grade and iBT out of 120.

The cost of the TOEFL is about $160 (145€).


The International English Language Testing System is the second most common language test required by higher education institutions. It consists of four units:

  1. Listening includes 4 sections, has 40 questions and you have 30 minutes time to tackle it.
  2. Speaking is measured in an interview which takes 15 minutes.
  3. The reading part is different for Academic or General Training; it consists of 3 sections having 40 questions. You have 60 minutes to finish this.
  4. Writing part is also different for Academic and General Training but it requires you to do 2 pieces of writing in 60 minutes (talk about tough).

You get scored on a scale from 1 to 9. Half points are possible, i.e. 6.5. All the units are taken into account when calculating your overall score, meaning the average of all components.[3]

The test is costly; hence you probably want to nail it on the first try. The price is over 200€ (£150-200, $ 200).

The Cambridge English Exam

Wait, no acronym? Oh there is. The Cambridge English Exam is a kind of mother of all language tests. The first CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) was sat by three candidates (all of whom failed [4]) already back in 1913. It was a test ‘for Foreign Students who desire a satisfactory proof of their knowledge of the language with a view on teaching it in foreign schools.’ So not that much has changed in the purpose of it – except that it’s not only required from teachers today and it does not cost £3 anymore.

From 1913 onward, the tests produced in the University of Cambridge Language Assessment have boomed. IELTS is one of the tests produced under this branch and CAE (Cambridge English: Advanced) is recognised by most higher education institutes and companies for the proof of excellent English proficiency. You get scored from 180 to 230 or from C1 to A.

The cost of CAE is around 150€ ($160).


The Test of English for International Communication is used primarily for businesses, yet it is a very common language test, taken by about 7 million people in the world, and also accepted by some universities. The test has two parts; reading and listening and speaking and writing. The reading and listening part is divided into two sections, in both of which you are required to answer 100 multiple choice questions. The total time this takes is about 2 and a half hours. The second part, speaking and writing, you’ll have a 20-minute speaking section with 11 questions, followed by writing answers for 8 questions, taking up to 60 minutes. Compared to IELTS,

TOEIC’s price is around $ 170 (145€) [5].

IELTS language test

Written by Suvi Loponen






3 thoughts on “TOEFL, IELTS, TOEIC – the language test monsters measuring your English skills

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