English language proficiency levels (CEFR) and certificates


If you choose an international study program in your country, and also when you apply for a study abroad program, you will most likely need a language certificate proving that you have sufficient knowledge of the language of study.

Since there are several types of certificates, let's briefly go over the main points of assessing language levels. Depending on the universities you choose, there may be different requirements regarding the language certificate.

Since it not only costs money but also time to prepare for the language exam, it is wise to choose a certificate that is widely recognized and fits your needs. Also make sure you start preparing and take your language test early enough to meet your deadlines. Preparing, taking the exam and receiving the results usually takes several weeks.

Levels of foreign language proficiency

The Common European Framework (CEFR) divides students into six different levels:

Table. 6 levels of English proficiency

A - Basic Ownership (Basic User):

A1 Survival Level - Beginner and Elementary
A2 Pre-threshold level (Waystage - Pre-Intermediate

B - Independent Ownership (Independent User);

B1 Threshold - Intermediate
B2 Threshold advanced level (Vantage - Upper-Intermediate)

C - Free possession (Proficient User);

C1 Level of professional knowledge (Effective Operational Proficiency - Advanced)
C2 The level of mastery in perfection (Mastery - Proficiency)

For each level, there is a description of what the student should be able to do and know in the four aspects of the language: reading, listening, speaking and writing . These descriptions apply to any language. Generally, the expected level for study programs in most countries of the world is B. However, some universities or programs (eg English Literature) may require a higher level. This can be useful if the university you are applying to does not have specific requirements for your certificate.

English is obviously the most popular language of instruction. Even in international programs at national universities, a certificate may be required to prove sufficient English language skills for courses taught in English. The certificates below are the most popular and used in the academic field.

1. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL is an English certificate that is intended for academic use and is widely used throughout the world. The only form of test currently offered is the Online Tests (iBT), which can be taken at numerous test centers around the world and take approximately 4 hours to complete. Test scores are calculated based on the results of the following four modules. Each part is scored up to 30 points, which is a maximum score of 120 points.

  • Reading
  • listening
  • Speaking
  • Letter

During the entire test, you simply interact with the computer. In the first two parts, you read and hear texts about various topics and then answer questions about the content. For the speaking part, your spoken response is recorded, sent to an assessment center and evaluated by 3-6 examiners. The written part is also evaluated according to this scheme.

The most common grade required by universities is 79-90 (B1/B2). Some universities also require minimum scores on some of the 4 parts of the test. At $240 (may differ depending on your country), TOEFL is in the same price range as other English language certificates. The certificate is valid for two years. Keep in mind that it takes several weeks after testing before you receive your results.

2. International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

IELTS offers academic versions of its tests. Like TOEFL, IELTS is widely recognized in all English-speaking countries and is also used for many English-language programs around the world. In addition, IELTS is also recognized as proof of language proficiency for work permits and for immigration. IELTS also tests four parts:

  • Listening (40 minutes)
  • reading (60 minutes)
  • Letter (60 minutes)
  • speaking (11-14 minutes)

This equates to a test time of approximately 3 hours. The tests can be taken at over 500 testing centers worldwide and, unlike the TOEFL, the speaking test is taken face-to-face with a certified examiner. The overall score for IELTS ranges from 1 to 9 points. The passing scores required for admission to English language programs are scores ranging from 5.5 to 6.5. IELTS currently costs 190 and is valid for two years. IELTS guarantees test scores within 13 days. The results can then be viewed online and sent from the national office on the same day.

3. Cambridge English Exams (Cambridge English Examinations - CAE)

The Cambridge English Assessment (formerly the Cambridge University ESOL Examinations) is a non-profit organization offering English language certificates for various language levels. The First Certificate in English (FCE) is at the same level as the overall scores for the TOEFL test (B1-B2) and is graded by AC upon passing. This compares to IELTS scores of 5.5-6.5. Certificate in Advanced English(CAE) is focused on a fairly high level of C1-C2 (IELTS 6.5-8.0), required by many British universities. The Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) is the most advanced C2 level exam, far exceeding the maximum TOEFL test score of 8 and above in IELTS. Unlike other certificates, the test consists of five parts:

  • Reading
  • Letter
  • Use of English (grammar, etc.)
  • listening
  • Speaking

Cambridge certificates are used mainly in the UK, but they are also accepted by many universities outside the UK. However, they are not as popular as the TOEFL and IELTS certificates. Unlike many other certificates, Cambridge certificates are perpetual.

4. Other certificates

Apart from the above mentioned, the following certificates are also quite popular. They are not intended for academic use, but may still be accepted by some universities. Business-related certificates such as BEC may even be required for some MBA programs.

  • Test of English for International Communication (est of English for International Communication - TOEIC)
  • Business English Certificate (BEC)