Sprachinstitut Berlin

29 Jun 2017

Which English test is the best for you – Cambridge Certificate, TOEIC, TOEFL or IELTS?

Cambridge Certificate, IELTS, TOEFL, and TOEIC – Whenever you intend to study or work in an English-speaking country, you have to prove your language skills with one of the many English language tests.  But what are they used for and what do they test? In the following, you can find an overview of the Cambridge Certificate, the IELTS, the TOEFL, and the TOEIC guiding you to your best option. Find out which test is the right one for you and what the differences are.

But first, what do I need an English Certificate for?

  • Job application
  • University application
  • Visa application for a permanent stay

Ask yourself this question, as it is crucial in your decision making process.

General Information

All tests are structured to prove the English knowledge of non-native speakers. They vary in purpose, content, length and structure. The TOEFL and TOEIC only test American English (AE), while the other tests also focus on British English (BE) and other accents, such as from speakers from Australia or even India. Still, all of them have a worldwide reputation and can be used all over the globe.

Some institutions or organizations ask for a specific test. Thus, before registering for one of the language tests, it is important to check first with the company or university that requires the English test certificate, which test is accepted.

World English

by Cambridge University 

American English

by ETS 

Academic purpose

 IELTS (academic)

Cambridge (KET/ PET/ CAE/ CPE)* 



Professional purpose

 IELTS (general)

Cambridge (BEC/ ILEC/ ICFE/ BULATS)*



* Find a list of the Cambridge Certificates in the table below

As you can see in the table above, tests are held by either the Cambridge University or the Educational Testing Services (ETS). Despite this, the content of the tests differs dramatically.

What is also important to know is that only the Cambridge Certificates are valid for your entire life, while the validation of the IELTS, the TOEFL, and the TOEIC expires after two years. If you want to use the certificate in the future, then the Cambridge Certificate might be more useful for you.

Purpose and language level

There are various tests with different purposes: General English tests, English tests for professional purposes, tests for academic purposes, English for kids, or English for teaching qualifications.

Purpose of the TOEIC, TOEFL and IELTS

While the TOEFL is mainly used for academic purposes and the TOEIC for professional purposes, the IELTS offers tests for both options. All three tests are not divided according to the language level. This means that depending on the end score of your test, you will be assigned to a language level. This has the advantage that you cannot ‘fail’ the exam, but will simply receive a result that can be assigned to a language level. On the downside though, the reading and listening exercises in these tests can be quite challenging and therefore be demotivating for an A2 student.

In general, one can say that all three tests (TOEFL, TOEIC and IELTS) are aimed at students in a B2 level or higher. Usually institutions give you a minimum score which they accept for each test. It is best to inform yourself before you take the test, which score you have to achieve.

Options of the Cambridge Certificates

However, none of the tests cover as many functions as the Cambridge Certificates. There are several tests for different functions, such as general, professional or academic, as well as others including English for kids and for teaching qualifications. The Cambridge Certificate is the only certificate which is divided into different tests according to purpose and language level. This basically means, there is one test for everyone, doesn’t it? In theory, yes, it does. However, the academic institution or company which asks for a language confirmation decides which test is accepted. Thus, don’t forget to inform yourself about this beforehand.

Due to the fact, that many academic institutions require the CAE, we will focus on this test by the Cambridge University in this blog.

The table below indicates the different language tests and what they are used for:

Academic Purposes

Professional Purposes

Cambridge Certificates

  • Key English Test (KET) – A2 level
  • Preliminary English Test (PET) – B1 level
  • First Certificate in English (FCE) – B2 level
  • Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) – C1 level
  • Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency (CPE) – C2 level
  • Business English Certificate Preliminary – B1 level
  • Business English Certificate Vantage – B2 level
  • Business English Certificate Higher – C1 level
  • International Legal English Certificate (ILEC) – B2/C1 level
  • International Certificate in Financial English (ICFE) – B2/C1 level
  • Business Language Testing Service (BULATS) – all levels


Academic Training

  • Universities in an English-speaking country
  • University of Applied Sciences in Germany
General Training

  • Prove general English knowledge
  • Professional purposes
  • Immigration purposes


  • International universities


  • Work abroad
  • International companies and organizations

Content of the tests

While the TOEIC only consists of two parts, Listening and Reading, the other tests all consist of four parts: Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing. The Cambridge Certificates do also cover a fifth part “Use of English” which will consist mostly of grammatical questions. Although the skills tested seem very similar, there are great differences in the testing methods.

The duration of the tests vary greatly, check out our overview table to find out the differences. Even though the tests vary greatly in duration, one similarity has to be noticed: you will be under great time pressure in all tests.


The reading parts test your ability to analyze different types of texts. Mostly, participants receive several texts and have to answer different question types to each passage, such as multiple choice questions, matching headings, sentence ending or short-answer questions.


During the listening parts, you usually hear one or more audio pieces, such as an interview or presentation, before answering a number of questions to these audio parts. This is how your ability to understand spoken pieces is tested. Depending on whether you choose a test from ETS or Cambridge University, you will hear different accents in the listening activities.


The writing part usually consists of two writing tasks. You may be asked to describe information, such as a graph or a table, or to respond to a situation, an argument or a problem. Other topics may be stating an opinion or writing an email.

The TOEFL has a small variation in theirintegrated writing part. You will have to write an essay with your opinion on a topic as a response to something you have heard or read before.

Keep in mind that ETS offers only computer-based testing in Germany. This means that TOEFL and TOEIC are both conducted on a computer and your typing skills will therefore make a difference in how quickly you can write your essay.


The speaking part is where the language tests differ the most. While the Cambridge Certificates and the IELTS test the communication skills in person, the TOEFL and TOEIC use a microphone and record the answers of participants. This shows, that ETS in general has a more computer based approach to testing, while the Cambridge University also offers paper-based testing.

The Cambridge Certificates test one’s face-to-face communication by asking participants to talk in pairs, as well as with one of the two examiners and on their own. During the IELTS, participants have to take a speaking exercise with just one examiner.

In the speaking exercise of the TOEFL, one is asked to react on independent speaking tasks, thus responding on a familiar topic. The other part of the speaking test is an integrated task where one first has to read or listen to something before answering questions related to this. Last, the TOEIC asks you to answer a number of tasks, such as stating someone’s opinion.

All in all, the way of assessing your language level is quite similar in all tests, except for the speaking part. You might find talking to a computer more stressful and feel like doing an oral exam with an actual person is easier. If this is the case, you can benefit from the Cambridge test and IELTS which offer direct interaction with an examiner.. However, one should know that a real communication might be either more or less difficult depending on the conversation partner.

Which English exam should you take?

As to be seen, there are various factors one needs to consider before taking a language exam. Most of the times, a certain test is required by the university or institution one wants to apply to.

If you can decide on a test, first check which purposes they are made for and for what you need the test. For immigration to Great Britain, the IELTS is the best option for you. On the other hand, if you plan to work abroad, the TOEIC is a good option, as well as one of the Cambridge Certificates related to business. As the TOEFL has been developed by an American institution, this test is mostly required by universities in the United States or Canada, while the Cambridge Certificates, as well as the IELTS are more relevant for studying in Great Britain.

As some tests are made for the same purposes you may be so lucky as to be able to choose a language test.. Many students that wish to study in an English speaking country usually have the choice between IELTS or TOEFL. If you feel that doing an oral exam with a person might be better for you, then you can for example choose the test regarding this factor.

All in all, there are many factors that influence your opinion on which language exam is most suitable for you and this guideline might help you making your final decision or finding the information you were looking for.

However, we cannot say that one of the tests, may it be a Cambridge Certificate, the TOEIC, the IELTS or TOEFL, is easier than the other tests. This depends completely on the person taking the test and their strengths and skills.

Test registration

After having decided for a test you will need to register. Follow these links depending on which test you wish to register for:

Last, we hope that this overview will help you and make your decision for an English test easier.

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