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IELTS, TOEFL and Cambridge English: similarities and differences

IELTS, TOEFL and Cambridge English: similarities and differences

Are you planning to move to another country? Are you eager to study at university abroad? Or are you just dreaming of making your career in international business? Whatever your goal is, obtaining an international certificate in English is a must. In countries where English is declared an official language, the most popular English tests are IELTS (International English Language Testing System), TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and Cambridge English: Key (KET), Preliminary (PET), First (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE).

Let us suppose that you firmly decided to go to study to the US. What`s next? Which exam should you pass to become a proud freshman (a student in their first year at university) of a prestigious American college? As a rule, TOEFL certification is in demand among educational institutes in North America. In Great Britain, however, you are likely to need IELTS and Cambridge English.  In fact, there are no specific rules here as every university has its own requirements. In order not to make a mistake, read application rules very carefully. Besides, start your preparation for the chosen exam as soon as possible, as you need to meet minimum requirements for eligibility.  

For those looking to pass an English exam for their future prospects or just dreaming of having a globally recognized certificate as an objective assessment of their knowledge, we prepared the following comparative table. It will help you become familiar with IELTS and Cambridge English test structure and format, and choose the right test for you.

So, let's compare:





Exams, Cambridge English: KET, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE

Test formats

Only paper-based

PBT (paper-based test) or  iBT (internet-based test), although TOEFL PBT is starting to vanish and is offered in locations where the TOEFL iBT is not available.

Paper-based or computer-based

Correspondence between test scores and CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)

Test takers get a score from 1 to 9 separately for each  test module and a total score as well:

1.0 – 3.5 = A1/2
4.0 – 5.0 = B1
5.5 – 6.5 = B2
7.0 – 8.0 = C1
8.5 – 9.0 = C2

The TOEFL iBT Test is scored on a scale from 0 to 120 points, where:

minimum 42 = В1

minimum 72 = В2

minimum 95 = С1

Every exam is aimed at specific level of CEFR: Key – A2, Preliminary – B1, First – B2, Advanced – C1, Proficiency – C2.

From 2015, Cambridge English Scale`s been being used – a scale from 82 to 230 points where:

100 – 119 = А1

120 – 139 = А2

140 – 159 = В1

160 – 179 = В2

180 – 199 = С1

200 – 230 = С2

Cambridge English Scale also shows where the exams overlap, for example, First (В2), overlaps with С1 and В1: a candidate who passed FCE will get a certificate at level B2 only if their total score goes from 160 – 179, and candidates who scored from 180 – 190 or 140 – 159 points at the same exam, will receive certificates at level C1 or B1 accordingly. The Certificates are not given to candidates who scored less than 139 points at the FCE exam.

Validity period

2 years

2 years


Test modules

Reading, Listening, Writing, Speaking;

Cambridge English exams at В2 and higher levels (First, Advanced and Proficiency) also include Use of English (Grammar and Vocabulary)

IELTS has 2 versions: IELTS Academic – for study, and IELTS General Training – for professional development, work, migration needs and so on.


You can read detailed description for each exam format at the official websites:



Cambridge English -

The main differences between the exam formats:

  • Listening: IELTS and TOEFL listening passages can be heard once, Cambridge English – 2 times;
  • Use of English – is placed only in Cambridge: First, Advanced, Proficiency;
  • Writing: in IELTS Academic Task, 1 test takers are asked to describe a diagram or another kind of visual information, in TOEFL, so-called “integrated tasks” can seem quite difficult. A test taker firstly needs to read information and listen to it, and then write a personal response. Cambridge English exams cover the full range of writing tasks: an essay, a letter, a proposal, a review, a report;
  • Speaking: the IELTS Speaking test is done face-to-face with a certified examiner, preparation time is given for one of the tasks; in TOEFL, all the answers are recorded by the candidate, there are integrated tasks too: reading, listening, then speaking, preparation time goes from 15 – 30 seconds; all Cambridge English exams are conducted face-to-face with 1-2 other candidates and 2 examiners, preparation time is not given.

Exam duration

2 hours 45 minutes

About 4 hours

From 2 – 4 hours depending on  exam


At the official websites, the sample tests are available and a list of recommended books is given as well. Publishing houses like Cambridge, Oxford, Pearson and others, offer a great number of preparation materials on these 3 exams.

Test fees in Moscow

15000 rubles


From 6350 (Key) to 11600 (Proficiency) rubles

Global recognition


No matter which English exam you choose, your success will only depend on your sense of purpose and industry. The sooner you start preparation, the higher chance you have to get a score you are shooting for.

Good luck!



Cambridge English exam certificates are documents showing that on a particular date a candidate demonstrated language skills at a specified level. Even though these certificates do not have an expiry date, some educational institutions and government bodies can choose only to accept certificates issued within the last 2 or 3 years. This is because language skills are known to diminish over time if not used and maintained. We strongly advise to speak to the institution you wish to apply to if you have any doubts about the validity of your certificate.

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