Are you struggling to decide which English language exam to take? You’re not alone: with so many different options on the table, it’s a difficult decision to make – especially when you need to choose the right exam for your studies, work, or visa applications.

This guide to English language exams will introduce you to all of the main options and will offer you some useful links to their websites and resources.

Read on to find out more about the following exams:

  • Cambridge English Qualifications
  • Trinity ISE and GESE
  • Oxford Test of English

Cambridge English Qualifications

Who are these exams for?

If you want to improve your general English skills or need a certificate for your work or place of study, the Cambridge English Qualifications are a great place to start. There are five different exams aimed at teenage and adult learners of almost every level, ranging from A2 Key to C2 Proficiency on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) scale.

The lower level A2 Key and B1 Preliminary tests are designed for students who would like to improve their practical use of English. These also act as a useful stepping-stone for future exams, such as the B2 First or C1 Advanced, which are widely accepted by international universities for undergraduate or Master’s degrees.

Cambridge English also offer exams for school aged learners from Pre-A1 Starters up to B2 First level.

What do they test?

The Cambridge English Qualifications are designed to be both enjoyable and rewarding, focusing on real-life use of English.

The format of the exams varies across the levels, but all are divided up to test each of the four skills; reading, writing, listening, and speaking. There is also a Use of English section once you reach B2 First level, which tests your grammatical and vocabulary understanding.

For more information you can have a look at the Cambridge English website, our Cambridge Exam courses page and our Summer Cambridge Exam preparation page for details about our upcoming preparation courses.



Who is this exam for?

If you’re moving to an English speaking country or an English-medium educational institute, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam is perfect for you. Depending on your reason for doing the test, there are two options available to you:


IELTS exams can be taken by everyone, regardless of their level. The test contains questions that range from beginner to expert level, which means everyone (from A1 beginners to C2 proficiency speakers) takes the same test.

Read Maria’s story and how IELTS took her all the way to Australia!

What does it test?

Regardless of whether you take IELTS Academic or IELTS General Training, each student is tested on all of the four skills. After taking the exam you are then given an overall grade from band 1 (lowest level) to band 9 (highest level).

The differences between the exams can be found with the Reading and Writing sections. The Academic exam focuses on language and topics which will be appropriate for students going to university, such as writing about a chart or diagram. However, the General Training exam focuses on day-to-day use of English, like writing an informal letter.

To explore more about the exam content, and see if it is right for you, check out the Sample Test questions here. In addition, information about our IELTS preparation courses and IELTS summer preparation courses can be found on our website.

If you’re still not sure about whether the Cambridge exams or IELTS are best for you, read our blog: Cambridge English Exams or IELTS, what’s the difference?.

You might also enjoy our post: IELTS: Your ticket to the world.

Which English exam is right for me? | IELTS | Oxford House Barcelona

Trinity ISE and GESE

Who are these exams for?

The Trinity Integrated Skills in English (ISE) exam is for young people and adults typically in education, and divided into five separate levels, from A2 Foundation to ISE IV (C2).

In comparison, the Trinity Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) is made to complement your general English courses and develop your speaking proficiency which you might need for travel, work, or visa purposes. There are 12 levels available, from Initial Grades 1-3 to Advanced Grades 10-12.

What do they test?

The Trinity ISE is divided up into two papers to integrate the four skills – Reading and Writing together and then Speaking and Listening combined.

The nature of integrating these skills together helps to build your transferable language abilities – and you’re even allowed to prepare the speaking exam in advance, on a topic of your own choice.

With a more specific focus on you speaking and listening skills alone, the Trinity GESE contains an unscripted conversation with the examiner. This takes between five and 25 minutes in total, depending on your language level, and tests both your accuracy and fluency through a conversation, and two different tasks.

The Trinity College website can give you a lot more information about these two exams. We can also help you prepare for them through our Trinity preparation courses.



Who is this exam for?

More than 35 million people worldwide have taken the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to prove their English level before they move abroad for work or study (usually in North America). The qualification is accepted by more than 10,000 universities and institutions in over 150 different countries.

What does it test?

As with other thorough English exams made for this purpose, TOEFL tests all four of the main language skills and gives you an overall score out of a maximum of 120 at the end.

TOEFL is done 100% online in specific test centres, which means that your speaking tests are recorded and sent off to be marked by their specialist team. In comparison, the Cambridge English and IELTS exams have examiners doing the speaking tests in person.

Take a look at the TOEFL website for some free sample resources and more information about the exam, along with where your local test centre is.

Which English exam is right for me? | Pass your exams at Oxford House Barcelona

Oxford Test of English

Who is this exam for?

The Oxford Test of English is designed to be cost-effective, flexible, and completed in around two hours. It is aimed at students who want to improve their job prospects internationally, or study in an English-medium education setting. It is for those who have CEFR levels of either A2, B1, or B2.

What does it test?

It focuses on all of the four skills and includes tasks such as leaving voicemail messages in the speaking exam and writing a response to an email.

In addition, the reading and listening papers use special computer software which adapts the test in real time, meaning that it selects the difficulty of the questions based on how good your previous responses are, ensuring the overall level of the test is right for you.

To take an online demo of the test, or for more information about where it is available, take a look at the Test Takers section of the Oxford English website.


Oxford House offers year-round intensive and extensive courses to help prepare you for your upcoming language exams. Check out this post we wrote to find more information about which of our courses best suites you, or see our English for Adults section of our homepage.

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

On the table (adj): on offer, available.

Stepping-stone (n): a part of a process which leads to the next phase of your objective.

English-medium (adj): a school or university where the language of instruction is English.

Thorough (adj): very complete, with lots of detail and not missing anything out.

In person (exp): an action done which physically involves you and other people, not just online.

Voicemail (n): a voice message you send to someone on your phone, for them to listen to later.

Real-time (n): something which happens at the same time, not delayed or later.


adj = adjective

n = noun

exp = expression

Pass your Cambridge Exam with Oxford House Barcelona

Interested in taking a Cambridge preparation course at Oxford House Barcelona? Check the different Summer Cambridge courses we can offer you. Or what about going for the IELTS instead?

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