Probably the most popular in this category are the Cambridge ESOL exams. One and a half million people in 135 countries take Cambridge exams every year. There are five General English exams, sometimes referred to as the “Cambridge Main Suite.”
The first two levels are the KET (Key English Test) and the PET (Preliminary English Test). The KET and PET have reading and writing, listening, and speaking components, and are most often used to assess progress or to prepare for the next exam in the series. The PET is also recognized by some employers and universities. KET and PET have two pass grades, Pass with merit and Pass.
Next up from the PET is the FCE (First Certificate in English). The FCE has five sections, reading, writing, use of English, listening and speaking. It is widely recognized by employers and educational institutions and so is very popular with students who want to study or work abroad.
Many universities and employers, however, prefer the CAE (Certificate in Advanced English), which is the next level up. This exam shows that a student is capable of following a university course or can function in a range of business contexts.
After the CAE comes the CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English), the highest level in the series. Students who pass this exam have the ability to function effectively in almost every English speaking context. The CPE is also a typical requirement for non-native speakers who want to train as English teachers. Students typically need 3 years of study after passing the FCE to reach this level (depending, of course, on how often they study and other factors).
FCE, CAE and CPE have five grades, A-E, of which A-C are passes.
Cambridge also has a series of General English exams for Young Learners aged between 7 and 12 (YLE). There are three exams in the series, Starters, Movers and Flyers. They are taken mainly as a means of measuring progress, and also as preparation for the KET and PET. There is no pass or fail – students are awarded up to five “shields” for each component (reading and writing, listening, speaking).
Other General English exams
Cambridge also offers CELS (Certificates in English Language Skills). These are individual exams in each of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking). Students can choose which of the exams they want to take, according to their strengths and requirements.
Pitman, part of the British City and Guilds Group, is another examining body with a series of General English exams. The International ESOL covers listening, reading and writing, and the International Spoken ESOL is a one to one structured interview. Both have six levels, from basic to advanced.
Every year four and a half million people take the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), run by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The TOEIC is a multiple choice exam in two sections, listening and reading, each scored out of 445, giving a total of 990. Many companies and government agencies use TOEIC as a criterion for recruiting or promoting staff, or for sending staff abroad. Some universities also use TOEIC, requiring their business school students to achieve a particular score prior to graduation, for example.
Cambridge also has a series of business exams called the BEC (Business English Certificate). BEC comes in three levels, Preliminary, Vantage and Higher. The types of exam task are similar to those in the Cambridge Main Suite, but test language ability in a business context. They are recognized by many employers worldwide, and students take them to demonstrate language skills required for international business. There are two pass grades for BEC, Pass with merit and Pass.
Other Business English exams
Cambridge offers BULATS (The Business Language Testing Service). BULATS is designed specifically for companies and organizations to test the language ability of employees who need English in their work, and for students and employees on language and business courses.
Pitman has a three-level series of exams called English for Business Communications, which tests business writing ability, and English for Office Skills, a two-level series designed to test the ability to carry out office-related tasks where accuracy in writing and following instructions is important.