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CAE vs IELTS: How to choose the right exam for you

Deciding which English language exam is right for you can be a difficult process. While some may be better for academic purposes, others may have benefits when applying for jobs. In order to choose between Cambridge C1 Advanced (formerly and better known by CAE) and IELTS, it’s important to weigh up the key differences between the two exams. In this blog, we’ll compare the two exams in terms of structure, grading and more so you can make the right decision. 

Comparing CAE and IELTS 

1. Exam Length

The exams differ in length, which is an important factor to consider if you are someone who finds exams challenging. IELTS lasts for 2 hours 45 minutes, meanwhile, CAE is about 4 hours long.

2. Validity

IELTS is only valid for 2 years, whereas CAE doesn't have an expiration date. This may be important if you’re taking the exams with future career choices in mind. 

3. Exam structure

The Cambridge Advanced Exam tests all five language skills, and has a dedicated grammar part of the exam (referred to as Use of English). It is structured as follows:

  • Part 1: Grammar (Use of English) and Reading (90 minutes) 
  • Part 2: Writing (90 minutes) ­ 
  • Part 3: Listening (40 minutes) ­
  • Part 4: Speaking  (15 minutes)

Meanwhile, the IELTS is made up of four parts, with differing Reading and Writing depending on whether you are taking the Academic or General Training pathway:

  • Part 1: Listening (30 minutes)
  • Part 2: Academic or General Training Reading (60 minutes) 
  • Part 3: Academic or General Training Writing (60 minutes)
  • Part 4: Speaking (11-14 minutes)

4. Grading

Another key difference between the two exams is in the way they are graded. For example, for IELTS your results are given on a scale from 4.0 to 8.9, meanwhile the maximum score for Cambridge exams 200-210.

Which is more difficult?

The topics discussed in the CAE (Cambridge C1 Advanced) Reading and Writing are generally more varied, which can make the exam more difficult if your vocabulary is limited. Writing tasks in the CAE are also more varied, meaning you will have to learn a variety of writing styles which you might find more difficult. The benefit of taking IELTS for academic purposes is that all the tasks revolve around academia, which might be an easier option for university Ultimately, both are rigorous exams of similar difficulty.

CAE vs IELTS: Which is better?

There is no way of saying whether one exam is objectively better or worse than the other as both serve different purposes. One way to find out which exam is better for you is to consider what you would like to achieve with the exam work retroactively. Do you hope to migrate to a different country? Is a certain exam required in order to gain a VISA for that nation? These are all questions you need to ask yourself when choosing between CAE and IELTS.

For work

Around mainland Europe, you will often need to prove you have at least B2 level English in order to find employment. For this reason, many employers will ask for the B2 First (FCE) exam or Cambridge C1 Exam. In order to work in the UK, however, you may need IELTS in order to apply for a UK VISA to work in the UK.

For studying in the UK

While both exams are accepted by most universities, in the United Kingdom many universities will ask for the Academic IELTS exam taken in a SELT secured centre. In order to apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa to study a bachelor or postgraduate degree at a Tier 4 Sponsor university, students are required to meet the English language level set by that institution. Currently, all British universities and colleges accept IELTS results. Tier 4 Student Visa applicants can apply to the UK universities in this list from the British government with an IELTS result from more than 1,600 IELTS test locations worldwide. Find out more about taking IELTS for UKVI.

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