Many people get fed up with IELTS – understandably. For some, there may be a better option they haven’t considered. It won’t work for everyone but CAE can be an alternative. If CAE means nothing to you: here is a very quick outline guide of how CAE and IELTS compare. Take a quick read and then if you think it might work for you,look for the links at the bottom of the page which will take you to places where you can find out much more.
What CAE is
CAE stands for Cambridge Advanced English (or sometimes Cambridge English Advanced!). You’ll see below that it is in some ways very similar to IELTS and has papers to test every skill in English. It is a global exam used to measure your level of English and can be taken in almost every country worldwide. One relatively recent change is that tests now take place regularly throughout the year and there is also a computer-based version.
The major difference with IELTS is that it tests English at one level only – C1 on the CEF scale. This is approximately the equivalent of 7.0 + in IELTS (which doesn’t really map onto the CEF scale). This means it is only suitable for high-level candidates.
You can find more about it on the official site, which has a brief and very good guide for students.
Who accepts CAE?
It is a global exam and is accepted by over 3000 institutions – for instance a huge proportion of British Universities accept CAE (or in some cases CPE – a higher level exam). To find out if it could work for you, you need to do a little research. I’d add that while it is becoming more popular, IELTS is still more generally accepted worldwide.
This page shows you some of the places that will accept it. Otherwise, I suggest you contact the university you are applying to and ask. You never know.
One big difference with IELTS is that it is a fixed level test. What does this mean in practice? It’s not easier, it’s just different. If you are a high level candidate you need the same sort of language skills as you need in IELTS. You should be aware that
you do need to be a high level candidate – i.e. someone aiming for band score 7.0 (though there are other exams at other levels: FCE is lower and CPE is higher)
there is for now an English in Use paper which tests your vocabulary and grammar – IELTS doesn’t have anything like this and if you haven’t studied English intensively this paper may be too hard. BUT in 2015 (next year) this paper will disappear and be used to make a bigger reading paper – that could make life easier
the questions are overall slightly less academic than IELTS: the reading passages in particular are more accessible and the writing paper doesn’t ask you to write about global issues so much
How each paper works in comparison to IELTS
This is very different to IELTS. You do spend some time talking directly to the examiner, but you take the test with another candidate and you are expected to spend as much talking to that person as the examiner – it is much more like a real conversation. Indeed, you are graded (partly) on your ability to communicate with other people in the right way.
Again, there is a major difference to IELTS here – you get to listen to the recordings twice. This does not necessarily make the test easier as some of the question types are slightly harder than IELTS and none of the listenings are as easy as IELTS part 1 listening.
There are more texts than IELTS, but they are shorter and have more different types of texts than IELTS. There is a lot to read and timing is still an issue, but it might not be so big a problem as in IELTS.
Just as in IELTS you need to produce two pieces of writing. You actually have to write more than in IELTS but you have more time. One big difference is that you get a choice of questions to answer (thank you Helen for reminding me). There is also a greater range of types of writing you need to be able to produce – e.g. letters/reports/essays/proposals. That can take time to learn. Typically, though the writing is less academic than IELTS and you are not asked to discuss “world issues ” nearly so much. If you are younger, this can be an advantage.
English in Use
This is the “grammar and vocabulary” paper. It will disappear in 2015 but some of the question types will be added to a new style reading paper. There are a range of different types of question, including gap fill vocabulary questions, select the right word questions and word formation questions. To see if you could cope I suggest you try this quick test from Cambridge who make the exam:
You can also download a sample test from their site – complete with listening practice!
What to do next
If you think it might work for you, I suggest that you
find out if your target institution will accept it
make sure that there is an examination centre near you
find out more about the test (this is a very brief overview)
There are two places to find out more:
CAE from Cambridge: the official site which is clearly laid out and has lots of resources and information
Flo Joe: this is the ultimate exam preparation site -visit it even if you don’t want to do the exam – the resources there will help you anyway. I particularly love the Word Bank