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English Language Testing – All You Need To Know

English Language Testing For The Purpose Of Emigration

Taking the English Language test for your skills or visa application can be a major stumbling block for some. Fiona Robertson gives some insights and useful advice.

Who needs to undertake the English Language Test?

This all depends whether you are required to prove English language proficiency, whether you need extra points on the Skills Points Test or whether a sponsoring State requires that you undergo a proficiency test.

English Language Proficiency is based on 5 levels of competency, and each level attracts different points as follows:

Superior scores 20 points, Proficient scores 10, Competent, Vocational and Functional score zero points, but are often required for visa applicants.

For example, holding a passport from the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada or New Zealand is the equivalent of Competent Level in English language, however, this does not score points towards your visa application. For example, if you are the Main Applicant, do not hold a passport from one of these countries and do not need the points towards your visa application, you will still need to achieve Competent Level. If you are the Dependent Partner or Dependent Child of 18 years or over on a skilled visa application and whose passport is not from the English speaking countries listed above, you need to achieve at least Functional Level or pay charges A$4885 (Permanent) or $A4890 (Provisional) after you have lodged your visa.

Take the Test Now

The English language test is often the stumbling block in the visa application process. We advise our clients to take the test early on in the skilled visa application process, for two reasons: Firstly, applicants can sit an approved English Language Test at designated centres, which often involves making travel plans and timetabling into your diary. Quite often you will need to wait up to four weeks to sit the test, because of demand. So the earlier, the better. Secondly, once you have completed the test and made the required points, you can relax and get on with the rest of your application. You may even have to resit the exam – which is quite common – and arrange another date. Results can take anything between 3 days and 2 weeks, depending on the language assessing organisation.

Which English Language Test Should You Take?

Each English Language testing body listed below has their own marking system. For further information on the Australian government system visit their website.

IELTS (International English Language Testing)

The most common examination is the International English Language Testing (IELTS) which is accepted for many visa categories as well as for permanent residency in Australia. It is also a requirement for professional recognition from some Australian professional organisations and accrediting bodies. These would include ANMAC (nurses), CPA (accountants) and AITSL (teachers). There are two levels: General (which most applicants undergo) and Academic level – for those who are applying as nurses, teachers or accountants, to name a few. English proficiency is tested in four skills – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The first three skills must be completed at an approved testing centre and on the same day with no breaks and the Speaking test can be tested on the same day, after a break or up to a week before and after the other tests.

English proficiency in IELTS is assessed on a scale from 1-9 in the four skills. Your IELTS score may be directly linked to your points test. So, for example, to gain 20 points for language, you must score 8 points or more in each category and for 10 points you need to score 7 or more points in each category. Many of our clients call us to say that their average score is 7.5 – meaning they may have scored 8 or more in three categories (Reading, Speaking and Writing, for example) and 6.5 in Listening. This means that they have not made the 10 points, as 7 or more must be scored in each category. They will need to resit the test.

OET: Occupational English Test: the assessing body which tests the English language and communication skills of health professionals. The assessment includes all four language skills – listening, writing, reading and speaking with an emphasis on communication in medical and health professional settings.

TOEFL iBT Academic: is another globally recognised organisation for English language testing. The test is administered via the Internet in a variety of approved test centres across UK and the world. As with IELTS, English proficiency is tested on the four main skills of Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking.

Pearson PTE Academic: is a computer based test of English, approved by the Australian government, and assesses Reading, Listening, Writing and Speaking. The exam typically lasts 4 hours, with a computer and headset and results are usually available within a week.

Cambridge English: Advanced is also an accepted English language testing examination, and approved by Australian Immigration. Tests are undertaken at approved test centres over a 4 hour period. The exam can be computer based or written.

English Language Tests for a skills assessments

Most skilled visa applicants to Australia will be required to undergo an English language test. This is not obligatory if you hold a Passport from an English speaking country, however, taking the test and achieving at least Proficient Level is the only option for the vast majority to make up the required pass mark for the Points Test.

All of the above English proficiency testing bodies are approved by the Australian Department of Immigration and depends on personal taste or convenience which test you may wish to undertake. However, it’s important to note, that for some of the Skills Assessing bodies in Australia which require applicants to undertake an English test, not all of the assessing organisations are accepted. For example, ANMAC (the nursing accreditation council in Australia) will accept IELTS Academic level and OET only. AITSL (the teaching accreditation council of Australia) accepts only IELTS (you do not need to take the test if you have a passport from an English speaking country), whereas CPA (the accountancy accreditation council of Australia) accepts Cambridge PTE Advanced, TOEFL, Pearson PTE Academic and IELTS. Applicants who have engineering qualifications out with English speaking countries may be required to undergo English language testing.

If you have to undertake the English language assessment for these professional councils, your test results will also be credited to your points test for your visa application. No need to take the test twice – unless you need the extra points. For example, if you require only Proficient Level (10 points) for your skills application, but you need the extra points for your visa application, you may resit the test to achieve Superior Level for 20 points.

Cost and Convenience

All of the English Language testing organisations mentioned here have many designated test centres across the UK (and most other parts of the world) and offer a good variety of dates. Testing centres are typically in universities, colleges, language schools and British Council Offices (overseas). However, places are restricted and it is advisable to book as soon as possible.

Costs for the test are typically between £130 and £160 per applicant.

Handy hints

The details and results of your certificate will be added to your skills and/or your visa application and is usually valid for three years immediately before lodging your visa and two years when required for skills assessing authorities.

Make sure you do some test papers before you sit your exams in order to familiarise yourself with the test and the format. Most of the English assessing organisations offer free downloadable practice materials or CDs. Make use of these! YouTube has some really good training materials for IELTS, too. If you don’t at first succeed in achieving the results you need, don’t despair. It doesn’t matter how many times you sit the test. You might even consider a tutor who is an expert in these assessments. This is often a worthwhile expense and there are many good ones available to tutor via skype.

Useful websites for English Language Tests


Fiona Robertson is joint director of Overseas Emigration Visas, based in Edinburgh. We have assisted many thousands of migrants to Australia and Canada over the last 20 years. For further information contact us via email or call our UK office free on 0800 193 6900

This article first appeared in the Australia & New Zealand Magazine click here to subscribe

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