What EFL exams are popular/important outside of Spain?

What EFL exams are popular/important outside of Spain (or another country you have taught/are teaching in)?

Reflective Diary submitted by Mary, Madrid.

Throughout this essay I am going to describe which EFL exams I have noticed to be the most popular among my students in Madrid. EFL exams are tests designed to examine a non- native speaker’s proficiency in the English language. There is a huge variety of possible options for students when deciding which exam best evaluates their level of English, and while some students are free to choose their preference, other times certain certificates are required by a potential university or employer.
The exam which appears to be in first place among both students and universities is the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). There are several reasons for this, and while there is no doubt that it requires a high level of English in order to achieve a desirable mark, the test is still relatively straightforward, containing tests of the four language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. All of my students were aiming for a grade of at least a 6 – 7, roughly equivalent to a C1 on the CEFR.

“An IELTS certificate is recognised as evidence of proficiency in English by more than 10,000 education and training providers worldwide”(www.ielts.org) and this possibility of being accepted into an English- speaking institute of higher education is the main motivation for the majority of candidates.

The next most sought-after exam among my students is no doubt the CAE (Cambridge Advanced English), a tricky exam held in high regard. The main advantage this certificate has over the IELTS is that it does not expire (which the IELTS does after two years), providing a fountain of opportunity once successfully achieved. On top of the four language skills, Use of English is also tested alongside writing and regularly proves a challenge for even quite fluent speakers. The speaking is generally more challenging for students as pictures must be discussed and it lacks the structured conversation that the IELTS provides.

On top of these regular exam classes, I have also prepared students for the TOEFL exam (Test of English as a Foreign Language), particularly popular among students wishing to emigrate to America. Trinity and FCE are also seen as important exams, and TOEIC and APTIS have occasionally made an appearance.

With such a variety of possibilities students often struggle to decide which exam best suits their needs. Factors such as timing, style and the possibility of preparing topics beforehand, such as with the Trinity exam, all have a bearing when making the decision. International recognition is of course also paramount. Whatever exam the student decides to take, it no doubt requires a high level of dedication and perseverance in order to succeed.