The importance of IELTS/Cambridge exams in Spain

The importance of IELTS/Cambridge exams in Spain

Diary submitted by Ruth H, Madrid

Did you know that “there are more students taking Cambridge exams in Spain than in any other country in the world…”?

In Madrid, it seems to me that there is another English language academy on every street. It’s not quite true, but there is a huge number of students studying English in Spain – in fact, there are more students taking Cambridge exams in Spain than in any other country in the world. IELTS and Cambridge exams are two of the most popular ESL exams available, why is this, and why are they so many English students in Spain?

One key cause of the increased requirement for English in Spain was the economic crisis which started in 2009. Spain was one of the worst hit countries and as a result many companies exported their businesses or gave them a more international focus, which lead to an increase in the number of people studying English as they needed the language to cope in a more international business setting. Also as a result of the economic crash, Spain has a very low employment rate, particularly among young people aged 18-24, where it lies at just 50%. This means that competition for jobs in Spain is incredibly high and having a good level of English is no longer enough to make you stand out. It’s now necessary for many jobs, even those which don’t require you to use English in a normal setting.
It’s not enough to say that you can speak English, most jobs require an official certificate to prove your level. There are many qualifications available but IELTS and Cambridge exams are two of the most popular. Cambridge exams are accepted by over 20,000 organisations worldwide and IELTS by over 10,000, these include universities, professional bodies, employers and migration authorities. However, IELTS is the only English language test that accepted by all immigration authorities in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK. Both qualifications offer different types of exam, Cambridge runs many exams, each covering a different level of the Common European Framework (CEFR), and business English exams, while IELTS offers a General English qualification and also one in Academic English, for those wishing to go to university in an English-speaking country.
As a result of the high level of competition for jobs in Spain, most people who want to include a good level of English on their CV need to have at least a B1 but preferably a B2 level on the CEFR. This is very noticeable in my experience teaching, as there are dozens of students around this level and very few who continue to study afterwards as in the majority of workplaces a higher level is not necessary. However, as the jobs market fills with more and more good-level English speakers, the standard required will get higher, and I think it is likely that more students will continue to study to a higher level in the future.


  • Chris Rattigan. (2018). Demand for English teachers in Spain. The World TEFL Project. Available at: https://www.ielts.org/what-is-ielts/ielts-introduction [Accessed: 29.06.2018].
  • Cambridge English. (2018). Why choose us? Cambridge English Assessment. Available at: http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/why-choose-us/ [Accessed: 29.06.2018].
  • IELTS. (2018). IELTS introduction. IELTS. Available at: https://world-tefl.com/articles/the-importance-of-learning-english-in-spain [Accessed: 29.06.2018].

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