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Which Exam is right for you? What’s the difference between IELTS and CAE exam?

Are you thinking of taking an English exam but not sure which one? The right choice of the exam might not be straightforward as everyone’s situation and aims are different. Do you want to study at a university in an English- speaking country like the UK or maybe your goal is to get a job or a visa in a country where English is the first language? Or you just want to have a proof of you English proficiency? In this article you’ll find the answers to all your questions and quick insight into the exams structures.

What is IELTS?

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) takes about 3 hours and is entirely paper-based. It’s sometimes divided into 2 days where the speaking part is done separately. This test contains 4 parts:

Listening (30 mins) includes 4 recordings of informal conversations, discussions and/or lectures to which set of questions about what you heard is prepared.

Reading (60 mins)

In IELTS Academic exam Reading section consists of 3 extracts from books, journals, magazines and newspapers. Exercises include multiple choice questions, filling in missing words, information matching, etc.

In IELTS General, the format is similar but the texts are different, a bit easier and as instead of the 3 extracts, you get 2 short factual texts from real-life sources, and 1 longer text on a subject of general interest.

Writing (60 mins): For both Academic and General, you task is to write 2 texts.

For Academic, the first is a 150-word analysis of a chart, table, or diagram. The second is a 250-word essay in response to a given problem.

For General, you  write a 150-word letter in response to a situation, and then an essay in response to an argument or problem.

Speaking (11–15 mins): This section of the exam is divided into 3 parts in which your examiner will ask you to introduce yourself, speak about a given topic for 1–2 minutes, and answer more abstract questions on the same topic.


If you are aiming to study, especially at a university, or work in a country where English is the main language of communication, then IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is probably the one for you. There are two different types of IELTS tests: IELTS (academic) and IELTS (general).  From 6 April 2015: for visa applications to the UK, you may need to have an English language qualification which is included on the UK Home Office’s list of Secure English Language Tests – often referred to as SELT Tests. IELTS is on this list. To find out whether you need to take an approved test/what level you need to achieve and which test you can use, follow the link below:

IELTS General or Academic?

The IELTS (academic) is ideal for overseas students who want to study at an English speaking university or college. IELTS score ranges from band 1 to band 9 and there is no pass or fail, but universities will only accept an application if one achieves the band university has asked for.  So before taking the exam make sure you know what band you need to get to enrol to a uni.

IELTS (general) is more suitable for those who need a qualification for a visa, or planning to relocate to an English speaking country.

What is CAE?

C1 Advanced, formerly known as Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE), is one of our Cambridge English Qualifications. It is the in-depth, high-level qualification that shows you have the language skills that employers and universities are looking for. The Cambridge Advanced exam also enables you to communicate effectively at work and participate confidently in meetings or during academic tutorials and seminars.

The CAE takes roughly 4 hours and it’s either paper or computer based exam consisting of:

Listening section (40 mins): 4 parts with multiple-choice questions on topics discussed in recordings from radio broadcasts, speeches, lectures, anecdotes, etc.

Reading with Use of English section (90 mins): 8 parts consisting of  texts from newspapers, magazines, journals, etc. Questions are in the form of fill-in-the-blank, multiple-choice, and word formation tasks. The Use of English questions focus on syntax, collocations and English morphology in particular.

Writing (90 mins): You write 2 pieces of text. In Part 1, you read a text, then write an essay based on points included in the text. You’ll be asked to explain which of the two points is more important, and to give reasons for your opinion. In Part 2 you write a text from a choice of text types – letter/email, proposal, report or review. To guide your writing, you’ll be given information about context, topic purpose and target reader.

Speaking section (15 mins):  There are 4 speaking tasks. Task 1 conversation between the candidates and the interlocutor. The examiner asks questions and you may have to give information about your interests, studies, careers, etc. Task 2 the interlocutor gives you three pictures and asks you to talk about two of them. You have to speak for 1 minute without interruption and the interlocutor then asks the other candidate to comment on what you have said for about 30 seconds. The other candidate receives a different set of photographs and you have to listen and comment when they have finished speaking. The questions you have to answer about your photographs are written at the top of the page to remind you what you should talk about. Task 3 conversation with the other candidate. The examiner gives you spoken instructions with written prompts which are used in a discussion. You have to talk with the other candidate for about 2 minutes (3 minutes for groups of three) about the written prompts. After the discussion time, the examiner will ask you another question which requires you to make a decision. You have 1 minute to talk together and make the decision (2 minutes for groups of three). Task 4 further discussion with the other candidate based on the topics or issues raised in the task in Part 3. The interlocutor asks each of you some questions and you discuss them with the other candidate.

Main differences between IELTS and CAE?
  • There is no expiry date of the CAE exam, whereas the IELTS exam is valid for 2 years
  • CAE lasts of about 4h and IELTS for 3h.
  • Both exams consists of 4 parts, but IELTS doesn’t have the ‘Use of English’ section
  • You can’t fail IELTS vs you can successfully pass CAE once you achieve about 65%
  • Most British universities accept both exams
  • CAE is not as academic as IELTS, preparing for CAE isn’t as boring
  • During the speaking part of IELTS exam you are alone meanwhile in the CAE speaking test you’re expected to collaborate with a partner
  • In IELTS listening you only hear the recordings once, in CAE you hear it twice
  • More dates to take the IELTS than CAE, as it’s offered less frequently.


Best for Work/ University?

IELTS and CAE in the UK and only CAE in other parts of Europe, like Spain, Italy or Switzerland.

Best for You?

More and more people seem to be choosing the IELTS, especially in the UK. It’s more flexible than the CAE and there is no grammar section, which is quite difficult to prepare for and pass. However, pick the test format that makes you most at ease, especially when preparing for it. Other thing you should also bare in mind is whether there’s an English teacher or a course which can help and guide you through exam tasks and strategies which will enable you to successfully pass the exam.


Books we recommend to prepare for IELTS


Selfstudy books we recommend to prepare for CAE

IELTS Band 9 – Speaking Exam


CAE Speaking Test


Feel free to contact us ( in case you have any questions regarding the IELTS or CAE exam.

Course Start Date Weeks Days Time Fee Action
IELTS morning01/05/20238 weeksMon, Tue, Wed, Thu9:15-10:45£600Book now
IELTS morning01/05/20234 weeksMon, Tue, Wed, Thu9:15-10:45£315Book now
IELTS morning29/05/20234 weeksMon, Tue, Wed, Thu9:15-10:45£315Book now
IELTS evening01/05/20238 weeksMon, Wed, Fri18:15-19:45£440Book now
IELTS evening01/05/20234 weeksMon, Wed, Fri18:15-19:45£230Book now
IELTS evening29/05/20234 weeksMon, Wed, Fri18:15-19:45£230Book now
FCE afternoon27/09/20216 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£306Book now
FCE afternoon10/01/202212 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£595Book now
FCE morning27/09/202112 weeksMon, Wed, Fri9:15-10:45£660Book now
FCE morning27/09/20216 weeksMon, Wed, Fri9:15-10:45£360Book now
CAE morning27/09/20216 weeksMon, Tue, Fri9:15-10:45£360Book now
CAE morning27/09/202112 weeksMon, Tue, Fri9:15-10:45£660Book now
CAE afternoon27/09/202112 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£595Book now
CAE afternoon27/09/20216 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£306Book now
CAE afternoon08/11/20216 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£306Book now
CAE morning08/11/20216 weeksMon, Tue, Fri9:15-10:45£360Book now
IELTS morning08/11/20216 weeksMon, Tue, Thu9:15-10:45£420Book now
IELTS evening08/11/20216 weeksMon, Tue, Wed20:00-21:30£465Book now
FCE morning10/01/202212 weeksMon, Wed, Fri9:15-10:45£660Book now
FCE afternoon08/11/20216 weeksMon, Wed, Fri13:00-14:30£306Book now

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