Julian - our Assistant Director of Studies and Teacher, explains everything you need to know about both exams so you can decide which one is best for you.
Question: What are the main differences between the IELTS and Cambridge (FCE, CAE and CPE) exams?
Julian: We only do the Academic IELTS here at Wimbledon School of English and the language you learn and practice on this course is far more academic than the Cambridge Upper Main Suite. Cambridge on the other hand is more general and anyone who takes it will improve their General English considerably.
Q: Do they both present similar challenges?
Julian: They are both similar in that you have to learn exam techniques. Technique in IELTS can be a bit more complicated, for example I could show a Cambridge paper to a native speaker of English and they would know what to do. But with IELTS, you'd have to really think about the questions and how to answer them. They're coded in a slightly different way, there are certain expectations in the writing also that you'd need to consider in order to get a decent mark. With Cambridge however, although there are formats that you have to cover e.g. a letter or a report, it's not so rigid. Also, the IELTS speaking exam you do on your own but in the Cambridge exam you do it with a partner.
Q: What do they have in common?
Julian: Both exams are split into 4 different skill area - speaking, writing, listening and reading. Cambridge has an additional 'Use of English' paper component which tests grammar and vocabulary. That's very specific to Cambridge and they don't have it in the IELTS.
Q: What happens if I fail?
Julian: It means that you don't get the grade that you need; but you don't fail. You can however keep re-taking the exam until you do get the grade. With Cambridge, the pass marks are A to C. If you get a narrow fail at CAE, your certificate should indicate that you are CEFR B2 level - this shows that although you haven't passed at CEFR C1 level, you have reached Higher Intermediate Plus (B2).
All universities and courses have different entry requirements although IELTS is the most widely recognised.
Q: How long does it take to prepare for each exam?
Julian: It depends on your level but I’d always say that the longer you study, the better it will be for your learning. A 10-week course is better than 4 weeks for example. Our Cambridge 4-week courses are intensive but it would depend on how much you need to improve. If you’re close to good enough then 4-weeks might be enough for you. If you do the full 10 or 13 week course, you’re more likely to get a higher grade than you expected. There’s also so much extra self-study help in the study centre which students can benefit from.
Q: What opportunities can come from each both exams?
Julian: IELTS is the most widely accepted university entrance course. Cambridge is an internationally recognised qualification of English language competence. A lot of employers abroad and higher education establishments also recognise it.
Q: How are they graded?
Julian: Cambridge is graded A-C as a pass. IELTS is graded on a scale of 1 to 9. 9 is what a well educated native speaker should just about get, but often don't. Most universities want between 6-7.5 and for foundation courses, they expect between 5 - 5.5 which is B1 level. Although technically there isn't a fail in IELTS , a 3 isn't going to get you very far.
Q: What do you prefer to teach?
Julian: I prefer Cambridge because there is a wider range of language. You can explore different structures more so than in IELTS...there's also the word building.
With IELTS Pre-Sessional (10-week course), it's nice to go on university visits with the students and be able to introduce them to what UK universities have to offer. The course also helps to improve study skills and note taking - the kinds of things you need at uni not just to pass the IELTS.
Q: Is one more challenging than the other?
Julian: It depends on the student but because of its academic nature, IELTS can be a bit of a shock coming from General English. The academic stuff can be difficult for people also. However, the language you learn in General English is similar to the language you learn and use at Cambridge level.
Q: Which one should I be doing?
Julian: Do you need an IELTS score for access to university? If not, you shouldn't need IELTS. I would recommend taking the IELTS if you know that you need the exam - that’s the key difference between IELTS and Cambridge. Even if you don’t need an FCE, CAE or CPE, you’ll still benefit from taking the Cambridge course because you would hugely improve your overall English language. It’s especially useful if you’ve been here a long time and you’ve studied General English and want something a bit more structured and formalised. It would improve your general English without a doubt.
Q: How long will it take for me go up from one level to the next?
Julian: We say it takes approximately 10 weeks to go up half a point in IELTS e.g. from level 5 to 5.5. To help you get there, there’s plenty of study materials to make use of, tons on e-Wimbledon and tons in the study centre, we offer regular tutorials to help with your progress and you can also study an additional module to help you improve in certain areas e.g Grammar and Writing, Communication Skills etc. There’s lot of information everywhere in the school and on the school's website.
Q: How long is my certificate valid for?
Julian: The IELTS is valid for 2 years and the Cambridge is valid for life. But to be practical, if you did your Cambridge exam 10 years ago and haven't spoken English very much since then, your qualification will still be valid but it won’t be taken seriously and you could be asked to take the exam again.
I hope that has been a source of help for you! If you have any other questions, please get in contact and we're always here to help!
Thanks to Julian for this valuable information.