Billie Haase

Difference between Cambridge English Exams and IELTS

What exactly is the difference between an IELTS exam and a Cambridge English exam such as the FCE or CAE? This is a common question from students. In this blog post we will have a closer look at both exams and outline similarities and differences.

First of all, both exams are testing a student’s English language skills and both exams are produced by the University of Cambridge, with IELTS being jointly managed by Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council. They are also both well-known and internationally recognized. Now, let’s have a look at some of the main differences.


Why do students take this exam?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
Increasing future job prospects is the main motivation for doing a Cambridge exam. An exam such as the CAE or CPE is a valuable proof of your level of English that you can include on your CV when applying for a job. It will demonstrate to your future employer that you possess the language skills needed to do the job. However, some scholarships or university courses might ask you for a CAE or CPE exam instead of an IELTS exam. Students usually take an IELTS exam either for immigration purposes (e.g. to apply for a visa in the UK or Australia), or because they need a certain IELTS score in order to enter higher education. For example, if a student wants to study at a university in the UK.


Is there an expiry date on the exam certificate?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
There is no expiry date on any of the Cambridge English exams (i.e. KET, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE). Your IELTS certificate expires after 2 years. That means that if you need proof of your level of English three years after you have taken an IELTS test, you will have to sit the full exam again.


 Are there different exams for each level?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
Yes, there are different exams for each level.Have a look at the following Cambridge exam list:
KET A2 Elementary
PET B1 Pre-Intermediate/ Intermediate
FCE B2 Upper-Intermediate
CAE C1 Advanced
CPE C2 Proficiency 
There is only one test in IELTS for all levels. However, there are two different versions: one for academic English and one for general English. That means, taking an IELTS exam when you are a student with an intermediate level is more difficult than taking it when you have achieved an advanced level.


How are the exams assessed and what result do you get?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
The Cambridge exams are assessed on a pass/ fail basis. Usually the pass rate is round 60%. If you pass the overall test you will either be awarded an A, B or C depending on your exact score. You cannot fail anIELTS test. Instead, you will receive a band score ranging from 0 to 9 (with 9 being the highest). Usually the immigration office or university will let you know what band score you need in order to apply successfully. Here is a short description of each band:
Band 9: Expert user
Band 8: Very good user
Band 7: Good user
Band 6: Competent user
Band 5: Modest user
Band 4: Limited user
Band 3: Extremely limited user
Band 2: Intermittent user
Band 1: Non-user
Band 0: Did not attempt the test 


 How many parts does each exam have?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
TheFCE, CAE and CPE all consist of 4 papers, although within paper 1 there are two sections:

Paper 1: Reading & UseofEnglish
Paper 2: Writing (2 tasks)
Paper 3: Listening
Paper 4: Speaking



TheIELTS test consists of 4 parts:


There is no Use of English section in the IELTS exam. The Speaking test may be offered on the same day or up to a week before or after the other parts.


How long are the exams?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
The FCE is 3 hours 29 minutes long; the CAE is 3 hours 55 minutes and the CPE 3 hours 56 minutes long. The IELTS test is shorter with just 2 hours and 45 minutes.


What is the difference in the speaking exam?

Cambridge Exams IELTS
You take the FCE, CAE and CPE speaking exam with a partner. You will have to speak and answer questions on your own in some parts but you will have to talk about something together with your partner in other parts. Interactive communication is important and you will be assessed on that. You will take the IELTS speaking test on your own without a partner.


 How do the results in both exam types compare?

This table outlines how the results in the two exam types compare with one another.