12 Language Proficiency Tests All Learners Should Know About
Language proficiency tests have undeniable benefits that will serve you well in your language learning journey.
Indeed, these tests can open doors of opportunities for you—provided you’re able to prepare for and pass them, of course.
Let’s dive into the most common language proficiency tests that cover various linguistic skills. And if you need extra motivation for those upcoming exams, make sure you read until the end!
- 1. TOEFL (English)
- 2. IELTS (English)
- 3. TOEIC (English)
- 4. Cambridge English Tests (English)
- 5. TCF (French)
- 6. DELE (Spanish)
- 7. TestDaF (German)
- 8. TELC (German)
- 9. PLIDA (Italian)
- 10. HSK (Chinese)
- 11. JLPT (Japanese)
- 12. Celpe-Bras (Brazilian Portuguese)
- Why Take Language Proficiency Tests?
- And One More Thing...
1. TOEFL (English)
What it is: TOEFL stands for “Test of English as a Foreign Language.”
Why take it: If you want to enroll in a school in an English-speaking country like the United States, Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, and you come from a country where English is not the first language, passing the TOEFL proves that you can handle English as the language medium for the coursework.
What the test includes: The TOEFL tests your reading, listening, speaking and writing skills. Each skill has its own section, so expect to go through four sections in all. There are specific elements in the TOEFL designed to assess each of these skills in different ways.
For example, in the Reading Comprehension section, you may be asked to read three to four academic passages and answer a few questions afterward. In the Independent and Integrated Writing sections, you’ll be asked to write an essay or opinion piece on a given topic, and you’ll also need to make a structured argument about something said within a given passage.
How to register for the test: You can register for the test here. Choose “I am a test taker,” then “TOEFL iBT” for a more comprehensive exam.
Validity period: TOEFL results are valid for two years. You can ask the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the exam’s administrator, to independently send your results to the schools and universities you’ve applied to.
2. IELTS (English)
What it is: IELTS stands for “International English Language Testing System.”
Why take it: It’s jointly managed by the British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge English Language Assessment—all of which are internationally recognized names in English language education.
What the test includes: You can take one of two IELTS exams. The “Academic” one is geared toward students applying for advanced studies and postgraduate degrees. Meanwhile, the “General Training” is for migrants who wish to demonstrate their English competence as part of their visa or employment application.
Both will test you on all four English communication skills: reading (60 minutes), writing (60 minutes), listening (30 minutes) and speaking (11-14 minutes). The whole test should be finished in two hours and 45 minutes.
How to register for the test: Follow the instructions here.
Validity period: Your IELTS test scores will be valid for two years.
3. TOEIC (English)
What it is: The Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) was developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to measure business English proficiency.
Why take it: According to ETS, the test is recognized by 14,000 organizations in 160 countries. In other words, if you want to get a job in an English-speaking country, an excellent TOEIC score can give you an edge over your competition.
What the test includes: You have three options for the TOEIC test: (1) the Listening and Reading Test, which is exactly what it sounds like (with the caveat that it’s for those who are already at the intermediate/advanced stage of their English language learning); (2) the Speaking and Writing Test, which is also what it says on the tin and is geared toward intermediate/advanced learners and (3) the Bridge Test, which covers all four of the skills mentioned above and is at the beginner to intermediate level.
How to register for the test: To register for the test, click here. Make sure you carefully read the PDF files in the registration link to help you better prepare for the test.
Validity period: Like the last two tests above, this one has a two-year validity period.
4. Cambridge English Tests (English)
What it is: The Cambridge English Tests are administered by the Cambridge University Press & Assessment. They are one of the organizations that conduct the IELTS.
Why take it: The Cambridge University Press & Assessment helped to develop the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) in the English language. That means their tests follow the standards laid out by an officially recognized language organization in Europe.
What the test includes: Since the Cambridge English Tests follow the CEFR, they have at least one exam for each of the language levels from the lowest to the highest—A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2, respectively.
If you want to test your business English skills specifically, they have the following exams based on your level: (1) B1 Business Preliminary; (2) B2 Business Vantage and (3) C1 Business Higher.
How to register for the test: To register for the Cambridge English Tests, you need to find an authorized exam center near you, then book with them. Here’s a page with more info on the topic.
Validity period: Unless you took the IELTS, Cambridge English exam results generally don’t have an expiry date.
5. TCF (French)
What it is: TCF stands for Test de Connaissance du Français (literally “French Knowledge Test”). It’s designed for non-native French speakers who want to prove their mettle in the language for any reason—whether it’s personal, academic or professional.
Why take it: Not only does it have an accreditation from the French Ministry of Education, but the TCF also follows the standards set forth in the CEFR.
What the test includes: The TCF is a 76-item, multiple-choice test further divided into three compulsory exams: reading comprehension (29 items), listening comprehension (also 29 items) and grammar (18 items).
In addition to the above, you can take two optional exams—one written and one oral.
How to register for the test: To register for the TCF, fill out this registration form, submit a photo that follows these requirements and e-mail your application to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Validity period: TCF exam results are valid for two years.
6. DELE (Spanish)
What it is: Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE) are tests administered by the Instituto Cervantes on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science.
Why take it: DELE adheres to the standards set forth by the CEFR.
What the test includes: The DELE is designed to gauge your Spanish reading comprehension and grammar across all of the CEFR levels from A1 (beginner) to C2 (upper advanced).
How to register for the test: You can usually register online or via the closest examination center. Visit the website of your nearest Instituto Cervantes and look up the current year’s registration details.
Validity period: DELE results don’t have an expiry date, since you’re basically getting a diploma.
7. TestDaF (German)
What it is: The TestDaF is for examinees at the B2 to C1 language proficiency level for German.
Why take it: If you’re aiming to enroll in an institution of higher education in Deutschland, passing this exam can prove that you’re able to handle both the linguistic and academic requirements of German universities.
What the test includes: Although the Goethe-Institut website says you don’t need “specialist knowledge” to pass the exam, you should at least be able to comprehend most academic materials in German.
How to register for the test: Register for the exam here. Make sure you double-check the icons under the heading “Format” to see if you’re taking an online or paper exam.
Validity period: TestDaF exam results don’t have an expiration date.
8. TELC (German)
What it is: This test is designed to evaluate your German aptitude according to CEFR standards. It’s administered by the European Language Certificates (TELC) Deutsch, in partnership with the German federal government.
Why take it: Compared to TestDaF, this test is much more comprehensive. You can take the version of the exam that suits your specific language level from A1 to C2.
What the test includes: Like the other tests listed so far, this one covers reading and listening comprehension, as well as writing and speaking skills.
Unlike other speaking exams where you’ll be tested individually, this one requires you to pair up with one other examinee. In this case, the examiner will take the role of facilitator and mediate the conversation.
How to register for the test: Find the closest TELC examination center and ask how you can take the German TELC exam with them.
Validity period: Because these exams are taken on a per-level basis, their validity periods don’t expire.
9. PLIDA (Italian)
What it is: PLIDA (Progetto Lingua Italiana Dante Alighieri or “Dante Alighieri Society Diplomas”) is named after the institution administering it: the Dante Alighieri Society. The Dante Alighieri Society is to Italian what Instituto Cervantes is to Spanish and Goethe-Institut is to German: an institution that aims to promote a specific language around the world.
Why take it: Because PLIDA is officially recognized by the Italian government, you can use it to prove that you’re proficient enough in the language to study, live in and even become a citizen of Italy.
What the test includes: Like many of the tests on this list, PLIDA covers CEFR levels A1 to C2.
How to register for the test: Search for the PLIDA examination center closest to you and contact them regarding specific registration details.
Validity period: Generally, the PLIDA certification doesn’t expire. But if you’re taking it for a very specific purpose (like working in an Italian company), you should double-check whether having taken the exam, say, 10 years ago is still valid proof of your current proficiency in the language.
10. HSK (Chinese)
What it is: To date, the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK) administered by Hanban (an agency of the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China) is the only official standardized test for Mandarin Chinese.
Why take it: As I’ve mentioned, it’s literally the only standardized test to prove your mastery of 中文, so you don’t have a choice.
What the test includes: The test covers six proficiency levels from HSK1 to HSK6. Here’s a more comprehensive guide on what you can expect from the test.
It’s worth noting that the oral portion can be taken separately. For this separate speaking section, there are just three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced.
How to register for the test: Click on the level you want to take here and follow the instructions.
Validity period: The HSK certificate has a lifetime validity.
11. JLPT (Japanese)
What it is: The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is administered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES) in cooperation with the Ministry of Education.
Why take it: It’s probably the most well-known Japanese language proficiency test in the world. If you apply for any employer that requires you to have a handle on the Japanese language, chances are your results from this exam are what they’ll be looking at.
What the test includes: The test covers five levels from N5 (the lowest proficiency level) to N1 (near-native or native level proficiency).
The JLPT has reading and listening formats comparable to the other language tests featured here, testing your knowledge of different grammatical structures and characters. Strangely enough, it doesn’t have a writing or speaking section—though you should definitely pay attention to these if you’re serious about becoming fluent in Japanese.
How to register for the test: If you’re taking the JLPT in Japan, you have to create a MyJLPT account and follow the instructions here. Otherwise, you should visit your friendly local JLPT testing center and confirm the specific registration requirements with them.
Validity period: The JLPT certification itself doesn’t expire, though the company you work for may set limits on how long you can hold on to it before you have to take the test again.
12. Celpe-Bras (Brazilian Portuguese)
What it is: Similar to the HSK, the Celpe-Bras is the only official proficiency test in Brazilian Portuguese. (By “official,” I mean it’s sanctioned by the Brazilian government.)
Why take it: If you plan to work or live in Brazil, having a Celpe-Bras certification won’t hurt.
What the test includes: The exam has two main components: an oral section and a written section.
The written section is rather grueling: you have to go through all four tasks in three hours without a break.
On the other hand, the oral section only lasts for about 20 minutes. Five of those minutes will be spent in a recorded face-to-face conversation with an examiner, while the remaining 15 will involve reading three texts and answering oral questions based on those texts.
How to register for the test: Register for the exam here. Make sure to check if there’s an open testing center near you here.
Validity period: The Celpe-Bras certification is valid for life. Like the JLPT, however, the company you’re applying for might impose restrictions on how long ago the test should have been taken to be considered valid for employment purposes.
Why Take Language Proficiency Tests?
- They can be used as proof of competence for job applications and advanced studies. Your language proficiency test results are clear and succinct statements of your competency in the language. I’m not saying the tests are perfect, but they are a handy shortcut when you want to prove your linguistic chops. That’s why many governments, companies and institutions require them from applicants. A standard measure like C2 tells them more than they need to know about you and your skills. So, for someone who wants to work in a specific country or take advanced classes, a language proficiency test might be a required element of your application.
- Passing language proficiency exams is a major confidence booster. They add a spring to your steps, scaffolding your chin so that it always remains up. To know that you’re good enough can make you want to brag, even if it’s just to yourself or your mom. You passed a hurdle and knocked one out of the park. So, what can life throw your way that you can’t handle? You already have personal proof that as long as you put your mind into it, you’ll make it.
- They can give you that extra motivation to take your language studies more seriously. When you’re anticipating that you’re about to take a major life-changing test soon, you’re more motivated to hit the books, work the flashcards and stay in on Saturday evenings. You get motivated because you’re paying for it yourself and because you don’t get to take it every day. You’ve got one shot to prove yourself (unless you want to pay the fee and sit down to take the test again). And you can boost your chances of passing your exam if you use a language learning platform like FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
To end this post, let me simply say that language fluency tests are not the monsters of the deep they’re often purported to be.
They’re simply a gauge, a way of telling you where you are in your language journey. They’re a check, a guide you can use to plan your way and achieve your goals.
So, have at it already, and good luck!
And One More Thing...
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