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Which language test should I take for my immigration application?

If you are thinking about immigrating to Canada, chances are you will have to take a language test. Most economic programs require proof of language proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages – English or French and all programs through Express Entry require proof of language proficiency. Even if you are already fluent in English or French, you still need to take a language test to show your skills.

So, which language test should you take? 

There are four language tests that you can take to prove language proficiency. These are:

  • English
    • Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
    • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
  • French
    • Test d’évaluation de français (TEF Canada)
    • Test de connaissance du français (TCF Canada)

The scores from these tests will be converted to scores on the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) for English or the Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadiens (NCLC) for French. See the language test equivalency charts here.

Your test results must be less than two years old when you complete your Express Entry profile and apply for permanent residence. The Express Entry profile is valid for 12 months, so make sure that your language test results will be valid throughout this time period. If your test results expire soon, it is a good idea to re-take the test and update your Express Entry profile with your new test results.

This blog will focus on the English proficiency tests and guide you through what you need to know and prepare for your next exam.

Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)

The Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) is a general English language proficiency test. It assesses your ability to function in English in a variety of everyday situations, from speaking with co-workers and superiors to interacting with friends, to understanding the news. The CELPIP also tests your reading comprehension skills and how you respond to written material.

There are two versions of the test available: the CELPIP General test and the CELPIP General LS test. In order to immigrate to Canada through Express Entry, you must take the CELPIP General test. You cannot take the CELPIP General LS test for Express Entry. This blog will focus on the CELPIP General test.

Test Format
The CELPIP General test is computer-delivered. You are scored from 1 to 12 for each section, which will be calibrated against the CLB. The total test time is three hours, and it is completed in one sitting. It comprises four test elements: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

Listening
The listening section of the test is made up of six parts:

  • Part 1: Listening to problem-solving
  • Part 2: Listening to a daily life conversation
  • Part 3: Listening for information
  • Part 4: Listening to a news item
  • Part 5: Listening to a discussion
  • Part 6: Listening to viewpoints

This section of the test should take about 47 to 55 minutes.

Reading
The reading section of the test is made up of four parts:

  • Part 1: Reading correspondence
  • Part 2: Reading to apply a diagram
  • Part 3: Reading for information
  • Part 4: Reading for viewpoints

This section of the test should take about 55 to 60 minutes.

Writing
The writing section of the test is made up of two parts:

  • Part 1: Writing an e-mail
  • Part 2: Responding to survey questions

This section of the test should take about 53 to 60 minutes.

Speaking
The speaking section of the test is made up of eight parts:

  • Part 1: Giving advice
  • Part 2: Talking about a personal experience
  • Part 3: Describing a scene
  • Part 4: Making predictions
  • Part 5: Comparing and persuading
  • Part 6: Dealing with a difficult situation
  • Part 7: Expressing opinions
  • Part 8: Describing an unusual situation

This section of the test should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is another English language proficiency test. Like the CELPIP, it assesses your language ability on four key skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It is scored from 1 to 9, and you can score whole points (e.g., 6.0, 7.0, 8.0) or half points (e.g., 6.5, 7.5, 8.5). These scores are calibrated against the CLB.

There are two versions of the test available: the IELTS Academic and the IELTS General. The Academic version of the test is used if you want to study at university or join a professional association. The General version of the test is used if you want to apply to Express Entry or any other immigration program to Canada. This blog will focus on the IELTS General test.

Test Format
The IELTS is taken on a computer or can be a written test on paper which takes two hours and 45 minutes to complete. It is comprised of four sections: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. You will take the listening, reading, and writing sections of the test in one sitting with no breaks between sections. These sections will take about two and a half hours to complete. The speaking portion of the test is usually scheduled at a later time, in the afternoon on the test day or another date. The speaking section will take between 11 and 14 minutes in an interview format.

Listening
The listening section of the test is made up of four parts:

  • Part 1: A conversation between two people set in an everyday context
  • Part 2: A monologue set in an everyday social context
  • Part 3: A conversation between up to four people set in an education or training context
  • Part 4: A monologue on an academic subject

The duration of this section of the test is 30 minutes.

You will be asked a variety of question types, including multiple-choice; matching; labelling; form, note, table, flow-chart, and summary completion; sentence completion; and short answer questions.

Reading
The reading section of the test consists of 40 questions. A variety of question types will be used to test your reading skills. These skills include:  

  • Reading for gist
  • Reading for main ideas
  • Reading for detail
  • Skimming
  • Understanding logical argument
  • Recognizing writers’ opinions
  • Attitudes and purpose

You will be tested on materials that you are likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis, such as extracts from books, magazines, newspapers, notices, advertisements, company handbooks, and guidelines.

The duration of this section of the test is 60 minutes.

Writing
The writing section of the test consists of two tasks. In the first task, you will be presented with a scenario, and you will write a letter either requesting information or explaining the situation. The letter may be personal, semi-formal, or business formal in style. In the second task, you will be presented with a point of view, argument, or problem, and you will be asked to write an essay in response. The essay may be personal in style.

The duration of this section of the test is 60 minutes.

Speaking
The speaking section of the test consists of three parts:

  • Part 1: Questions about you and familiar topics (home, family, work, etc.)
  • Part 2: Make a one-minute speech about a particular topic
  • Part 3: Clarify and expand on the topic in part 2, which will give you the chance to discuss more abstract ideas and issues

The duration of this section of the test is 11 to 14 minutes. 

Preparation Tips

The best way to prepare for a test is to study, study, study!

The first thing that you should do is review the test formats as described above. Familiarize yourself with the different categories that you will be tested on and be mindful of the time limits for each section.

It is recommended that you do practice tests, which can be found on the CELPIP website and the IELTS website. There are also preparation courses in which you can enrol if you feel that you need the extra help.

Some Practical Advice

Practice the listening section of the test by partnering up with a friend or family member. Have them read the test questions to you while you complete the tested tasks. You can also practice your listening skills by turning on English language radio, television, and movies and testing your understanding of what you hear.

You can practice your reading abilities through books, magazines, newspapers, and other written material. Practice reading every day and ask yourself the following questions after you have just read a passage:

  • What is the text about? What is the main idea?
  • What are some keywords or phrases that are important in the text? (Take note of important details such as date, time, and names).
  • What do I not understand? (You should do some research about these words or ideas after you have finished reading).

Practice speaking and answering questions by going through sample test questions with a partner. The more you exercise this ability, the better you will get.

It is important to keep in mind proper spelling and grammar for the written section of your test. You will be asked to write some correspondence, so be sure to practice formal writing. Address the recipient with “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms.” and end your letter or e-mail with “Yours Truly” or “Sincerely.”

You must also keep in mind the Canadian way of spelling when writing the written section. For example, Canadian’s spell “favour” and “colour” with a “U.” If you are writing the IELTS paper format, be sure to practice your writing by hand.

So, which language test should you take?

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (the IRCC) does not prefer one test over another. All language tests are considered equally, so it is up to you to decide which test best suits your needs.

Both the CELPIP and IELTS test you on your listening, reading, writing, and listening abilities. One difference between the tests is that the CELPIP is delivered on a computer and the IELTS is delivered on a computer or paper, so you can decide which mode of delivery is most comfortable for you.

Another difference between the two tests is that you are required to complete the CELPIP in one sitting, while you can take the speaking portion of the IELTS separately from the other sections. The IELTS also takes two hours and 45 minutes to complete, while the CELPIP takes three hours to complete.

You might also want to make your decision based on location, availability, and price. Look up test centres for both the CELPIP and IELTS and see what time, place, and cost works for you.

You can view your CELPIP results online within four to five calendar days, while the paper-based IELTS results will be available within three to five calendar days and the computer-delivered IELTS will be available within 13 calendar days.

Final Thoughts

Whichever test you decide, make sure that you complete practice questions in the test format that you will be sitting on. Should you have any questions about which language test is right for you, or are ready to dive into getting a Second passport to Canada, feel free to reach out to us and we will surely get you started to understand the options that are available to you!


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3. Ready to begin your journey? Join our 5-Day Immigration Blueprint ChallengeBy the end of the 5 days, you will have an Immigration Blueprint™ outlining your pathway to Canada.

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