Exams or EAP? English Language Proficiency Requirements for Admission

Applying to study at an Anglophone university in Canada? All universities require applicants to show proof of English language proficiency and offer a long list of tests and courses which do so. Which exam should you choose? Or should you consider an academic English course? Here are some points to consider:

Standardized Exams and Tests

IELTS Academic and TOEFL iBT are the most popular international standardized English exams. There have traditionally been some important differences between the two:  TOEFL iBT is done on a computer—even the speaking section—, while IELTS Academic is done on paper and via interview with a human examiner. However, IELTS is now rolling out computer-based testing, though the speaking section will remain face-to-face. You can  read on the CALDO webpage about some tips for choosing between the IELTS Academic and the TOEFL iBT.

There are other exams you might want to consider, however. Many universities accept some of the popular Cambridge Suite of exams, such as the C1 Advanced (formerly known as the CAE) and/or the C2 Proficiency (formerly the CPE). These are not specialized in academic English, but draw on a wide variety of reading texts, listening extracts, and writing tasks, such as letters, fiction, radio or newspaper content, and business texts. If your English training has been primarily been in general English, you may want to consider these tests. These are pen-and-paper tests with a face-to-face speaking section.

The PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English Academic) is becoming more popular. A computer-based test, it features a wide variety of English accents (including non-native speakers of English), and many diverse question types, including long and short writing tasks, dictation and spoken and written summaries. Some of the tasks differ quite a bit from the question types on the IELTS or TOEFL. Therefore, some students turn to the PTE Academic for a change when they feel they have been unable to progress on the other exams.

The CAEL test (Canadian Academic English Language Test) is a computer-based academic English exam, which can only be done in Canada. The tasks on this exam more closely resemble the type of tasks university students typically do. So if you have previously studied in Canada or the US, this might be an exam to consider.

Be Prepared

No matter which language exam you choose, remember to prepare for the format of the test.  Knowing what to expect in terms of the number and type of questions, text and audio types, and writing task expectations can make a huge difference to your score. There are practice tests for all exams available online.

English for Academic Purposes (EAP) Programs

All CALDO universities offer English language courses on-site in Canada that fulfill the English language proficiency requirement for admission in place of a standardized exam. Like a standardized exam, an EAP course allows you to be admitted to the university, but importantly, EAP courses are also designed to prepare you for academic success at a Canadian university. In addition to specialized academic reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, these courses usually include library and research skills, and will help you get ready for the expectations of the Canadian university environment.

Conditional Admittance

Some universities and programs offer conditional admittance. What this could mean is that if your application to a master’s program, for example, is satisfactory in terms of your bachelor’s degree transcript and your letters of reference but you don’t have the required English test score yet, you can still apply to the program. You may receive a conditional acceptance with the space of a year to submit either an English test score or an approved EAP program diploma to the university in order to gain full acceptance. Remember, not all programs offer this option—it’s best to check with the Admissions Office.

Article provided by: Jennifer MacDonald, Head Teacher of ESL Programs, Dalhousie University