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A Quick Guide to Standardized ESL Tests

If you’re looking to make Canada your new home or place of study, it may seem like everyone has a sudden interest in evaluating your English language skills. From post-secondary institutions and trade schools, to professional organizations and regulatory bodies, to Citizenship and Immigration Canada itself— it is highly likely that at some point in your immigration or stay in Canada, you will be required to take at least one standardized ESL test to evaluate your proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Unfortunately, there is little about standardized language testing that is actually standardized. Individual institutions are for the most part free to choose their preferred system of testing from a wide range of options, and the scores between the systems are largely non-transferable.

Here is a quick survey of the most common systems of standardized ESL testing you may encounter along the way.


Canadian Language Benchmarks (CBL)

The Canadian Language Benchmarks are the national standard used by the federal and provincial governments. If you are applying for Permanent Resident Status, you will be required to take a CLB examination to determine your level of proficiency and to be assigned corresponding points in the Canadian Express Entry System. CLB levels run from 1-12. Those applying for PR status through the Canadian Experience stream require a minimum Level 5, while those applying through the Skilled Workers Program require a minimum Level 7.

In the GTA, CLB assessments are administered through the YMCA’s Language Assessment and Referral Center [Hyperlink] and are free for all Canadian citizens born outside of Canada, Permanent Residents, Convention Refugees, Temporary Foreign Workers, Refugee claimants and those currently in the process of applying for Permanent Resident status. CLB exam preparation courses are available through the TDSB, as well as a variety of private ESL schools and institutions.


Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL)

The Test of English as Foreign Language, or TOEFL as it is more commonly known, is among the most widely accepted English language test in the world. According to its website, TOEFL is recognized by more than 9,000 universities, colleges and agencies in more than 130 countries, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is most often used in “high-stakes decisions” such as university student admissions, and is administered by Educational Testing Services (ETS). Taking the exam costs $245 USD (approximately $320 CAD) and all spots must be reserved in advance of the scheduled testing date.


International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

Like TOEFL, the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a world recognized assessment system, accepted by over 9,000 organizations worldwide including schools, universities, immigration authorities, employers and professional regulatory bodies. It is also accepted by the CIC as proof of English language proficiency for Express Entry and Provincial Nominee Programs. Click here for a chart converting IELTS test results into CLB standards.

There are two versions of IELTS: the IELTS Academic, designed for admittance into a university at the undergraduate and post-graduate level or a professional association, and the IELTS General, for an application for Express Entry. The IELTS is administered only through official IELTS test centers and costs $309.00. Payment and confirmation is required in advance and can be completed through the IELTS Test Online Payment page.

It is important to make sure that you are meeting the specific assessment requirements of the specific institution in question. Taking some time to double check will save you both time and money.


Have further questions regarding standardized ESL testing? Leave us a comment or send us an email at

© 2016. Kaila Simoneau for Loretta Murphy Translations. All Rights Reserved.

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