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Develop: Task 2

Develop: Task 2

Many people who learn English do so in order to broaden the opportunities available to them for work and study.  However, these opportunities are often bound by the condition that a certain level of English proficiency is achieved.  As such, language becomes a gatekeeper, enabling or disabling people from achieving their goals in terms of how they live, study or work.

By completing this activity you will consider the role of English language proficiency tests and the perspectives around these tests.

English Language Tests (ELTs) are tests which assess a person’s English language ability.  There are many reasons why someone may take an English Language Test but for our purposes, we will consider ELTs as a way of proving language ability in order to live, work or study in the UK.  

  • In the UK, certain types of visa and citizenship applications require you to prove your English language ability through a Home Office approved test.  These tests are known as Secure English Language Tests (SELTs). SELTs are available through a small number of approved test providers in the UK and abroad. It is the responsibility of the individual to ensure they take the appropriate test for their needs. It costs in the region of £150 to book a SELT in the UK.
  • Universities also require prospective international students to prove their English language ability.  There is a wide range of ways that prospective students can do this.  For example, Manchester Metropolitan University lists 45 different qualifications which they accept as proof of English language ability.  
  • One of the most commonly used standards for university entry is IELTS.  IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System and assesses an individual’s’ English ability on a scale from 0-9, where 9 is ‘expert user’ and 0 is ‘did not take the test’.   A score of approximately 6 is often required for university entry.
  • Similar tests you may hear about include TOEFL, Pearson, Trinity and Cambridge English.

Grace from Taiwan took a SELT as part of her visa application

I’ve lived and worked in London for quite a few years.  I write reports and give presentations in English and my own English level is pretty much fluent so the test was straightforward but I still felt a bit stressed about organising and taking the test, just in case I booked the wrong one or made a mistake on the day. 

Cam from Turkey took an IELTS test to gain entry to university

I viewed the IELTS test as a means to an end.  The tasks in the exam don’t really reflect what we have to do at university.  I did a course that taught us exam technique and I felt it was all about learning to pass the test rather than anything else.

Alessia from Italy also took an IELTS test to gain entry to her postgraduate degree and had a different perspective

I loved having the exam to focus on because it motivated me. I spoke quite good English already from watching American films and listening to English music but I had never really read or written much in English so the IELTS preparation was a good way to practise my skills before university.   


There wasn’t a test centre in my area so I travelled by train to the nearest approved test centre.  The test started early in the morning so I stayed overnight in a hotel the night before.  Along with the fee for sitting the test the experience was quite expensive for me.  I also bought some second hand test preparation books so I could practise with mock tests. The book would have cost about £50 to buy new.  Overall it was an expensive experience for me.

English Language Tests

Based on the information you have just read, what are some of the positives and negatives of English Language Tests (ELTs)? Use the template below to support your answer