In your academic or work career, it can happen that you are required to prove your level of English through a qualification. What most people usually do is to call a language school and ask for dates and prices for a B2 English certification, for instance. As a result, they may be inundated with a sea of specific questions and information they haven’t considered and have no idea about. Why is it so complicated?
In this article, you will discover some basic information about certifications and the criteria you should keep in mind before enrolling for an exam.
How certifications work: the assessment
In the European Union, language knowledge is assessed through the Common European Framework of Languages (CEFR), and, even if a certification is not European, its levels can be “translated” into this framework.
The CEFR divides language competency in three main levels:
A, where the speaker can only understand and produce basic information;
B, an intermediate user;
C, an advanced user
Every level is again divided into two sub-areas:
A1; A2; B1; B2; C1; C2
For their description and what the possessor of each level is supposed to be able to do, check out the official website [https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference-languages/level-descriptions]. All language certifications test all levels – with a few exceptions – so knowing the level you need is a good starting point to choose your exams, but there are other factors.
The exam curriculum
Which area of English do you need to test: general English, business English, medical English or others? Be mindful that just because you need the language for work, it does not mean you need to test a specific semantic area, so maybe a general English exam can be suitable to your needs. If you already have in mind the organisation you want to apply to, it might be a good idea to ask them if they have any language requirements that they need from you.
The most widely accepted exams are those that assess all four language skills:
– Oral comprehension (listening)
– Oral production (Speaking)
– Written comprehension (reading)
– Written production (writing).
This being said, some people may want to assess only one ability, for instance speaking, because in their future job they will be required to speak in that language and not to write as much. There are certifications, like LanguageCert, which allow you to take only the speaking or written part of the exams, so you don’t waste your time or money with an assessment package you don’t really need.
Maybe you found the right certification for you, but then you discover that the exam dates available are really scarce, that it needs a high number of candidates for the session to be activated, the enrollments close 3 months before the exam date, or that your certificate won’t arrive by the time you need it. However, these details can be crucial! The most state-of-the-art certifications send you a digital version of your certificate just a few days after you take the exam and offer exam sessions, which can be activated just with one candidate. Some assessment organisations take it to the next level and even offer sessions on demand: it’s your exam, and you decide the date!
This is linked to the previous point. Your experience while taking the exam must be good from when you enroll – and even beforehand, when you ask for information –to when you receive your certificate. The quality of your experience depends on the type of certification and on the exam centre in equal measure. Obviously, you can’t know in advance if your experience will be positive, but you can ask a friend who took the same exam in the same location, or ask the following questions of the exam centre:
– Do I get headphones for the listening?
– Are the staff members conducting the exam specifically prepared to do this?
– Is there a maximum number of candidates?
– Is the writing and the speaking on the same day?
In general, non-numerous exam sessions where you get headphones to protect your listening performance from outside noise tend to provide a good exam experience – and raise your chance for success.
In conclusion, you’d better think about why you decided you want a certification and how it should be before starting asking – you may even find out you don’t need one at all at the moment. In general, it is recommendable to steer clear from any the language centres that push you towards a particular certification, claiming that it is the best of all worlds: all exams have their pros and cons and probably the reason for such behaviour is that it is the only exam they offer!
I hope now you have clearer ideas about your language certification; if you are more confused than before, I humbly apologise – but, in any case, good luck for your exam!
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