So you have decided to apply for citizenship or permanent residency status in Canada. In addition to the reams of paperwork you must submit and the stack of forms you must fill out, you discover that you must provide proof of your English (or French!) proficiency with your application. For many applicants, this will entail submittng the scores of an official test of English, and in Canada, you have the option of taking one of two exams: the IELTS General Training or the CELPIP General.
Faced with this choice, you will likely be wondering, “Which test should I take?” And yet, after a couple of fruitless hours of online research, you may be no closer to an answer. In our series of articles comparing the two exams we will endeavor to help you make a more informed choice. This first post will cover some of the more procedural aspects of the two English language tests.
The choice of which test you should take may simply boil down to geography. In which part of the world are you currently residing? If you live anywhere outside of Canada your choice will be simple as the CELPIP test is currently only available in Canada. If you are outside of Canada, you will have to take the IELTS exam. This may change in the future, but this is currently the case.
However, this brings us to our next point of comparison. The IELTS exam is an international test of English, while the CELPIP exam is purely Canadian. For many applicants, this is an important distinction. The IELTS test features speakers with English accents from all over the globe. The speakers in the listening portion of the IELTS exam could possibly have British accents, American accents, Canadian accents, Australian accents, New Zealand accents, South African accents, Irish accents …. you get the point.
Many non-native English speakers report finding the Canadian accent more “neutral” and easier to understand than many other English accents. This may be debatable, but if you’ve lived in Canada for a few years already, you are likely to find it easier to understand speakers with Canadian accents because you have been exposed to this accent on a daily basis.
Of course, in the real world, Canada is celebrated for its multiculturalism, and you are likely to encounter English speakers from around the globe on a daily basis. Yet this is a discussion outside of the scope of this article. As it stands, all of the audio and video clips that make up the CELPIP exam (instructions included) solely contain speakers with “native” Canadian English accents.
If your bottom line when weighing the choice between the IELTS and the CELPIP is largely financial, then once again, your choice will be clear cut. The CELPIP is a cheaper exam. The IELTS exam costs between $309 and $319, depending on where your test centre is located. The four-skills CELPIP exam, alternatively, costs only $265 (plus tax) across the board.
Individuals who need to provide English proficiency results for their citizenship application are even more in luck. The two-skill listening and speaking exam, which is the version of the CELPIP citizenship applicants need only take, costs $185 (plus tax).
Of course, if you do not achieve your target score on your first attempt, the cost of the initial exam is relative. If you “fail” any one skill on either the IELTS General, the CELPIP General, or the CELPIP General LS, you will have to pay full price to retake the exam in question again. You cannot “mix” your best results from different exams.
When it comes to the maximum number of times you can take either exam, IELTS has the advantage. There are no restrictions on the number of IELTS exams you can take, and there is no waiting period between exam dates. In other words, if you fail the IELTS on Tuesday, the only thing stopping you from taking another IELTS test on the Wednesday is the money in your bank account. In contrast, the CELPIP administrators impose a mandatory 30-day waiting period between test dates.
However, unless you bomb a test due to some unforeseen circumstances (e.g. a terrible flu, a lack of sleep, or panic attack that clouded your cognitive functions, etc.) it would be a bad idea to retake a test in such close proximity to a previous attempt, as you would likely achieve a similarly low score without further study.
It’s human nature to put off until tomorrow that which we should have done today. If you have left your PR or citizenship application until the last minute and are now under the gun to submit your forms on time, then it might matter to you how quickly you receive your test results, and in this regard, CELPIP is faster. CELPIP will release a test taker’s initial results online in eight business days, and will mail official results within 4-10 days by regular post following this. Initial IELTS results are posted online after 13 business days, but it may take up to three weeks subsequent to this to receive official results by post. Both the CELPIP and IELTS offer expedited test results for a fee.
Paragon Testing Enterprises, the administrator of the CELPIP exam, is ahead by leaps and bounds when it comes to the number of test dates available in Canada. In the two biggest test centres in the country, Vancouver and Toronto, the CELPIP folks had between 60 and 85 dates scheduled between now and the new year respectively, compared to the IELTS, which lists eight test dates in Toronto and two in Vancouver. Outside of the two biggest test areas, the IELTS currently has sites across the province of Ontario and individual test centres in Montreal, Winnipeg, Victoria and Calgary. The CELPIP is available in every province of the country (but not the territories), with multiple test centres in some.
Do you prefer to take paper-based tests, or computer-based tests? Your preference in this regard may heavily colour your decision making. The CELPIP exam is administered entirely by computer, so individuals with low computer skills are likely to be daunted by this potential obstacle. On the other hand, there are likely to be many other cohorts (millennials come to mind) who are put off by the paper-based IELTS.
The speaking section of the two exams is where test takers have reported a big difference between the computer vs. paper format of the two exams. During the IELTS exam, you are examined by a live test rater. For the CELPIP, candidates respond to written prompts, and their answers are recorded by computer (real test raters assess these responses at a later date). If you find the thought of interacting with a real human being particularly stressful, you may prefer the anonymity of the CELPIP. Be aware, however, that some test-takers have had complaints about the CELPIP speaking format. Although noise cancelling headsets are provided, students have reported that it is noisy and distracting to record their responses in a room full of test-takers talking at the same time.
Another caveat to keep in mind is that you will lose marks on the writing portion of the IELTS if your handwriting is indecipherable. If you simply can’t write legibly under pressure, then the computer-based CELPIP may be for you. However, if you are painstakingly slow using an English keyboard, then you may prefer to stick to old-fashioned handwriting, as featured on the IELTS.
Our final point of comparison concerns the duration and scheduling of the two English proficiency exams. The listening, reading, and writing portion of the IELTS General exam takes 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The speaking portion of the IELTS is an additional 11-15 minutes. However, due to the fact that the speaking test must be administered individually to students, there is a high probability that you must come in a week prior, or a week after the core test date, though if you are lucky, your speaking-test could be scheduled the same day.
While there may be a few test-takers who appreciate the opportunity to take the speaking test in isolation so that they feel “fresh” (three hours is a long time, and it’s hard to be at your best after completing the three other skill areas), it’s more likely that most test-takers will find the necessity of booking two dates for the same test somewhat of a hassle.
The CELPIP General is also a three-hour test, though as noted above, all four skills are completed in one sitting. Those individuals who are only required to take the CELPIP LS exam, will undergo a 67-minute exam.
We’ve covered the general format and administration of the general IELTS and CELPIP exams in this post, and some candidates will have made their decision as to which test they will undertake based on these factors. In our next posts we will dig a little deeper and look at the specific tasks contained in the listening, speaking, reading and writing sections of the IELTS and CELPIP, as well as some of the official study materials available to help you prepare for these important tests of English.
Welcome to English Express Canada's new blog! We are very excited to announce the launch of English Express: Tips and Topics, a monthly blog exploring matters related to English language learning, immigration, citizenship, and Canadian settlement.
Our first series of articles will compare the two English proficiency tests accepted by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for permanent residency and citizenship applications. Look for our first post, which compares the format and administration of the IELTS and CELPIP general exams, in the next day or two.
We hope that you find our articles helpful and insightful. If there is a topic you would like us to explore, please post your ideas in the comment section below, or drop us a line at email@example.com. We welcome comments and ideas from English language learners and instructors alike. Would you like to write a guest post? Please don't hesitate to get in touch with your proposal!