Happy New Year to our readers! We hope 2017 is the year that your dreams come true! Perhaps this year your dream includes the goal of achieving a high score on an English proficiency exam for your application to IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada). If so, you may be weighing the pros and cons of the CELPIP General or the IELTS General Training tests and wondering which of the two is the right choice for you.
Tests of General English
Immigrants enter Canada under a variety of immigration categories. Much like native born or raised Canadians, newcomers arrive with a broad range of skills, training, and expertise. Some newcomers will have attended university or graduate school, while some will have completed their post-secondary schooling at a trade school or through an apprenticeship program. Consequently, to level the playing field, the government of Canada has determined that PR and citizenship applicants should be assessed on the type of English used in day-to-day life, rather than the specialized and academic English used in the ivory tower.
Both the IELTS General Training and the CELPIP General English proficiency exams claim to test these so-called real world English skills. Considering this fact, candidates often ask, which is the easier test? While there is no simple answer to this question, we will take a closer look at the content matter and the types of tasks found on the CELPIP and the IELTS tests so that you can make a more informed choice about the exam you choose to book and prepare for. In this post, we will examine the components of the listening section of the two exams.
In terms of sheer length, the IELTS listening test has the CELPIP beat. The 47-minute listening section of the CELPIP test, which contains six separate scored listening tasks, is 15 minutes longer than the IELTS listening test. The CELPIP also includes an extra unmarked seventh task, which is used to test recently developed test items for upcoming tests. In contrast, the IELTS listening test contains four separate tasks and takes only 30 minutes.
There are many similarities when it comes to the types of listening skills being assessed on the two exams. Part One of the CELPIP and the Section One of the IELTS tests both include a task that involves listening to a dialogue featuring a conversation between a member of the public and an individual who works for an organization that serves the public. The subject matter of these conversations is meant to be familiar to adults who are generally able to function in English at a low-intermediate level in day-to-day life.
However, test-takers need to be aware that though the type of conversations featured are run-of-the mill (e.g. asking for directions, booking appointments, requesting information to make a choice, etc.), the exchanges are more challenging and the listening samples longer than those typically encountered in low-intermediate ESL listening texts or internet lessons. In both exams, testers will also encounter samples of idiomatic and colloquial language that people use in social and everyday interactions.
Test-takers may appreciate the format of the CELPIP test in this case, as the 3 - 4.5-minute dialogue is broken down into three separate sections, which makes the challenge more manageable for lower-level students. Alternatively, Section One of the IELTS listening test is played in its entirety, which at up to five minutes, requires careful attention to detail, even though the content matter of the audio is not “difficult.”
That said, test-takers should be aware that the three-parts of CELPIP Part One occur over different time periods. Although the three parts of the conversation are thematically linked, testers must quickly identify the context of each new part of the listening. In contrast, IELTS Section One features a longer dialogue set over one specific time-period.
Another difference between these two listening tasks lies in the format of the test questions. In the IELTS exam, listeners may have to record pertinent information on a chart or form (e.g. a packing slip). As such, test-takers are primarily being tested on their ability to listen for specific factual details, such as dates, addresses and times. The CELPIP test, in contrast, follows a more conventional multiple choice format. Questions on the CELPIP test are broader, and include questions that test the listener’s ability to identify attitude, emotions, and the relationship between speakers, as well as details from the conversation.
The CELPIP listening exam also contains an additional conversational listening task (CELPIP Listening Part 2: Listening to a Daily Life Conversation) which features a 1.5 – 2-minute dialogue between two individuals. Unlike CELPIP Listening Part 1, where the interaction is between strangers, the dialogue in Part Two tends to be of a more personal nature between speakers who share a relationship of some sort. Often the conversations revolve around a personal challenge one of the speakers is facing, such as a problem at work. The second speaker may in turn offer advice, empathy, or words of caution to the speaker with the dilemma or problem.
Instructional and Informational English
CELPIP listening Part Three and IELTS listening Section Two also have commonalities. The content of the listening samples in these sections are informational in focus and feature a recording of an individual with expertise in a more specialized matter providing detailed information to an audience or an individual member of the public. This information is delivered in a conversational format between two people in the CELPIP test, whereas in the IELTS the information is usually delivered in monologue format. Regardless of the delivery, the listening skills being assessed are similar. Test-takers must be able to comprehend new information and should have the ability to categorize that information and/or follow the steps of a process or a detailed set of instructions. In both exams, the listening samples are about two minutes in length, and the topics often involve a consumer service or product (e.g. information about travel insurance packages, how to install solar panels, the benefits of organic gardening, venue rentals options for a conference, etc.).
English for Meetings
Both the CELPIP and the IELTS also feature a listening dialogue set in the context of a meeting. CELPIP listening Part Five consists of a meeting in a workplace or community setting and involves a discussion between three speakers, while IELTS listening Section Three may only feature two speakers (a 1-1 meeting) or up to four speakers meeting in an educational or training setting. The content of the meetings and the focus of the listening skills being tested in the IELTS has a greater range than CELPIP listening Part 5. For example, the IELTS meetings might involve a more informational type task, wherein a professor and a student discuss a homework assignment in great depth, or the meeting might consist of a group of university students planning how to divide up individual tasks in a group project.
The format of the meetings featured in the CELPIP listening exam tend to be more formulaic and predictable in nature, even if the meeting subject matter is unfamiliar. Participants are involved in a planning meeting wherein different viewpoints on a meeting item are discussed and testers are assessed on their ability to understand the different viewpoints, proposals and final decisions of the speakers involved. Testers should be familiar with gambits for agreeing, disagreeing, hedging, etc., and need to be able to distinguish strong viewpoints from milder positions. Another noteworthy aspect of Part 5 of the CELPIP listening test is that its recorded in video format; many testers will appreciate and benefit from the extra visual cues (i.e. facial expressions, body language, etc.) provided by this medium.
The CELPIP listening test contains a task for which there is no equivalent on the IELTS listening test. CELPIP Part 4 features a conventional news story with a 5 W’s style of reporting, in which an unusual event or new development is described. The newscasts are fairly straightforward and are not controversial. The tester is evaluated on his or her ability to identify facts such as the who was involved in the news event, where and when the news event took place, and how and/or why the news event occurred. The newscasts are about a minute and a half in length, and are modeled after the short self-contained “in a nutshell” news items that are featured on the evening news, or the brief on the hour or half hour newscasts broadcast on the radio. There is usually no backstory, and the listener requires no prior knowledge of the events related.
Topical Issues – Viewpoints
Although the CELPIP General and the IELTS General Training profess to test everyday English, both exams also contain tasks that are fairly challenging in nature. In CELPIP listening Part 6, this involves listening to a talk about a controversial topic wherein various viewpoints on an issue are presented. This task is meant to represent the type of listening a test-taker with higher language abilities should be able to comprehend, such as an in-depth news report or short radio documentary. The rationale behind a task of this sort is that higher-level students should be striving to listen to more difficult subject matter to stay informed about topical issues affecting society. In the CELPIP test, the listening recordings have a distinctly Canadian focus. The IELTS counterpart, Section 4, is described as a “talk”, and is very similar to what would be the equivalent of a first-year introductory university lecture. The viewpoints presented in these sections of the two tests are delivered in a monologue format. Unlike a “real” lecture, TV, or radio documentary, the length of the recordings in both exams are only about three minutes long.
Another factor that might influence a test-taker’s choice of tests is the difference between the question formats on the two listening exams. In Part 1-3 of the CELPIP listening test the questions are only spoken, not written. Furthermore, the questions are presented after the main audio recording. On many tests of English, test-takers can preview the test questions before they listen to the audio recording. In many test-preparation classes, the act of “previewing” test questions before listening is taught as a test-taking strategy (i.e. the skill of anticipating what information to listen for).
Consequently, some may prefer the structure of the IELTS listening test where test-takers can preview test questions before they listen to a recording. That said, many students prefer the computerized multiple-choice format of the CELPIP listening exam over the types of test-questions found on the IELTS. (There are a variety of question types on the IELTS exam, which may include any of the following forms; multiple choice, labeling a map or diagram, completing a table or a flow chart, and giving short answers). While we believe it to be a misconception, many students share the belief that multiple-choice tests are “easier” than tests with other types of formats.
The IELTS Academic and the IELTS General Training Listening Tests
When it comes to profiling the type of English used in everyday life, we feel that the listening section of the CELPIP exam does a better job of featuring more generic English content, while the IELTS has a decidedly academic slant. This is because the listening (and the speaking) portion of the IELTS General Training test is exactly the same as the IELTS Academic test. For this reason, IELTS test-takers are very likely to encounter listening recordings that take place at an educational institution. For test-takers unaccustomed to college or university life, a conversation between a professor and a group of students about how to identify motifs in English literature (this dialogue is offered on an official IELTS websites as a sample of the type of task found on IELTS Section 3) will likely feel unfamiliar and unrelated to their everyday lives.
If you are a recent graduate who has been immersed in an academic setting for the past four years or longer, the academic subject matter of the IELTS listening exam might suit your needs better than the CELPIP. For many test-takers, however, their college days are long since behind them. Some students will also be attracted by the shorter and more streamlined IELTS listening test. However, the listening tasks on the CELPIP test tend to be more formulaic and predictable than those on the IELTS, and thus, easier to study for. Additionally, being scored on a larger sample of “everyday English” tasks might actually benefit lower level students as this mitigates the risk that test-takers “bomb” the one part of the test designed to test their specific listening skills. Ultimately, we feel the greater variety of tasks on the CELPIP exam provide a more accurate and thorough assessment of a test-taker’s ability to understand the English used in the real world. Doing well on the CELPIP listening test provides a good indication of how well an individual will be able to function in Canadian society.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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!