4 Hardest English-Language Proficiency Tests in the World


There are hundreds of English language proficiency tests around the world for students ready to put an accreditation behind all their hard, language-learning work. Many are administered for specific countries or universities, while others are recognized globally.

Unsurprisingly, not all English language proficiency tests are created equal.

Some ain’t hard.

Some require a working level of language proficiency.

And some, as an elementary requisite, postulate a foremost aptitude in English speech and grammar.

This article lists the 4 hardest English-language proficiency tests. Which do you think you would pass?

un lce

4. The IELTS English Proficiency Test

The IELTS is the most widely recognized English proficiency test in the world. In 2017, 3 million tests were administered in over 140 countries.

Unlike some other tests on this list, the International English Language Testing System is graded into “bands”. In other words, there’s no pass of fail, but test-takers receive a score of 1 to 9. 1 is classified as “non-user”, and 9 means “expert user.”

One difficult feature of the test is that, for the listening section, test-takers are required to interpret a range of English accents. These include British, Australian, New Zealander, and American. (To learn how to distinguish British accents, read this article from our blog). 

3. The TOEFL Exam

Judging whether the IELTS or the TOEFL (the other major internationally-recognized English language proficiency test) is harder isn’t easy.

Like the IELTS, the Test of English as a Foreign Language is graded on a sliding scale. It’s also about an hour longer than the IELTS, at 4 hours.

The TOEFL tests test-takers ability to understand English spoken with an American accent. Another difference between IELTS and TOEFL is that the latter is computer-based, which can create screen-fatigue as you concentrate, listen, think, and type for hours on end.

2. The PTE Academic Test

If you’re going to grad-school, don’t forget these essential skills from kindergarten that help grad students. 

The Pearson Test of English Academic measures non-native English speakers’ readiness for English-language university programs. It is a newer test than others on this list, but is endorsed by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

The PTE Academic aims to reflect English as test takers will encounter it in real-life grad-school scenarios, like lectures and seminars. Some test components include re-telling a lecture, writing from dictation, and listening with background noise.

1. UN Language Competitive Examinations

To work for the UN as a language professional, – that means as an interpreter, editor, proofreader, translator, or verbatim reporter – applicants must undergo a language examination process that is notoriously difficult. English is just one of the official languages of the UN which the LCE tests for. The others are Russian, Chinese, Arabic, French and Spanish.

Besides a required university degree, most applicants taking the LCE for interpretation also have higher-level degrees and accreditation in interpretation. 

Candidates are asked to interpret speeches of increasing difficulty, in terms of complexity and speed of delivery, from each of their source languages. The speeches are approximately 5 to 10 minutes each. According the UN, examinees must demonstrate:

 “Excellent passive comprehension of their two source languages; Accuracy in interpreting into the target language in a grammatically correct manner; Ability to construct complete sentences; An understanding of the appropriate style and register; An ability to keep up with the speed; Intelligent editing of logically redundant words and phrases; Ability to cope with difficult or dense passages; Good diction and delivery.”

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