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Which English abilities do international applicants need to flourish at university?

What is the impact if students’ English abilities are below the level they need? Well, students may fail to reach their academic potential; there may be increased requirements for support; and there may be dissatisfaction amongst the wider student community.

"Ensuring your applicants have relevant language skills and abilities is of course crucial, but it’s only one part of a great test"

This is why choosing the right English tests for admissions is so important. The right test will help you to reliably check a student’s communication skills, as well as opening doors to a more diverse international student population.

In this article, you can discover the top three things you need to look out for in an English language test.

1 Confidence that applicants have the right skills to succeed

This is perhaps the most important aspect of a great test: do your applicants have the relevant English skills and abilities to flourish in an academic environment?

Here at Cambridge University Press and Assessment we dedicate much of our research to this question and we ensure our tests are fit for purpose by using the following underlying philosophy for test development:

  • Validity–are our exams an authentic test of real-life English?
  • Reliability–do our exams behave consistently and fairly?
  • Impact–do our assessments have a positive effect on teaching and learning?
  • Practicality–do our assessments meet learners’ needs within available resources?
  • Quality–how we plan, deliver and check that we provide excellence in all of these fields.

So, how can you check if a test is valid? We put this into practice using the “Can Do” framework, researched by the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) of which we are a founding member. The “Can Do” framework makes qualifications more usable by clearly stating the language skills you can expect a student to have at the different levels covered by the exam.

Let’s take the example of our most popular qualification for admissions, C1 Advanced. This qualification helps learners develop the skills they need to make the most of studying, working and living in English-speaking countries by ensuring they “Can Do” the following:

  • Listening/speaking: CAN follow abstract argumentation, for example the balancing of alternative and the drawing of a conclusion.
  • Listening/speaking: CAN make critical remarks/express disagreement without causing offence.
  • Reading: CAN read quickly enough to cope with the demands of an academic course.
  • Reading: CAN take reasonably accurate notes in meetings or write a piece of work which shows an ability to communicate.
  • Writing: CAN write an essay which shows ability to communicate giving few difficulties for the reader.
  • Writing: CAN select the most salient and relevant ideas and represent them clearly and briefly.

2 Diversify your international applicant population

Ensuring your applicants have relevant language skills and abilities is of course crucial, but it’s only one part of a great test. As part of a world-leading university ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities in higher education and we share a mission to contribute to society by supporting the widest possible student access to higher education.

“All applicants should get an opportunity to prove they have what it takes”

We believe all applicants should get an opportunity to prove they have what it takes. Accepting our tests is completely free and helps institutions diversify their student population. Our tests are available in 130 countries worldwide.

3 Results you can trust

Finally, any test you use for admissions purposes needs to be completely secure and trustworthy. Here are the enhanced security features we offer with our tests, which are good things to look out for in any test you accept: secure production of test materials; secure mode of delivery whether at test centre or online; test day photos; centralised marking; statistical analysis of results before release; and online results verification.

About Cambridge University Press & Assessment

We are part of Cambridge University Press & Assessment, a department of the University of Cambridge. Our leading range of qualifications for admissions is Cambridge English Qualifications and millions of students worldwide have achieved these qualifications through their schooling. If you want to extend your recruitment reach with Cambridge English Qualifications, it’s completely free.

About the author: This is a sponsored post from Nicola Johnson, Head of Global Recognition, Cambridge University Press & Assessment. Nicola has spent her career in international education and assessment and has been at Cambridge Assessment for over 15 years. During her time at Cambridge Assessment English she has been involved in a range of different business development and marketing projects, including for IELTS and C1 Advanced, and more recently has taken on a strategic leadership role for global recognition for the organisation. Previous to this Nicola worked at Cambridge Assessment International on IGCSE and Cambridge Pre-U. Nicola graduated in 2003 with a BA (Hons) in Media and English language.

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