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Understanding English test scores - What's an IELTS 6.5 in TOEFL and PTE Academic?

English test scoring systems

The main English language tests used for university entrance all report their scores on a different scale. IELTS uses a scale of 0 – 9, TOEFL IBT (Internet based test) uses numbers from 40 to 120, PTE Academic is graded from 10 to 90 and the Cambridge tests (FCE, CAE, CPE) has A – E grades.

So how do you know what your score in one test equals in one of the other tests?

This is an interesting question and there are many academics, companies and language assessment specialists who try to map the scores onto each other to produce what is called an equivalence chart. They usually look something like this:

IELTS         Cambridge           TOEFL IBT          PTE Academic

7.5 - 9.0           CPE                    96 - 120             73 - 90

6.5 - 7.0           CAE                    79 - 95                59 - 72

5.5 - 6.0           FCE                    65 - 78                42 - 58

So, how do they do it?

English language testing experts look at the content of each test and what a typical student can do at each level of each test and decide broadly what a grade or score in one test means in another. This may be different according to the content of the test for example if one test has more speaking or writing or based on statistics of previous students who took a particular test. Equivalence charts are often reviewed by universities every few years based on the performance of previous students on university courses who were admitted with a certain test or test score.

Why is there not one standard equivalence chart?

This is mainly because the tests are not measuring the exactly the same skills in exactly the
same way so an exact comparison is impossible to make. The various equivalence charts can differ greatly depending on who did the comparison. Remember that the grading systems are different and the way of marking is different too. Some tests use computer marking only while others use human markers only or a combination of both.

What does this mean for students trying to enter university in an English speaking country?

Firstly it means doing some research – often the university equivalence chart is a public
document so you can see what scores are being asked for each test. This way you can see if your test score meets the requirements or use the equivalence chart to help you decide which test to take. You may notice that universities have different equivalence charts which could affect the test you choose to do for specific universities or as a result of looking at equivalence charts you might change your mind about which universities to apply to.

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