By British Council Italy

14 November 2023 - 17:22

High-stike exams British Council

High-stakes language tests have become essential tools for certifying English language proficiency.

What is a high-stakes English language test?

A high-stakes test is a test used to make important decisions about the future of those who take it, whether they are students, educators, or professionals. It is a test that not only assesses language knowledge but certifies it, and is therefore recognized by employers and universities, making it a real proof of English language proficiency. 

The British Council administers millions of international high-stakes exams every year, including IELTS, and now also Aptis ESOL, which has recently been recognized by the Association of Italian University Language Centers (AICLU) as a suitable test for assessing language competence in universities. 

A high-stakes test provides certification that allows individuals to study, work, or migrate wherever a demonstration of their English language proficiency is required. Given the importance of these exams for language proficiency certification, high-stakes English language tests assess the four main language skills: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. However, not all high-stakes tests are the same, nor do they have exactly the same purpose. 

For example, the IELTS test includes an individual speaking test to assess conversational and listening skills (both oral and written). It also includes writing exercises to evaluate the candidate's ability to organize ideas and write effectively. There is also an academic version of the test, IELTS Academic, which assesses the skills necessary for studying in English in an academic environment. IELTS General Training focuses on everyday language skills needed for social or work-related situations in English and IELTS UKVI that can be used to apply for VISA to study, work or live in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

Furthermore, some high-stakes English language tests also assess grammar and vocabulary knowledge. This is the case with Aptis ESOL, which includes a test to evaluate grammar and vocabulary knowledge, contributing to the final score in line with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) assigned to each of the assessed communication skills. 

Which one to choose? 

 External regulation of an exam is a clear indication of its validity, reliability, accuracy, and consistency of exam results. For example, IELTS and Aptis ESOL are regulated in England by the UK government agency, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual), and recognized in Italy by AICLU, the Italian Association of University Language Centers. Therefore, they can be used during one's educational journey in their own country to demonstrate their English proficiency level. 

Another aspect to consider is international recognition. Exams like IELTS and TOEFL are recognized worldwide by over 11,500 educational, professional, and official institutions for studying or working in an English language context. They are more suitable where English is the first language or the primary language requirement in the field to which they apply.