Comparing Cambridge and IELTS

We talk about Cambridge exams on English Too. From time to time people ask questions about the IELTS exam. In this post we’ll talk about IELTS and compare it to the different Cambridge exams.

What is IELTS?

IELTS or the International English Language Testing System is the most popular English test for higher education and for entry into some countries. It is recognised in many countries as a standard for university courses. It is also used by countries like Australia, the UK and Canada to check the standard of the language of people who wish to live in those countries.

Similar to the Cambridge exams it also tests a number of skills. Unlike the Cambridge exams there is only a single test for each skill and candidates are scored in a range from 0-9 on that test. All of the tests can take place the same day.

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

There are two types of exams : General and Academic. The choice of exam depends on what candidates need.

General: This type of exam is most useful for candidates who want to live and work in an English-speaking country.  In the general IELTS exam materials come from books, magazines, newspapers and are the type of reading candidates can expect to see in everyday life. Writing in this exam includes a letter, which can be informal or formal, as well as an essay where candidates need to express personal opinions.

Academic: This type of exam is most useful for candidates who wish to study in a university or for people who wish to be registered as a professional, for example as a doctor or nurse. Materials in this exam are more complex and academic. Academic writing can include evaluation of a graph or a description of a process , and a formal academic style essay.

The IELTS scale
This is how IELTS looks at the levels of candidates using the score from 0  to 9.

  • 9  Expert user
  • 8  Very good user
  • 7  Good user
  • 6  Competent user
  • 5  Modest user
  • 4  Limited user
  • 3  Extremely limited user
  • 2  Intermittent user
  • 1  Non user
  • 0  Did not attempt the test

Comparing Cambridge and IELTS scores

The simplest way to compare both exams is shown on this image.

We can match this image with Cambridge exams and scores.

IELTS Band Score










Cambridge Score










Cambridge Exam

C2 Proficiency

C1 Advanced

C1 Advanced

B2 First

B2 First

B2 First




You can also use the Cambridge score converter to see what different scores mean for different exams.

Which type of exam is best for me?

It depends what you need or want.

The Cambridge exams up to C1 are general English exams. For the world of work in the country where you live, employers will probably accept any certificate that officially confirms a particular level of English. It is certainly common to find jobs requiring specific levels, often B2 or C1 in Cambridge exams.

IELTS is most commonly used for academic study or for moving to an English-speaking country. For many academic institutions IELTS scores are used, typically with scores from 6.0-7.5 depending on the course. Cambridge exam scores may be accepted but often at a level of C1 and higher.

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