Choosing the proper English test for Canada: IELTS, CELPIP, PTE

English tests for Canada

Giulia, a vibrant 21-year-old from Italy, dreams of a new adventure in Canada. She is fluent in Italian and English and recognizes the need to prove her language skills to Canadian immigration authorities. Canada accepts three English language tests: the IELTS, CELPIP, and PTE. With these options, Giulia wonders which test will best reflect her proficiency. Her questioning begins an in-depth exploration of Canada’s immigration requirements. Eagerly, she aims to navigate the process smoothly. Giulia seeks to start a new chapter in a country celebrated for its vast landscapes and diverse cultures.

Which English tests are available for immigration to Canada?

When immigrating to Canada, you may take any of the following tests. However, you must only take those variations mentioned here. For example, IELTS offers an Academic version as well. Nonetheless, you must take the General version.

  • CELPIP: Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program  (Only CELPIP General)
  • IELTS: International English Language Testing System (Only IELTS General)
  • PTE: Pearson Test of English (Only PTE Core)

The validity of each test is only two years. Therefore, the tests must be under two years old when submitting your application.

What is CLB (Canada Language Benchmark)?

Before explaining the English language tests, let’s explore CLB. The Canada Language Benchmark (CLB) is a national standard used across Canada to measure and describe the English language proficiency of adult and prospective immigrants living and working in Canada. The CLB framework divides language ability into 12 benchmarks, ranging from basic (1) to advanced (12) levels, across four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

This standardized system helps in various ways. It assists educators in designing curricula catering to English language learners’ language needs. For immigrants, it provides a clear understanding of their language proficiency levels, helping them to set realistic language learning goals. Additionally, the CLB is used by Canadian immigration authorities to assess the English language proficiency of immigration applicants through tests like the CELPIP and IELTS, aligning their scores with CLB levels.

Understanding one’s CLB level can significantly impact an immigrant’s journey in Canada, influencing their eligibility for specific immigration programs, employment opportunities, and integration into Canadian society.

CELPIP General

The CELPIP General test is a popular option for those moving to Canada. Unlike other tests, CELPIP scores match Canada Language Benchwork (CLB). It evaluates English language skills in everyday situations. The focus areas are listening, reading, writing, and speaking. CELPIP stands out for its Canadian context, reflecting the English used in Canada’s work, social, and cultural settings.

The test is computer-delivered, offering a direct and efficient experience. You can take the CELPIP in several countries, making it accessible to many applicants. The countries include:

  • Canada
  • USA
  • India
  • Philippines
  • UAE
  • China
  • Australia
  • UK
  • and more

For more details on the CELPIP General test, such as registration, test centres, and preparation tips, visit the official CELPIP website. It provides comprehensive information on the test format, scoring system, and how to prepare effectively. Moreover, the CELPIP website offers free practice tests.

IELTS General Training

The IELTS General Training test is a key option for individuals planning to immigrate to English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. It assesses English proficiency practically, covering listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills. The test is designed to reflect everyday English language skills needed for both social and workplace situations.

IELTS General Training offers two formats for taking the test: paper-based and computer-delivered, allowing candidates to select the most convenient option. However, if you take the computer-based test, you receive your results sooner.

IELTS General Training Test Sections

This table summarizes the IELTS General Training test format, including the timing, number of questions or tasks, and marking criteria for each section. Of course, we highly recommend visiting the official IELTS website for more detailed information and preparation resources.

Test SectionTime AllottedNumber of Parts/QuestionsMarking
ListeningApproximately 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes transfer time)Three sections, 40 questions totalEach correct answer receives one mark. Band score in whole or half bands.
General Training Reading60 minutes (including transfer time)Two tasksEach correct answer receives one mark. Band score from 1–9 in whole or half bands.
General Training Writing60 minutesThree partsTask 2 contributes twice as much as Task 1 to the Writing score.
Speaking11–14 minutesThree partsPerformance assessed by an examiner.


  • Parts 1 and 2: Deal with everyday social situations.
  • Parts 3 and 4: Focus on educational and training contexts.
  • Recordings feature a variety of accents.
  • Test takers transfer answers to an answer sheet within the test time.

General Training Reading

  • Section 1: Everyday topics.
  • Section 2: Work-related topics.
  • Section 3: General interest topics, more complex.
  • You must transfer answers within the 60-minute test period.

General Training Writing

  • Task 1: Respond to a situation with a letter, a minimum of 150 words, in 20 minutes.
  • Task 2: Discuss a viewpoint, argument, or problem in at least 250 words in 40 minutes.
  • Full sentences are required; notes or bullet points are not permitted.


  • The test-taker runs Face-to-face interviews and records them for assessment.
  • Part 1: Questions about familiar topics.
  • Part 2: Speak on a topic for up to 2 minutes, with one minute to prepare.
  • Part 3: Further discussion on the topic in Part 2 in more detail.

Preparing for IELTS

To get started with your preparation and to access free practice materials, you can visit the official IELTS preparation resources page at IELTS Preparation Resources and the sample test questions section at IELTS Sample Test Questions. These resources help you familiarize yourself with the test format and to practice the types of questions you will encounter on test day.

PTE Core

The PTE Core, also known as the Pearson Test of English, is another recognized assessment tool for immigration to Canada. The government approved this test in 2023 and allowed taking it in early 2024. However, you must take the Core version, not the Academic version. PTE Core evaluates the essential language skills, reading, writing, listening, and speaking, using a computer-based format that mirrors real-life general content. This approach ensures test takers are well-prepared for the language demands they will face in everyday scenarios.

Unique Features of PTE Core

PTE Core differentiates itself by integrating language skills into its assessment approach. Test takers might engage in activities such as reading texts aloud, summarizing lectures, or writing essays based on listening tasks. This holistic approach reflects the natural use of English and offers a comprehensive assessment of a candidate’s language proficiency.

Test Structure

The PTE Core is divided into three parts, each targeting a different language skill set:

  • Speaking and Writing: This combined section tests your ability to communicate effectively in English, with tasks ranging from personal introductions to essay writing. This section consists of the following activities:
    1. Personal introduction
    2. Read aloud
    3. Repeat sentence
    4. Describe image
    5. Respond to a situation
    6. Answer a short question
    7. Summarize a written text
    8. Write an email
  • Reading: This part evaluates your understanding of written English through various tasks, including reading comprehension and paragraph reordering. The following activities are in this section.
    1. Reading & writing: fill in the blanks
    2. Multiple choice, multiple answers
    3. Reorder paragraph
    4. Fill in the blanks
    5. Multiple-choice, single answer
  • Listening: It focuses on your comprehension of spoken English, with exercises that include summarizing spoken texts and filling in the blanks. This part consists of the following activities:
    1. Summarize spoken test
    2. Multiple-choice, multiple-answer
    3. Fill in the blanks
    4. Multiple-choice, single answer
    5. Selected missing word
    6. Highlight incorrect words
    7. Write from dictation

Advantages of PTE Core

One of the significant advantages of the PTE Core is the rapid turnaround of results, typically within 48 hours. This quick feedback is particularly beneficial for those facing tight deadlines for application submissions. The test’s digital format also ensures an unbiased assessment, directly reporting scores to designated institutions and immigration authorities.

Preparation and Resources

Pearson provides extensive resources for PTE Core preparation, including practice tests, preparation books, and online courses. These materials are an effort to familiarize test takers with the format and enhance their performance across all test sections.

Visit the official PTE website for registration, test centre information, and additional preparation tips. This platform offers detailed guidance to help candidates navigate their PTE Core preparation journey effectively.

Comparing CLB, IELTS, CELPIP, and PTE

The following tables compare the three acceptable tests with CLB for immigration to Canada.

Listening Skill Comparison

CLB LevelIELTS ListeningCELPIP ListeningPTE Listening

Reading Skill Comparison

CLB LevelIELTS ReadingCELPIP ReadingPTE Reading

Writing Skill Comparison

CLB LevelIELTS WritingCELPIP WritingPTE Writing

Speaking Skill Comparison

CLB LevelIELTS SpeakingCELPIP SpeakingPTE Speaking

These tables provide a quick reference for comparing the scores required on each test to meet a specific CLB level. Please verify these with the latest standards, which may change over time.

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    Al ParsaiAl Parsai, LLM, MA, RCIC-IRB
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Adjunct Professor – Queen’s University – Faculty of Law
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    Al Parsai

    This article has been expertly crafted by Al Parsai, a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University. A respected member of CICC and CAPIC organizations, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.