Which language exams do you have to pass to study abroad? Josh Davis

Editor's note: If you plan on studying abroad you might have noticed that the required language certificates can be somewhat puzzling. Luckily, our author Ana Maria Ducuta is here to clear up the confusion for you. This article will give you an overview of the language tests that you want to take a closer look at so that your application to a foreign university will be a success!

International experiences provide lasting benefits that shape an individual’s life both personally and professionally – this is especially true for especially long-term experiences such as a semester or year abroad. Beyond the obvious reasons to study abroad such as opportunities to see the world and experience other cultures, there are true benefits to those experiences.

More than 4.1 million tertiary-level students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship in 2010. Australia, Austria, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom have the highest percentages of international students among their tertiary students. Many of these international student are Asians, accounting for 52% of all students studying abroad worldwide. In absolute terms, the largest numbers of international students are from China, India and Korea. Some 77% of students worldwide who study abroad do so in OECD countries. This proportion has remained stable during the past decade.

Over the past three decades, the number of international students has increased fivefold from 0.8 million worldwide in 1975 to 4.1 million in 2010. This growth has accelerated during the period, mirroring the processes of economic and social globalisation. The global increase in the number of international students also reflects the overall increase in tertiary enrolment.


Since 2000, the number of foreign tertiary students enrolled worldwide has increased by 99%, for an average annual growth rate of 7.1%. The number of foreign tertiary students enrolled in OECD countries doubled since 2000, for an average annual growth rate of 7.2%. 


In most of the cases either a language certificate is required to study in a foreign country or exams of language are taken right on the spot to admission at the prospective university. There are internationally standardized language certificates that enable students to go and study in another country without sometime having to pass any other admission test but this depends from case to case. Since there are several certificates out there, this article gives an overview. Depending on the universities you choose, there can be different requirements concerning the language certificate. I have tried to gather information for some countries which have proven a very high influx of foreign students in the past 5 years and to present all or the most well-known language certificates required to enter a university from Great Britain, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Spain and Germany. 

Language requirements to study in Great Britain, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Australia

International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The IELTS is a standardised English test to assess the English language proficiency of a candidate who is willing to study or work in a country where English is the language of communication or instruction. It is jointly managed by University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, the British Council and IDP Education Pty Ltd. 

British, Australian, Canadian, Irish, New Zealand, South African academic institution accept the IELTS. Over 3000 institutions in United States of America also accept the IELTS.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

The GMAT is an aptitude test used by business schools as criteria for admission into graduate business administration programs likes of MBA and Master of accountancy. The GMAT is used primarily in USA, but as well as used in other English speaking countries. The GMAT is computer-adaptive standardized test in mathematics and English language. The fee to take the test is $250 worldwide.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL refers to the “Test of English as a Foreign Language” and it is being administered by a non-profit organization named Educational Testing Service (ETS). It measures the ability of a person to utilize and understand the English language at the university level. It is a globally accepted test as over 8,500 colleges, and institutions in more than 130 countries accept the TOEFL scores.  TOEFL is admission requirement in many English speaking universities and colleges. The TOEFL has a validity of 2 years. There are 2 types of the TOEFL: The Internet based(iBT) and the Paper based version (pBT). The fee to take the test vary from country to country. The location that you choose for your test will decide your test format. In some locations, the TOEFL iBT Test is available while in others the Paper-based Test (PBT) is used.

Cambridge English Language Assessment

The Cambridge English Language Assessment was formerly known as the Cambridge ESOL. ESOL stands for "English for Speakers of Other Languages” see English language learning and teaching. Cambridge ESOL is part of Cambridge Assessment, formerly known as the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES).

Cambridge English examinations are taken by over four million learners in more than 130 countries each year. The exams cover general English, business English, academic English and English for young learners. Cambridge English Language Assessment also offers teaching qualifications such as TKT, ICELT, CELTA and DELTA and is well known for its research and validation operations. Cambridge English exams are accepted by over 13,000 universities, employers and governments around the world.

Language requirements for studies at universities and colleges in France

TCF pour la demande d’admission préalable (DAP)

If you want to register for the premier cycle or first stage of undergraduate studies (green or white form) or for a school of architecture (yellow form) in France and you do not have the DALF (Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française, or advanced diploma in French language), you must take the specific TCF (Test de Connaissance du Français, or French competency test) called the "TCF pour la DAP" or TCF for DAP (Demande d’Admission Préalable, or preliminary admission application).

The TEF or e-TEF exam - Test d’Evaluation de Français is designed to assess the level of French language of people who are not native French speakers. The test is administred by the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris.

The TEF test is available in 2 formats, a paper format (TEF) and an online format (e-TEF).The TEF exam is useful if you need to evaluate your French level of proficiency for Canadian Immigration (Immigration to Quebec), for admission into French Universities or for work. TEF assesses comprehension and expression skills in French, and it gives a quantitative and qualitative measure of the level of candidate's linguistic and communication skills by offering a detailed and personalized analysis of results. The overall objective of the TEF is to measure the level of the candidates' knowledge, linguistic and communications skills in French.

DELF and DALF - Diploma in French Language Studies (Diplôme d'Etudes en Langue Française)

The DELF Exam (Diplôme d'Etudes en Langue Française) and DALF (Diplôme Approfondi de  Langue Française) designed by the CIEP (Centre International d'Etudes Pédagogiques), are official qualifications awarded by the French Ministry of Education certifying a level of fluency in French. Such certifications are useful for school records, as well as college and job applications in French-speaking countries. Scores are valid for life. The DELF and DALF are composed of six independent diplomas that correspond to the levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

Language requirements to study in Spain

The Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE; Spanish for "Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language") are official diplomas issued by the Spanish Instituto Cervantes and the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science to participants who pass a standardized test indicating Spanish language proficiency. The DELE Diplomas are internationally recognized, and enjoy great prestige not only among public and private educational institutions and authorities, but also in the business world and chambers of commerce. In many countries, the DELE has been adopted by departments of education and official institutions of learning as a complementary tool to their own assessment programmes. They are ideal for furthering your career and access to education, both in Spain and in other countries where the examinations are given.

Language requirements to study in Italy

The Certificates of Italian as a Foreign Language are official qualifications attesting the degree of competence and skills in Italian as a Foreign Language that are received after successfully passing an examination. 

The main certificates of proficient knowledge of the Italian language are issued by the University for Foreigners of Perugia (CELI and CIC), the University for Foreigners of Siena(CILS), the University of Rome “Roma Tre” (L2) and the Dante Alighieri Society (PLIDA)

University for Foreigners of Perugia (CELI and CIC)

The Certificato di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana, (Certificate of Knowledge of Italian Language) or CELI is an internationally recognized qualification of the Italian language destined for foreigners wanting to validate their relative Italian fluency, offered by the Università per Stranieri di Perugia. It is accepted as an official qualification notably by the Italian Ministry of Education and Research and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is one of the qualifications used by foreigners to get entrance into any Italian university or higher education institution. The CELI qualification represents one of the many Italian Language Examinations and is often taken by applicants with immigration, work and study needs

University for Foreigners of Siena (CILS)

The Certification of Italian as a Foreign Language (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera or CILS) is a qualification offered by the Foreigners University of Siena for foreign speakers of the Italian language, recognizing various levels of language proficiency. The qualification is recognized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is often used to grant acceptance in any Italian university or higher education institution in Italy. 

Language requirements to study in Germany

German Language Proficiency Examination for Admission to Higher Education for Foreign Applicants
(Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang ausländischer Studienbewerber– DSH). 

You can take it at your university in Germany.

Test of German as a Foreign Language for foreign applicants
(Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache für ausländische Studienbewerber– TestDaF)

One language certificate that German institutions always accept alongside the DSH for admission is the TestDaF. In some cases, the TestDaF can be taken directly at the institutions. Note that different TestDaF grades may be required for different institutions and different subjects.

Some German universities offer the TestDaF test, others the DSH test. Both are of equal rank and are recognised at all universities.

Assessment tests at a Studienkolleg

You can also take the German language examination as part of the Feststellungsprüfung (assessment test) at a Studienkolleg.

You do not have to take a language test if you have passed one of the following: "Abitur" at a German school abroad, the "Goethe-Zertifikat C2: Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom" (or the Goethe Institute's former tests "Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom" (KDS)), "Großes Deutsche Sprachdiplom" (GDS), "Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung" (ZOP), the "Sprachdiplom" (Level II) of the "Kultusministerkonferenz" (KMK) or the assessment test of a Studienkolleg preparatory course.

Useful websites for studying abroad (exams, scolarships,undergraduate,graduate and postgraduate programmes):

Information about language certificates

Information about language certificates required in the UK

Information about language certificates required in France

General information about studying abroad

General information about studying in Germany

Scholarships to study in Germany 

Information on scholarships:




Photo Credits:
 01-29-08 by Josh Davis via flickr