Many view immigration as an opportunity at better life circumstances and novel experiences. Many hopeful immigrants leave their native countries to avail for themselves a chance at a better quality of life abroad.

With much of social mobility’s traffic in the direction of countries like Canada, the United States, the United
Kingdom, and Australia, what is clear is the desire for most people, both workers and students, to migrate to places where English is the primary medium of communication.

Governments, and learning institutions, need much documentation. Such immigration requirements include certifications of English language skills. In this area, two tests have become popular choices – The Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program or CELPIP, and the International English Language Testing System otherwise known as the IELTS.

This article aims to discuss both examinations in further detail so that you could decide which one to take based on your individual needs, skills, intentions, and circumstances.   

Brief overview of CELPIP and IELTS

The CELPIP and the IELTS are both English skill examinations meant to gauge a person’s capacity to use English in many situations, and through a variety of tasks.

Unlike other English examinations like the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and the TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication), the results of both examinations serve as indicators of English language usage in community and academic contexts. In other words, both the CELPIP and the IELTS test a person’s usage of English.

The CELPIP is an English test meant to test a candidate’s ability to “function” in English. As the name suggests, the results are necessary for Canadian immigration for the purposes of permanent residency and citizenship.

This examination comes in two forms- The general test which tests listening, reading, writing, and speaking, and
the general LS (listening and speaking only) test.
The former is for permanent residency and citizenship, but the latter is for citizenship. Either could serve as certification for professional designations. Its standard of comparison is the Canadian variant of English but accepts both the American and British versions as well.

In existence relatively longer than the CELPIP, the IELTS has long been the go-to option of test takers planning to immigrate to English-speaking countries. Administered by the British Council and Australia’s International Development Programme or IDP, it also tests listening, reading, writing, and speaking, and is an acceptable documentation of English proficiency not just in Canada, but to other English-speaking countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and New Zealand.

There are two types of IELTS examinations candidates could choose from. The academic IELTS is primarily for students who wish to study in the aforementioned countries, as well as professionals like doctors and nurses who wish to work here. On the other hand, the general training (GT) IELTS is for immigration and professional designation for skilled but non-professional workers.

CELPIP and IELTS Test Formats

Although both exams test the same macro-skills namely listening, reading, writing and speaking, there are some differences. The most salient distinction lies in the format which these examinations take.

The CELPIP is a computer-based test, which means that all parts of the examination including the speaking test are taken on a computer.

Image Credit: Faculty Focus

The listening test comprises of 7 sections. It is 40 to 46 questions, with 6 out of the 40 questions being “experimental questions” that are not scored. This part of the examination could take anywhere from 47 to 55 minutes.

The reading test lasts 55 minutes to a whole hour. It is 4 parts that include a total of 38 to 45 questions (only 38 count).

Lasting 53 to 60 minutes, the writing test is divided into two tasks which require a candidate to write an e-mail and provide short responses to a series of questions.

Finally, there is the speaking test which could take 15 to 20 minutes. During this part of the test, an examinee needs to answer 8 questions.

By contrast, the IELTS is by-and-large a paper-based (I.e. pen and paper) test. Although there is a computer-delivered option, many test-takers still take the examination in its paper-based format.

Each part of the examination lasts an hour, except for the speaking test which lasts 11 to 14 minutes and is often scheduled apart from the listening, reading, and writing tests. Both the listening and reading tests consist of 40 questions regardless of the type of IELTS test chosen.

Like the CELPIP, the writing test is divided into two tasks. Of importance, the first task differs based on the type of IELTS test chosen. GT IELTS takers must write a 150-word letter. Those who choose the academic type of IELTS are required to summarize statistical or graphical information. For both types, task 2 which is essay writing is the same.

During the speaking test, a candidate is interviewed face-to-face by an examiner. This part of the test is divided into three parts. The first and third parts are in a similar interview format. Part 2 involves the delivery of a prepared response for 2 minutes.

Unlike the CELPIP, a variety of accents can be heard during the listening and speaking tests. Scores range from 1 to 9 with 9 being the highest mark a candidate could garner.

CELPIP and IELTS Similarities

There are clear and obvious differences in the previous section. An examinee would find himself or herself relieved to know about which aspects both exams share when preparing for the possibility to take both.

Both the CELPIP and IELTS are both tests of English proficiency that measure the ability to use and comprehend English. Hence, any person who has communicated in English for a period of time could expect to at least do “decently” in at least one part of the examination. Other similarities shared by the two tests shall follow in the next paragraphs.

Image Credit: Immigrationway.com

The listening tests are both approximately an hour long. These involve providing correct answers based on information from recordings during the tests. The recordings for both IELTS and CELPIP tests could be a lecture or a may also be news, or an opinionated discussion. All are likely to appear regardless of which test a candidate prefers to take.

The reading tests of the CELPIP and IELTS last about an hour. The reading test of the CELPIP has almost a similar number of items to that of the IELTS test. This is true whether the preferred type of IELTS is the academic or GT test.

In either case, the parts of the test which involve reading for information and a diagram are present.
Comprehension is the competency or skill evaluated either way.

As for writing, the key point of similarity is in the skill required for the first task.

The first writing task of the CELPIP writing test is e-mail writing. A situation is provided from which an appropriate e-mail is created. In IELTS GT task 1, a candidate must write a letter with a clear purpose and message. This is like the requirements of the CELPIP writing test. The letter should be in response to a situation provided in the examination.

Thus, anyone who has a general idea of how to write a letter may not have difficulty understanding what to do for both the first writing tasks.

CELPIP and IELTS Preparation Material

It is important to prepare for the both tests for two main reasons:

  1. To attain the desired score which could possibly maximize chances of successful application for immigration (especially for Canada)
  2. To be familiar with the test format so that one may simulate test conditions during preparation.

For these purposes, it would be in the best interest of students to avail for themselves preparation materials, which are available for both tests.

In order to prepare for the CELPIP, students have the option of accessing online materials such as webinars and sample tests available straight from the CELPIP main site. Study materials in print may also be purchased online or physically if they are available locally. However, being a new test, places, or centres where people could prepare for the test are sparse in number.

In fact, outside of Canada, the only countries where students may find these review and test prep centers are the Philippines, India, and the United Arab Emirates. On top of that, even in these countries, schools that cater to CELPIP takers are few and far between, both figuratively and literally.

The main site of the British Council offers a fair share of test preparation material for the IELTS test. Since the IELTS has been around for many years, even decades, a plethora of online resources not affiliated with British Council or IDP have reached more people. Furthermore, the long presence of the test has also engendered the abundance of printed materials that students could acquire at an affordable price.

Image Credit: IELTS Asia

Also due to being administered for the amount of time it has been administered, the test’s avenues of preparation have made its way to a much broader audience with review centres present all over the world.

With the advent of the internet, a student may also enlist the services of an independent online teacher to prepare for both tests.

CELPIP and IELTS Locations

At the time of writing, the CELPIP test is available and could be taken in about 33 places in Canada, with the exception areas with the Yukon, Northwest, and Nunavut territories. Outside Canada, the IELTS test is the most widely available of the two examinations.

Testing dates and locations for both the CELPIP and IELTS tests are announced in advance. Information could be found on the CELPIP test main site for those who choose or need this exam. IELTS test-takers could find dates, location, and availability from the British Council site. As regards the IELTS test, the availability of the IELTS general training test and the IELTS academic test may differ contingent upon the place.

Likewise, there may be a difference in the frequency and schedule of the CELPIP general and LS tests minus the international availability.


The CELPIP and IELTS have standardized prices. But, there may be differences based on the region or country.

The CELPIP general examination has a price tag of about $280.00. Costing $20.00 more, the IELTS test cost $300.00.

To test-takers outside Canada, it is best to view these amounts as rough, if not minimum, estimates. The
amount may be higher for those residing outside Canada.

CELPIP and IELTS Timelines

For the CELPIP, the results could be seen by online notification in as little as 4 to 5 calendar days from the day the candidate took the test. Online notification is only possible if a test-taker has registered for a CELPIP account.

For the IELTS, from the day both tests are completed, the results could be available online after 13 calendar
This is according to the British Council main site. The results of tests taken in the computer-delivered format could be available sooner in 5 to 7 calendar days after the test.

CELPIP and IELTS: Where are these accepted

The CELPIP and the IELTS are both equally accepted and recognized in Canada. It is the CELPIP test which is taken for immigration to Canada.

The CELPIP test is required for foreigners wanting to immigrate to Canada. It is one of the options for those seeking permanent residency, citizenship, and professional designation (via the Federal Skill Trades Program and Federal Skill Worker Program).

It also caters to refugees, as provided in the CELPIP main website. It is recognized or required by 11 professional organizations and 24 universities and vocational learning institutions in Canada.

The IELTS is also an acceptable English proficiency certification in Canada. But, it is also a requirement for both immigration and academic admission in other English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia. Recently, it has become a requirement for students who wish to study in Asian countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.

The IELTS academic test is often a requirement to get a student visa for university but is also a must for licensed and professional workers to practice their trade in the aforementioned countries. The IELTS general training test is for immigration purposes and for those desiring to continue education, but at a technical-vocational level. It may also be used by non-professisonal skilled workers to gain entry into a country to engage in skilled labor.

CELPIP and IELTS: what test-takers say

Image Credit: Buddy4Study

So far, the aim of this article has been to aid you, the prospective test-taker, to make an informed decision in selecting the right English language proficiency test tailored to your individual needs. To help you further, it may be invaluable to present what examinees have to say about both tests. This will facilitate your decision-making efforts.

Test-takers often take the test in many different parts of the world. So, an important thing to consider is whether one test is more accessible than the other. It was mentioned that the CELPIP test was available in many parts of Canada except the Yukon, Northwestern, and Nunavut territories. It is also largely unavailable in many countries outside Canada, so for a lot of Asians, the IELTS test becomes the obvious choice owing to its accessibility, not necessarily because it is easier.

Therefore, if you are already in Canada, you may opt for either the CELPIP or the IELTS. However, if you live outside Canada in countries that are not the Philippines, India, or the United Arab Emirates, then the IELTS would be the clear choice.

There is also the difference in a format that was discussed earlier. Some people are comfortable with the traditional paper-based format of the IELTS test. Yet, it is also true that there those who are more comfortable with using a computer. What does this mean for you? It means that if you have grown accustomed to doing tests on paper, then the format of the IELTS will be something not alien to you. But, should you prefer the comfort of a computer and a pair of headphones for the listening test, the CELPIP would be the way to go.

CELPIP’s relative affordability seems tempting for students who have an equal chance of taking both this test and the IELTS exam, and as one may infer, the CELPIP is preferred for this reason. Others, however, view the $20-dollar difference as marginal when considered against other factors like availability and format, as mentioned earlier.

It is true that both tests are accepted by Canada. The CELPIP test is an option for those who have Canada as the primary, if not only, destination. The IELTS test is a better choice when it comes to choosing other countries should an application for Canada go by the wayside.

The chances of immigration increase with the score. So, a very common area of discussion is the level of difficulty for both tests. Many authorities maintain that the level of difficulty of the IELTS and CELPIP is similar. Still, test-takers seem divided on this. The CELPIP uses Canadian examiners. Hence, there is only one accent during the listening and speaking tests.

IELTS test-takers might notice a difference in the accents of the listening recordings. And the one used by the speaking examiner may also be very different. For the CELPIP speaking test, a test-taker provides spoken responses to a computer. For in the IELTS examination, a real conversation is between an examiner and an examinee. It would seem that it boils down to what test a person is more comfortable with and the degree of exposure to spoken English use.

The writing tests of the CELPIP and the IELTS are not without their own unique set of challenges. What makes the CELPIP writing test difficult is the need for “native” speech which is needed in writing e-mails and answering surveys. To some, this is not a problem. But for a candidate whose first language is not English, this could prove difficult.

The writing tasks for the IELTS such as describing a graph and writing a formal essay are skills learned in high school and university. To do well in these tasks, one does not need to be a native speaker. And for this reason, non-native speakers have actually attained their desired scores. This is also true for the reading test.

Final Word

In summary, the decision on which test to take ultimately comes down to which conditions apply to your own personal circumstance and preference. There is no ideal score. But, it is best to score the highest. Do this, and you may be one step closer in choosing the right kind of English test that will aid your immigration efforts.

Choose Canada Magazine

Each member of our team at Choose Canada Magazine has been in Canada for over five years, and has helped dozens of people worldwide find their life in Canada.

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