IELTS vs. CELPIP. Which test is easier?

What’s the difference between the IELTS and CELPIP?

Which test should I take? Which test is better, the IELTS or the CELPIP?

I’ve heard the CELPIP test is easier than the IELTS. Is that true?

We get these questions every. single. day. And while there is no one answer to them, we can definitely point you in the right direction!

You see, everyone is different, and you shouldn’t choose such an important test based on other people’s opinions. But don’t worry – we’re here to help! 🤓

We’ve coached thousands of students from around the world on how to get the band scores they need on their IELTS or CELPIP tests with proven results. What you’re about to read is our honest and detailed breakdown of both tests based on years of experience.

We want you to choose the best test for you. We’re on your side, so let’s get started!

Now let’s be honest. The IELTS and CELPIP exams are challenging. But the good news is – getting the band scores of your dreams is not impossible.

You CAN immigrate to the country of your choice or study abroad. It is possible. Our students are proof!

But the reality is that both tests require study prep, dedication, mental stamina, and a realistic study plan according to your proficiency level and objective.

If you need to take the IELTS General Training or the CELPIP, at the end of the day, you’re after a specific CLB (Canadian Language Benchmark). In other words, you need to prove a specific English proficiency level for your immigration process.

The final result on your IELTS or CELPIP test will be converted into a CLB ranging from 4-9. If you have no idea what that means, find out exactly which band scores you need.

In theory, the CLB does not change from one test to another. That’s because the CLB levels are standardized. In other words, the CLB 7, 8, or 9 are rated the same way on both tests. 

That’s why saying one test is “easier” than the other isn’t really possible.

However, you might find one test format easier than the other, and this can make a big difference in your final results.

Now before paying around $300 for your next test, you should definitely consider these factors:

  • Which CLB do you need?
    • The band scores you need might impact your decision. If you need a CLB 7 or 8, both exams work just fine, but a CLB 9 is a really high band score and definitely requires a proper or longer exam prep.
  • What is your current proficiency level?
    • The bigger the gap between your current proficiency level and your final objective, the longer you will take to prepare. Remember that improving your English can also take time. 
  • How much time do you realistically have to study?
    • What’s your daily schedule like? Are you really ready to invest some time studying?
  • How do you cope with test anxiety?
    • Most candidates struggle with test anxiety at some point, so it’s important to come up with a game plan so that you take your test confidently.

You see, there are lots of factors that can impact your results, and both exams can be challenging in their own way, so really be honest with yourself.

So should you take the IELTS or the CELPIP?

Let’s break down both of these tests according to each exam section, shall we?

Is the CELPIP Listening Test really easier than the IELTS?

If you need a CLB 9 for your immigration profile, then you’ve realized how challenging the listening tests for the IELTS and the CELPIP can be.

Getting that pesky Band 8 on the IELTS listening test is definitely not easy! This is exactly why many candidates migrate over to the CELPIP.

Does it sound like I’m talking directly at you? 😉

In my experience, many students choose to take the CELPIP exam because they find the listening test a lot easier than on the IELTS.

I do find the CELPIP listening test easier, but it also comes with its set of challenges. Don’t assume you can just take it without studying.

Here are some helpful differences between the two listening tests so that you can decide which test is better for you:

Duration: The CELPIP listening test is longer (almost 1 hour) while the IELTS listening test is about 30 minutes. If you find it difficult to pay attention to an audio passage for a long period of time, this may be worth considering.

Format: The CELPIP has 6 sections and the IELTS has 4.

Style: Both can be done on the computer now, but the IELTS also has the paper-based version available. In general, most candidates prefer the computer-delivered IELTS and I encourage avoiding the paper-based IELTS listening test as not every IELTS exam centre offers headsets just yet (most do, at least in Canada).

Equipment: If you do choose the IELTS, make sure you choose an exam centre with a headset so that you can properly hear your test. The CELPIP test will always include a headset.

Approach: On the CELPIP, you only get to read the questions after you’ve listened to the audio passage. This means that note-taking is super important. On the IELTS, you have 1 minute to read and analyze your questions before you listen, and this helps you prepare yourself for what’s coming. Check out our tips on how to take notes on your CELPIP listening test.

Question Types: The CELPIP has 3 different question types while the IELTS has 6.

Multiple Choice: The CELPIP always includes a drop-down menu whereas the IELTS has fill-in-the-blank style answers. This means you can always guess your answers on the CELPIP – a huge plus!

Spelling: Since the CELPIP only has a drop-down menu with options, you won’t have to worry about spelling. On the other hand, the IELTS test takes spelling into consideration. This is a major reason why many candidates get answers wrong.

Accents: The CELPIP test only includes Canadian accents. The IELTS test includes speakers with a variety of accents (British, American, Australian). This is a big one!

Video: The CELPIP listening test even includes a video. The IELTS does not. Now sometimes the videos can be a challenge because you have to focus on what the speakers are wearing too, so pay attention.

So as you can see, we can’t just assume that one test is always easier for everybody. Some students end up choosing the IELTS listening test, and that’s okay too.

At the end of the day, I encourage trying some of the free sample tests available on the official CELPIP website or on an official IELTS website (definitely do not study off of Youtube or someone’s random website or channel, please). You want to make sure you’re studying from authentic test prep material.

That way you can get a feel for which exam format you prefer. And check out our other blog on the pros and cons of the CELPIP listening test.

The IELTS Reading Test VS The CELPIP Reading Test

I would argue that both reading tests are very similar in terms of difficulty. Remember, the English itself within the reading passages is the same on both tests.

You are being assessed on your comprehension, but as you probably already know, getting the band score you need on your reading test also means learning exam test strategies.

Here are some differences between the two reading exams:

Duration: Both tests last about 1-hour long, and they both get progressively more difficult. In other words, each reading section gets more challenging.

Format: The CELPIP has 4 sections and the IELTS has 3. Note that the CELPIP also includes 1-2 practice tasks for test development which can tire you out. In other words, instead of having 4 sections, your test might actually have 5-6. However, only 4 count towards your actual test.

Number of Questions: Both have about 40 questions.

Style: Both can be done on the computer, but the IELTS also has the paper-based version available. In general, most candidates prefer the computer-delivered IELTS over the paper based.

Approach: Both tests require specific exam strategies. Check out our personalized lessons for the IELTS or the CELPIP if you need help passing your test.

Question Types: The CELPIP has 3 different question types while the IELTS has over 10.

Multiple Choice: The CELPIP always includes a drop-down menu whereas the IELTS has fill-in-the-blank style answers. This means you can always guess the answer on the CELPIP.

Spelling: Since the CELPIP only has a drop-down menu with options to fill in the sentences, you won’t have to worry about spelling. 😀 On the other hand, the IELTS test takes spelling into consideration. 

Instructions: Sometimes the instructions on the IELTS can be tricky like “no more than one word”, and students can easily get questions wrong simply because they didn’t follow the instructions. In general, this doesn’t happen on the CELPIP.

Topics: The CELPIP test only includes Canadian topics about everyday life whereas the IELTS may include more international topics. Arguably, the CELPIP test includes more functional, everyday language; however, don’t be fooled! Task 4 of the CELPIP reading test isn’t easy as it includes lots of challenging vocabulary.

Vocabulary: Since the CELPIP test is Canadian, you’ll only see Canadian vocabulary on the reading test. This is very helpful for test takers who live in Canada and are used to hearing and reading Canadian vocabulary.

Which Writing Test is Easier? The IELTS or the CELPIP?

The Writing test is arguably one of the two most challenging sections of the exam.

Why?

Because your final band score is determined by an IELTS or CELPIP examiner. And yes, examiners are human! Even though the test is standardized, your band score is not determined by a computer. 

Both IELTS and CELPIP examiners are highly trained and experienced English teachers, and they will determine your band score based on a set of very specific assessment criteria.

The performance standards for both tests are very similar so we can’t say that one test is necessarily “easier”.

However, there are major differences between the format of these two tests.

Either way, if you don’t prepare for your exam according to their assessment criteria, you just won’t get the band scores you need. Even a native speaker would need to prepare for their test! Find out why most students don’t pass their test.

Differences in format between the IELTS Writing Test and the CELPIP Writing test

Now in terms of the exam formats, Writing Task 1 is the same on both the IELTS and the CELPIP. 

You’ll have to write a 150-word email/letter with the same instructions and expectations, but in terms of time management, on the CELPIP you’ll have about 5 more minutes to do so.

On the CELPIP, you’ll have about 25 minutes to write your letter, and on the IELTS, you should plan/aim to complete it within 20 minutes.  

On Writing Task 2 though, the IELTS requires you to write a complete IELTS essay, whereas the CELPIP asks you to complete a Survey Response.

Take note that on the IELTS, even though you’ll have to write a complete essay, you’ll also have more time! You’ll have 40 minutes on the IELTS (you have to manage your time), and on the CELPIP, you’ll be given about 25 minutes.

How are the IELTS writing test and the CELPIP writing tests different?

Word count: The IELTS has a minimum word count of 250 words, however, don’t worry about counting your words. You’ll only stress yourself out. The CELPIP has a minimum word count of 150. Keep in mind that even though the CELPIP requires less words, you have less time to write your response. Also, I find that having less words to play with actually makes it harder to fully develop your ideas.

Question Types: The IELTS has several different question types that we teach in class, whereas the CELPIP only expects you to pick a survey option and explain why you’ve chosen it.

Format: IELTS responses are expected to be more structured whereas the CELPIP is a bit more flexible. However, in both cases, you must meet all of the assessment criteria. You can count on our team to teach you how to write a CLB 9+ response in our private coaching sessions!

Topics: Since the CELPIP is a Canadian-based test, the topics and themes on the Writing test are based on daily life in Canada. The IELTS is an international English exam, so the topics on the exam are global. Either way, you’ll be able to think of ideas for both tests as they are about real-life issues.

Time Management: The CELPIP exam gives you approximately 25 minutes to complete each writing task. On the IELTS, you will be given 60 minutes and you have to manage your time.

Computerized: The CELPIP is always done on the computer, and the IELTS has both the computer-delivered and paper-based version of the test.

Spellcheck: This a huge one! The CELPIP test has spellcheck, but the IELTS doesn’t. Keep in mind that similarly-spelled words like “quit” and quiet” will not be recognized by spellcheck, so meaning and accuracy are still important.

Since I know you want my opinion, at the end of the day, I prefer the IELTS writing exam. The IELTS test is an older exam that is highly standardized and structured.

Even though both tests use a similar rating system, based on my experience, I have found that the CELPIP examiners are a bit “tougher” on their candidates on the Writing test than the IELTS examiners.

However, since we have helped hundreds of students achieve a CLB 9 or higher on both tests, we cannot say this as a general rule.

That’s why I encourage you to try out some free sample tests on the official IELTS and CELPIP websites. Only you can decide which format you prefer.

The IELTS Speaking Test VS The CELPIP Speaking Test

There is one MAJOR difference between the IELTS and CELPIP exam, and that is…THE SPEAKING TEST! 

This exam section alone could be your deciding factor as to which exam you choose to take!

So let’s get into the differences.

Format: The CELPIP exam is held on a computer with 8 timed tasks. The IELTS exam is held in person with an IELTS Speaking examiner. 

Privacy & Exam Environment: The CELPIP exam is held in a room with several other candidates typing or speaking at the same time, which can be distracting. The IELTS exam is in a quiet and private room between you and your speaking examiner.

Timer: You don’t need to worry about the timer on the IELTS exam as your examiner will monitor the time for you. However, on the CELPIP, you’ll need to study with a timer since you’ll be strictly timed throughout your entire speaking test. Learn how to beat the timer.

Topics: The IELTS topics are about everyday life and about you. The 8 questions on the CELPIP test vary from describing pictures to putting yourself in situations. If you need help preparing for your test, check out our CELPIP prep courses.

Duration: The IELTS Speaking test ranges from 11-14 minutes. The CELPIP speaking test is about 15-20 minutes long. The IELTS Speaking test happens either before or after the other 3 sections of your exam (there’s a break between these exam sections).

Overall, most of our students would agree that the IELTS speaking test is a much more comfortable test to take than the CELPIP speaking test, and as a result, they do better on their test.

At the end of the day, I personally find the IELTS Speaking test to be much more natural.

Why? You speak with a human! We aren’t robots and it’s definitely not natural to speak with a computer and with a clock ticking in front of you. That’s a recipe for test anxiety!

And if you’re like the thousands of students who’ve got test anxiety, we want to stay as calm as possible. But you’re not alone! You can overcome your test anxiety.

If you feel nervous about speaking with an IELTS examiner, keep in mind that they aren’t scary. They want you to succeed, and they’ll always ask you questions so that you keep speaking.

And while speaking with an examiner might seem scary at first, since they’re there to help guide your conversation, you’ll see just how much more comfortable you feel on your test day.

If you still prefer the CELPIP speaking test, that’s totally okay. Lots of your students have achieved their goals on the CELPIP test too. Just make sure you practice with a timer. 👍

Just like anything, the more you practice, the more confident you’ll feel.

How about you? Which speaking test do you prefer?

One last question to help you pick your test

I know that was a lot of information, but if you’re about to invest in an important (and expensive) test that’s going to decide your future, I hope you’ve taken the time to consider these differences.

And if you’re still unsure and you really want my opinion…

I usually prefer the IELTS exam, but this is a personal preference and I don’t always recommend it for everyone. Like I’ve said, each student is different and at the end of the day, you have to decide which test you prefer based on your needs.

Still unsure? Then consider the CLB you need.

If you need a CLB 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8, I think that both exams are great options!

But if you need that CLB 9, it’s worth it to make an educated decision by taking tons of practice tests before booking your next test. Getting a CLB 9 isn’t easy, and you want to make sure you pick the right test for you.

I strongly encourage that you try out some free sample tests from official sources like the official CELPIP website and the British Council for the IELTS.

Need help preparing for your test? You can count on our team of certified Canadian English teachers! 

‘Cause you don’t want to prepare for your test alone! We’re here to support you until you achieve your goals!

Maria Alfaro - English for Canada
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