2020-12-16T16:28:03-05:00Aug 17, 2020|

English language tests in Canada: Everything you should know

Canada has two official languages – English and French. Newcomers to Canada are required to prove their English or French proficiency by taking a language proficiency test approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). This is to ensure that any newcomer in Canada will be able to communicate and support themselves through work in at least one of Canada’s official languages.

Your application in the Express Entry immigration program is based on your Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS), a point-scoring method ranking your various skills and qualifications to immigrate to Canada. A higher score on your language proficiency test can help you gain additional points in your CRS, thus improving your chances of moving to Canada sooner.

Language proficiency tests for Canadian immigration

There are two accepted language proficiency tests in English: 

For French language proficiency, the IRCC-accepted language proficiency tests are the Test d’évaluation de français Canada (TEF Canada) and the Test de connaissance du français Canada (TCF Canada). 

In this article, our focus will be on the English language tests. We will walk you through the differences between IELTS and CELPIP to help you decide which one will fit you best and also suggest ways to boost your CRS score using language tests. 

How your language proficiency test results affect your CRS score

Your language proficiency test score is important because a high score can increase your chance of a quick entry to Canada by adding more points to your Express Entry application. Note that your Express Entry application will not be processed if you do not attach your language test results. 

Key step: Attach your language proficiency results to your Express Entry profile

To have your Express Entry application considered, you must attach your English or French language proficiency test results using these steps:

  • Schedule a test with an IRCC-approved agency and pay the costs (for English, IELTS or CELPIP)
  • Enter your test results into your Express Entry profile (along with your Personal Information Number for the test)
  • Include the test results with your application, if you are invited to apply for Express Entry

Do not ask for your results to be sent directly to the IRCC. You must personally attach your results to your application.

Your score will be measured up against the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLBs) which run from 1-10. Each immigration program may require a different CLB. For example, the Federal Skilled Worker Program requires its applicants to achieve a CLB of seven. Other immigration programs (such as the Federal Skilled Trades Program) may require lower scores. Your CLB will also help you register for language courses upon your arrival in Canada.

Tip: Use the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) tool to determine your potential number of points to boost your Express Entry profile.

3 ways to boost your CRS score

There are three main ways to improve your CRS score in regards to your language proficiency testing:

  1. Practice and do well on your examination: The higher your test results, the higher your CRS score. Your maximum possible number of points is 24. Practice is key to achieving your personal best score. Don’t be disheartened if you receive a lower score in your first attempt; you can retake the language test as many times as you’d like.
  2. Get tested for fluency in a second official language (French): Demonstrating fluency in a second official language (French) by taking either the Test d’évaluation de français Canada (TEF Canada) or the Test de connaissance du français Canada (TCF Canada) will add four points to your CRS score. 
  3. Have your spouse take a language proficiency test as well: If your spouse or common-law partner is moving to Canada with you, you can achieve up to 40 extra CRS score points in spouse or common-law partner factors depending on your spouse’s level of education, Canadian work experience, and official language proficiency. Your spouse must be able to demonstrate their language proficiency by taking the CELPIP or IELTS.

Tip: An added benefit of doing a language proficiency test with your spouse is that you have a built-in study partner. This may be especially beneficial for the speaking and listening portions of the tests, as you can practise your English conversational ability.

How long are your language proficiency test results valid for?

Your language proficiency test results are valid for less than two years. When you apply for permanent residence, you should check that your language test results are still valid. If they aren’t, you will need to be tested again.

If you apply for permanent residency with expired language test results, your application will be refused. 

You may be invited to apply when your results are expired and you are unable to retake your language proficiency test in time. In this case, consider declining your application and going back to the Express Entry pool to be considered again in the future, rather than having your application rejected outright.

CELPIP versus IELTS: What newcomers need to know

Though the CELPIP and IELTS language proficiency tests are similar and both will qualify you for Express Entry, they have a few key differences that newcomers should know about. CELPIP and IELTS do not differ much in the difficulty of their tests, but they do differ in their format and availability. Use the information below to decide which test is best for you.

Assessment type Express Entry applicants will take the General test. Express Entry applicants will take the IELTS General Training test.
Cost $280 CAD + tax $319 CAD 

($309 CAD if taken in Kitchener, ON)

Test locations
  • Within Canada: Available in small and large communities in most provinces
  • Outside of Canada: United States, China, India, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates.
Test format
  • Completely computerized
  • Runtime of three hours
  • Spell-check, word counter, and timer available
  • Canadian-accented examiners
  • Reading, writing, and listening sections can be completed on the computer or on paper
  • Speaking portion is completed in-person with an examiner (possibly on a separate date from the other sections)
  • May have accents from various English-speaking countries
Prep materials
Obtaining test results
  • CELPIP test scores are available online
  • Results within 4-5 calendar days of taking your test
  • Download your scores in a PDF to send to the IRCC or request an official hardcopy for an additional fee of $20.00 CAD

Which language proficiency test should you take?

Now that you know the details of each language proficiency test, you have an idea of which test will be more accessible to your location and price range.

Which language proficiency test is easier to pass?

As each test is accepted by the IRCC, both the IELTS and CELPIP tests are meant to have equal difficulty. However, you may find one or the other to be easier, depending on your skill set in each portion of the assessments:

Reading and writing portions

IELTS can be taken in a paper-based format or on the computer in select locations, while 

CELPIP is only computer-based. If you feel comfortable with typing and computers, the CELPIP 

is a good choice because you will have access to a timer, word counter, and spell-checking tool. 

If you feel that these tools will put extra pressure on you, or you simply prefer reading and 

writing on paper, the IELTS written test may be easier for you. 


  • If you feel comfortable reading on computers and typing → Choose CELPIP.
  • If you like to read and write on paper → Choose IELTS.

Speaking and listening portions

The speaking portion of each test is where you will find some of the biggest differences between the tests. The IELTS uses speakers with various kinds of English accents, and the speaking portion takes place in an in-person conversational-style format with a registered tester. Some folks may find this format easier if they have plenty of English conversational experience. The listening portion will require you to listen to a recording of a speaker and answer the written questions.

The CELPIP speaking and listening portion occur entirely on the computer with headphones and a microphone. You may find this easier if you need a little more time to formulate your thoughts without conversational pressure during the speaking portion. You are also able to turn up the volume of your headphones on the listening portion, which could improve your ability to understand each phrase.


  • If you are familiar with the Canadian accent and prefer a little extra time to formulate your response → Choose CELPIP.
  • If you are familiar with multiple English-speaking accents (New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada) and you prefer a conversational assessment → Choose IELTS.


If you plan to apply through the Express Entry program to immigrate to Canada, you will have to choose either the IELTS or CELPIP language proficiency test. Now that you’re well-aware of all the details concerning each test, it should be easier to choose one that works best for you. 

Once you have decided this, you can start practicing and studying with online prep materials as soon as possible to master your language proficiency and improve your chances of coming to Canada.