English Language Requirements for UK Universities

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What are the English language requirements to study online at a UK university?

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Studying at a UK university is a fantastic opportunity. It’s also a significant investment, and the requirements are strict. You need to be prepared for it. This article aims to give you a complete understanding of the why, when and how you can meet the English Language entry requirements if you are a non-native speaker.

Many students fall into the trap of thinking that they are eligible to study at a UK university when in reality, they might need to invest time in certifying their level of English as part of the application process. If you are not a native speaker, you need to meet specific language proficiency requirements to study at the university of your choice.

The good news is that you can demonstrate your English language proficiency with research, practice, and perseverance. The tests that you must pass are referred to as SELT (Secure English Language Test) exams.

 

What does SELT stand for?

SELT stands for Secure English Language Test. It is a test used to confirm a student’s level of English language proficiency to study in the UK. These tests give a university a detailed understanding of the English language skills of the applicant. It allows them to assess whether or not they can speak, read, and write at the level required to study successfully at degree or masters level.

These are the tests current recognised by the UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration Service).

  • IELTS SELT Consortium: ‘IELTS for UKVI’ or ‘IELTS Life Skills’
  • LanguageCert: ‘LanguageCert International ESOL SELT’
  • Pearson: ‘PTE Academic UKVI’ or ‘PTE Home’
  • PSI Services: ‘Skills for English UKVI’
  • Trinity College London: ‘Secure English Language Tests for UKVI’ – Integrated Skills in English (ISE) or Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE)

 

However, you will find that some universities accept other tests, such as the Duolingo English test. So, remember, always check with your chosen university before booking a test.

 

The difference between on-campus and online English level requirements

For international students coming to the UK, a Tier 4 visa is required to live and study. For non-native speakers, part of this process is submitting proof of English language proficiency.

The UK government, via the UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration service), sets the minimum requirements for the English language test and which approved secure English language tests are accepted.

Universities align their English language requirements to the visa requirements to study in the UK for their on-campus and online courses.

For online courses, universities do have more flexibility as there is no visa required. It’s worth asking the admissions team specifically about your situation before you book an English language test. They will assess your background and experience and recommend the most suitable test and score required.

 

The most important step to take before you book a test

 

Check before you book a test

 

Before you book any test, the first rule is to check with your course provider and get confirmation of which tests they accept and the score required. Each university will have a unique policy around the English requirements, which may vary between courses.

We have listed the main scenarios where you might need to demonstrate proof of English proficiency and an overview of the most common tests.

 

Who needs to take the test?

The English language requirements for UK universities are complex and ever-changing.

Students who are not native speakers of English need to demonstrate they meet the language proficiency requirements. The university you apply to, your course level and type will all impact the test score you need and or the documents you need to submit.

 

When do you need to take the test?

If you are not a native English speaker, you will need to take a test as part of the application process for a degree or master’s course.

It is common for UK universities to offer conditional offer letters dependent on passing a secure English language test at a specified level. This process means that you don’t have to wait until you have completed an English test before applying to your chosen universities.

Conditional offers are an excellent way for students to be sure that they will be accepted onto the course of their choice before they book and commit to taking a test.

We recommend that you apply first to gain a conditional letter if you are in this situation.

 

Who doesn’t need to take a test?

Two groups do not need to take a SELT English language test.

  • Certain nationalities (Majority English speaking countries)
  • Holders of specific school qualifications.

 

Nationalities that count as majority English speaking

Here is the current list of countries that are recognised as a majority English speaking country

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada (Proof of education taught in English required)
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America

 

Apart from a few exceptions, only nationals from these countries are exempt from SELT English language requirements.

 

English qualifications taught in English

You might be able to use one of the certificates listed below to demonstrate your level of English instead of taking a SELT.

As a guideline, universities typically only accepts certificates less than two years old. However, mature students and online course requirements may be more flexible over the age of the school certificate.

  • AS/A Level (GCE)
  • GCE O Level
  • GCSE or IGCSE
  • Ghana Senior Secondary School Certificate
  • Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE)
  • Indian School Certificate (Standard XII)
  • International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB)
  • Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education
  • Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) 1119/GCE O Level
  • West African Senior School Certificate

 

Who counts as a non-native speaker?

You are considered a non-native speaker if your home country is not on the UKVI list of English speaking majority nations. This is regardless of how well you speak English.

You may need to take an English language test and submit the results to your chosen university, even if,

  • You have studied, worked or lived in an English speaking country for a long time
  • You work in an English speaking company
  • Your home and family’s first language is English

 

What language skills are tested?

All of the SELT tests cover reading, writing, listening and speaking. Most give a score for each section and which count towards an overall score.
For university-level courses, you are typically required to get a minimum score in each level.

Using IELTS scores as an example, most universities require a score of 6.5 with a minimum of 5.5 in each section. However, some universities and courses might accept an overall score of 6.0. As always, double-check with your chosen university before you book a test.

Additionally, for some master’s courses, requirements might be higher. For example, some courses will require an overall score of 7 with a minimum of 6.0 in each section.

 

Lists of SELT exam certificates

These are the main certificates accepted by UK universities. In the drop-down boxes below, we highlight how long the test takes, and the score required.

  • Time to sit the test:                      4 hours
  • Minimum scores required:           C1
  • IELTS equivalent score:                6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                     *
  • Official site:                                     www.cambridgeenglish.org

 

Detailed overview of Cambridge English Qualifications

 

  • Time to sit the test:                      4 hours
  • Minimum scores required:           C2
  • IELTS equivalent score:                8.5
  • Certificate valid for:                     *
  • Official site:                                     www.cambridgeenglish.org

 

Detailed overview of Cambridge English Qualifications

 

  • Time to sit the test:                      1 hour
  • Minimum scores required:           105 – 110
  • IELTS equivalent score:                6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                      2 years
  • Scoring system:                            10 to 160
  • Official site:                                     www.englishtest.duolingo.com

 

Detailed overview of the Duolingo English Test

  • Time to sit the test:                      2 hours 45 minutes
  • Minimum scores required:           6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                      2 years
  • Scoring system:                             0 to 9
  • Official site:                                     www.ielts.org

 

Detailed IELTS Test information.

  • Time to sit the test:                      2 hours 45 minutes
  • Minimum scores required:           6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                      2 years
  • Scoring system:                             0 to 9
  • Official site:                                     www.ielts.org

 

Detailed IELTS Test information.

  • Time to sit the test:                      3 hours
  • Minimum scores required:           59
  • IELTS equivalent score:                6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                      2 years
  • Scoring system:                            10 to 90
  • Official site:                                     www.pearsonpte.com
  • Time to sit the test:                      3 hours
  • Minimum scores required:           88
  • IELTS equivalent score:                6.5
  • Certificate valid for:                      2 years
  • Scoring system:                            0 to 120
  • Official site:                                     www.ets.org/toefl

 

Detailed TOEFL iBT information.

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