English Language Proficiency Tests For Oxbridge

International applicants for UK universities will need to prove their English language proficiency if English isn't your first language. There are multiple tests available to do this, so this guide will explore what you need to do, what the tests entail and how you can prepare for them. Plus, I'll explain my own personal experience of English Language Proficiency Tests as an international applicant.

Last Updated: 3rd July 2024

Author: Jakub Zemek

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Understanding and meeting the English language proficiency requirements are crucial for international students aiming to pursue undergraduate courses at Oxford and Cambridge, two of the most prestigious universities in the world.

It’s one of many tasks you’ll need to complete during your application, alongside your Personal Statement, admissions test, interview and more. All of these components are vital for your application, but it’s important that you also give attention to your English language proficiency as this will be required to study at any university in the UK. 

In this guide, I will provide an in-depth look into the specific English language requirements, the various tests accepted, and what they entail for prospective students. As well as this, I’ll present my own experience of applying to engineering programmes at the University of Manchester and the universities of Cambridge and Oxford from a non-English speaking country.

What is English Language Proficiency?

In basic terms, English language proficiency is about one’s ability to speak, read, write and understand the English language. As one of the most widely used languages in the world, many people outside of English-speaking countries learn the language. 

When it comes to applying to study in England, universities want to ensure that the students they admit can understand the language well. This is important for multiple reasons: 

In the UK, English proficiency is assessed through examination, of which there are multiple options available. These tests will require you to read, write and listen to  content in a variety of contexts to determine if you can properly interact with the English language in a fluent, academic level. 

When Should I Take My English Language proficiency Test?

You can take which ever test you choose to take at any point during your application, including after you’ve sent your UCAS application. 

If you haven’t completed your test before submitting your application, this won’t affect your chances of getting an offer. If you receive an offer, you must show the required level of proficiency by 31 July of the year you receive your offer, even if your course starts in October. Certificates with expiry dates must be valid when provided as evidence.

In some cases, the test can be completed far in advance, as long as the qualification you receive doesn’t have an expiry date. If it does, you’ll need to ensure it doesn’t expire before the set deadline. 

Oxbridge English Language Proficiency Requirements

The University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge both require a high level of English proficiency to ensure that students can engage effectively with their courses. This proficiency is necessary not only for understanding lectures and reading academic texts but also for participating in discussions, writing essays, and conducting research.

Tutorials and Supervisions are a key part of teaching at Oxbridge, which are small group discussions of 2 – 3 people, so English language proficiency will be essential to engage in these sessions properly. 

Let’s take a look at each university and see what requirements they have for English language proficiency: 

Are you looking for support for the whole of your Oxbridge application?

The English language proficiency test is just one of many steps in your application to study at Oxford or Cambridge. At UniAdmissions, our team of tutors are experts in every step of the process, so we can support you through your entire application and give you the best possible chance of earning your place. 

Discover our Oxbridge Programme by clicking the button below to learn how you can enrol and triple your chances of success.

Oxford English Language Proficiency Requirements

Oxford’s undergraduate courses are highly demanding, and the university mandates a high level of English proficiency. If your first language is English and you are a citizen and resident of a majority English-speaking country recognized by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), you do not need to demonstrate your level of English. However, all other students must provide proof of their English language skills.

Accepted Tests and Required Scores

Oxford accepts several standardised English language tests, and all undergraduate courses require a higher level of proficiency (previously, a standard level was accepted for some courses). The tests and required minimum scores are as follows:

IELTS Academic: Requires an overall score of 7.5 with at least 7.0 in each component (Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking). Be aware that the IELTS General, IELTS UKVI General and IELTS life skills tests are not accepted by Oxford, only the IELTS academic. 

TOEFL / TOEFL iBT Home Edition: Requires an overall score of 110 with a minimum component scores of: Listening – 22, Reading – 24, Speaking – 25, Writing – 24. Be aware that TOEFL Essentials  and TOEFL ITP are not accepted by Oxford.

Cambridge English (C1 Advanced / C2 Proficiency): Requires an overall score of 191 with at least 185 in each component.

Trinity Integrated Skills in English (ISE): Requires an ISE III with a distinction in all skills or an ISE IV with a pass in each section.

Pearson Test of English (PTE) Academic: Requires an overall score of 76 with at least 66 in Speaking, Listening, Reading and Writing. Enabling Skills don’t have a minimum score.

English Language IGCSE: Requires a grade B/6, plus a grade 2 in the Speaking and Listening test.

European Baccalaureate: Requires English at L1 or L2 with 70%.

SQA ESOL Higher in English Language: Requires a grade B.

Oxford Test of English (Advanced): Requires at least 155 in each component.

Oxford also lists the English Language GCSE (UK-regulated awarding organizations only) as a recognized English proficiency test; however, this is not particularly relevant to most international students since they are likely to reside outside the UK prior to applying to universities, and the English Language GCSE can only be taken in person in the UK.

Similarly, the OxfordAQA International GCSE English Language (First Language), Pearson Edexcel English Language A or B (First Language), and Cambridge Assessment O-Level English are acceptable English proficiency tests listed by Oxford; however, these can only be taken by students whose first language is English.

Given that most people whose first language is English live in English-speaking countries recognized by the UK, the aforementioned examinations are for a very specific group of students who speak English at home but do not live and study in an English-speaking country.

Be aware that the date on which you completed your test won’t impact your application unless your qualification has an expiry date. If your qualification has passed its expiry date, you’ll need to complete another one. 

Exemptions To Oxford's Requirements

Oxford may consider exemptions for students who:

If you believe you meet the criteria for an exemption, you should complete a waiver form and send it to the college that has made your offer.

University of Oxford Radcliffe Camera Exterior

Cambridge English Language Proficiency Requirements

Similar to Oxford, Cambridge requires a high level of English proficiency due to the challenging nature of its courses. All applicants whose first language is not English must demonstrate their proficiency, ensuring they can handle the academic rigour.

Accepted Tests and Required Scores

Cambridge accepts various English language tests and generally requires higher-level proficiency scores. The accepted tests and their required scores are as follows:

IELTS Academic: Requires an overall score of 7.5 with no component below 7.0 (in most cases). As with Oxford, only IELTS Academic is accepted.  

  1. TOEFL InternetBased Test (IBT): Requires an overall score of 110 with minimum component scores of: Listening – 25, Reading – 25, Speaking – 25, Writing – 25.
  1. Cambridge English: (C1 Advanced): Requires an overall score of 193 with no component score below 185.
  1. Cambridge English (C2 Proficiency): Requires an overall score of 200 with no component score below 185.
  1. School-leaving exam: EU students are allowed to demonstrate their competence in English at C1 standardin a school-leaving exam (for example, Abitur).

Exemptions To Cambridge's Requirements

Cambridge may also consider exemptions for students who:

To apply for an exemption, you must contact the college that has offered you a place.


Widely Used English Language Proficiency Tests

Next, let’s discuss what the two most popular English tests involve.

IELTS Academic

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Academic test is designed to assess all four primary language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The test lasts 2 hours and 45 minutes and is divided into four sections:

The scores range from 1 to 9 for each component, and UK universities require a minimum overall score, typically 7.5, with no component score below 7.0, which is also the case for Oxford and Cambridge. Although students are advised not to leave the English proficiency test for the last minute, it should be noted that an IELTS test is only valid for 2 years.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT) assesses reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills, focusing on academic English. Be aware that some sources will refer to this test as the “Home Edition”. The test contains the following sections: 

Scores range from 0 to 120, with minimum section scores usually required around 25.

Oxbridge vs Non Oxbridge English Proficiency Requirements

English requirements at Oxford, Cambridge, and other UK universities are similar, as all require a C1 level of English verified by an accredited examination such as IELTS. However, Oxford and Cambridge might require minimum scores in each part (reading, listening, writing, speaking).

For instance, an IELTS score of 7.5 with a minimum of 7.0 in each component is standard, whereas most UK universities allow students to achieve lower scores in individual components as long as the overall average is at the C1 level. 

Additionally, the types of English proficiency tests accepted at Oxford and Cambridge might differ from those accepted elsewhere in the UK. For example, Cambridge accepts the TOEFL iBT English exam, which other UK universities might not recognise.

University College London Exterior

International applications to Oxford and Cambridge are tough, but UniAdmissions is experience in getting our students offers. 

International applicants for Oxbridge generally have lower success rates and more complicated applications to contend with, but we understand the whole process and are ready to support you through it. From one-to-one tuition to live courses and extensive resources, we can boost your chances of Oxbridge success. 

Discover our Oxbridge Programme by clicking the button below to learn how you can enrol and triple your chances of success.

My Experience of English Language Proficiency For Oxbridge

Below is my personal experience of successfully being admitted to two UK universities from overseas, including the University of Cambridge. Specifically, I detail my experience of taking my English language proficiency test. 

I come from the Czech Republic (an EU member state), and like most EU students, I learned English in high school. Before starting my final year, I already knew I wanted to apply to UK universities.

My expectations were modest, but I was determined to try. After researching the requirements, I learned that I needed to meet three criteria: visa, language proficiency, and good grades. Since the UK was in the EU at the time of my application, visa requirements did not affect me.

Good grades could only be obtained at the school-leaving exam, leaving English proficiency as the main condition to fulfil. I decided to obtain my English proficiency certificate a year before graduating to focus on achieving the best grades in my final year.

Some UK universities, such as Cambridge, accept school-leaving exams as proof of English proficiency, which is the most convenient method since students take the exam at their high school, and it is likely free or affordable. However, the minimum English level needed for undergraduate degrees in the UK is C1, and school-leaving exams are not always at this level. The highest level achievable at my high school was B2.

Therefore, I had to find an English language exam that would certify my C1 level and be recognised by all UK universities. There are various tests available (IELTS, TOEFL, Pearson Test of English, etc.), making it challenging to decide which one to take.

I recommend the IELTS Academic, which I sat for and is also recommended by Oxford. The IELTS test can be taken in almost any country and is recognised by all UK universities

Many high schools only prepare students to achieve a B2 level, and the quality of English education might be questionable. Fortunately, there are numerous additional paid and free in-person or online courses that offer support for preparing for academic English exams. 

I watched free online videos to understand what questions to expect during the verbal interview and how to answer them best. I also took a few timed mock IELTS Academic tests available online (this is important to do during preparation.

Taking the IELTS Academic test before the final year of high school ensures enough time to retake it if C1 is not achieved. This allows students to focus on getting top grades in their school-leaving exams and ensures that the IELTS certificate will still be valid when they apply to universities, as it remains legitimate for two years. The price of IELTS ranges from £190 to £220, depending on the location.

Although I achieved a C1 in my IELTS exam, I did not feel fully confident with my English when I started my degree at The University of Manchester (UoM), especially when I saw the quality of written reports from my British coursemates.

Fortunately, UoM offered voluntary academic English and report writing lectures free of charge, which I enrolled in and significantly improved my English and gained confidence. Similar voluntary courses are offered at most UK universities, and I advise contacting your academic advisor to find out what support is available.

Taking additional English lectures in the first year might not seem appealing for students struggling with their course curriculum or wanting to enjoy their free time. However, this can pay off later in their studies.

University of Manchester - Exterior

I hope this guide was useful and that you now feel more prepared to begin your practice and take on the test. Depending on your level of understanding of the English language, these tests may be incredibly simple or extremely difficult. The important thing to remember is that everything you learn and achieve during your preparation and test will benefit you during your studies and allow you to make the most of your time at university. 

If you’re unsure about other aspects of your Oxbridge application, whether it’s college selection, fees, entry requirements and more, be sure to explore UniAdmissions’ library of guides for international students. You can also discover our Oxbridge Programmes, which provide comprehensive, personalised support across the whole of your application. What ever you do next, we wish you the best of luck! 

Are you looking for support for the whole of your Oxbridge application?

The English language proficiency test is just one of many steps in your application to study at Oxford or Cambridge. At UniAdmissions, our team of tutors are experts in every step of the process, so we can support you through your entire application and give you the best possible chance of earning your place. 

Discover our Oxbridge Programme by clicking the button below to learn how you can enrol and triple your chances of success.

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