Not sure if you have been ever lost in a small town while you were on holiday. Streets could be so tight, complicated and lots of dead-end alleys. And sometimes even the signs are not really helpful. You may enjoy looking around and walking along those alleys. Honestly, I had a pleasant feeling when I got lost in Prato- a samll city near Florance Italy! But, how about if you have a ticket for a concert and you need to be there at a certain time?

Having a good GPS could be a great help as it shows where you are, where your destination is and the best roadmap to get there. Yet, sometimes there are so many signs or noise in the environment that makes using a GPS less effective, so it is good to know which GPS to use!

While you are thinking about getting a language proficiency certificate, either IELTS, TOFEL or any other counterparts, you are in the same situation. You want to take the IELTS test to continue your education or work in an international company to climb up your career ladder. You don’t have all the time in the world to enhance your English proficiency every now and then. You need a GPS! i.e. you need a placement test service that can help you to make a plan!

This article explains what an English placement test is, why it is necessary before you make a plan for your IELTS journey, informtion about the common types of placement tests available (in Qatar), the criteria to choose a suitable placement test.

How can you plan for your IELTS journey?

There are several approaches, such as:

  1.  You may read online materials on the official websites to familiarise yourself. Webinars from the IELTS test centers  (e.g. IFI webinars link)
  2. You may register in an IELTS course. There are several IELTS preparation centers that have specific courses on IELTS (See this article on Comparison of IELTS course preparation in Qatar-Link).
  3. You may watch helpful videos. For instance, take a look at official IELTS videos (Cambridge YouTube Channel on IELTS)
  4. You may get a personal tutor to assist you with his or her notes (See One-on-One IELTS Coaching service, Extraordinary is our normal!)
  5. You may start finding good materials for your self-practice (See e.g. this article: IELT Fix: a solution for self Practice IELT preparation)
  6. Or you may have a combination of above approaches to find the way for your journey


Knowing where you stand is critical, the sooner, the better!

To plan for your IELTS journey, regardless of which approach you choose, the first step is to know where you are now! Sounds obvious right? But sometimes it is not quite easy. Even understanding your current level of English knowledge might not be straight forward. For instance, if you are riding a great car with an up-to-date GPS in a large metropolise with lots of skyscrapers, your GPS might not work at its best! It may receive a lot of noise from the environment. I mean the information overload can sometimes confuse you even more. 



Information overload is a barrier

To plan your IELTS journey, like the analogy of the GPS, you will be facing a lot of sources of information that sound credible and useful to read. There are many tests and assessment materials out there and you may wonder which one to use. For instance, British council online placement test, Oxford online placement test, ESL test, Cambridge placement test. So how do you know which IELTS placement test to choose?

Popular placement tests: What are the options and how to choose from them?

Even understanding what is available on the market is time-consuming. If you search for the term English placement test, you will see many results. Here, I try to give you some hints about the most popular options to make your decision making easier. In the below table, I give you some criteria to ensure which tests would suit you.

  Output example Time Cost Focus areas Effectiveness for IELTS journey planning
Cambridge test Your score out of 25 and map to two CEFR levels e.g. B1 Preliminary or B2 First No time limit but may take 20 minutes for 25 multiple questions Free quick assessment but about QAR450 based on type of your exam Grammar, in the placement ic_star_half_24px.svg
British Council Your score: e.g. 59% Your level Intermediate

25 multiple-choice questions

10–20 minutes

Grammar, Vocab and reading

Oxford test

No report free of charge- Map to CEFR-Personalised report card. To check the report

To see how you can interpret the result see this report

Flexible 5.14 GBP

Use of English, Listening


English Placement test by TII Map to CEFR-e.g. :Your indicative level is C1/C2 (Proficient user) 5-10 min Free short test and then USD 17 ESOL Grammar ic_star_border_24px.svg
International Hourse test Your level e.g. Beginner 60 multiple choice questions- around 60 minutes Free Grammar and reading ic_star_half_24px.svg
IFI test (Link to be added) Your score in CEFR plus expert consultation 40 min and takes a business-day until you receive an expert consultation Free (limited time) Grammar, reading, speaking and writing ic_star_24px.svg

1. Output of placement test

Here by the output, I focused on what you get for free. However, the only exception in the table above is Oxford placement test. Without purchasing the test, you can neither take any questions nor will you receive any report obviously.

Overall, all these free tests will place you to one or two levels of the Common European Framework of Reference called CEFR. To check the details in CEFR, you may take a look at this report from Cambridge. An outline of the levels and their descriptions are summarised in the below Table.

Levels   General Description  
Proficient user C2 Mastery Highly proficient – can use English very fluently, precisely and sensitively in most contexts
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency Able to use English fluently and flexibly in a wide range of contexts
Independent user B2 Vantage Can use English effectively, with some fluency, in a range of contexts
B1 Threshold Can communicate essential points and ideas in familiar contexts
Basic user A2 Waystage Can communicate in English within a limited range of contexts
A1 Breakthrough Can communicate in basic English with help from the listener


For IELTS takers, you need to know that CEFR has been mapped to the IELTS scores. See the Below picture from IELTS.Org. You can read the full article here.

Among these lists IFI placement test seems to be different as on top of mapping your score into CEFR, you will receive a free consultation based on your multiple-choice questions, as well as your speaking and writing performance.

2. Time takes to complete the placement test

Most of these tests may take minimum 10-20 minutes. However, the more comprehensive ones like IH and IFI take longer. I believe you need about an hour to complete the IH 60 multiple choice-questions. With IFI you need less than 40 minutes, 20 minutes to complete the 25 multiple-choice questions, then less than 15 minutes for the writing tasks and 5 minutes for the speaking part.

3. Cost of taking the placement test

You can take all the above tests, except the Oxford test, for free! Most are designed to provide a quick assessment. However, the extent of assessed knowledge varies significantly. For instance, One may argue how valid would be a result that is based on only 10 multiple questions. Yet, except for IFI and Oxford, the rest of the above placement tests are only focused on multiple-choice questions and do not cover the other skills such as writing or speaking.

4. Focus area

Generally, when we talk about language proficiency, there will be a need for four skills: Listening, Reading, speaking and Writing.

As mentioned above, the free version of the above tests only focuses on your vocabulary, grammar and reading skills in general. While IFI provides you with tasks for writing and speaking, it would ignore the listening skills.

Placeement tests focus  areas Listening Reading Speaking Writing Effectiveness for IELTS journey planning
Cambridge test-The Free test component ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
British Council- The Free test component ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
Oxford test ic_done_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
English Placement test by TII ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
International Hourse test

ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
IFI test (Link to be added) ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_done_24px.svg ic_star_24px.svg

4. Effectiveness for IELTS journey planning

Considering all the above factors, if you would like to take an IELTS exam, plan your journey, and know where you stand free of charge, you need to take a placement test that assesses all skills required for the IELTS test.

There are IELTS Mock tests out there that you can purchase to simulate the real IELTS exam. You can find a review paper here (IELTS Mock exams). Yet, you have the opportunity to take free placement test without paying for the real IELTS test (Min QAR850 for paper based or 1025 for the Computer delivered test) or the mock test (minimum QAR250), as per November 2020 fees. The more comprehensive placement tests would show you a better location service to know where you are and how to get to your desired place.

I believe a good placement service should not only show you how you are performing in the relevant skills, but also be a service to guide you on how to improve the areas that you need to work on. The table below is my rating on the test based on my research.  I tried to focus on the fact-based criteria to minimize my personal interest and taste. E.g. I did not talk about the quality of questions or representation of these services.  For instance, whether or not you receive any writing or speaking questions or you get any free consultations are facts that can be easily checked.

  Assessment of the four skills-Know where you stand Free Consultation on how to improve-Know how to navigate to your destination Effectiveness for IELTS journey planning

Cambridge test: The Free test component

main_e29c79008412a7686dac31e6c5d411e6.png ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg

British Council: The Free test component
Oxford test

main_e29c79008412a7686dac31e6c5d411e6.png ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
Oxford test main_f3effe952753265c990e18ca655ae7cb.png ic_done_24px.svg ic_star_24px.svg
English Placement test by TII main_e29c79008412a7686dac31e6c5d411e6.png ic_highlight_off_24px.svg ic_star_border_24px.svg
IH test main_e29c79008412a7686dac31e6c5d411e6.png ic_done_24px.svg ic_star_half_24px.svg
IFI test (Link to be added) main_b60f23e83014e7873d1bd350ed1f8d4a.png ic_done_24px.svg ic_star_24px.svg

So what?

In summary:

  • If you would like to improve your English, particularly if you have an IELTS journey ahead, I suggest you use a placement test service to work for you as a GPS!
  • There are various placement tests out there, here, I introduced some of the popular ones. I also shared my thoughts on the criteria to choose the right one
  • You can see a rating of these placement services using the facts that can be checked using the links I have provided.
  • If you think you need an IELTS test, I think it is good to take at least one IELTS mock test, but as the very first step, there are free and quick services that you can use to make a more-informed decision.

Good luck with your English journey. Let me know what you think of this article.

If you need any questions on IELTS, placement test, Mock tests or buying a good GPS! I am a click a way


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