What’s the difference between IELTS and CELPIP? Which test is easier?

IELTS or CELPIP.  Which test should I take?

Is IELTS better than CELPIP?

Is the CELPIP test really easier than the IELTS test?

Not too many days go by without one of my students asking me one of these questions, but although there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, there are some things to consider when you are making your decision of which test to take. IELTS or CELPIP?

As I said, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, and you shouldn’t make your decision based on what you hear other people say about the tests. At the end of the day, whether you choose IELTS or CELPIP really depends on which format encourages you to produce your very best English.

As a professional English Language teacher, I’ve coached a lot of students through CELPIP and IELTS helping them to both achieve their scores and make their decision about which test format best showcases their language skills. Here, I’m going to give you my opinion about both the CELPIP and IELTS tests.

Before I get started, I want to be really clear. Both the IELTS and CELPIP tests are hard, really hard. For both tests, you’ll need to do three things. Firstly, dedicate a lot of time to careful preparation, secondly, have the language proficiency level you need to score, and thirdly, follow a realistic study plan. If you do all three of these things, there shouldn’t be anything standing between you and the score you need in order to pursue your Permanent Residence and your dream.

Understanding IELTS General and CELPIP Scores

Some people get confused by the numbering systems of CELPIP and IELTS because a lower number in IELTS is equivalent to a higher number in CELPIP. Typically speaking, those numbers don’t really reflect one test being ‘easier’ than the other. It’s better to understand what those numbers represent in the Canadian Language Benchmarks.

The score you get on your IELTS General or CELPIP test is equivalent to a Canadian Language Benchmark Score (CLB). For immigration purposes, the score you get in your IELTS General or CELPIP test reflects a CLB English proficiency level. CELPIP scores tend to be very close to CLB levels, so a 7 in CELPIP is a the same as CLB 7. However, IELTS General scores are a little different. With IELTS General, a band score of 5 is the same as CLB 7. In other words, if you need a CLB 7 for immigration purposes, then you will need to score 7 in CELPIP or 5 in IELTS General.

Getting Ready for your test

Before spending about $300 on your test, try to answer these questions.

Which CLB do you need?

Check your immigration requirements to see which CLB level you need. It’s much easier to score CLB 7 or 8, but it’s much harder to score CLB 9. At this higher level, your English needs to be very fluent and you need to give yourself plenty of time to get comfortable with the test.

What is your current English language proficiency level?

Some people think they can just walk into the test and get their score with no fuss. However, while that may be true for one or two people, it’s not a reality for everyone. Often, test-takers who are functional in the workplace only have an English CLB level of 5. If they need to score CLB 7 for immigration purposes, they need to improve their English by two full levels before they take the test. I tend to think that it takes about 40 classroom hours plus homework to complete each level. The greater the gap between your current language level and your required score, the more time you will need to spend preparing.

Don’t be fooled by all the tips and tricks out there on the internet – your examiner can see through all of them because each level has fundamental characteristics that your examiner is trained to identify. I know you were thinking you just needed to watch a couple of videos on YouTube to find the tricks but listen to what I’m saying before you waste your money – it won’t work! 😉

How much study-time do you really have?

How much free time do you have? Can you devote all of it to studying English? For years now, I’ve been offering flexible scheduling and limited free rescheduling because I know how easy it is for life to get in the way of even the most determined students. Things just happen.

At the end of the day, my feeling is that what’s most important is having a destination and enjoying the journey towards it. Of course, you have to be realistic because the immigration process has some stringent deadlines, but those can all be taken into account during the planning stage before you get started on studying.

How fast can you learn English?

As you start thinking about this test, be realistic about how quickly you learn. You’ll only get frustrated if you set a plan that’s too fast or too slow. Your learning pace is a reality that you can’t escape regardless of the tutor you sign up with. Make sure you take your learning pace into account as you set up your test-preparation schedule.

Is the IELTS test format easier than the CELPIP test format?

Now that we’ve got some of those basic building blocks out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the format characteristics that may make CELPIP easier than IELTS for some people and IELTS easier than CELPIP for others.

Speaking: The IELTS Speaking Test VS The CELPIP Speaking Test

The biggest difference between the IELTS and the CELPIP exam is probably in the speaking section. That’s not because the assessment criteria for your language level are different but because one, the CELPIP, requires you to speak to your computer, whereas the other, IELTS, puts you in a room with a real person for a natural conversation.

Do you cave under pressure?

Some test-takers find the whole CELPIP speaking test environment very stressful because they’re surrounded by the distraction of other test-takers who are wither typing or speaking at the same time. For them, IELTS may be easier because the test takes place in a quiet room where there are only tow people – you and the examiner.

Does a timer stress you out?

During the IELTS speaking test, the examiner watches the time so you can focus on answering the questions and developing your answers with lots of juicy details. CELPIP provides a timer with each speaking prompt, so it’s best to practice a lot until you get a feel for how much you can say in 60 or 90 seconds.

How do you respond to structure?

The CELPIP speaking test and IELTS speaking test have different structures. The CELPIP test has 8 pre-set question types which means you can rehearse and learn specific structures and tenses for each question before the test. IELTS, on the other hand, has three sections. You know you’ll be using the simple present tense in the first section because you’ll be describing your routines. You know you’ll be using past tenses in the second section where you provide a short presentation about a topic, but you have absolutely no idea what the third section will hold in terms of structures and tenses until you hear the question.

Does preparation time help?

Before you have to start speaking in the CELPIP test, you have a minute or so to think about what you want to say. You even have a piece of paper to jot down any important vocab or memory joggers. Ultimately, that means you have time to consider your response before you give it. IELTS doesn’t offer any preparation time. You have to answer your examiner’s questions with a minimum of hesitation. For some test-takers, that extra time makes CELPIP easier than IELTS.

Listening: Is the IELTS Listening Test easier than the CELPIP?

Whether IELTS or CELPIP listening is easier often depends on the score you’re aiming for. They’re both pretty hard if you have your sights set on CLB 9, but often students with that goal switch from IELTS to CELPIP and have more success. In either case, practice and careful preparation are key to achieving your score.

These are some things to consider about the actual format of the two listening tests:

How well do you spell?

The CELPIP listening test follows a multiple choice format where you choose the correct alternative – a, b, c, or d. In other words, you don’t need to spell anything – just listen and choose the best alternative. That can be a huge bonus if you just can’t remember and have to guess the answer. IELTS, on the other hand, requires you to write words and numbers as you fill in the blanks. If you make a mistake with punctuation, word form, capitalization, or spelling, your answer is marked as incorrect.

How well do you hear?

Some IELTS paper-based testing centers use a single sound source for everyone in the room. That can make it very difficult to hear all of the details, especially if someone is coughing! Other test centers provide headsets. If you decide to take IELTS, check with the testing center to see if they provide headsets before you register for your test. CELPIP always provides headsets – it’s a mandatory requirement for CELPIP Testing Centers.

How long can you pay attention?

It takes about an hour to complete the CELPIP listening section, whereas it only takes 30 minutes for the IELTS listening test. You may find IELTS listening easier than CELPIP listening if you find it strenuous to listen to passages for a full hour.

How’s your notetaking and memory?

The CELPIP test has 6 sections, whereas the IELTS test has 4 sections. Assuming your spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and wordform choice are good, you may find that IELTS is easer than CELPIP. The main reason is that IELTS lets you read and analyze the questions before you listen to the audio passage. CELPIP can be harder for test-takers who don’t have good memories or notetaking skills because the CELPIP Listening test doesn’t let you see the questions until after you’ve listened to the audio passage.

The CELPIP listening test includes a video – the IELTS doesn’t. If you’re not paying careful attention, this can be a challenging section because they may ask you really dumb questions about the speaker’s outfits, shoes, posture, etc. The IELTS test doesn’t throw silly or unexpected questions at you.

How well do you understand different accents?

All of the speakers in the CELPIP listening test have Canadian accents, whereas the speakers in the IELTS test can be British, American, Australian, or from any other English-speaking country.

Is the IELTS Reading Test easier than the CELPIP Reading Test?

When it comes to the reading sections on both test, there’s really not much difference. For both, you need to be able to find information hidden in the text very quickly. I think the key to a good score here is to identify the informational retrieval strategies that work for you and then practice them lots. 😉

For both tests, it takes about an hour to complete the reading section. The reading section for both tests has 40 questions and is divided into several parts – CELPIP has 4 parts, IELTS has 3. Each part gets more difficult as you get further into the test.

These are some things to consider about the actual format of the two reading tests:

Is a paper test easier for you?

Both IELTS and CELPIP offer computer-based tests where you complete the reading section on the computer; however, IELTS also offers a paper-based version where you can make notes in the margin, highlight important sections, and circle critical dates. You may find IELTS’ paper-based version easier than CELPIP’s computer-based version if having a pencil in your hand makes reading easier for you.

Is multiple choice easier for you?

CELPIP’s reading section uses a drop-down menu so you can always guess the answer if you’re stumped. IELTS tends to focus on fill-in-the-blank type answers so that they can catch you out on punctuation, wordform, capitalization, word count, and spelling.

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

The Writing test in both CELPIP and IELTS is really hard, especially if you’re aiming for the higher CLB levels. This writing section, like the speaking section, is marked be a person using very specific assessment criteria. Before starting your test preparation, familiarize yourself with these assessment criteria and keep them in mind as you write.

These are some things to consider about the differences in format between the IELTS Writing Test and the CELPIP Writing test.

Do you need more time?

Writing task 1 is the same for both IELTS and CELPIP. You have to write an email/letter in about 150 words. CELPIP gives you a little longer to complete the task than IELTS does – but only about 5 minutes.

Do you know the difference between formal and informal writing?

The writing prompt tells you exactly what to write about in your email/letter. All you have to do is decide on the level of formality and then compose the response.

Can you manage a variety of essay formats?

Writing task 2 is a little different for the two tests. CELPIP asks for a survey response – basically an opinion essay, whereas IELTS may ask for an opinion essay, a discussion essay, or a pros and cons essay.

Do you manage your time well?

IELTS gives you 40 minutes to write your essay – about fifteen minutes longer than CELPIP’s 25 minutes. The hard part here is that IELTS doesn’t tell you when to start task 2 – you have to manage your time yourself. CELPIP’s timer runs out after 25 minutes, and your screen vanishes regardless of whether your essay’s finished or not.

Can you think of something to say?

IELTS wants at least 250 words during that 40 minutes, whereas CELPIP requires a 150 word minimum.

Are you decisive?

For both tests, the topics you’re asked to write about are based on real-life situations, so most of the time, identifying two ideas to write about isn’t terribly difficult. If anything, limiting yourself to two ideas and expanding them fully into paragraphs is the bigger challenge in both tests.

How’s your spelling?

You may find CELPIP easier than IELTS if you have any spelling issues because the CELPIP writing test has spellcheck.


Okay, so that’s my breakdown of the differences between the CELPIP test and the IELTS General tests. I really don’t think I can say that the CELPIP Test is easier than the IELTS test, although I do admit to having a preference for the IELTS test. In my mind, the IELTS test has been around long enough to become recognized globally. Moreover, it has a much bigger reputation to protect. I find its structure and scoring more reliable, and its examiners better trained and significantly more consistent than CELPIP’s examiners. This is especially true when it comes to the writing and speaking sections.