English language skill test options amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

International students planning to study at a Canadian designated learning institution (DLI) must meet several admission requirements. Although each DLI has its requirements, most assess applicants’ transcripts, professional backgrounds, motivation letters, academic and professional recommendations and language skills.

Students preparing for the fall 2020 semester are facing unique challenges in the application process due to service disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To show proof of language proficiency, students are required to take a language test accepted by the DLI of their choice, but many language testers have had to suspend or limit their operations to comply with local health and safety restrictions.

Some language testers have developed online alternatives for students who cannot go to a testing centre. Every DLI has a list of tests that they will accept as proof of language proficiency and these alternatives may not be accepted by every DLI. Students should check with their DLI before deciding which test to register for.

Some commonly accepted test options are the Canadian Academic English Language test (CAEL), Cambridge Assessment English, Duolingo English Test, International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Pearson Test of English (PTE) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).


The CAEL test is run by Paragon Testing Enterprises and is usually completed in one sitting at over forty testing centres around the world. The test is accepted by over 180 universities and colleges across Canada which includes all English-speaking universities and most English-speaking colleges. Test results are usually received in eight business days and can be sent to five institutions for no extra fee.

Due to testing suspensions, some test preparation material is being offered at a reduced price and it is free to transfer to a different sitting time. 

Cambridge Assessment English

Cambridge Assessment English offers two exams: C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency. These exams are accepted by over 200 schools in Canada and the results are usually received in two to three weeks if taken by computer and four to six weeks if taken on paper. These tests must be taken at a Cambridge test centre. Depending on local regulations, they are currently either running sessions with restricted availability or suspending sessions until they are permitted to reopen. 

Duolingo English Test

The Duolingo English Test is completed online and is accepted by 140 Canadian institutions. The results are available in 2 days and can be immediately shared with anyone. 


The IELTS is co-owned by IDP Education, the British Council and Cambridge Assessment English. It is accepted by over 400 Canadian institutions. Results are available in 13 days for paper tests and in five to seven days for tests done by a computer.

The IELTS offers IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests at in-person testing centres. These tests are the only tests approved by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for international students wanting to fast-track their study permit application.

Because COVID-19 travel and health restrictions are preventing many students from reaching testing centres, an online version called the IELTS Indicator has been developed. Results from the IELTS Indicator are received in seven days, but because it is only an indicative score, it is not intended for immigration or accepted by all institutions. 


PTE Academic is accepted by 90 percent of Canadian universities and colleges and the results are usually received in two days. Pearson uses artificial intelligence (AI) to score its tests and they have adapted that technology to create the Versant English Language test. Versant is an online test that students can take from home while testing centres are closed. Versant uses AI to monitor and score the test and the results are available immediately.  


This test is offered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and is accepted by over 400 Canadian universities and colleges. Test results are usually available in six days, though results for tests taken on paper may be delayed due to service disruptions caused by the pandemic. Some testing centres have been closed due to health restrictions and others have limited availability.

In response to travel and health restrictions, rescheduling fees have been waived and ETS is also currently offering an online alternative called TOEFL iBT Special Home Edition, which has the same content as the computer test usually taken at a testing facility. It is monitored online by a human proctor and is available four days a week.

Some DLIs also offer their courses and tests that they will accept as proof of language proficiency.

Testing facilities that are remaining open have several new health and safety regulations in place that must be followed to take the test. If students are attending an in-person sitting, they need to check the testing centre’s guidelines to make sure that they follow all of the health regulations.

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