Do you need to take an English test to study at university in the UK?

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By Petra Olsson from Cambridge English Language Assessment

In 2015, the UK’s Visa and Immigration service (UKVI) changed its rules affecting the English language tests needed to work or study in the UK. Many students have found the new rules complicated and are not sure if they need to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) or another kind of English test. This quick guide outlines the key facts about who needs to take a SELT and, more importantly, who doesn’t!

What are the different types of English test?
There are broadly two types of English test for applying to study in the UK:

SELTs – these are usually taken for visa applications. The UKVI decides which exams are accepted, and approves the test centres. Some SELTs can only be taken inside the UK, while others – such as IELTS for UKVI – can be taken in your own country.
Non-SELT language tests – some tests not on the UKVI’s SELT list may still be used, depending on the type of visa applied for. Some tests assess a wide range of ability, while others are in-depth exams at one level.

So, who needs to take a SELT?
Some people applying for a UK student visa will need to take a SELT, and some will not.
Students currently living outside the European Zone (European Union, European Economic Area, or Switzerland) are required to take a SELT if they intend to:

take a course below degree level – CEFR level B1 SELT or higher.
study at a university or college not recognised by UKVI (most universities and colleges are recognised) – CEFR level B2 SELT or higher.

Who doesn’t need to take a SELT?
Many people applying to study at university in the UK don’t need to take a SELT. UK universities are allowed to accept other tests and qualifications, but they are only allowed to do so for courses that are at undergraduate level and above if the student needs a visa.

Examples of when a SELT is not needed include:

students who live in the European Union (or don’t need a visa for other reasons) intending to study at any level
students needing a visa and are intending to study at undergraduate level or above (unless the specific university asks for a SELT)
students who are nationals of an English-speaking country listed on UKVI’s website (or have a bachelor’s degree or higher from one of these countries) may not need to take a SELT

Even if you don’t need to take a SELT, your college or university may still ask you to prove your English ability as part of your application. They can choose which exams they accept and set the level of English necessary for entry to your course – this may be higher than the level set by the UKVI.

On the positive side, because a wider range of exams is accepted, you may be able to use the result of an exam you have already passed – Cambridge English: Advanced, for example, is commonly accepted for UK university applications.

Find out more
Check your visa requirements on the UKVI website, but remember the rules can change.

Contact your chosen university to find out what the English requirements are for your course, and which exams and grades they accept.

If you do need to take a SELT, two exams are currently accepted by UKVI:

IELTS for UKVI – available in the UK and overseas
Integrated Skills in English – available in the UK only

About Petra Olsson
Petra is Stakeholder and Key Account Manager (UK & Ireland) for Cambridge English Language Assessment – a not-for-profit department of the University of Cambridge.

Cambridge English provides qualifications for learners and teachers of English, including exams widely accepted for applications to UK higher education providers, such as: Cambridge English: First; Cambridge English: Advanced; and Cambridge English: Proficiency.

Cambridge English, together with IDP IELTS and British Council, are the producers of IELTS for UKVI.