CELPIP versus IELTS The Ultimate Guide

Making the choice: CELPIP versus IELTS

If you are considering immigrating to Canada, you might be wondering if you should take the CELPIP or the IELTS exam.

Proficiency in either French or English is required for immigration to Canada and can boost your rank on the Express Entry Comprehensive Ranking Score (CRS).

Those looking to prove their language ability in English have two choices of exams: The Canadian Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

Both of these exams are accepted for immigration, and the CELPIP and IELTS are equally designed to test your English proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Major Differences Between CELPIP and IELTS

Although the tests are designed to measure English proficiency, there are a few significant differences between IELTS and CELPIP.


  • The CELPIP exam was designed to test the English proficiency of Canadian permanent residency and citizenship applicants.
  • The test uses Canadian English and accents and focuses on the English that will be used in day-to-day situations.
  • As a rule, both American and British spellings are accepted.
  • There are two tests: the CELPIP-General Test and the CELPIP-General LS Test.
  • Those wishing to immigrate need to take the CELPIP-General Test as it is accepted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
  • Some Canadian universities are now accepting CELPIP as proof of English ability for admission.
  • You should consult the university or college you are interested in to see if they are accepting the CELPIP exam.


  • The IELTS exam is used for work, study and immigration across the world.
  • Since it is a worldwide exam, it accepts both British and American spelling and uses voices and accents from a variety of English native speakers.
  • There are also two exams IELTS study and IELTS general.
  • IELTS Study is used for college and university admittance, and IELTS General is used for immigration.

Scoring Differences between CELPIP and IELTS

The CELPIP exam measures test takers on a 1-12 calibrated scale against the Canadian Language Benchmarks. The Canadian Language Benchmarks are the official measurement of English language ability in Canada.

CELPIP Scoring

CELPIP ScoreCLB LevelCELPIP Score Descriptor
1212Advanced proficiency in workplace and community contexts
1111Advanced proficiency in workplace and community contexts
1010Highly effective proficiency in workplace and community
99Effective proficiency in workplace and community contexts
88Good proficiency in workplace and community contexts
77Adequate proficiency in workplace and community contexts
66Developing proficiency in workplace and community contexts
55Acquiring proficiency in workplace and community contexts
44Adequate proficiency for daily life activities
33Some proficiency in limited contexts
M0,1,2Minimal proficiency or insufficient information to assess
Source: CELPIP Guidebook for Test Takers

The IELTS measures from 0-9. You can receive a full score like 6.0 or 7.0 and a half scor- like 6.5 and 7.5. These numbers are called bands

You can view the IELTS band descriptors here.

Test Breakdown

Both CELPIP and IELTS tests take approximately three hours to complete. There are differences in the breakdown. The CELPIP exam has slightly longer Listening and Speaking sections.

Format and Content of the CELPIP Exam

ComponentTime AllottedItem DescriptionNumber of
Listening53 - 60 minutesTest takers listen to several passages and answer comprehension questions. The listening passages cover topics in daily conversation, problem-solving, news items, discussions, and viewpoints.Minimum
of 38
Reading47 - 55 minutesTest takers read several passages and answer comprehension questions. The reading passages engage the test takers in understanding correspondence, interpreting a diagram, and reading for viewpointsMinimum
of 38
Writing55 - 60 minutesTest takers write an email and write a response to
survey questions.
2 Tasks
Speaking15 - 20 minutesTest takers speak to give advice, talk about personal experiences, describe scenes, make predictions, compare and persuade, deal with difficult situations,
express opinions, and describe an unusual situation
8 Tasks

Source: CELPIP Test Report 2017

Format and Content for the IELTS General Exam

ComponentTimingTask FormatNumber of Questions
ListeningApproximately 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes transfer time).There are four sections with ten questions each. The questions are designed so that the answers appear in the order they are heard in the audio.

The first two sections deal with situations set in everyday social contexts. In Section 1, there is a conversation between two speakers (for example, a conversation about travel arrangements), and in Section 2, there is a monologue in (for example, a speech about local facilities). The final two sections deal with situations set in educational and training contexts. In Section 3, there is a conversation between two main speakers (for example, two university students in discussion, perhaps guided by a tutor), and in Section 4, there is a monologue on an academic subject.
Reading60 minutesThere are three sections. Section 1 may contain two or three short texts or several shorter texts. Section 2 comprises two texts. In Section 3, there is one long text. The task is designed to test a wide range of reading skills. These include reading for gist, reading for main ideas, reading for detail, skimming, understanding logical argument and recognizing writers' opinions, attitudes and purpose.
Writing60 minutesThere are two Writing tasks to complete.
In Task 1, test takers are asked to respond to a situation, for example, by writing a letter requesting information or explaining a situation.
In Task 2, test takers write an essay in response to a point of view, argument or problem
2 Tasks
Speaking11 - 14 minutesPart 1 - the examiner will ask you general questions about yourself and a range of familiar topics, such as home, family, work, studies and interests. This part lasts between four and five minutes.
Part 2 - you will be given a card which asks you to talk about a particular topic. You will have one minute to prepare before speaking for up to two minutes. The examiner will then ask one or two questions on the same topic.
Part 3 - you will be asked further questions about the topic in Part 2. These will give you the opportunity to discuss more abstract ideas and issues. This part of the test lasts between four and five minutes.
3 Parts

Source: IELTS.org

Test Delivery

The IELTS Exam is taken either with a traditional paper and pencil format or on the computer. You will always take the Listening, Reading and Writing parts all on the same day, one after the other, with no breaks between them. The speaking section may or may not be on the same day with an examiner.

The CELPIP Exam is entirely computer based. You will answer all sections on the computer and then use a microphone to record your speaking answers.

Studying for the CELPIP versus IELTS Exam

You will find study materials for both exam format that will help you prepare for the test and the style of the exam.

The CELPIP exam is a much younger exam. Since it is a Canadian exam, the audience is much narrower. There are some preparation programs offered by English schools in Canada, and you can take a sample exam on the official CELPIP website.

Since the IELTS is an international exam, there is no shortage of preparation programs, blogs and online lessons to help students prepare. There are also practice exams offered on the IELTS homepage.

You will find a lot of preparation materials for IELTS than CELPIP. A google search for IELTS renders about 100’000’000 results and the same search for CELPIP gives about 600’000 results.

IELTS vs CELPIP google search

Test Availability of CELPIP versus IELTS

Where you are located may influence which test you will take. Both the CELPIP exam and the IELTS can be taken in Canada. There are 33 CELPIP testing centres in Canada (the province of Prince Edward Island and all three territories do not have testing centres). They also recently opened a testing centre in Dubai, UAE.

IELTS has 115 testing centres in Canada in five provinces (Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia). Some of these locations only offer IELTS Academic, which cannot be used for Canadian immigration purposes. You can also check the international testing centres on the IELTS website.

You will also need to plan ahead as in both cases the test will need to be booked in advance.


Both of the exams are a financial investment. The cost of the CELPIP-General test is $265 plus tax. The IELTS $319.00 in Canada. You may find that the price changes depending on the country where the exam is offered.

Taking the test

The CELPIP exam is entirely computer-based, which means you will take the full exam on a computer. You will complete the exam in one 3 hour period. Since this is done on a computer, you can easily track how much time you spend on a section. The listening and speaking sections are slightly longer than the writing section.

If you take the IELTS exam, you may not complete all the sections on the same day. The reading, writing and listening sections are done in a separate room from the speaking section. The speaking section may be taken up to a week after you complete the other sections. The IELTS exam doesn’t have automatic time tracking.

Difficulty of CELPIP versus IELTS

Both exams are designed to measure your proficiency in reading, writing, speaking and listening. The level of difficulty is approximately the same. You may find you have a preference for one exam over the other based on your own skills.

One significant difference between the IELTS and CELPIP is that the IELTS is paper based and the CELPIP is entirely computerized. Some test takers prefer writing and exam with paper and pencil others like that the computer keeps track of timing and word count for them. CELPIP takers can also benefit from spell check, which makes the writing portions easier.

Depending on your comfort level with different English accents, you may prefer the CELPIP over the IELTS. The CELPIP exam uses native English speakers from Canada only. While the IELTS exam uses native speakers from the US, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Australia. Since just the Canadian accent is used in the CELPIP exam some test takes find the exam more understandable.

During the CELPIP exam, you won’t encounter an official examiner for the speaking section. You’ll answer the sections by recording your answers. In the IELTS exam, your speaking section will be with an offical examiner. Some students feel more comfortable speaking with a person.

Time to receive or CELPIP and IELTS results

You will receive your IELTS results in 13 days, and if you take the CELPIP exam, your results will be ready in 10-12 days. CELPIP also offers an express rating system that gives results in 3 business days. The cost for this is $100 plus taxes.

Listen to The Can Learn English Podcast Epiosde on CELPIP versus IELTS

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