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What’s the difference between the C1 Advanced exam and the IELTS? And which one should you choose?

I teach a lot of advanced level students and once they reach this level they are often keen to get certification that will not only validate their excellent skills, but will help their resumes and profiles stand out to employers.

A recent example was a student of mine from Spain, Lina, who had an advanced level of English and had heard all about the IELTS. Many of her friends from university had this exam and she wondered if she was missing out by not having it. She asked me if we could start studying for it, but after a few questions it was clear that it would actually not be the best use of her time and she would benefit much more from the C1 Advanced exam.

So how did we get to this decision? Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between the exams:

First and foremost, if you require an exam for a specific university course or a visa, you MUST double-check which exam they expect you to have. They will be very clear. If they give you a choice, or if you are choosing for your own reasons then the following information will help you make your decision…


The IELTS academic is an exam which focuses on university level academic language and is aimed at university students. The IELTS general training uses more daily language and is aimed more for visa applicants and will be specifically asked for.

The Cambridge C1 Advanced exam is general English aimed specifically at people who use English in their daily lives and careers. It focuses on informal and formal language in a variety of contexts. It is the level of language used by native speakers in everyday communication, jobs, travel, and on the Internet.


If you are studying for a university course and they have specifically asked you for the IELTS, then this is the one to choose!

If you are considering a university course in the future, you’re sure they’ll ask for the IELTS, but you don’t have an offer yet, I recommend studying for the exam but waiting to officially take it. The IELTS exam is only valid for two years. This could mean you need to take it again before or even during your university course!

The C1 Advanced exam is currently now accepted in 100s of universities for their courses so check if your university course accepts it. The most important thing to note is that this certification lasts for life. Once you have it, you’ll never need to retake it!


You can enter the IELTS exam with any level of English but candidates of a B2 level or lower will find it challenging. Much of the language in the IELTS is around C1/C2 level with a few manageable questions for candidates needing lower scores.

The result you get will be a band score from 1 up to 9. The scores below represent the CEFR levels. It is important to get level tested correctly before you start studying for the IELTS. For example, if your general level is a B2, you will likely be able to achieve a 6 or a 6.5 band score.

The C1 Advanced is aimed specifically at candidates that have achieved the C1 level in general English. A particularly strong candidate may achieve a C2 result and a lower candidate may achieve the B2 result.

It is important to be level assessed correctly before preparing for the C1 Advanced exam as some candidates will be better suited to prepare for either the B2 First or the C2 Proficiency.


Many English-speaking countries ask for the IELTS, however, in recent years they have also begun to accept the C1 Advanced exam instead. As the C1 Advanced exam focuses on general English used in a variety of daily contexts, it is much more useful for people who want to work and live in an English speaking country.

Because it never expires, it can be worth taking the exam before you move abroad or start making official visa applications. Having the exam already can significantly speed up a visa application!


Both exams are respected in job industries worldwide. However, as the C1 Advanced exam focus on a huge range of different everyday contexts, as well as formal and informal language, studying this exam will benefit you most in your professional career as it gives you English skills you will actually use.

Some professions (such as air traffic controllers) require the C1 Advanced exam specifically.

In Lina’s case, her friends from university had the IELTS exam because they were studying on English-taught programs and it had been a requirement. As Lina wanted a certification that validated her level of English, and helped her work on the English skills she would use in her job and travel, the C1 Advanced was a much better choice.

It is very important to research exactly which exam you need, but if you’re still not sure which one to choose, feel free to email me at with a summary of your circumstances and I can advise you.

If the C1 Advanced exam is the one for you, then the C1 Advanced Academy offers a fully online preparation course which includes live sessions with a certified tutor.

You can book here or email us with more questions!

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