The Difference Between IELTS and CLB

It’s confusing keeping track of all the acronyms and abbreviations we use in education these days.

Two important abbreviations for immigrants to Prince Edward Island to remember are: IELTS and CLB.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a 2 hours and 45 minute exam that assesses language proficiency in the 4 skills of Listening, Reading and Writing, and Speaking.

There are two types of IELTS exams.  The first is called “Academic” and the second is “General Training.”  If you are intending to take the IETLS exam, remember that some institutions accept Academic IELTS results and others General Training.  They are not interchangeable and both are challenging.

IELTS has become the world’s most popular English language test for higher education and immigration. The system was originally launched as the English Language Testing Service (ELTS) in 1980 by Cambridge English Language Assessment and the British Council. The number of ELTS test takers in 1981 was 4,000 rising to 10,000 in 1985. ELTS was revamped as IELTS in 1989. Test taker numbers rose by approximately 15% per year and by 1995 there were 43,000 test takers in 210 test centres around the world. In 2014, 2.5 million tests were taken in more than 140 countries, up from 2 million tests in 2012, 1.7 million tests in 2011 and 1.4 million tests in 2009.

IELTS has become the dominant international measure of competency in the English language since 1995, growing in the global market between 15% and 30% annually over the last 35 years.

IELTS measures learners’ achievements in a 9 band scale:



Although there are line-ups for IELTS preparation courses in other parts of Canada, it’s not as well known in the Atlantic Provinces. Nonetheless, it’s important here too. The Association of Registered Nurses of Prince Edward Island (ARNPEI), for example, only accepts IELTS results when considering applications from foreign-trained nurses hoping to re-certify.

Canadian Language Benchmarks(CLB)

The Canadian Language Benchmarks, or CLB, is a system of measuring language proficiency first developed in Canada in the 1990s.  It became particularly important in Canada in 2000 when  Grazyna Pawlikowska-Smith edited and published Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000.

CLB is often associated with a teaching methodology know as task-based language teaching, or TBLT.  Using this method “…focuses on the use of authentic language and on asking students to do meaningful tasks using the target language.”

The system represents an attempt to standardize not only the teaching of English as an Additional Language in Canada, but also its assessment.  CLB consists of a 12 point scale subdivided into three stages.

CLB table


In order to qualify for Canadian citizenship, you must be at CLB level 4.

So, which system should you study?

IELTS are used internationally and are accepted by universities, colleges and professional associations in Canada, but you have to choose from two different types that are not interchangeable.  The CLB is a Canadian system, but not all professional associations here accept it.

Personally, I give a slight edge to IELTS if you want to continue your university or college studies or you need licensing from a Canadian professional association.  The federal government in Canada accepts IELTS scores for Canadian citizenship and has published a chart showing how the IELTS and CLBs match up with each other.  Just do your research about whether you need academic or general training.

ielts clb comparison


CLTD PEI is offering mock IELTS exams on September 9, 2017 and begins offering IELTS exam preparation courses on September 16, 2017 in room 202 at the Murphy’s Community Centre in Charlottetown.  Contact us and register now:

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