Who hasn’t heard about the Cambridge exams? They are the most important English qualifications for non-natives and everybody knows all about them. Some English students and teachers alike even dream about the structure and know the scoring and scales system by heart. But the careful observer should not fail to look elsewhere: there is an alternative to the highly demanding, stairway-to-professional-success Cambridge ESOL exams, and it is just as prestigious and internationally recognized.
The English qualifications offered by Trinity College London are almost as old as the Cambridge ones, dating back at the beginning of the 20th century. They are just as ruthless with non-natives trying to get an EFL diploma and they have an equally recognized certification level within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
Nevertheless, in recent years, many a student made a move towards the ISE Trinity exams either as a second option after failing a Cambridge exam or even as the very first choice.
The reason, briefly put, has to do with the fact that the Trinity exams don’t have the much feared and equally despised Use of English part. What is more, when examined by Trinity, candidates only have to take a two-module exam in one or two sessions, with two skills – a receptive and a productive one, respectively – tested at the same time. For instance, if you feel it’s too intense, you can sit the Reading and Writing module of the exam in a two-hour session and then go home and rest, recover or start preparing for the Speaking and Listening module. This one you can take a couple of days later or three months later – your choice.
Even more attractive to learners is the integrated structure of the exams. The official name is Integrated Skills in English, and that’s because you start with two reading tasks; you continue with another reading task which actually helps you to structure your ideas and then you move on to write your essay. And that’s it: two hours later, you are off the hook.
Finally, the cherry on top could be the Speaking and Listening module, since it’s only around 20 minutes long (depending on the level). You find yourself face to face with the examiner, talking and going over a few tasks, out of which one is a short presentation on a topic of your choice and that you have to prepare in the quiet and safety of your own home, before the exam.
Okay, so what’s the catch? Why doesn’t everybody just rush into Trinity’s English learner loving arms? Well, if things were just that easy… long story short, the level of English knowledge requested for a candidate is absolutely the same as the one demanded by the Cambridge examinations – hence the equally international recognition. The level of difficulty is thus the same. Even the exam fees are comparable to the Cambridge ones’.
The only difference is the structure and the scoring of the exam. And that’s just it: the ISE Trinity examinations sometimes happen to fit some candidates better than others.