Do You Need to Take an English Test to Study at a UK University?

Ever since the UK’s Visa and Immigration service (UKVI) changed its rules on the English language tests needed to work or study in the UK back in 2015, many international students are still unsure about what test they need to take.
The new rules can seem complicated and international students are often left wondering if they need to take a Secure English Language Test (SELT) or another kind of English test. With this in mind, we’re going to help you understand the facts about these English tests, so that you can make an informed decision whether you need take one to study at a UK university.

What types of English tests are there?

If you’re an international student looking to study at a UK university, and English isn’t your first language, then you will need to take an English language test to prove that your language skills are of a sufficient standard.
UK universities do look for a high ability in English, in order to ensure that you can get the most out of your learning experience. There are a number of English language tests available, with some more widely accepted than others, but broadly speaking there are two types of English language tests you can take when applying to study in the UK:

Secure English Language Tests (SELTs)

SELTs are usually taken for visa applications and UKVI decides which of these exams are accepted. Certain types of SELTs can only be taken when you’re in the UK, but others like IELTS can be taken outside of the UK.

Non-SELT Language Tests

There are a number of English language tests that aren’t on the UKVI’s SELT list and some of these will be accepted, depending on what type of visa you have applied for. Some of these tests are in-depth exams at one level, others will assess a range of English language ability.

How Do I Know if I Need To Take a SELT?

If you’re an international student currently living outside the European Zone (European Union, European Economic Area, or Switzerland) and you’re applying for a visa to study at a UK university, then you may be required to take an SELT test.
You’ll need to take a CEFR level B1 SELT or higher if you’re applying for a course below degree level. Or you’ll need to take a CEFR level B2 SELT or higher, if you intend to study at a university or college not recognised by UKVI (the majority of universities and colleges are recognised by UKVI).
Keep in mind that there are circumstances where you won’t be required to take an SELT when applying to study at university in the UK, as many institutions are allowed to accept other tests and qualifications.

Reasons Why a SELT May Not Be Required

If you live within the European Union, or you don’t require a visa for alternative reasons, and are looking to study at a UK university at any level.

  • If you’re intending to study at undergraduate level or above and you need a visa. Although certain universities may still request that you take a SELT.
  • If you’re a national of an English-speaking country listed on the UKVI’s website.
  • If you already have a bachelor’s degree or higher from a country listed on the UKVI’s website.

Regardless of whether you need to take a SELT or not, some universities will still require you to prove your English language ability as part of the application process.
Individual universities are able to choose which exams they will accept and what level of English you need to be at for entry into your chosen course. The more exams that your chosen university accepts, the more likely that you may be able to use the result of an exam you have already passed – Cambridge English: Advanced is one example of a widely accepted test.

Check Whether You Need to Take a Test

So, as an international student looking to study at a UK university, it’s always worth checking your visa requirements on the  UKVI website, and contacting your chosen university to find out what English requirements you’ll need, and what exams and grades they will accept for you to enrol on a course.
There are currently two different types of SELTs accepted by UKVI:


The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is available in the UK and overseas, and is widely recognised by the majority of UK universities. It takes around three hours to complete and consists of four parts, reading, writing, listening and speaking.
There are two types of IELTS qualifications available:

  • The Academic test – if you wish to study undergraduate or postgraduate courses in a UK university or college.
  • The General Training test – if you’re looking to study below degree level, work or undertake work-related training in, or migrate to, an English-speaking country.

To find out where you can take the test in your country, you can check the IELTS website.

Integrated Skills in English (ISE)

The ISE test is only available in the UK and consists of two exam modules, the first is reading and writing, and the second is speaking and listening. If the ISE is being taken as a SELT test in the UK, you will need to take both modules at the same time, and successfully pass them.
If you’re an international student looking to study in the UK, please contact us at IEC Abroad today to learn more. Our study abroad specialists are here to help you find the ideal university for you.