|101-005| Exams x Tests: what’s the difference?

Hello Exam Seekers,

Have you ever found yourself saying that you plan on taking the CPE test or the CELTA exam? It feels weird right? Is this how we should call them? I mean, do you know the difference between Exams and Tests?

I’ve seen so many people looking for certification, but not really knowing which one to take or study because they don’t know their meaning. So, today, I’m going to clarify the differences between Exams, Tests, Courses and Certificates for you to understand what you are getting into.


First of all, both exams and tests evaluate the student’s knowledge in a series of questions which, by the end of them, will grant the candidates a result/grade. Therefore, in most cases they are synonyms. They differ mainly in one aspect: an exam is more formal than a test.

What is an ASSESSMENT?

Since I am going to use this word a lot here, I thought that it would be nice to clarify its meaning first.

According to Cambridge Dictionary, assessment is

Assessment - Cambridge Dictionary
Assessment – Cambridge Dictionary

There are other similar meanings for the same word:

  • the process of testing, and making a judgment about , someone’s knowledge, ability, skills, etc.;
  • the act of judging or deciding the amount, value, quality, or importance of something, or the judgment or decision that is made.
Cambridge Assessment
Cambridge Assessment

Therefore, when we talk about assessment in the ELT world, we think about Cambridge Assessment:

One of three exam boards from Cambridge which form the Cambridge Assessment Group, a non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge that contributed to the development of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the standard used around the world to benchmark language skills.

So we are talking here about “a judgment about someone“, to test people based on the CEFR. People usually take English tests/exams to be recognized according to the CEFR.

What is a TEST?

It is a type of assessment that is mostly done with a series of questions. It can differ in form or format, but when you are taking a test it has the same layout from the first question to the last.

With a test, you can assess the knowledge level of students, and it is usually given by teachers to adjust a course material according to the results. It also provides pointers to indicate which parts of the material aren’t clear for the students and where they need extra attention to pass a final exam.

Some examples are:

  • Diagnostic Test;
  • Formative Test;
  • Objective Test;
  • Progress Test;
  • Placement Test;
  • Subjective Test;
  • Summative Test.

What is an EXAM?

It is a type of assessment that is mostly done with a series of questions that usually differ in form or format. When you are taking an exam with 50 questions, they typically have different formats. So you can have, for instance: questions 1-10 multiple choice, questions 11-20 gap fill, etc.

With an exam, you are assessing the knowledge of students in several capacities. The result, in the end, makes a student pass or fail an examination for which they are graded.

Some examples are:

What is the difference between an EXAM and a TEST?

Exam and Test
Exam and Test

Now that you know what is a TEST and what is an EXAM, Let’s understand the differences between them.

The biggest difference between an Exam and a Test is that the Exam would be a formal Test. In a school, you give your students several types of assessment in form of tests that aren’t all graded: to place students in a classroom according to their level (placement test), to evaluate their progress after each unit by asking questions (progress test), etc. By the end of each semester or year, you give them a formal evaluation that is graded and tests their every skill; this is an Exam.

TEST: is a tool to measure the knowledge level of students and adjust learning material. You can give your students several tests throughout a year.

EXAM: tells if a student passed or failed a class or a course. If you fail, you have to retake it until you pass.

Courses and Certificate

What is a COURSE?

When we talk about Tests and Exams, more often than not, the word “Course” comes attached to them, so, what is a Course?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, it is a set of classes or a plan of study on a particular subject, usually leading to an exam or qualification. However, for some exams you don’t necessarily need to enroll in a course to pass, you can study by yourself to take them. On the other hand, there are some examinations which are challenging enough and it would be interesting to study beforehand.

I am not talking exactly about these kinds of courses, though, I am talking about courses for Teaching Development.

Some examples are:

They don’t assess your level of knowledge; they evaluate a teacher’s development throughout the entire course. Therefore, you cannot simply enroll, sit for a test/exam, and get your grade and certificate. It’s not a one-sitting thing and you’re done with it. It usually takes several days or weeks and you might take some tests or exams while you are taking a course.

The examples I mentioned above are the type of courses that take a lot of studying and several weeks (or months) to conclude. After different types of input sessions and assessments, you will be awarded a grade and a certificate if you are successful in them.


As I mentioned, after going through these tests, exams, and courses, if you do not fail at them, you will be awarded a certification, which is a piece of paper provided by these examination centers certifying what you accomplished.

Cambridge Certificate - certification

It can come with shields or a grade, but it usually comes with the description of the Exam/Test/Course you’ve taken, the scores and scales, and the date and place you’ve taken them.

Whatever you do, if it is a Test, an Exam, or a Course, that’s what you are looking for at the end – an official document, as proof that something has happened or has been done and achieved.

Well, I hope I have cleared some questions here. If you have some more questions, write a comment in the comment section below.


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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