Certain tests exist specifically to assess your ability in all aspects of the language: speaking, listening, reading and writing. Other tests focus on specific aspects or skills, especially speaking.
Normally, you will be expected to have followed a course that leads to a general test. There are so many courses out there that it is impossible to list them here but your local British Council office will have all the relevant information.
The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the test that most overseas applicants to UK universities and colleges take to show their English ability, such is the regard held for it by institutions. If you are sponsored for a course in the UK, your sponsor will probably pay for you, but anyone may sit the exam if they pay the fee.
IELTS tests reading, writing, speaking, listening and takes about four hours to complete. Practice papers are available so you can gain a better idea of the format the test normally takes and the level of English required. The test is marked on a scale of 0-9 and a score of six or higher is the minimum generally accepted by UK institutions for university entry. You can get more information either from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) which is the testing body, or from your local British Council office.
Practice makes perfect. If your English ability is not good enough to take a course in the UK, your institution might recommend that you take a pre-sessional course in English before you start your studies. Normally, you would take a course in the summer before you take up your place and the duration is anything from one month to three, depending on how much preparation you need. Some universities do offer year-long foundation or access courses which, in addition to teaching you language skills and proficiency, also include a study of the subject you will be taking at undergraduate level. The focus is on how your level of English affects your study skills, such as reading reference books, taking notes, preparing talks for seminars and writing essays. Foundation courses are also offered at some further education colleges and by private language schools in the UK.
If you still need help, your institution might arrange for you to attend in-sessional courses. These aim to improve both language and study skills. Most institutions offer their EAP (English for Application Purposes) courses to students who will go on to study there.
When choosing a suitable place for your English language tuition, make sure it is a member of English UK (the association of British Council accredited language centres) or BALEAP (the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes). Your local British Council office will have details of suitable and accredited institutions.
English UK: www.englishuk.com
BALEAP-accredited institutions: www.baleap.org.uk
British Council-accredited language courses in the UK: www.educationUK.org
IELTS qualifications and other English language exams:
UCLES/University of Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Languages
University of Cambridge, ESOL Examinations, 1 Hills Road, Cambridge CB1 2EU