FAQs

General Questions

Who is BULATS for?

BULATS is a language assessment service for companies, organisations and higher education institutions. It provides a fast and reliable way of assessing the language ability of individuals or groups of employees or students.
BULATS is designed to test the language proficiency of employees who need to use a foreign language in their work, and for students and employees on language courses or on professional/business courses where foreign language ability is an important element of the course.

How can individuals take BULATS?

To find out more about BULATS contact your local BULATS Agent

If there is no Agent listed in your country/region, please contact: ESOLhelpdesk@CambridgeESOL.org

How can my organisation use BULATS?

There are several ways in which organisations can use BULATS. To discuss using BULATS at your organisation contact your local BULATS Agent

If there is no Agent listed in your country/region, please contact: ESOLhelpdesk@CambridgeESOL.org

How can I become a BULATS Agent?

A BULATS Agent is an organisation that promotes and sells the BULATS service to other organisations. Find out more about becoming a BULATS agent.

How long does the test last?
  • The online Speaking test lasts about 15 minutes.
  • The online or paper-based Writing test lasts 45 minutes
  • The paper-based Standard test lasts 110 minutes.
  • The paper-based Speaking test lasts a maximum of 12 minutes.
What is a computer-adaptive test?

This is a test where the computer selects questions for you according to how well you have answered previous questions. In other words, the questions adapt to the level of the candidate. The computer test includes a large bank of test questions, covering all levels of ability, from basic to advanced. The questions are displayed on-screen, and candidates respond using the keyboard and mouse. As each question is answered, the computer assesses the response and selects the next question. The questions are selected according to whether the candidate's previous answer was right or wrong; in this way, the questions become progressively easier or harder until the system has a reliable assessment of the candidate's level.

Is it necessary to take all the tests on the same day?

BULATS offers organisations the flexibility to assess the language proficiency of staff, trainees or applicants in the way that suits them best. They can use just one test (e.g. the Standard test) or they can use all three tests. They can administer all three tests in one day or on three different days. The organisation is able to choose whatever strategy they think most useful – though of course the BULATS Agent will advise them on what options are most likely to meet their needs.

Where can I get sample tests?

Sample tests are available to download from this website. You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to do this, which is available as a free download from the Adobe website.

How long should candidates wait before repeating a test?

It is strongly recommended that candidates do not retake BULATS within three months. It is highly unlikely that any significant gain in language ability will have occurred within this period and therefore the first test is likely to be as accurate an assessment of a candidate's ability as a second test within this period.

How long is a BULATS test score valid for?

BULATS test scores are valid for as long as a candidate's ability remains the same. However, proficiency in English language can improve or decline over time. Therefore, it is advisable for organisations to seek further indicators of a candidate's language ability or request that the candidate retake the test if the BULATS test was taken more than two years previously.

What languages are available?

All BULATS tests are available in English, French, Spanish and German apart from the online Speaking and Writing tests, which are currently only available in English.

Are the question types in the BULATS online tests the same as those in the paper-based Standard test?

The BULATS Online tests share many of the same question types as the paper-based Standard test. The Standard test also includes four item types not included in the computer-based test – a form-filling item type, an error correction activity and multiple-matching Listening and Reading tasks.

Does there need to be any supervision during the test?

All BULATS tests should be taken under strict exam conditions, as described in the instructions for invigilators documents. It is the responsibility of the BULATS Agent to ensure that the tests are administered with the appropriate level of invigilation and to employ and train suitable invigilators.

Is there any special provision for candidates with special needs?

Candidates can be given extra time for the BULATS Online tests at the discretion of the testing organisation. In this case the time limit option within the Supervisor mode should not be selected. Candidates with a visual impairment may not find the computer-based tests suitable. For candidates with a hearing impairment, there are special and lip-reading versions of the Listening section of the Standard test, and for candidates with a visual impairment there are large-print and Braille versions of the Standard test. These can be ordered using a downloadable form available to Agents on the Fronter system and must be ordered six weeks in advance of the test date.

How is the overall BULATS score calculated for the computer-based Reading and Listening test and the paper-based Standard test?

The computer-based Reading and Listening test and the paper-based Standard test are divided into two sections – Listening, and Reading and Language Knowledge. The overall BULATS score is not simply an average of the scores for the two sections. The program uses encrypted look-up tables to calculate the overall score as there is different ability weighting attached to the two sections. For example, if the score for the Listening section is 30 and the score for the Reading and Language Knowledge section is 40, it will not necessarily follow that the overall result for the test will be 70.

Is BULATS an international test?

Yes, BULATS is an international test and this is reflected in the range of accents and texts used, which are sourced from a wide range of English-speaking countries. Also, in the BULATS Speaking test, all accents are accepted fully and no-one is penalised in any way for a non-British accent. In the Writing test, US or other spelling is accepted if it is used consistently.

With the BULATS Standard and computer–based tests, we aim to have a balance of 60% UK-based texts and accents and 40% accents from other parts of the English-speaking world. For example, in the Listening section of the sample Standard test available on this website, there is the following breakdown of accents: 60% UK-based accents, 35% North American-based accents and 5% Australasian-based accents. This reflects the overall balance we aim for across all BULATS tests.

General questions about BULATS computer-based tests

Should I set a time limit for the online tests?

It is at the discretion of the organisation delivering the test to decide whether or not to set the optional time limit in a computer-based BULATS test. Cambridge ESOL strongly recommends that the time limit is not set but instead to allow the algorithm to calculate each candidate's level in the time needed by the system. If a time limit is not set, the test will usually take approximately one hour. Candidates should always be encouraged to work their way steadily through the test and not spend too long on any one question.

Can I see a demonstration of the BULATS Online Reading and Listening test?

Go to sample tests for a demonstration of all the BULATS Online test modes. If you have difficulty accessing the demonstration, you can contact your local BULATS Agent and ask them to visit your organisation and provide a demonstration. To find your local BULATS Agent

If there is no Agent listed in your country/region, please contact: ESOLhelpdesk@CambridgeESOL.org

A candidate doing the Reading and Listening test ran out of time and got zero for their Listening score and asterisk for their overall score. How is this possible?

This can happen for two reasons:

  • either the candidate skipped all the Listening questions
  • or the time limit was set and the candidate spent too long on the Reading and Language Knowledge section and did not leave enough time for the Listening section.

When either of these two things happen, the algorithm cannot give an overall score or Listening score because it has not collected enough information about the candidate’s listening and (therefore) overall ability.

To avoid this happening you should tell candidates that they must attempt to answer all the questions in the test. You should also not set the time limit.

If the time limit is set, tell candidates to ensure that they:

  • pay attention to the progress bar in the test which tells them how much of the test remains
  • work steadily through the test, not spending too long on any one question.

Questions about BULATS Online tests

What do I do if the test is not running as expected/has no sound/does not run at all?

Go to technical support to check whether the computer has been set up correctly. All the documents you need are there.

Your computer will need to be configured properly by using the Guide to Configuring Internet Explorer

The bandwidth of the computer can be checked by using the automatic bandwidth checker

The automatic diagnostic tool will also check that your computer can run the tests.

What do I do if the BULATS online token does not work?

Try entering the token again, making sure that you have entered it correctly. If it still does noy work, log into the admin portal and click on 'Information on token status' and search for the token. This will tell you whether the token is unused, in use or has been used. Click on 'Reactivate token' and search for the token again. If it has expired you can reactivate it and it will work. If it still doesn't work, contact Cambridge ESOL: ESOLhelpdesk@CambridgeESOL.org

What do I do if I can't print candidate results?

This may be caused by the customer logging into the administration site as a test administrator other than the one who created the tokens. Please approach the test administrator who created the tokens, or your BULATS Agent, who can see what has happened.

What do I do if I can't see what I expected to when I logged into the administration site?

Please make sure you have logged in with the correct role (i.e. logging in as a BULATS Agent, rather than a test administrator).

To enable you to synchronise passwords so that you can use the same password and access both roles, please log into the ‘BULATS Agent toolkit on the Fronter system. Go to ‘Help Videos, Tutorials and Technical Presentations’ and select the video ‘How Do I Synchronise Password’.

What do I do if I am an indirect customer?

If you are an indirect customer we would encourage you to approach your BULATS Agent to ask for advice in the first instance.

Something went wrong during the test and we had to stop it - what do we do now?
  • Re-entering the token within eight hours of stopping the test will allow the candidate to continue from where they finished at that point.
  • After eight hours, the BULATS Agent will need to reactivate the token, but even if they do this, the candidate can still continue from where they were when the problem occurred.
  • Tokens cannot be given to a different candidate once the candidate information at the beginning of the test has been completed, even if the tokens are reactivated. Agents should therefore avoid giving candidates new tokens in the event of experiencing difficulty.