Italian, the language of love, opera, food, and fashion, is the third most spoken language in the European Union. With roots deeply tied to artistic expression and culture, it attracts those discovering its poetic depths and colorful legacy. Aside from its cultural value, proficiency in Italian opens access to academic opportunities, employment prospects, and valuable cross-cultural contacts.

Two paramount official assessments for validating one’s Italian language abilities are the CELI and CILS examinations. These certifications serve as certified proof of language competence, widely recognized by employers and universities all around the world.

In the article that follows, we will compare and contrast the CELI and CILS tests, giving essential details to help test-takers make a well-informed selection. Continue reading to find out more!

What are CELI and CILS?

Certificato di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana (CELI)

The Certificato di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana (CELI) is an Italian language proficiency exam administered by the University for Foreigners of Perugia (Università per Stranieri di Perugia). With its roots tracing back to 1921, this esteemed institution has been a pioneer in preserving Italian language education for non-native speakers and introduced the CELI exam in 1987.

CELI exams are designed to adhere to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which ensures that the certification aligns with international language standards. With a wide array of examination levels, it is offered in 6 levels, from A1 (beginner) to C2 (advanced). This comprehensive range enables test-takers to select the level that best matches their current language competence.

Moreover, eligibility for taking the CELI exam is not restricted to any particular profession, nationality, or educational background. However, the candidate must be at least 13 years old to sit for the CELI exam.

Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera (CILS)

Similar to the CELI, the Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera (CILS) is another esteemed Italian language proficiency exam, widely recognized for evaluating the competency of non-native Italian speakers. This examination is overseen by the University for Foreigners of Siena’s CILS Center, an institution with a strong legacy in promoting Italian language education for international learners.

Notably, the CILS Italian Proficiency test holds the distinction of being the first Italian language exam to introduce a comprehensive set of six levels based on the CEFR. The levels span from A1 for beginners to C2 for those with advanced proficiency, ensuring that the certification accommodates learners at every stage of their language skill.

When and Where to Take CELI and CILS?

For both the CELI and CILS Italian language proficiency exams, test dates and locations vary based on your country of residence; as these exams are globally recognized and cater to diverse candidates.

In order to choose the most suitable test center and date, it’s recommended to visit the official websites of the University for Foreigners of Perugia (for CELI) and the University for Foreigners of Siena’s CILS Center (for CILS). These platforms not only provide insights into the authorized test centers in various regions but also articulate important details regarding registration deadlines, registration procedures, and any other essential information you need to know before taking the exam.

By checking these official sources, you can guarantee that you have the most up-to-date and correct information to efficiently organize your examination day. The CELI and CILS tests’ flexibility in test dates and places demonstrates their dedication to promoting linguistic competence globally, making them perfect avenues for anyone looking to demonstrate their Italian knowledge.

Cost of Taking the CELI and CILS

The cost of taking the CELI and CILS proficiency exams can significantly impact your planning to study at an Italian university. The registration fees for the CELI exam vary based on factors such as the examination level and location. For instance, in Perugia, the hometown of the exam host, the cost is around €100. However, it’s worth noting that globally, the cost can reach up to €150 in certain locations.

Similarly, the cost for the CILS exam involves registration fees that differ based on the examination levels and location. For example, fees for the CILS A1 level typically range from around €40 to €60, while the C2 level could require an investment of approximately €160 to €200.

In addition to the registration fees, there may be other costs involved, such as the cost of preparation, transportation, and accommodation. However, considering the doors these certifications open for educational opportunities, career prospects, and cultural values, the cost of these Italian proficiency exams is a worthwhile investment that you won’t regret.

Overview of CELI and CILS Scoring System

Just as tasks are divided into milestones, your Italian language proficiency is gauged by levels defining your linguistic competence. For CELI, these span from CELI Impatto to CELI 5, while CILS covers levels from A1 to CILS Quattro. These levels offer a structured path to assess and enhance your Italian skills. As a comparison, CELI has a total score of 120, with around 70 needed to pass, while CILS scores range from 60 for lower levels to 100 for advanced levels.

Furthermore, as opposed to their differences, both the CELI and CILS exams align with the CEFR, offering internationally recognized standards for language proficiency assessment. With these certificates as your Italian proficiency, if you want to study at a higher education institution offering Italian Programs, it is generally recommended to aim for the B2 level, which signifies upper-intermediate proficiency. This level makes it a favorable threshold for both undergraduate and graduate studies.

To better understand the correlation between the test levels and CEFR descriptors, we encourage you to explore the detailed comparison table provided. Have a look!

CEFR CELI Level CILS Level Linguistic Competence
A1 CELI Impatto CILS A1
B1 CELI 2 CILS Uno Can understand the main points of clear standard conversation and deal with simple matters of familiar interests.
B2 CELI 3 CILS Due Can produce and understand main complex ideas on abstract topics and develop and explain a point of view.
C1 CELI 4 CILS Tre Has the ability to deal with a wide range of long texts with implicit meanings, and use language flexibly and fluency to enhance the communicative style and produce a well-structured response.
C2 CELI 5 CILS Quattro Can comprehend almost everything heard or read with ease. Can organize information from several oral and written sources, rebuilding arguments and narratives into a logical presentation.

Overview of CELI and CILS Test Structure

Before we share with you the invaluable tips and strategies to prepare effectively for the CELI and CILS exams, let’s provide you with a heads-up and look into the pivotal aspect of understanding their test structures. Acquiring an in-depth understanding of the architecture of these exams doesn’t merely offer a glimpse into the assessment process; it presents you with a panoramic view, allowing you to witness how your linguistic abilities will be evaluated. This insight empowers all test takers to perfectly make up their study plan for the specifics of the test.

Both the CELI and CILS exams follow a structured format, assessing key language skills. At each CELI proficiency level, you’ll encounter a test structure, which may vary in composition and duration. However, the general components often include written comprehension, linguistic competence evaluation, listening comprehension, and oral production assessment. Depending on the level you’re aiming for, the CELI test duration can span from approximately 1 to 5 hours, such as the CELI Impatto exam taking around 1 hour and 15 minutes, while the CELI 5 exam may extend to the maximum duration.

Comparatively, the CILS Italian proficiency exam maintains a more consistent structure across levels, with five distinct parts: listening test, reading comprehension, Analysis of Italian communication, written test, and speaking test. Despite this uniformity, it can be expected that the difficulty and complexity of questions can escalate as you progress through the levels. The assessment within the CILS exam is versatile and multifaceted, encompassing various question types such as multiple-choice questions, short answer questions, and the task of writing an essay.

This diversity of question types and difficulty level of both exams challenges you to exhibit a comprehensive range of language skills, from comprehension to critical thinking and expression making CELI and CILS a tough assessment to crack.

Ways to Prepare for CELI and CILS

1. Make the Most of Your Study Materials and Resources

In an age when the internet is everywhere in households, combining digital and traditional resources is a wise strategy for acing the CELI and CILS tests. For those seeking free options, websites like Duolingo, BBC Languages, and Memrise offer interactive language exercises and lessons. If you prefer structured learning, official exam preparation books such as “Quaderni CILS” and “Come prepararsi all’esame del CELI” provide comprehensive coverage of the exams’ content.

Furthermore, don’t overlook the significance of practicing with sample exam papers. These papers, available on the official exam websites of CELI and CILS, and prep platforms, offer a firsthand glimpse into the exam’s format, types of questions, and time constraints.

2. Join a Language Learning Group

Being part of a language learning group can significantly enhance your preparation for the CELI and CILS exams. Collaborating with peers who share your Italian language-learning passion can offer diverse perspectives, mutual support, and engaging practice opportunities. Language groups provide a platform to discuss challenging topics, share study materials, and conduct mock exams together. Additionally, you can practice speaking, engage in debates, and receive constructive feedback from fellow learners.

Joining such a group would not only accelerate your progress but also make the learning process enjoyable and interactive.

3. Seek Support from Language Professionals

Expanding on the concept of seeking support, another effective way to prepare for the CELI and CILS exams is by seeking professional guidance and help. Just as joining a language learning group connects you with peers, enrolling in language classes or working with a dedicated tutor connects you with experienced educators. These professionals are well-versed in the exam’s complexities, helping you pass through challenging areas and fine-tuning your preparation strategy.

A tutor can offer personalized attention, enabling you to grasp concepts more effectively. The expert insights, feedback, and guidance they provide can make a substantial difference in your exam performance and overall language proficiency.

4. Practice Regularly

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, language proficiency requires consistent effort. Make language practice a daily ritual to ensure steady improvement. Dedicate a fixed time each day to engage with Italian materials—whether it’s reading an article, listening to a podcast, or solving practice exercises. Regular practice reinforces concepts, builds vocabulary and strengthens comprehension skills. Over time, this routine becomes ingrained, boosting your confidence and making sure you’re well-prepared for the diverse challenges posed by the CELI and CILS exams.

Universities and Institutions Accepting CELI and CILS

As the acceptance of CELI and CILS scores continues to grow worldwide, numerous prestigious universities recognize these qualifications as proof of Italian language proficiency. These certifications open doors to higher education opportunities across various institutions. Here are five notable universities that consider CELI and CILS scores for Italian language admission:

University Name City/ Location Minimum CELI / CILS Level Accepted
1. University of Bologna Bologna, Italy CELI 3, CILS Due
2. Sapienza University of Rome Rome, Italy CELI 3, CILS Due
3. University of Venice Venice, Italy CELI 3, CILS Due
4. University of Padua Padua, Italy CELI 3, CILS Due
5. University of Trento Trento, Italy CELI 2, CILS Uno

With brief comparisons of the CELI and CILS tests, we’ve discovered the various elements that form both Italian language competency examinations. From understanding their origins and structures to exploring test components and preparation strategies, we have covered a lot of ground in this article. The CELI and CILS tests, while each has its own approach, share the common purpose of measuring and developing Italian skills. Ultimately, the best exam for you will depend on your individual needs and goals. So, Think wisely!


We hope that this guide on the CELI and CILS Italian language tests was informative. You can also find more information on different European universities and scholarship opportunities on the Europe Scholarships Page!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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