Key English Test

The Key English Test (KET) is the easiest of the Cambridge exams and is designed to test basic English skills including reading, writing, speaking and listening. Mastering this level typically requires about 180-200 hours of English study. The KET exam is valid for life and recognized throughout the world to show a basic understanding to employers, universities and governmental departments.

The 5 W’s of the Key English Test


Who takes the KET exam?

The Key English Test is designed for students looking to improve their English skills. Since the KET exam is the first of the Cambridge exams, the level of difficulty is designed for basic English speakers who can communicate in familiar and simple situations. Many students take this exam to identify strengths and weakness to determine ways to improve fluency. Used by many as a baseline, the Key English Test is typically taken before the PET or FCE.

Why should you take the Key English Test?

Once you take this exam, you will be able to identify both your strengths and weaknesses based on your score. You will be able to see how you perform based on reading and writing, speaking and listening. This will help you to determine what areas to focus on as you continue to improve your English. The Key English Test is also accepted internationally by schools, governmental organizations, and employers to show your level of mastery. The University of Cambridge has put together a database to see who accepts this certification.

What can I expect to see on the KET?

Understanding the Format

Before sitting for the Key English Test, you will have the option to take a paper or computer based exam called the CB-KET. You will need to contact the Cambridge ESOL Exam centre to see what time is best for you and to confirm what format will be available to properly prepare. Overall, the exam is about one hour and 40 minutes long: 70 minutes for reading & writing, 30 minutes listening and 10 minutes speaking.

Reading and Writing
The Key English Test is organized into 9 parts with a total of 56 questions; this section makes up 50% of your overall score. You will be required to read texts from signs, magazines, newspapers or brochures and answer questions based on this information. You will need to write simple sentences, complete fill-in-the-blank sentences, match related sentences, identify proper responses in a dialogue, and finally write a short prompt of 25 words. You will not be penalized for any spelling errors as long as it recognizable and not a common high-frequency word. This section of the Key English Test is designed to test vocabulary and grammar, including your ability to express yourself through your writing.

The KET requires you to understand English as it is spoken, however the speaker talks reasonably slow. This section makes up 25% of your total score and has 5 parts with 25 questions. The structure of this section usually begins with listening to a prompt followed by questions either with three multiple choice answers or matching words on a list.

The Key English Test is usually held with two candidates and two examiners. If there is an uneven number of candidates, the last single candidate will be examined with the last pair to form a group of three. This section is divided in 5 parts with 25 questions making up the last 25% of your score. In terms of the structure, the Key English Test is administered in a dialogue format where the examiner or other candidate will ask you simple questions and you will be required to respond using your spoken English. If you do not understand the directions, you can have the examiner repeat the directions without being penalized. However, for reasons of standardization, no variation on the instructions will be given.

Understanding your score

Your score will range from 0 to 100 so you can determine where on you fell on the scale. According to this number, you will fall into four possible results:

100-85 Pass with Merit
84-70 Pass
69-45 Council of Europe Level A1*
44-0 Fail

*if you did not achieve a ‘pass’ but demonstrated ability at the level below this

The results you receive will also breakdown the three sections (reading & writing, listening, and speaking) as to whether you performed exceptional, good, borderline, or weak.

Where and When can you take the Key English Test?

The Key English Test is available in both a paper and computer format. Before selecting your exam date, we first recommend choosing the preferred format. Remember, you will want to choose the format you are most comfortable with. Once you have done this, you can locate an exam center. Typically, a testing center alternates between the computer and paper format so just be sure that your format is being administered on your exam date. Fees are set by the test center, however costs are approximately $92 USD, €70, or £60.

>> Learn more about other English language exams