The 5 W’s of the BEC
(Business English Certificate)


Who takes the BEC test?

The BEC exam is an internationally recognized assessment developed by the ESOL Department at Cambridge University. As the name implies, the BEC exam is designed to demonstrate applicants’ ability to use English in the workplace and, like many other Cambridge ESOL exams, it is used by employers, universities and governmental organizations around the world. The Business English Certificate exam offers certification at three different skill levels, making it ideal for English speakers from a variety of backgrounds. Nevertheless, the test is designed for those preparing for a career in business or commerce and therefore emphasizes English skills tied to professional pursuits regardless of the particular level of the certification.

Why should you take the BEC exam?

In today’s increasingly global marketplace, a good knowledge of the English language has taken on an important role in international business. Because applicants with a significant working knowledge of English have a solid advantage in the job market, a common benchmark for measuring those skills is paramount. Thus the Business English Certificate exam, whose certifications are recognized by thousands of organizations around the world, serves as a strong letter of merit attesting to those abilities. Indeed, the BEC exam seal of approval can help show that applicants have learned business English to a sufficiently high and well-recognized standard.

Further reinforcing the BEC exam’s record, the certification levels are themselves designed to correspond to the B1, B2, or C1 levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR, itself an internationally recognized standard of language ability, therefore provides another factor in the increasing usefulness of the BEC as a certification program. Of course, if you’re planning to take one of the BEC exams you should make sure that your organization is part of the growing number that recognize it! You can do this by simply checking their list of requirements or contacting them directly.

What exactly is the BEC test like and what can I expect to see on it?

The BEC exam is actually made up of three distinct levels, which are themselves divided into four distinct parts. Depending on an applicant’s English abilities, they can sit for the Preliminary, Vantage, or Higher level certification. Regardless of the level in question, all aspects of the BEC exam have a Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking components, although in the Business English Certificate Preliminary certification the Reading and Writing aspects are combined into one section.

So if all three levels assess the same things, why bother separating them? Well, despite the fact that all four sections are evenly weighted (at 25% each) throughout the BEC system, the emphasis placed on various aspects of English proficiency varies at the different levels of certification. For example, combined Reading and Writing section of the BEC Preliminary exam is allotted only 90 minutes total, while at the Higher level the writing section alone is given 70 minutes for the same number of tasks. These recent changes to the BEC assessment level are designed to reflect the increasing standards used to assess responses at each level and to better correspond to the “Can Do Statements” laid out by the CEFR.

There are computer and paper versions of the BEC test. Some centres will only offer one version. The speaking test is always an interview with an examiner. Regardless of the format or level however, the speaking component will always be assessed by an administrator in small group (2 on 2) setting.

Where and When can you take the BEC exam?

Whether with pen or with mouse, any version of the BEC exam must be taken at a recognized test center. You can find a list of test centers and get more information about the specifics of the exam fees and schedules in your area at the ESOL Examination Center.

>> Learn more about other English language exams