Certificate of Proficiency in English

ladies speaking176710294If you have an advanced level of English, the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) may be a good fit for you. This exam will test your ability to speak, listen and write in English. The CPE is the most advanced of the Cambridge exams testing at a C2 level – the most advanced level of the Common European Framework. Many individuals sit for the Certificate of Proficiency in English exam if they are looking toward a career in international business or looking to pursue an advanced degree in a University, especially in the United Kingdom.

The 5 W’s of the Certificate of Proficiency in English


Who takes the CPE exam?

This exam is designed for individuals with a high level of English planning to have an international career or pursue an advanced degree in the United Kingdom or other English-speaking country. This exam is taken by individuals around the world looking to provide certification that they have an advanced understanding of English. At this level, you should be able to explain difficult and sensitive issues and understand the smaller details of documents; your English should be comparable to that of a native.

Why should you take the Certificate of Proficiency in English Test?

By taking this exam, you will have a certification showing your advanced fluency in English that will have international recognition. Whether you are looking to apply to a university, business, or governmental agency, the Certificate of Proficiency in English is accepted by many institutions worldwide. You can also view the University of Cambridge list of organizations that recognize the CPE. This CPE exam will not only give you confidence in your English skills, but you will have the certification to set you a part throughout your career.

What can I expect to see on the CPE?

Understanding the Format

The Certificate of Proficiency in English exam tests 5 different levels all worth 20% of your score: reading, writing, use of English, listening, and speaking. Allow about 6 hours for the full completion of all sections.

Reading is the first paper where you will have an hour and thirty minutes to complete 40 questions divided into four parts. Part I will give you three texts with six missing words. You will need to select the word that best fits the gap from a list of four options. Be prepared for this section as they will use idioms, phrases, and words with similar meanings! Part 2 will give you four short texts with a common theme. Each text will have two multiple choice questions that relates back to the text. In Part 3, you will have a longer text with 7 missing paragraphs. You will have 8 paragraphs that you will need to choose from and order into the 7 missing paragraphs. Keep in mind that one paragraph will not be used. Lastly, Part 4 will give you a long text with seven questions relating back to the article. Questions will center around opinions, attitudes, and main ideas.

The writing section is your next task where you may be asked to present or defend an argument as well as express or support an opinion/suggestion. You will have about 2 hours to write about 300-350 words. Next, you will have the option to choose to write based on four optional prompts. Each prompt will give you a topic, purpose and target audience, and format. You will be able to choose to write an article, letter, proposal, report, or a review. This section should be about 300-350 words.

Use of English
This section will test your ability to pick up on the nuances of English. You will have an hour and 30 minutes to complete five parts. The first of which will give you a text with 15 missing words – you will need to find an appropriate one-word answer to complete the sentences. Part 2 will give you a text with 10 missing words. To the side of the text you will find a word. You will need to conjugate this word into the proper tense to best complete the sentence. Part 3 focuses on vocabulary by giving you 6 questions. Each question has three sentences with a missing word in each sentence. You must find the missing word that would complete all three sentences. Part 4 will give you 8 questions and a key word. Next, you will have a response sentence with missing words. Using the provided key word, you will need to form a response using three to eight words to complete the response sentence that would keep the same meaning. The last part, Part 5, will give you two independent texts on the same topic. Each text will have two questions about the article you just read requiring a written response. The last question in Part 5 will require a summary of both texts in 50-70 words. You will need to write in your own words, but with a formal and neutral tone.

This portion of the exam has four sections that you can complete in 40 minutes. Each recording will be repeated twice – so not to worry if you don’t catch it the first time! Part I will give you four recordings that will be followed by two questions with three multiple choice answers. When listening to these recordings, you will want to focus on the attitude, opinion, and subject matter. Part 2 is an informative monologue that you will want to pay specific attention to phrases and words used throughout the dialogue. You will have a list of 9 questions asking for these specifics mentioned in the monologue. Part 3 will have you listen to two or three speakers lasting about 4 minutes. Following this dialogue, you will have 5 questions with four possible multiple choice answers. Lastly, Part 4 will be similar, although it will be a conversation between a man and a woman. You will want to focus on opinions, agreements, and disagreements to help answer six questions related to the content. These questions will be statements where you will need to identify who, if any, speaker expressed this view.

The CPE 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. One examiner will be the observer assessing your performance based on five grading criteria. You will have 19 minutes to answer the 3 parts. Part I will have the examiner ask at least three questions about your life, work, travel or hobbies. Some of the questions may require that you express an opinion. Part 2 is more collaborative. You will be given pictures to analyze with the other candidate. Then, you will be asked to do a decision-making task given to you by the examiner designed to show the range of your language. Lastly, Part 3 will give you two minutes to speak uninterrupted about a question presented to you on a card. There are some topic ideas on the card to incorporate into your answers. Once you are done, your partner will be asked a question related to the topic you just covered and will have one minute to answer. Then you will switch turns.

Understanding your Score

Once you have completed your exam, you will receive your score online at the Cambridge website. At the top you will receive a score out of 100 that will identify your grade. Here is the grading scale on the examination:

100-80 Grade A
79-75 Grade B
74-60 Grade C
59-55 Grade D
54-0 Grade E

Your score will help you see where on the grade spectrum you tested at. You will then have a candidate profile that will divide out the sections (i.e., reading, writing, use of English, listening, and speaking) based on your performance ranging from exceptional to weak. Grade A, B, and C are considered passing and will receive a certificate that does not expire.

Where and When can you take the Certificate of Proficiency in English Test?

The Certificate of Proficiency in English is available throughout the year; however testing centers throughout the world offer it at different times and dates. You will need to contact your testing center for specific information. Please note that the speaking section is held with separate arrangements during a specific period. The exams costs are going to vary by test center, but the typical price is about 150 euros. Here is the Cambridge ESOL Exam centre tool to find the exam time best for you.

>> Learn more about other English language exams