The 5 W’s of the ECCE
(Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English)


Who takes the ECCE test?

The Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (otherwise known as the ECCE exam) is an intermediate-level English proficiency exam administered by the Cambridge Michigan Language Assessments. Unique among English language exams, the ECCE strives to emphasize fluency (the ability to use English to express ideas) rather than accuracy (the strict adherence to grammatical rules) and it therefore targeted at students and professionals who are able – and wish to demonstrate their ability – to perform in the four functional skill areas of English proficiency: speaking, listening, reading, writing. Importantly, because the skills assessed are “general” rather than “academic” applicants can use the ECCE certificate as evidence of their English competency for personal, public, educational, and professional pursuits. Additionally, a growing number of countries use the ECCE exam as an evaluative “exit” exam to mark progress at the end of an ESL program.

Why should you take the ECCE exam?

Calibrated to B2 (high-intermediate) level of the Common European Framework of Reference, the ECCE exam is roughly equivalent to the Cambridge First Certificate (FCE). Unlike the FCE and many other prominent ESL certifications in use around the world which emphasize the conventions of British English, the ECCE exam uses American English. This means that the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation conventions used on the exam are designed for applicants who have studied and plan to use English in the United States (or in a setting dominated by English speakers from the United States). As a result of this focus, many applicants use their ECCE certifications when applying for language schools, job promotions, or when conducting business in the United States.

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

The ECCE consists of four distinct sections designed to measure candidates’ abilities in the four function areas of English proficiency: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The overall structure of each section is as follows:

1) The Speaking section consists of a face-to-face, 1-on-1 dialogue that takes place between the examiner and the test taker. 10 to 15 minutes in length, the dialogue is led by four prompts which provide the topics of discussion and overall structure. The entire interaction is recorded for later assessment by multiple examiners.

2) The Listening section, offered in a group setting, is assessed by multiple choice questions based on an audio recording. There are two parts (the first with 30 questions, the second with 20 questions) and together they last 30 minutes.

3) The Reading section assesses grammar, vocabulary, and reading skills in three separate parts over 80 minutes. Grammar skills are measured through 35 multiple choice sentence-completion questions designed to emphasize grammatical correctness. Likewise, vocabulary skills are measured through 35 multiple choice sentence-completion questions designed to test applicants’ vocabularies. Reading skills, on the other hand, are measured through 30 reading comprehension questions divided out over three separate passages.

4) The Writing section is free-response written assessment questions in which test-takers are given a written prompt and can choose to write either a brief letter or a formal essay response over 30 minutes.

Where and When can you take the ECCE exam?

The ECCE exam is administered only twice a year, once in May and again in December at test centers authorized by the University of Michigan. Although there are test centers in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, it is not offered in the United States or Canada. As a result, applicants who wish to take the ECCE exam must sign up and take the exam in their home countries. Moreover, because of currency fluctuations and local administrative costs, the exact cost of the exam varies from country to country.

>> Learn more about other English language exams