The 5 W’s of the ECPE
(Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English)


Who takes the ECPE test?

Established in 1953, the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (otherwise known as the ECPE exam) is an advanced-level English proficiency exam offered by The University of Michigan’s English Language Institute (ELI). The ELI also produces the intermediate-level Examination for the Certificate of Competency Exam (ECCE) but unlike the ECCE, the more rigorous ECPE exam is designed to assess the English proficiency of a university-level adult.

As a more advanced exam, the ECPE emphasizes both fluency (the ability to use English to express ideas) as well as accuracy (the strict adherence to grammatical rules). Unlike more academic oriented exams like the MELAB, the skills assessed on the ECPE exam are “general” and applicants can use their results as evidence of their English competency for educational and professional pursuits. Indeed, as an older and more established exam, it is primarily targeted at students pursuing English-language higher education and working professionals who are interested in certifying their English proficiency to improve their job prospects.

Why should you take the ECPE exam?

The ECPE offers a unique advantage to test takers. Unlike many other ESL exams which use the conventions of British English, the ECPE exam is one of the only prominent ESL to use the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation conventions of American English. At the same time, its results are calibrated to certify a C2 (Mastery) level of the Common European Framework of Reference, making the ECPE roughly equivalent to the Cambridge Proficiency of English (CPE) but better suited for test takers who have studied in or plan to use English in the United States. As a result of this focus, many applicants use their ECPE certifications when applying for language schools, job promotions, or when conducting business in the United States.

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

The ECPE Final Examination is comprised of seven distinct sections designed to measure applicants’ abilities in the four key 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 30-to 35-minute 2-on-2 dialogue that takes place between the examiners and the examinees. During the assessment, the two candidates complete a series of multi-part tasks which progress though the selection of four available options and their consequences.

2) The Writing section features an informal essay written over 30 minutes on one of the two prompts given. During the assessment, candidates should analyze the issue raised by one of the prompts and present a persuasive response that expresses their opinion.

3) The Listening section is subdivided into of three sections of audio recordings. There is no written material from the recording in the test booklet, only a list of possible multiple choice responses. When taken together, the three aspects amount to a 35-40 minute, 50 question exam.

4) The Reading section, also known as the grammar, cloze, vocabulary and reading test, is 75 minutes and 120 questions long. All the questions are multiple choice and candidates will be asked to select from one of four options about general English language reading excerpts.

Additionally, prior to the ECPE Final Examination, test takers will have the chance to sit for the ECPE Preliminary Examination, an optional 30 minute pretest which is offered to help applicants acquaint themselves with the format of the actual exam. Consisting of 35 grammar, cloze, vocabulary, and reading ítems, it does not feature listening, writing, or speaking sections and is not used in evaluating a candidate’s final score.

Where and When can you take the ECPE exam?

The ECPE exam is administered only twice a year, once in June and again in November at test centers authorized by the University of Michigan. The exam is designed to be taken in applicants’ home countries and is in fact not offered in the United States or Canada. Because of regional differences, the exact date of the exam is announced locally.

>> Learn more about other English language exams