ICFE exam

Important: The ICFE exam will be discontinued by Cambridge English after December 2016.

The 5 W’s of the ICFE
(International Certificate in Financial English)


Who takes the ICFE test?

The International Certificate in Financial English (also known as the ICFE exam or Cambridge English: Financial) is an advanced English language proficiency exam. Administered by Cambridge ESOL, the non-profit English proficiency assessment wing of the University of Cambridge, the exam is designed to certify that candidates are not only confident in their use of English in everyday situations but are also capable of using their language skills in a wide-range of accounting and financial contexts. Accordingly, the ICFE exam is, at its core, targeted at individuals who have studied finance or accounting and wish to continue their education in an English language setting. Similarly, it is widely used by candidates with existing accounting or finance credentials who are interested in employment or advancement in an English-language financial environment.

Why should you take the ICFE exam?

In addition to being a general purpose proficiency exam – successful applicants must, for example, have a level of English of B2 on the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) – the ICFE’s unique focus on finance and accounting make it an attractive choice for international professionals. Although the ICFE is not a test of finance of accounting, it alone does measure a candidate’s ability understand English in the kind of professional contexts that they will experience in their professional lives. Accordingly, an ICFE certification is recognized by employers around the world. Moreover, as Cambridge ESOL continues to actively expand the reach of its professional exams as more and more professional organizations, educational associations, and corporations are seeking out its seal of approval.

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

The ICFE exam itself is a paper-based assessment that covers the four core language skills of Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. All four sections are weighted equally but their lengths, formats, and testing situations vary. Importantly, for example, while the Reading, Writing, and Listening exams are taken together as written exams, the Speaking exam is assessed in person by a pair of on-site examiners. Accordingly, due to scheduling difficulties, it may take place separately. In spite of these differences, all four aspects of the exam use realistic finance and accounting related material as the basis of their assessments.

The 75 minute Reading test has 54 questions divided out over 6 parts. All 6 parts use excerpts from books and articles related to finance and accounting as the basis of their assessment. 3 of the 6 parts test reading comprehension and the remaining 3 parts test the use of English.

The Writing test is comprised of two parts and is also given a total of 75 minutes. The first part, a 120-180 word piece of correspondence, is worth 40% of the total grade and the second part, a 200-250 example memorandum, is worth 60% of the total grade.

In the Listening test, candidates listen to 4 different audio excerpts and answer 30 questions about various aspects of the finance and accounting fields. Each excerpt is repeated twice and each question is weighted evenly.

The 16 minutes Speaking test likewise has 4 parts and may be scheduled separately from the rest of the exam. In it, a pair of examiners will lead a pair of candidates through real world finance scenarios. Over the course of the exam, candidates may be asked to work separately, collaboratively, or even engage in a discussion based on earlier responses.

Like other Cambridge ESOL exams, candidates who achieve a Level B2 or above will receive a formal proficiency certification. Students who achieve a Level C1 or above will be recognized as passing with merit. Moreover, all candidates will receive a statement indicating their level of performance on each of the four papers individually.

Where and When can you take the ICFE exam?

The Cambridge English: Financial test is administered in authorized Cambridge ESOL test centers around the world. Dates and fees vary by location, so candidates should contact their local testing center for more details.

>> Learn more about other English language exams