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Cambridge Proficiency CPE Examination Preparation course at ELC Brighton, England

Cambridge English proficiency exam, everything you need to know

Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency Exam

The Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency exam is also called the CPE and more informally known as the Cambridge Proficiency. CPE originally stood for the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English.

The CPE is the toughest English language exam of all the Cambridge suite of exams, and if you hold this qualification it proves – according to Cambridge English - that “you have mastered English to an exceptional level. It proves you can communicate with the fluency and sophistication of a highly competent English speaker".

In all honesty, we know that a lot of native English speakers would struggle to pass the Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency exam, and that’s a fact!

Exam preparation class at ELC Brighton

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – Who should take the exam?

The CPE can be taken for a number of reasons. If you just love the English language and you’re keen to test your ability, then you can move up through the different exams from PET to FCE to CAE and finally CPE. Usually, you will have passed Cambridge English: C1 Advanced (CAE) some time ago and you’ll have developed more fluency and familiarity with English before taking the next and final level. We think it’s great to test your knowledge and prove that you’ve attained this ultimate level of fluency. Maybe you’ve been living in an English speaking country for some time now, and you just want to see how much you’ve progressed.

Of course, it might also be that you need to prove your exceptionally high level of English to gain access to the top levels of higher education or to apply for a top job (although there is a certain irony to the fact that many employers would not dream of testing native English speakers’ ability to speak to such a high level).

You’re only likely to need Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency for senior academic positions such as on a top post-graduate programme, an MBA or a PhD programme, or if you’re applying for a very senior professional role, e.g. in law, medicine, politics or a top executive role.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – Employment Opportunities

If you hold this top-level English language qualification from Cambridge English Language Assessment, there is probably little chance of you being rejected for the role on the basis of your English language ability. There are some notable employers who specify the use of Cambridge English: Proficiency as a confirmation of an acceptable level in English. According to the Cambridge English website, these include Chevron, Credit Suisse, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Nestlé, Peugeot, Pirelli, Roche, Rockwell Automation, Rolls-Royce, Sony and UBS. There will be many more.

We’re fairly confident in the fact that almost all employers will take Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency (CPE) as being the top benchmark of language ability and many will be happy to judge your spoken English level informally during an interview. CPE helps of course for those who might be concerned about your English language level before they even meet you or shortlist you for an interview.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – What you can do at this level of English?

The Cambridge CPE is at C2 level according to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). This corresponds to the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) Level 5 which they quite modestly classify as “Good User”. We’d probably call it “outstanding user”!

The definition according to the ALTE “Can Do” statements of Level 5 is:

“The capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect, at a level of performance which may in certain respects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker.”

Example: CAN scan texts for relevant information, and grasp the main topic of the text, reading almost as quickly as a native speaker.”

What is interesting here is that ALTE classifies a good Cambridge CPE pass - C2 level - to suggest a level of English language mastery which is above a native speaker, whereas as Cambridge English themselves suggest the level might be almost as good as a native speaker.

We’ll let you judge why a European institution considers Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency to be a higher level than a British institution!

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Cambridge C2 Proficiency Preparation Courses

If you’re not yet at the level to take the CPE exam, the best way to prepare is specifically designed Cambridge C2 Proficiency Preparation Course at a registered English language school. Courses tend to break down into two forms. First, some schools will offer a General English course in the mornings followed by an exam preparation add-on course in the afternoons of maybe one or two hours per day (so 5-10 hour per week). Second, some English language schools will offer a dedicated full-time Cambridge Proficiency Preparation course. The advantage of this option is that everything you do is focussed around the kind of language development and techniques required for the Proficiency exam.

Not all English schools can offer a Cambridge C2 Proficiency Preparation course because this is an exceptionally high level of English and schools don’t always get enough students at this level to form a group. Even fewer schools will run a full-time Proficiency preparation course or be prepared to run the course even though there are only a few people enrolled for it. Therefore, it’s important to ask when you’re booking a CPE Preparation course whether the course will definitely run regardless of numbers enrolled, and whether it is a full-time Proficiency preparation course or a part-time one.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – The exam format

You can opt to take the exam either as a computer-based exam or paper-based. If you’re a fast typist, we think there have to be advantages in taking the computer-based exam for the written components,  but otherwise, it will be about personal preference. In total the exam lasts about four hours, and this will be divided up between the different papers. There will also be breaks and waiting time between the four papers (parts) of the exam.

Here is a listing of the different parts of the Cambridge C2 Proficiency (courtesy of the Cambridge English website):

CPE PART 1 - Reading and Use of English
(1 hour 30 minutes)

  • There are 7 sections and 53 questions in total
  • This part of the exam, according to Cambridge, “Shows you can deal confidently with different types of text, such as fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and manuals”.

CPE PART 2 - Writing 
(1 hour 30 minutes)

  • There are two sections to the writing paper
  • This requires you to be able to write a variety of text types, such as essays, reports and reviews.

CPE PART 3 - Listening
(about 40 minutes

  • There are four sections to the listening paper with a total of 30 questions
  • The listening component requires you to be able to follow and understand a range of spoken materials, such as lectures, speeches and interviews.

CPE PART 4 - Speaking
(16 minutes per pair of candidates)

  • There are three sections to the speaking paper
  • This tests your ability to communicate effectively in face-to-face situations.

Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency – Where to take the exam

You can take the Cambridge C2 Proficiency at an Open exam centre in Brighton. That means you can follow a full-time Cambridge CPE exam preparation course at the school of your choice and then when you’re ready, take the exam locally. The exam costs around £150.

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