Cambridge English proficiency exam: everything you need to know

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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. Find out more.

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The CPE is the toughest of all the Cambridge English language suite of exams, and if you manage to attain 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”.

Make no mistake – this examination is challenging. So challenging, in fact, that a lot of native English speakers would struggle to pass the Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency exam!

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 then on to CAE and finally CPE.

Usually, you will possess a strong command of the English language, either through living in an English speaking country for some time, or have already passed the Cambridge English: C1 Advanced (CAE) and developed more confidence and familiarity, before taking the next and final level with the C2 Proficiency. This exam is very difficult, but it’s a fantastic way to test your knowledge and prove that you can communicate on a similar level to a native English speaker: with fluency, sophistication and a deep understanding of the language.

The Cambridge C2 Proficiency qualification will also prove that you possess the exceptionally high level of English required to gain access to the highest levels of 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 at such a high level!).

This qualification will allow you to apply with confidence for senior academic courses such as on a top post-graduate programme like a MBA or PhD, or for a very senior professional role, for example in law, medicine, politics or a top executive position.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – employment opportunities

A qualification of this level will open doors for you in both the academic world and the global workforce. It demonstrates to employers and educational institutions that you have mastered the English language to such a degree that you are as close to a native speaker as you are likely to get.

Cambridge English qualifications are recognised by more than 25,000 governments, employers and universities around the world, with many notable, leading organisations who will accept your C2 certificate as proof of your excellent English skills. These include the University of Cambridge itself, along with the University of Toronto, Columbia University – SIPA, Harvard Kennedy School, the Sony Corporation and even Coca-Cola!

Most employers and universities around the globe recognise the Cambridge English: C2 Proficiency (CPE) for what it is: the benchmark of language ability and proof you are more than capable of communicating like a highly competent English speaker.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – what can you 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. 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.”

At C2 level, you’ll be able to study or work in the highest areas of an academic or professional environment, such as a PhD programme or management position in a company. The Cambridge C2 Proficiency qualification is the internationally recognised proof that you are at this level of English.

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 such as The English Language Centre.

Courses typically take two forms. Some schools, including ELC, 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). Other English language schools offer a suite of dedicated full-time exam preparation courses which often include Cambridge C2 Proficiency preparation course. The advantage of this option is that everything you do is focused around the kind of language development and techniques required for the C2 Proficiency exam.

Not all English schools can offer a Cambridge C2 Proficiency Preparation course. This is an exceptionally high level of English examination and schools don’t always reach the required number of suitable students to form a group. 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 or part-time C2 Proficiency preparation course.

Cambridge C2 Proficiency – the exam format

You can opt to take the exam either as a computer-based exam or paper-based. It is down to personal preference, but if you are a competent, speedy typist and comfortable with a keyboard the computer-based exam is the best option for you.

In total the exam lasts approximately four hours, spread across several different sections and 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):

*** BLOCKED SECTION HERE IN BLUE **** 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

When you study with ELC your final exam is held in Brighton and run by Sussex Open Centre for Examinations (SOCE). Please note that in some cases the written exam is on the Saturday immediately after the course. The oral exam is usually on a Saturday or Sunday during the course.

Prices start at £305 per week for ELC’s intensive, comprehensive C2 Proficiency exam preparation course. We offer a 9 to 12 week intensive programme, in preparation for your C2 Proficiency exam which takes place in either March, June or December. You can choose either 25 or 30 lessons (18.75 or 22.5 hours) per week.

With the 30 lessons-per-week option, the extra 5 lessons per week allows you to focus on a particular area of general English that you need extra help with for the exam such as:

  • speaking, pronunciation, listening
  • reading, writing and vocabulary

All C2 Proficiency preparation courses include:

  • dedicated full-day classes preparing for Cambridge CPE exam
  • practice interviews with experienced Cambridge examiners
  • mock examinations under authentic exam conditions
  • regular tutorials with your teacher to give individual help and study advice
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