Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

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Cambridge English: Proficiency, also known as the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE), is an English language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL). It is the most advanced qualification offered by Cambridge English Language Assessment and has been developed to show achievement of an extremely high level of English.

The Certificate of Proficiency in English was originally introduced in 1913 and was the first English as a Foreign Language qualification to be offered by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). Today Cambridge English: Proficiency continues to test English ability at the highest possible level and demonstrates that a candidate can communicate with fluency approaching that of a native English speaker. Cambridge English: Proficiency assesses at Level C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and is accepted worldwide by many businesses and educational institutions as proof that a candidate has mastered English to an exceptional level.[1]

History[edit]

The Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) was first introduced in 1913 ‘for Foreign Students who desire a satisfactory proof of their knowledge of the language with a view to teaching it in foreign schools.’[2]

The exam took 12 hours and cost £3 (approximately £293 in 2012 prices[3]) and was open only for candidates aged 20 or over. The exam was divided into two sections: written and oral.

Written

  1. Translation from English into French or German (2 hours)
  2. Translation from French or German into English, and questions on English Grammar (2 1/2 hours)
  3. English Essay (2 hours)
  4. English Literature (3 hours)
  5. English Phonetics (1 1/2 hours)

Oral

  1. Dictation (1/2 hour)
  2. Reading and Conversation (1/2 hour).

In 1913, the English Essay topics were very Anglocentric:

  1. The effect of political movements upon nineteenth century literature in England.
  2. English Pre-Raphaelitism
  3. Elizabethan travel and discovery
  4. The Indian Mutiny
  5. The development of local self-government
  6. Matthew Arnold.[4]

The first exam in 1913 was taken by just three candidates, who all failed. For the next 15 years the Certificate of Proficiency in English ‘teetered along with 14 or 15 candidates a year.’[5] By 1929 it was in danger of being discontinued and UCLES decided to introduce some changes to the exam.

By 1926 the length of the exam had been reduced to 11 hours and the translation paper included Italian and Spanish options. In 1930 a special literature paper for foreign students was provided for the first time. The 1930 essay topics were more general and suitable for a variety of candidates:

  1. The topic that is most discussed in your country at the present time.
  2. Fascism
  3. The best month in the year
  4. Good companions
  5. Any English writer of the twentieth century.
  6. Does satire ever effect its purpose, or do any good?[6]

In 1932 the phonetics element of the exam was dropped and the target candidature was widened beyond that of prospective teachers to all ‘foreign students who desired to obtain evidence of their practical knowledge of the language both written and spoken, and of their ability to read with comprehension standard works of English literature.’[7]

Candidature began to rise, from 66 candidates in 1933 to 752 candidates in 1939. Furthermore, the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford began accepting the Certificate of Proficiency in English as the standard of English required of all students.

Another new syllabus for the exam was introduced in 1945, with literature and translation equally weighted. Further changes took place in 1953, when the length of the exam was further reduced to 9 hours and candidates could choose to take a ‘Use of English’ paper as an alternative to ‘Translation’. Use of English questions remain to this day, although in a changed format.

The early 1960s saw the beginnings of a shift in the Cambridge language testing methodology towards a separation of language testing from the testing of literary or cultural knowledge. In 1966, a new syllabus was proposed which reflected a new emphasis on language-based assessment. The structure of the 1966 Certificate of Proficiency in English exam was as follows:

Written

Candidates must offer (a) English Language and two other papers chosen from (b), (c), or (d). No candidate may offer more than one of the alternatives in (b).

a. English Language (composition and a passage or passages of English with language questions. The choice of subjects set for composition will include some for candidates who are specially interested in commerce.) (3 hours)

b. Either English Literature or Science Texts or British Life and Institutions or Survey of Industry and Commerce (3 hours)

c. Use of English (3 hours)

d. Translation from and into English (3 hours)

Oral

a. Dictation, Reading and Conversation.

The exam continued to evolve, reflecting thinking and developments in communicative language assessment and second language acquisition (SLA). By 1975 it included separate listening and speaking tests, finally adopting a format familiar to modern-day candidates with papers in Reading, Use of English, Writing, Listening and Speaking/Interview. In 1984, exam time was reduced to less than 6 hours – half the amount of the original 1913 exam.

Revisions in 2002 continued to reflect developments in communicative language assessment, as first evidenced in the 1975 and 1984 revisions. A paired speaking test was introduced following research into the relative effectiveness of a test with a single candidate or a pair of candidates, with the latter shown to produce a wider range of functional language use. The exam also introduced wider ranges of: sources in reading and text-based tasks, tasks in the writing paper and real-life contexts in the listening paper.[8]

In 2013, Cambridge English: Proficiency celebrated its 100th anniversary and another set of revisions were introduced, which aimed at ensuring its continued suitability for higher education study and career enhancement purposes. The Use of English paper was subsumed into the Reading paper and the revised exam is now 4 hours in length.[9]

Format[edit]

Cambridge English: Proficiency presently comprises four exam papers, which test each of the four language skills: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.[10]

1. Reading and Use of English (1 hour 30 minutes – 40% of total marks)

The Reading and Use of English paper has seven parts.

Parts 1 to 4 focus on Use of English and test underlying knowledge of vocabulary and grammar through exercises such as supplying missing words, forming new words in a given text, and rewriting sentences.

Parts 5 to 7 focus on Reading and test understanding of texts through tasks such as multiple-choice, gapped paragraph and multiple matching exercises. Candidates are expected to be able to read and understand a range of different texts, e.g. fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and manuals. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a variety of reading skills including skimming, detailed reading, following an argument, coherence and linking, and looking for specific information.

2. Writing (1 hour 30 minutes – 20% of total marks)

The Writing paper has two parts.

Part 1 has one compulsory question. Candidates are asked to write an essay of approximately 240-280 words, which summarises and evaluates the key points contained in two texts of approximately 100 words each.

Part 2 requires candidates to answer one question from a choice of four. Candidates may be asked to write an article, a letter, a report, or a review. One of the choices will include writing about a set text.

Candidates write their responses in 240-280 words. They are assessed on their ability to structure and develop ideas of a given topic, the impression their writing makes on the reader, usage of language and how well the candidate achieves their writing purpose.

3. Listening (approximately 40 minutes – 20% of total marks)

The Listening paper has four parts.

Part 1 has four short, unrelated recordings each lasting approximately 1 minute and six multiple-choice questions to complete.

Part 2 has a monologue lasting 3-4 minutes and nine incomplete sentences. Candidates must fill in the gap in each sentence based on the information in the recording.

Part 3 has a recording with interacting speakers lasting 3-4 minutes and 5 multiple-choice questions to complete.

Part 4 has five short, themed monologues each lasting approximately 35 seconds and two multiple-matching tasks. Each task in this part contains 5 questions. Recordings come from a range of spoken materials, such as lectures, speeches and interviews, and feature language that a candidate might encounter in work situations, at university or in everyday life. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a wide range of listening skills, such as understanding the gist of an extract, understanding specific information or noting the speakers’ opinions, attitudes or feelings.

4. Speaking (16 minutes – 20% of total marks)

The Speaking paper has three parts, with two candidates paired together. There are two examiners. One examiner acts as both interlocutor and assessor and manages the test by asking questions and setting-up tasks for the candidates. The other acts as assessor only and does not join the conversation.

Part 1 is a short conversation with the examiner. The examiner asks a series of questions which give candidates an opportunity to talk about themselves.

Part 2 is a collaborative task with the other candidate. The examiner gives the candidates spoken instructions and one or more pictures to look at. Each candidate answers a question about the picture(s) and then undertakes a decision-making task with the other candidate.

Part 3 is a long monologue and a group discussion. The examiner gives a candidate a card with a question and some ideas. The candidate must speak for about 2 minutes on their own. When they finish the other candidate is asked to comment and the examiner asks both candidates a question on the topic. This procedure is repeated with the second candidate, then the examiner leads a discussion with both candidates.

Candidates are expected to demonstrate a range of oral skills such as organisation of thoughts, negotiation, extended discourse and maintaining a discussion with appropriate pronunciation, intonation and speed of delivery.

Scoring[edit]

All candidates receive a Statement of Results, with those scoring high enough also receiving a certificate.

The Statement of Results has three elements: a grade (A-C), a score (out of 100) and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level. The Statement of Results reflects the total combined score from all four papers.

Grade Score (out of 100) CEFR Level
A 80-100 C2
B 75-79 C2
C 60-74 C2
CEFR Level C1 45-59 C1

The Statement of Results also features a Candidate Profile, which shows the candidate’s performance on each of the individual papers (Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening and Speaking) against the following scale:

  • Exceptional
  • Good
  • Borderline
  • Weak.

Candidates who achieve a score of 45 or more (out of 100) receive a certificate, which states the grade and the CEFR level that has been achieved. Although the exam is focused on level C2, it also certificates reliably at the lower C1 level. The achievement of candidates who do not demonstrate ability at C2, but do show ability at C1 is recognised with a Cambridge English certificate at that level.

The certificates awarded at each score/grade are outlined below:

  • Certificate of Proficiency in English – CEFR Level C2 – for candidates scoring between 60 and 100 (Grades A, B and C).
  • Cambridge English Level C1 certificate for candidates scoring between 45 and 59.[11]

Timing and results[edit]

Candidates take the Reading and Use of English, Writing, and Listening papers on the same day. The Speaking paper is often taken a few days before or after the other papers. The exam is available in paper-based and computer-based formats. Both versions of the exam lead to the same internationally accepted certificate. The Speaking paper is taken face-to-face with an examiner.

Dates for taking the paper-based exam and computer-based exam are offered at test centres throughout the calendar year. A directory of all global exam centres and their contact details can be accessed on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

Successful candidates receive two documents: a Statement of Results and a certificate. Universities, employers and other organisations may require either or both of these documents as proof of English language skills.

An online Statements of Results is available to candidates four to six weeks after the paper-based exam and two weeks after the computer-based exam. Successful candidates (i.e. those scoring above 45) receive a hard copy certificate within three months of the paper-exam and within six weeks of the computer-based exam.[12]

Usage[edit]

Cambridge English: Proficiency demonstrates language proficiency at Level C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and is designed to show that a successful candidate has mastered English to an exceptional level. Learners use this qualification to study post-graduate courses, lead high-level research projects and academic seminars and communicate effectively at upper managerial and board level in international business.[13]

Employers, universities and government departments around the world accept Cambridge English: Proficiency as proof that a successful candidate can study or work at the very highest level of professional and academic life and communicate with fluency and sophistication. A full list of organisations accepting Cambridge English: Proficiency can be accessed on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website

Many higher education institutions accept Cambridge English: Proficiency for admission purposes. This includes Universities based in:

  • Australia (e.g. Australian National University)
  • Canada (e.g. University of Toronto)
  • France (e.g. ICN Business School)
  • Germany (e.g. Ludwig-Maximillians Universitat Munchen)
  • Hong Kong (e.g. City University of Hong Kong)
  • Italy (e.g. Universita Roma Tre)
  • Netherlands (Universiteit Utrecht)
  • Spain (e.g. Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)
  • Switzerland (e.g. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich / ETH Zurich)
  • UK (e.g. University of Cambridge)
  • USA (e.g. Brown College).

In the UK, UCAS awards 140 tariff points towards UK University and College applications for a Grade A result, 110 tariff points for Grade B and 70 tariff points for Grade C.[14]

Cambridge English: Proficiency can be used for visa purposes, with recognition by the UK Home Office (formerly UK Border Agency) for all four categories of visa for immigration to the UK.[15]

When recruiting many global companies, such as IBM, Nestlé, Nokia, Procter & Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, KPMG, Sony and Coca-Cola, accept Cambridge English: Proficiency as an indication of English language ability.

Preparation[edit]

A comprehensive list of authorised exam centres can be found on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website. Free preparation materials, such as sample tests, are available from the official website.

Future[edit]

In 2013, Cambridge English Language Assessment introduced an updated version of the exam coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the first Certificate of Proficiency in English examination. There are no further plans to revise the exam in the immediate future.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/21952-cpe-proficiency-leaflet.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  2. ^ UCLES (1913) Regulations for the Examinations for Certificates of Proficiency in Modern Languages and Religious Knowledge.
  3. ^ [2] http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/education/Pages/inflation/calculator/flash/default.aspx Retrieved 15 April 2014
  4. ^ Cambridge English Language Assessment (November 2002) Research Notes, Issue 10. [3] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/23124-research-notes-10.pdf / [4] http://www.upbo.com/servlet/file/store6/item2373702/version1/item_9780521013314_excerpt.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  5. ^ Roach, J. O. (1956) Part copy of JOR’s report on Examinations as an instrument of cultural policy. Cambridge Assessment Archives
  6. ^ Cambridge English Language Assessment (November 2002) Research Notes, Issue 10. [5] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/23124-research-notes-10.pdf / [6] http://www.upbo.com/servlet/file/store6/item2373702/version1/item_9780521013314_excerpt.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  7. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.25
  8. ^ Cambridge English Language Assessment (November 2002) Research Notes, Issue 10. [7] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/23124-research-notes-10.pdf / [8] http://www.upbo.com/servlet/file/store6/item2373702/version1/item_9780521013314_excerpt.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  9. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.325
  10. ^ [9] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/proficiency/whats-in-the-exam/ Retrieved 15 April 2014
  11. ^ [10] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/21982-cpe-understanding-statement-of-results.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  12. ^ [11] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/information-for-candidates-2013.pdf Retrieved 15 April 2014
  13. ^ [12] http://www.britishcouncil.org/uae-exams-cambridge-cpe.htm Retrieved 15 April 2014
  14. ^ [13] http://www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/explore-your-options/entry-requirements/tariff-tables/Cambridge-ESOL Retrieved 15 April 2014
  15. ^ [14] http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/applicationforms/new-approved-english-tests.pdf Retrieved 7 February 2014