Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET)

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Cambridge English: Preliminary, also known as the Preliminary English Test (PET), is an English language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL). Cambridge English: Preliminary is an intermediate level qualification which demonstrates the ability to communicate using English for everyday purposes.

Launched in 1980, Cambridge English: Preliminary is designed to show that a learner can use their English language skills in everyday situations when working, studying and travelling. It is focused on Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Cambridge English: Preliminary is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: Preliminary for adult learners and Cambridge English: Preliminary for Schools, for school-aged learners. Both versions of the exam lead to the same qualification, the Preliminary English Test. Both versions have the same exam format (three exam papers) – the only difference is that the topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school-aged learners.[1]


Cambridge English: Preliminary was launched by the University of Cambridge Local Exam Syndicate (UCLES) in 1943 as the Preliminary English Test. It had been created as a special exam to meet the contingencies of the Second World War – catering for the large numbers of foreign servicemen needing English. However, despite recording over a thousand candidates during its first year, the exam was discontinued at the end of World War II (1946).

It was not until the late 1970s that UCLES reconsidered and explored the viability of a preliminary level exam that tested language at a level approximately two-thirds of the way towards Cambridge English: First (FCE).[2] Cambridge English: Preliminary was reintroduced in 1980 and offered to candidates throughout the 1980s in restricted entry form.

Cambridge English: Preliminary emerged as a fully fledged exam in the 1990s, receiving updates in 1994. In 1999, the exam was reviewed with stakeholders and the current version was launched in March 2004.

Cambridge English: Preliminary was the first Cambridge examination to make reference to a European Level. The Council of Europe’s Threshold level was introduced in 1980 and its content was used in the development of the exam.[3]

Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) for Schools[edit]

From 2009, in response to increased use of Cambridge English exams within schools, Cambridge English Language Assessment introduced versions of some of its exams designed for school-age students.

Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) for Schools follows the same format as Cambridge English: Preliminary for adult learners. The level of the question papers is identical and both versions of the exam lead to the same certificate. The only difference is that the content and treatment of topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school pupils.[4]


Both versions of the exam are made up of three exam papers, which incorporate all four language skills (Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking).[5] Candidates have the choice of taking their exam on either a computer or on paper.[6]

1. Reading and Writing (1 hour 30 minutes – 50% of total marks)

The Reading and Writing paper has eight parts and 42 questions. Candidates are expected to read and understand different kinds of short texts and longer, factual texts. Text sources might include signs, brochures, newspapers, magazines and messages such as notes, emails, cards and postcards.

Parts 1 to 5 focus on reading skills, including underlying knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. The exam includes tasks such as answering multiple choice questions, selecting descriptions which match different texts, and identifying true or false information.

Parts 6 to 8 focus on writing skills, including underlying knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. The exam includes tasks such as completing gapped sentences, writing a short message of 35 – 45 words based on given instructions, and producing a longer piece of writing – either an informal letter or a story of about 100 words.

2. Listening (approximately 35 minutes – 25% of total marks)

The Listening paper has four parts comprising 25 questions. Candidates are expected to understand a range of spoken materials, in both informal and neutral settings, on a range of everyday topics. Recorded materials may include announcements, interviews and discussions about everyday life.

Part 1 has seven short recordings and three pictures. Candidates listen for key pieces of information in order to complete seven multiple choice questions.

Part 2 has a longer recording either in monologue or interview format. Candidates identify simple factual information in the recording to answer six multiple choice questions.

Part 3 has a longer monologue, which may be a radio announcement or a recorded message with information about places and events. Candidates are given a page of notes summarizing the recording and must fill in six pieces of information which are missing from the notes.

Part 4 has an informal conversation between two people who are discussing everyday topics. Candidates decide whether six statements are true or false, based on the information, attitudes and opinions of the people in the recording.

3. Speaking (10–12 minutes – 25% of total marks)

The Speaking paper has four parts and is conducted face-to-face, with one or two other candidates and two examiners. Candidates are expected to demonstrate conversation skills by answering and asking questions and talking freely about their likes and dislikes.

Part 1 is a general conversation with the examiner. Candidates give personal information about themselves, e.g. talk about their daily life, studies, plans for the future, etc.

Part 2 is a collaborative task with the other candidate(s). The examiner gives the candidates some pictures and describes a situation. The candidates discuss the issues and decide what would be best in the situation.

Part 3 is completed individually. Each candidate has one minute to describe a photograph provided by the examiner.

Part 4 is a discussion with the other candidate(s). The candidates discuss the topic related to the photographs they were given in Part 3 of the exam, talking about their opinions.[7]


The Statement of Results has three elements: a grade (Pass with Distinction, Pass with Merit and Pass), a score (out of 100) and the CEFR level. The Statement of Results reflects the total combined score from all three exam papers.

Grade Score (out of 100) CEFR Level
Pass with Distinction 90-100 B2
Pass with Merit 85-89 B1
Pass 70-84 B1
CEFR Level A2 45-69 A2

The Statement of Results also contains a Candidate Profile, which shows the candidate’s performance in each skill (Reading, 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 B1, it also certificates reliably at the lower A2 level and the higher B2 level. The achievement of candidates who do not demonstrate ability at B1, but do show ability at A2, is recognised with a Cambridge English certificate at A2 level. Exceptional candidates who show ability beyond B1 level receive a certificate at B2 level.

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

Cambridge English Level A2 certificate

  • For candidates scoring between 45 and 69.

Preliminary English Test certificate – CEFR Level B1

  • Grade: Pass with Merit, Pass
  • For candidates scoring between 70 and 89.

Preliminary English Test certificate – CEFR Level B2

  • Grade: Pass with Distinction
  • For candidates scoring between 90 and 100.[8]

Timing and results[edit]

Candidates take the Reading and Writing and the Listening papers on the same day. The Speaking paper is often taken a few days before or after the exam.

The exam is available to be taken at test centres in paper-based and computer-based formats. Both versions of the exam lead to the same form of internationally accepted certificate. The Speaking test is only available to be taken face-to-face with an examiner.

Dates to take 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. Employers and other organisations may require either of these documents as proof of English language skills.

An online Statement 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 (those scoring above 45) receive a hard copy certificate which is despatched to the exam centre within seven weeks of the paper-based exam and within three weeks of the computer-based exam.


Cambridge English: Preliminary demonstrates language proficiency at Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). It is an intermediate level qualification and is designed to show that a successful candidate has the ability to use English language skills to deal with everyday written and spoken communications, e.g. read simple books and articles, write simple personal letters, make notes during meetings.[9] Learners can use this qualification for employment, education or migration purposes, as well as to progress to higher level English language qualifications.[10]

Many higher education institutions around the world accept and use Cambridge English: Preliminary as an indication of English language proficiency. This includes Universities based in:

  • Brazil (e.g. Centro Universitário Newton Paiva)
  • Chile (e.g. Universidad de Chile)
  • Germany (e.g. Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Italy (e.g. La Salle Centro Universitario)
  • Mexico (e.g. Tec de Monterrey)
  • Peru (e.g. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú)
  • Vietnam (e.g. Hue University)
  • Spain (e.g. La Salle Centro Universitario)
  • UK (e.g. INTO Partnership Universities such as the University of Exeter).

A full list of organisations can be accessed on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

Cambridge English: Preliminary can also be used for visa applications, and is recognised by the Home Office (formerly UK Border Agency) for Tier 1, 2, 4 and Spouse categories of visa for immigration to the UK.[11]

Many global companies and brands accept Cambridge English: Preliminary as part of their recruitment processes, including Metrostay in the Czech Republic, Chelsea Football Club Academy in the UK and MNG Airlines in Turkey.


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 also available from the official website.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]