July 15

Cambridge Proficiency Exam

Recently I decided to write the Cambridge Proficiency Exam (CPE). I want a certificate that won’t expire and that will prove that I do, in fact, speak English, but more importantly I’m planning to take some university level courses in the near future and need to prove my English abilities.

There are several exams available for ESL (English as a second language) speakers. I have taken the IELTS a few years ago and was rather proud of the band score 8.5, but unfortunately the IELTS expires after two years and becomes an expensive and completely useless piece of paper. The Cambridge ones are probably the most recognised ones, at least in the Commonwealth and they are fairly prestigious in Europe. The CPE is for C2 ESL speakers and is the most advanced one they offer.

The exam consists of four papers. The first two are 1.5h each, one is Reading and Use of English, the second is Writing. The third paper is Listening and takes about 40min and the fourth is Speaking for about 16min in pairs. The exam is not until the end of the year, but as I’m stretched in many different directions these days, I figured it’s best to start early and see how I go.

I have lived in Canada for nearly 10 years and speak more English than Swiss German, but even so my English is far perfect and I will need to prepare for the exam. I believe even a native speaker would need to do a couple of practice exams to know what to expect. At the end of the day that is the most important with any exam, you need to know exactly what they want from you.
I won’t take a prep class as I don’t have the time and frankly I don’t think they are all that useful. Most people are better off taking a tutor and focusing on their weaknesses rather than taking a class with a lot of people. It’s far more effective and usually more economical too, because you don’t waste any time and money on topics that you already know.

I’ve met with my tutor last week and I dropped off a full practice exam to determine what we need to work on. I predict that I will need the most focus on writing, simply because it has been ages since I wrote a proper essay and do very little formal writing in my day to day life. I also think that reading comprehension will take a bit of practice, as again, it’s been many years since I’ve analyzed a book. I read a lot in English on a daily basis, but it’s rarely anything that takes a lot of brainpower. The listening is mostly an exercise in concentration and the speaking should be simple for me. I don’t expect it to be a huge amount of work, but it’s something I want to get out of the way.