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Information about the CPE test.
Home / Business Schools / Language tests / CPE
The CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) is the highest Cambridge ESOL exam. It corresponds to level C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Thus this exam is for those whose English is "approaching a standard of English similar to that of an educated native speaker". You should check with the universities you wish to apply to see if they accept the qualification as this may vary depending on the subject and institution. It is accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The exam must be taken in a centre recognised to administer the Certificate of Proficiency in English Exam.
The CPE is spilt into 5 parts:
Paper Time Allocated Details
(Paper 1)
1 hour 30 minutes The Reading paper assesses your ability to read and understand texts taken from a wide range of sources, including fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and magazines. You are expected to understand the meaning of written English at word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and whole text level. It includes understanding of text content, organisation and structure, and the development of ideas, opinions and attitudes.
(Paper 2)
2 hours The Writing paper assesses your ability to write non-specialised texts types such as letters, articles, reports and reviews for a given purpose and target reader, covering a wide range of topics. The paper also includes questions on set texts. Responses are of 300-350 words in length.
Use of English
(Paper 3)
1 hour 30 minutes In the Use of English paper, you are expected to demonstrate your knowledge and control of the language system by completing various tasks at word, sentence and text level. These include gap-filling and word formation exercises, comprehension questions and a summary writing task.
(Paper 4)
40 minutes (approx.) The Listening paper assesses the ability to listen to and understand texts taken from a variety of text types including interviews, discussions, lectures and conversations. It tests the ability to understand the meaning of spoken English, to extract information from a spoken text and to understand speakers' attitudes and opinions.
(Paper 5)
19 minutes The Speaking Test assesses your ability to interact in conversational English in a range of contexts. The paper contains three parts, which take the form of an interview section, a collaborative task and individual long turns with follow-up discussion. You are provided with picture and written stimulus and you normally take the Speaking Test in pairs.
(Source: University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations)
Each section is worth 40 points and thus there are 200 points available in total. Only the total score is counted and not the individual scores. That is you do not have to pass all sections satisfactorily to pass the exam as a whole. However it is of course a good idea to do your best!
Papers are graded from A-E with D and E being a fail. The percentages required for each grade varies depending on how hard range individual papers are. However as a rough guide, the grades fall into the following ranges:
Grade A    80% and above
Grade B    75% to 79%
Grade C    60% to 74%
Grade D    55% to 59%
Grade E    54% and below
Results are issued about 2 months after the test by the centre where you took the test. Certificates are issued about 6 weeks later.
Fees and conditions
The test fees are set by each centre individually. However you can expect to pay between €140-180.
If you are not happy with your grade you may register to take the test again. As each exam is independent of the other, only the grade for that exam will appear on your certificate. However, test fees will be charged each time.
Which universities recognise the CPE for entry into courses taught in English?
A list of universities which accept this qualification can be found by searching the Cambridge ESOL examinations recognition database.
Where can I download practice materials?
Download Support Materials - CPE
What study materials are available?
There are a number of publishers who offer preparation textbooks. Courses are also available. A list of known books and materials to help you prepare candidates for Cambridge ESOL exams is available here.
When does the test take place?
Exam dates can be found here.
How do I register?
You should register directly with the test centre. Upon registering you will be given full information about the fees for taking CPE, the dates of the tests and other arrangements.
Where are the test centres?
A worldwide list can be found here.
What is the difference between an Open and Internal centre?
Test centres are spilt into 2 groups:
  • Open Centres
    Open centres are authorised to run examinations for all candidates, including those who are not taking a preparation course at the institution that runs the centre. Many open centres also run preparation courses for the Cambridge ESOL exams.
  • Internal Centres
    Internal Centres are authorised to run examinations only for students who are enrolled as students at the institution that runs the centre. They are not able to accept entries from candidates who are not their students.
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