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Everything You Need to Know About the Cambridge Proficiency Test in English (CPE)

The Cambridge Proficiency English Exam (CPE) is an international English language test in English for candidates who want to demonstrate their ability to use English at the university level. It is developed by the University of Cambridge, and is the most advanced of all five Cambridge exams.

Based on the guidelines provided by the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), the CPE corresponds to a C2 level of English proficiency. A C2 user of English is someone who has mastered the language and can use it fluently and accurately in all situations. They are able to produce clear, well-structured and detailed text on complex subjects, and have a good command of idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms. In addition, they can understand almost everything they read or hear, and they can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.

As a result, passing the Proficiency test in English demonstrates that you are more than ready to study a University program in English or work in an English-speaking environment!

CPE Test Format: How is the test structured?

The CPE consists of four papers: Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening and Speaking. All four papers are taken on the same day.

CPE Reading and Use of English Paper (90 minutes)

The Reading and Use of English paper has seven parts and different types of questions. You are given a set of texts to read, and then asked questions on the content, form and style of the writing. You have to show that you can understand main ideas and specific points, follow an argument, recognize writers’ opinions, feelings and attitudes, and identify the purpose of what is written. You also need to be able to use your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary, and be able to paraphrase accurately.


Here is a detailed description of the seven parts of the Reading and Use of English Paper:

Part 1: Multiple-Choice Cloze (Use of English): The multiple-choice cloze is a text with eight blank spaces. Candidates have to choose a word or expression from 4 options to correctly fill in the text.

Part 2: Open Close (Use of English): The open cloze consists of a text with eight blank spaces. You have to think which word fits best for each space. No options are given.

Part 3: Word Formation (Use of English): This part consists of a text with 8 spaces, each of which corresponds to a word. The roots of the missing words are given, but you have to change them by adding prefixes and/or suffixes to get the word that fits in the space.

Part 4: Key Word Transformation (Use of English): You are given a sentence and you have to rewrite it using a given keyword. The resulting sentence needs to have the closest possible meaning to the original, and you are allowed to use 3 to 8 words including the keyword.

Part 5: Multiple choice (Reading): This is a long text with multiple choice questions about its content and the intent of the writer. For every question, there are 4 answer options.

Part 6: Gapped text (Reading): For this part, you are given a text with missing paragraphs. You are given the missing extracts and you have to choose where each one fits best.

Part 7: Multiple matching (Reading): In this part, students have to match questions or prompts to parts of a single text or individual smaller texts.

CPE Writing Paper (90 minutes)

The Writing Paper consists of two parts aimed at assessing the candidates’ abilities to express ideas, develop arguments, and persuade the reader in written form, using an appropriate register, rich vocabulary, and a variety of connectors.

Here is a detailed description of the two parts of the Writing Paper.

Part 1 (240-280 words): Candidates are presented with 2 texts on a common topic, and they have to read them, identify the main points and write an essay that summarizes and evaluates the main points from each text, pointing out agreements and disagreements.

Part 2 (280-320 words): In this part, there are 4 possible tasks, among which you only have to choose and do only one. These activities involve writing an article, a letter, an email, a report, a proposal, or a review. In all cases, the subject of the text is given in the instruction.

CPE Listening Paper (40 minutes)

In the Listening part of the Proficiency test in English, candidates have to demonstrate that they are able to understand the main points of extended speech even when this is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signaled explicitly. This ability also involves understanding attitudes and opinions and, of course, recognizing the purpose of what is heard.


The Listening section consists of four parts, each with a different type of task:

Part 1 (Number of questions: 6)

Candidates listen to 3 different audio extracts of approximately one-minute duration. For each extract, candidates have to answer 2 questions choosing the correct option (A, B or C).

Part 2 (Number of questions: 9)

Test-takers hear a monologue of 3 or 4 minutes on a specific and quite complex topic. As they listen, they have to complete a text with 9 gaps that summarizes the content, for which they have to write a word or short phrase (up to 3 words) that the speaker has said.

Part 3 (Number of questions: 6)

An interaction between two or three people is presented the candidates. They have to answer 5 multiple choice questions about the content and nuances of the discussion for which they must choose the correct answer.

Part 4 (Number of questions: 10)

Candidates listen to 5 people, talking separately about a subject they have in common, such as their experience as university students. As they listen, test-takers have to match 2 sentences to each of the 5 speakers. Each sentence is a paraphrasing of a piece of information or a point of view expressed by the speakers.

CPE Speaking Paper (14 minutes)

The Speaking paper assesses the candidates’ ability to communicate effectively in face-to-face situations. The test is conducted by a qualified examiner who is different from the one who hands you the test materials. The examiner will engage the candidate in conversation, ask them questions on a range of topics and encourage them to further develop the topics by asking follow-up questions. The examiner will also give the candidates directions for each task.

The Speaking paper has four parts:

Part 1 (2 minutes): In this part, the examiner greets the candidate and asks them general questions on familiar topics such as home, family, work, studies, and leisure activities. The questions give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to communicate with a native speaker in a relaxed conversation on familiar topics.

Part 2 (4 minutes): In this part, the examiner gives the candidate a picture and asks questions on a specific topic such as technology and the environment. Candidates are given one minute to prepare their answers and then asked to speak for two or three minutes. The topics are chosen so that candidates can demonstrate their ability to discuss more abstract issues and ideas.

Part 3 (8 minutes): This is an interactive task. The examiner gives you a card with a general question and a series of subtopics and you have to speak for 2 minutes. When you finish, your partner has to briefly comment on what you have said. Then, the roles are reversed and it’s your partner’s turn to provide a full answer on a different topic and yours to comment on what they have said.

When and where can I take the CPE exam?

Now that you know what the Proficiency Test in English looks like, you might be wondering when and where you can take it. The good news is that the exam is offered year-round at testing centers around the world. You can find a complete list of testing dates and locations on the Cambridge English website.

Getting ready for the Proficiency Test in English

As for preparation, there are a number of resources available to help you get ready for the test, including practice tests, sample questions, and tips from past test-takers. You can also find a list of recommended books and websites on the same link.

Of course, if you really want to get the best score, you will need more interactive practice. At Listen & Learn, we work alongside native English teachers who can help you understand the material and provide expert feedback on your speaking skills.

So what are you waiting for? Get started on your proficiency journey today! Send us a quick message describing the kind of English course you are looking for and one of our staff will be in touch shortly to offer you a tailored lesson plan.