Cambridge C2 Proficiency (CPE): Everything You Need to Know
Cambridge C2 Proficiency is the pinnacle of English language exams and passing this test means that you are truly in command of the language. You are capable of using grammar and vocabulary with ease, style and perfect control and no kind of interaction poses a problem.
This certification can open a plethora of doors for you, from work over education to travelling and the list goes on and on.
So, in this article, you will find out what C2 actually means, what the Cambridge C2 Proficiency exam looks like, if you should take the exam at all and how you can get ready for the test. This is a great starting point and I welcome you on this journey to language glory.
What does C2 stand for?
C2 describes the highest level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) designed by the Council of Europe (What a name!). The CEFR gives speakers of a foreign language an idea what they should be able to do at a certain level in terms of grammar, vocabulary and communication skills.
At C2 level, you are a fully proficient user of the language and you don’t have any issues in any situation life might throw at you. You’ve reached the top of the mountain and pretty much command the language at the same level as a native speaker would. Below, you can find a description of what that includes according to the CEFR.
Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.Council of Europe (link)
If you feel as if you can do all those things, you might be ready to start your exam preparation, but even if you are not so sure, keep reading and let me give you some good reasons why you should (or shouldn’t) take C2 Proficiency.
Should you take Cambridge C2 Proficiency?
As I mentioned earlier, C2 Proficiency is the highest-level exam you can take in the Cambridge portfolio so there are a few distinct considerations to make before going down this rabbit hole. Let’s start with the benefits of having a certificate at this level.
Being able to show a potential employer that you know what you’re talking about when it comes to your English skills can absolutely make the difference between getting a job or not. In addition, you might get offered more international positions as companies know that they can trust your language level and you need no handholding in a new English-speaking environment.
Every educational institution in the anglophone world will welcome you with open arms if you are the proud owner of a C2 Proficiency certificate. When I lived in Australia, there were tons of international students with just marginally acceptable English so you can easily stand out if you are proficient in English.
3. Personal challenge
The third group of students that I have prepared for C2 Proficiency, apart form people who fall into one or both of the previous categories, usually wants to prove to themselves that they can take their language skills to the next level. Taking the leap from C1 to C2 might be one of the hardest things a language learner can achieve so the reward and feeling of pride once it has been achieved are just amazing.
Looking at possible disadvantages, I can’t really come up with all that many. I think there are just a couple of points that might make you reconsider so let’s see if any of them apply to you.
1. Your English level
This might sound obvious, but unfortunately, there are a lot of candidates who overestimate their skills and end up taking the exam even though they shouldn’t.
The problem with Cambridge examinations is that they are ruthless and if you are not up to the task you will simply fail and waste a fair bit of money.
So, always ensure you are ready before you take the test.
2. Lack of importance
I think you should be very honest with yourself and I will be honest with you as well: Do you really want to pass C2 Proficiency so badly or is it just something that a colleague at work mentioned and you thought that it would be a neat certificate to have.
Getting ready for the exam and actually taking it are very stressful processes and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Again, you shouldn’t spend that much money on something that you might not want or need so think twice before you sign up.
What does Cambridge C2 Proficiency look like?
The exam in Cambridge C2 Proficiency tests the four basic skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking as well as grammar and vocabulary. While writing, listening and speaking are tested separately, reading, grammar and vocabulary are done together in an exam paper called Reading and Use of English, which leaves us with the following four papers:
- Reading and Use of English
In the following sections, I’m going to give you a brief overview of these four papers.
1. Reading and Use of English
There are seven tasks in this exam paper and you have 90 minutes to complete everything, which includes transferring your answers onto a separate answer sheet. As there is quite a lot to read during the test, 90 minutes is actually not a lot of time.
Parts 1, 5, 6 and 7 make up the reading portion of this paper while Use of English is comprised of parts 2, 3 and 4.
The different parts of Reading and Use of English
Each part comes with its own unique requirements testing different aspects of grammar, vocabulary and reading skills.
- Part 1: Multiple choice cloze – You read a short text with eight gaps. For each gap, you need to choose the word which best fits the gap from four possible answers A-D. This part tests your vocabulary, especially your understanding and knowledge of phrasal verbs, verb-preposition combinations and collocations.
- Part 2: Open cloze – The basic idea in this part is the same as in Part 1: There is a short text with eight gaps and you have to fill in each one with exactly one word. However, in this task there are no options to choose from, which means that you have to think of the missing words yourself. The main focus of this part is on grammar as well as some vocabulary.
- Part 3: Word formation – Again, you read a short text with eight gaps, but in this part, you get one word for each gap and you have to adjust the form of said word so the grammar and meaning fit the text perfectly. Part 3 is all about your knowledge of different word forms, especially the use of affixes, internal changes and compounding.
- Part 4: Key word transformation – This is the first task that looks different. You get six sentence pairs. In each pair, the first sentence is complete and the second one has a gap. You have to fill in the gap so the two sentences have the same meaning. You must use between 3-8 words in each gap and there is a key word given which you have to include and whose form you cannot change.
- Part 5: Multiple choice – Part 5 is the first true reading task. Here, you read a fairly long text and you answer six multiple-choice questions. This task tests different reading skills from your understanding of gist and detail to the general attitude and opinion of the writer.
- Part 6: Gapped text – In Part 6, you read another longer text from which seven paragraphs have been removed. You choose from a selection of eight paragraphs the best option for each gap. The focus in this part is on your understanding of text structure, logical connection of ideas as well as the global meaning of the text.
- Part 7: Multiple matching – Last but not least, you read another longer text which has been broken up into 4-6 parts. You also get ten questions and you have to match them to the parts of the text. Part 7 is all about finding detail and specific information as well as understanding opinion and attitude.
The big challenge in the writing paper of C2 Proficiency is that you have to produce two pieces of writing in 90 minutes, which means that you only have around 45 minutes for each text.
Your first text is a mandatory task and it is always an essay whereas you have five options to choose from in the second part. Possible types of text include articles, informal letters, formal letters, reports and reviews.
There is also a word limit that you should stick to even though you won’t be penalised if you write a little bit more as long as everything is relevant to the task. The essay should be between 240-280 words long while in part 2, to should write between 280-320 words.
In the writing paper, you need to show that you can fully address and answer a variety of questions, use different layouts and styles of language, organise your text in a cohesive and coherent manner as well as use a wide range of grammatical structures and vocabulary to convey your ideas to the reader.
The listening paper in C2 Proficiency doesn’t have a lot of fans in the candidate community, the main reason being the lack of self-pacing. You have to follow the speed of the recordings and once a task is over you can’t go back to it later to listen again. Also, the test takes around 40 minutes and this can be quite tiring, especially if you’ve already completed another exam paper beforehand. Therefore, the right strategy is absolutely crucial in order to score high marks.
In this exam paper, there are four parts, each of which tests different listening skills and your ability to understand a variety of accents and types of texts, from monologues over interviews to conversations between friends. You listen to each recording twice.
- Part 1: Three-option multiple choice – In Part 1, you listen to three short unrelated texts. These could be either one person speaking or conversations between two people. With each text come two multiple-choice questions with three possible answers A, B or C. Part 1 tests a wide variety of listening skills starting with understanding gist but also detail and the opinions and attitudes of the speakers.
- Part 2: Sentence completion – Here, you listen to a longer monologue (3-4 minutes) and with the recording come nine sentences with a gap in each. You have to fill in the gaps with a word or short phrase from the recording. Part 2 focusses more on your understanding of detail and specific information.
- Part 3: Four-option multiple choice – Part 3 consists of a conversation lasting between 3-4 minutes. In this task, you have to answer five multiple-choice questions which come with four possible answers A-D. In this part, you need to listen for detail, but the last question might ask about the text as a whole.
- Part 4: Multiple matching – You listen to five individual speakers (around 35 seconds each), all talking about the same topic. There are two tasks in which you have to match each speaker to one of eight options A-H. In Part 4, the focus is on gist, attitude, main points and interpreting context.
Last but not least, we have the speaking test. This is usually the part where you can shine and show off all the good language you know. However, this part of the exam is very structured and each part requires very specific things from you.
The test is done in pairs or, if need be, in a group of three and it takes around 16 minutes for the whole group of candidates. There are some sections where you interact only with the examiners and others where you talk to the other candidate(s).
Actually, there are always two examiners in the room, one of whom does all the marking while the other one asks the questions and is in charge of the timing of the test.
C2 Proficiency speaking has three parts.
- Part 1: Short conversation (2 minutes) – This is like a warm-up round and the examiner simply asks you different questions about yourself. Topics can include things like your family and friends, hobbies, work or studies, likes and dislikes, future plans or past experiences as well as many other things.
- Part 2: Two-way conversation (4 minutes) – In Part 2, you speak with the other candidate(s) about one or several pictures. First of all, you get about a minute to react to some aspects of a maximum of two of those pictures. After that, you have to make a decision together connected to the same task. For this second phase you have three minutes.
- Part 3: Individual long turn and follow-up discussion (10 minutes) – Each candidate is given a written question and has two minutes to answer it without interruption. Once your partner finishes their turn, you are asked a follow-up question. When both long turns are finished, you enter a discussion where you further explore the topics of the long turns.
You can find examples of the speaking exam on YouTube. Below is just one, but go and explore for yourself.
How to prepare for C2 Proficiency
Now that you know what Cambridge C2 Proficiency involves, you might ask yourself what the best way to prepare is. In my opinion, you should try and find a teacher (like myself) who knows how the exam works and what the best strategies are for time management and task completion.
On the Cambridge website, you can also find a search tool which can help you look for an accredited school if you prefer group classes.
Time to get ready
I will leave it in your hands now to get ready for the exam. You can, of course, use the other resources here on the website as well as the videos on my YouTube channel to help you and I wish you all the best for your preparation.
Lots of love,
Teacher Phill 🙂