The Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) examination is for candidates who have an appropriate level of educational and personal maturity and can use English for study or professional purposes. Success at this very advanced level exam represents a significant personal achievement.

CPE is the right exam for you if the following criteria apply to you:

  • Your first language is not English.
  • You can use English to advise on or talk about complex or sensitive issues.
  • You can understand the finer points of documents, correspondence and reports.

Exam Components

CPE has five papers – Reading, Writing, Use of English, Listening and Speaking. Each paper contributes 20% towards the final result.

Reading (Paper 1)

1 hour 30 minutes

This paper is divided into four parts, with 40 questions in total. The length of the texts ranges from 375 to 1110 words. Questions focus on vocabulary collocations, idioms, complementation, phrasal verbs, semantic accuracy, content, opinion, attitude, implications, text organisation, cohesion, underlying ideas, text structure and overall meaning.

Writing (Paper 2)

2 hours

This paper is divided into two parts, and candidates are required to complete one writing task for each part. Candidates have to write about 300 – 350 words for each answer on a separate answer sheet.

Part 1 has only one question which is compulsory and may be an article, an essay, a letter or a proposal. The focus is discursive. There will be a single task, with a further short text or texts to provide ideas and focus for the writing task. Although candidates do not always have to include the given information in their answer, they will be expected to present and develop ideas supporting their opinions with evidence.

Part 2 has four optional questions from which candidates have to choose one – a letter, a report, an article, a review or a proposal. The focus is descriptive, not discursive, and there is no extra information given. Question 5 in Part 2 is on a set reading text (from a choice of three titles which are changed every two years), and it may be a letter, an essay, an article, a review or a report. Candidates are given credit in their answer for interpretation of the text, development of argument and appropriateness of examples and quotation within the conventions of the given task type.

Use of English (Paper 3)

1 hour 30 minutes

The paper is divided into five parts and has 44 questions in total. Candidates write their answers in the question booklet. For Parts 1 – 3, candidates are required to write their answers in capital letters rather than lower case.

Candidates complete a variety of tasks which test their control of vocabulary and grammar. Other tasks include identifying detail and referencing, paraphrasing, identifying rhetorical and stylistic devices, and presenting relevant information in a logical and coherent summary.

Listening (Paper 4)

approximately 40 minutes

There are 28 questions set on four parts, each part with a recorded text or texts. Each recording is heard twice. The texts may be monologues or dialogues taken from announcements, news programmes, radio broadcasts, public speeches, interviews, talks, lectures, meetings and may include different varieties of accents.

Candidates write their answers on the question paper as they take the exam, and then transfer their answers to an answer sheet at the end of the exam. Five minutes is allocated for this task. Candidates are tested on their ability to understand the gist, abstract ideas, details and specific information of what they hear, and recognise the attitudes, feelings and views of the speakers.

Speaking (Paper 5)

19 minutes

The test must be taken in pairs. In cases where there is an odd number of candidates, the remaining three candidates may take the test as a group of three. There will be two examiners: an interlocutor and an assessor. The interlocutor manages the test by asking questions and setting up the tasks, and the assessor assesses the candidate’s performance.

There are three parts. Candidates are required to exchange personal and factual information, express and find out about attitudes and opinions, and show their ability to plan, make decisions, solve problems, prioritise and speculate on given subjects.

Exam Schedule and Fees

Cambridge English Language Assessment Exam

Click here for the latest exam schedule.

The Speaking paper is held within specified periods, and special arrangements are made at the discretion of CEFL Headquarters, taking into account the needs and conditions of CEFL Member Institutions.


Click here for more information.


With the exception of Paper 5, all exam scripts are returned to Cambridge English Language Assessment for marking and grading.

There is one mark for each correct answer in Part 1, and two marks for each correct answer in Parts 2 – 4 of Paper 1 (Reading).

Each question in Paper 2 (Writing) carries equal marks and candidates will be penalised for writing very short answers. Marking of the writing scripts is done by small teams of examiners who are monitored and rigorously checked. Irrelevant material that has been learned by heart is penalised, and spelling and punctuation is taken into account.

In all writing tasks, examiners assess control of language in the given context, including realisation of tasks, organisation of material and range of vocabulary and structures. Within these criteria, examiners also consider:

  • fulfilment of the set task (including organisation of relevant material and paragraphing)
  • quality of language used (including range and appropriateness of vocabulary and sentence structure, and accuracy of grammatical structures, punctuation and spelling)

A Grade A answer uses sophisticated and appropriate language with few errors, and is ambitious in both concept and approach to the essay as well as language.

A Grade B answer uses reasonably fluent and natural language with occasional minor errors but with clear realisation of the task.

A Grade C answer communicates the appropriate ideas but has more frequent errors and lacks organisation and control. The language used is more limited, and the register is less controlled.

For Paper 3 (Use of English), there is one mark for each correct answer to questions 1 – 25 and two marks for each correct answer to questions 26 – 43. There are 14 marks for question 44 – 4 marks for content and 10 for summary-writing skills.

Throughout the Speaking Test (Paper 5), candidates are assessed on their individual language skills, and assessment is based on the whole test. There are individual marks for:

  • grammatical resource: range and accuracy of structures (tenses, prepositions, etc.)
  • lexical resource: range and appropriateness of vocabulary used
  • discourse management: relevance and coherence of language used, ability to link ideas together
  • pronunciation: acceptable rhythm, intonation and pronunciation of individual sounds
  • interactive communication: linguistic resources and strategies used in exchange of information and social interaction

There is also a Global Achievement mark for the candidates’ overall performance for the whole of the Speaking Test.

Five or six weeks after the CPE exam, all candidates receive an enhanced Statement of Results, showing the relative strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ performance in each of the papers by means of a graphical profile. In addition, the statement will show a standardised score out of 100 to give candidates a clearer understanding of their exam performance so that they can determine how much they need to improve their language skills for actual usage in a wide variety of contexts.

The overall grade is based on the candidate’s total score in all the papers. There are three Pass grades: A, B and C. The minimum successful performance which a candidate typically requires in order to achieve a Grade C corresponds to about 60% of the total marks. Successful candidates are awarded the Cambridge English Language Assessment CPE certificate approximately 10 weeks after the exam. This certification is valid for life. Candidates judged not to have reached the required standard for CPE receive the D or E Fail grades.

If you have any questions about your results, contact the CEFL Member Institution where you registered for the exam.

Click here to contact the Cambridge English Language Assessment Centre Exams Manager for the actual exam dates, especially for Paper 5, and the latest fees if you are a walk-in/external candidate or feeder school representative.

Click here for further information on the CEFL CPE course.