Your Guide to the Cambridge Exam

We asked Melissa Reed, the Exams Coordinator at Kaplan Sydney, and Stephen Lockwood, the Head Teacher at Kaplan Melbourne, to answer a few questions about the Cambridge exam. Here’s your must-know guide to this useful English proficiency exam! You can also find more about the exam courses we offer.


Compared to other tests, what is the Cambridge exam good for?

Unlike some other exams like the IELTS (Academic), the Cambridge exams are general English exams. This means they work on improving your informal and formal English. Cambridge exams will help you to speak to people on the streets, but they will also be useful to learn how to write a business email.

Cambridge exams have two major benefits. Firstly, they focus on modern, everyday English, just like native speakers use. For this reason, students spend a lot of time learning the phrasal verbs and collocations that are so important when trying to sound natural.

The other major benefit of these tests is that they require students to be very accurate when answering questions, so students need to develop a very good understanding of a wide range of grammatical structures. While getting ready for the test, students are made aware of the problems with their English and can address them.


Study English
Improve your English through the Cambridge exam


What is the difference between the different types of Cambridge exam?

The most popular tests are the Preliminary, First, and Advanced. The Preliminary (PET) is for students at the equivalent of an Intermediate class in most schools (B1 level). The First (FCE) is suitable for Higher Intermediate, students (B2). The Advanced (CAE) is for Advanced or C1 level students.

All of these tests cover speaking, writing, listening, reading, and grammar, so the main difference is the difficulty level.


What is the Cambridge not good for?

While a growing number of universities accept Cambridge tests for entry into their courses, others do not, IELTS and TOEFL are much more widely accepted. Students who want to go on to further study should check with their university beforehand which certificates will be accepted. Also, preparing for a Cambridge exam is a big challenge which requires a lot more study than our general English courses. Students who are working a lot or who have other commitments find these courses difficult.

Why should students take the Cambridge exam?

  • A Cambridge certificate never expires, unlike other certificates
  • It's recognized by employers and universities all over the world
  • Both the course and exam will improve a student’s English better than many of the other courses


What is the breakdown of the Cambridge exam and how it is scored?

The First and Advanced tests are made up of four sections, or “papers”: Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Each student is given a score in each area and if their average score is good enough, they will pass the test.

  1. Reading and Use of English (worth 40% of the overall mark): the questions involve a mix of multiple choice and short response, and will either ask about excerpts provided or ask you to rephrase sentences using different structures.
  2. Writing (worth 20% of the overall mark): you will have one required short essay and then be able to choose from three questions for your second, with a variety of writing styles represented (letter, email, review, etc.)
  3. Listening (worth 20% of the overall mark): you will be given a variety of listening samples to help you answer multiple choice, short answer, and matching questions.
  4. Speaking (worth 20% of the overall mark): this section is held on a different day than the others and it is done in pairs or groups of three.


How do you prepare your students for the test with the Kaplan Cambridge preparation courses?

Kaplan Cambridge preparation courses are great classes to improve your English quickly. You are surrounded by very motivated students and you all have the same goal that you can work towards together. The classes are both very focused and very communicative. Students get to explore all aspects of the language and have lots of opportunities to put their learning into practice. We build students’ skills over the course in speaking, listening, reading and writing. Grammar and vocabulary are taught in a practical, communicative way so students can really use them. We also teach exam skills and strategies to help students maximize their scores. Our classes are fun and educational and have a great team atmosphere.

We do full practice tests a few times during the course, which are excellent opportunities to see which aspects of the language each student still needs to improve. Because the class has the same students for the whole term, the teachers learn a lot about the students and can give them a lot of individual attention.


Cambridge Exam
Prepare for the Cambridge exam


What should students know going into the test?

In the written tests, it's very important for students to be aware of the time, and to make sure they copy everything accurately onto their answer sheets. In the Speaking test, students should remember to listen and respond to their partner. They are being marked on their interaction and their ability to have a conversation. Most importantly, they need to relax and try to remember everything they've learned in their classes.

Students should have a good idea of the structure of the test and strategies for questions, which they will certainly have from their classes. The students who do the best in the test have mixed study with other English activities in their everyday lives, for example reading books and newspapers, speaking in English a lot outside of class and watching TV. In other words, those who immerse themselves in English are the most successful.

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