How to successfully pass the C2 Proficiency language exam

Introduction to C2 Proficiency (CPE)

Introduction to C2 Proficiency (CPE)


  • Cambridge English
  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies

C2 Proficiency is the highest-level language exam from Cambridge. This certificate will confirm your C2 level if you gain the minimum score or higher. It may be a tough nut to crack, but it’s definitely a valuable qualification for any ESL teacher!

The CPE format is very similar to C1 Advanced (CAE), so if you’ve got experience taking CAE, the preparation for CPE won’t be very challenging. Yet, don’t worry if it’s your first Cambridge exam: much like in others, your English level matters more. But it’s always a good idea to be aware of the format and exam strategies, which will significantly increase your chances of getting the desired certificate. 

This will be the introduction to the structure of CPE as well as useful tips and strategies you may want to try out in order to ace the exam.

Paper 1 Reading and Use of English

Time: 90 mins

This paper, so similar to CAE, however, consists of 7 parts (not 8): 

  • Part 1 (Multiple-choice cloze) — 1 text, 8 gaps, 4 options for each to choose from;
  • Part 2 (Open cloze) — 1 text, 8 gaps, each of which must be completed with a single word;
  • Part 3 (Word formation) — 1 text, 8 gaps, which should be completed by transforming the given words into the correct part of speech;
  • Part 4 (Key word transformations) — 6 lead-in sentences which should be paraphrased using the given key words and the beginning and end of the second response sentence;
  • Part 5 (Multiple choice) — 1 longer text and 6 multiple choice questions; 
  • Part 6 (Gapped text) — 1 text, 7 gaps and 8 options to choose from (one of them is extra);
  • Part 7 (Multiple matching) — 1 text divided into four to six sections (options) and 10 questions which candidates are required to match with the options.

How to choose a coursebook for an exam class

The difference from CAE is that there is no Cross Text Multiple Matching (Part 6 in CAE).

Tips for Part 1

  • Before the exam, learn how to deal with unfamiliar vocabulary. A monolingual dictionary would be extremely helpful;
  • brush up on lexis, especially on fixed expressions, collocations, synonyms and shades of meaning, idioms and phrasal verbs;
  • practise reading long texts, use different reading techniques (skimming and scamming);
  • apart from exam tasks, read authentic texts;
  • try to read texts on very specific topics, especially the ones you are unfamiliar with.

Paper 2 Writing

Time: 90 mins

Similarly to CAE, Writing consists of two parts, one of which is a compulsory essay (Part 1). However, in CPE essay the candidates are expected to summarise and evaluate the key points from two short texts as well as include their own views on the topic. Also, the word limit for the essay is increased: 240 — 280 words.

Part 2 provides four tasks to choose from, which could be: an article, a letter, a report, and a review.  The word limit is extended to 280 — 320 words. 

There is also a new task in CPE Paper 2 based on the set reading texts. This part is also divided into two parts (5a and 5b) and could be one of these formats: an article, an essay, a report, or a review. Mind that if you’re going for task 5, you’re expected to demonstrate good knowledge of the chosen text, its themes, characters, and relationships, so it will be a good idea to either read it in advance or watch its film version before the exam. 

The texts for the period from January 2022 to December 2023 are Northanger Abbey by J. Austen and Us by D. Nicholls.

Yet, it’s worth mentioning that according to Cambridge, set texts will be removed from the exam starting from January 2024.

Tips for Paper 2

  • Practise all the writing formats before the exam, even those you’re not planning to choose;
  • read the questions carefully and do research about the genre requirements;
  • identify the type of language you need for each task, e.g. comparison, persuasion, description, etc.;
  • plan your writing conscientiously, otherwise, you may not be able to give a full answer within the time limit;
  • study the writing criteria and always keep them in mind while writing;
  • try to receive feedback on your writing before the exam.

Paper 3 Listening

Time: 40 mins

Like CAE Paper 3, it consists of four parts:

  • Part 1 Multiple choice — 3 separate texts (monologue or interactions) with two questions in each;
  • Part 2 Sentence completion — one text (monologue) with 9 gaps which should be completed with a word or short phrase;
  • Part 3 Multiple choice — one text with 5 questions with four options in each. This tasks tests the candidate’s listening for gist, detail, opinion and inference
  • Part 4 Multiple matching — five short monologues (around 35 seconds) on a common theme and two parallel multiple-matching tasks with a different focus. It’s very important to read the tasks carefully since there are eight options in each, that is, three of them are extra and can distract from the right answer.

Teaching Exam Preparation Classes

Read more

Tips for Paper 3

  • Before the exam, make sure you are exposed to a wide range of spoken English, not just exam tasks, but also authentic texts on various topics and with different accents;
  • read the task questions carefully and be aware of what you’re listening out for;
  • all the texts are played twice, so use the second time to check and confirm your answers even if you’re certain about your choice;
  • if you’re not sure about an answer, always try to guess it — you have nothing to lose.

Paper 4 Speaking

Time: 16 mins

Like all the Cambridge language exams, it is done with two or three candidates and two examiners. There are three parts:

  • Part 1 Interview — the interlocutor greets the candidates and asks each of them questions of personal nature; 
  • Part 2 Collaborative task — the candidates are interacting with each other having a discussion and making a decision together based on visual prompts (photos);
  • Part 3 Long turn and discussion — each candidate is given a card with a question and some optional ideas on it and speaks for two minutes without interruption. The other candidate should listen carefully to their partner’s response and answer a follow-up question. The candidate who has just finished their long-turn response will be invited to join the discussion.

Tips for Paper 4

  • Practise speaking on various topics. Ideally, find a partner who is also preparing for CPE and get ready together;
  • watch CPE speaking videos and learn the interaction patterns;
  • during the exam, listen carefully to the instructions from the interlocutor and your partner’s responses; 
  • no matter what, don’t keep silence — the examiners need to hear your language in order to assess; 
  • remember that you can always ask to repeat the instructions before you start answering.

More information about C2 Proficiency can be found here.

I also highly recommend doing more research on exam format and strategies, which can be found in the Cambridge handbook for teachers alongside exam samples: 

Keep practising and believe in yourself. Good luck!

Discover the latest techniques for teaching writing for CAE/CPE

Article authors & editors
  • Olha Lavrentieva

    Olha Lavrentieva


    CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers



Leave your comment