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Cambridge English Certificates – a Guide for Postgraduates

Cambridge Assessment English administers two English tests aimed at international students applying for English-taught Masters:

  • C1 Advanced (formerly known as Cambridge English: Advanced – CAE)
  • C2 Proficiency (formerly known as Cambridge English: Proficiency – CPE)

This page explains some of the differences between the two exams, as well as grade scales, fees and how the tests work for prospective Masters students.

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What are the Cambridge English certificates?

C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency are both designed to help non-native speakers prove their command of English, and are accepted by many universities for postgraduate programmes.

The main difference between the two tests is the level of English that they allow you to achieve. C1 Advanced is targeted at the C1 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), while C2 is targeted at the C2 CEFR level. C2 Proficiency is therefore the more difficult of the two exams.

The certificates were previously known as Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) and Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE), and many institutions still use these names when describing their English language requirements. Even though the names have changed, the exams themselves use the same Cambridge English Scale as before.

Unlike other English tests such as IELTS and the TOEFL, Cambridge English certificates don’t have an expiry date. However, most universities will require English tests to have been taken in the past two years.


Cambridge English Qualifications (C1 and C2)
Length of test Around four hours
Number of students 5.5 million people each year (Cambridge Assessments in general)
Grade scale 160-210 (C1 Advanced), 180-230 (C2 Proficiency)
Test locations Over 2,800 test centres in more than 130 countries
Typical cost £150
Established 1991 (C1 Advanced), 1913 (C2 Proficiency)

How do the Cambridge English certificates work?

Both Cambridge English qualifications cover the same skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. These skills are covered in four separate papers over the course of four hours, a format shared by C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency:

  • Reading – This section involves answering a range of different kinds of question about English texts and should take 90 minutes to complete.
  • Writing – You’ll write two short essays in 90 minutes. The precise nature of these essays depending on the level of exam you take, but will usually involve summarising and evaluating an existing text and expressing some opinions of your own.
  • Listening – You’ll listen to four different audio recordings from a range of sources and answer questions based on what you’ve heard. This section will be around 40 minutes long.
  • Speaking – Together with another candidate, you complete four tasks in which you talk with an examiner and with each other. This part of the test takes around 15 minutes.

The main difference between the two exams lies in the difficulty of their content. You can expect to encounter more complex, nuanced texts and questions in C2 Proficiency compared to C1 Advanced. However, both tests are at a high level and success in either qualification will be accepted as proof of English proficiency by most universities.

Please note that the date of the speaking portion will be organised by your test centre, and will usually be a few days before or after the rest of the exam.

Cambridge English certificates can be taken either as a computer-based or paper-based exam. If you take the computer-based exam, you’ll receive your results two to three weeks after taking the test, or four to six weeks after taking the paper-based exam.

What grade do I need?

The Cambridge English Scale is used to measure the results of C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency, but each test has a different range. If you’re taking C1 Advanced, your score will be somewhere between 160 and 210, while for C2 Proficiency it’ll be between 180 and 230.

These scores correspond to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, a standardised method of recognising language proficiency across Europe. C1 at CEFR level is between 180 and 199, while C2 is between 200 and 230.

You’ll usually need to have achieved at least 176 in the Cambridge English Scale to meet the entry requirements for a postgraduate programme. This is roughly equivalent to 6.5 in IELTS or 90 in the TOEFL.

The entry requirements for Masters degrees demanding a high level of literacy – English Literature, for example – may be higher. For these kinds of programme you’ll usually need 191 (the equivalent of 7.5 in IELTS or 110 in TOEFL).

Who recognises the Cambridge English certificates?

Cambridge English is one of the companies behind IELTS, the most popular English language test for higher education and migration purposes. It’s no surprise, then, that the C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency exams enjoy similar levels of recognition worldwide.

Thousands of institutions across the world accept both certificates as proof of English skills. In fact, 100% of UK universities recognise C1 Advanced.

Where and when can I take the Cambridge English certificates?

You can take the certificates at over 2,800 test centres in more than 130 countries. View a full list of the exam dates for C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency.

There aren’t any restrictions on how many times you can take the exams.

How much do the Cambridge English certificates cost?

There isn’t a set fee for the Cambridge English certificates, so costs will vary depending on the test centre you attend. You can expect to pay somewhere between £140 and £160, with the C2 Proficiency usually slightly more expensive than the C1 Advanced.

Other English language tests

Want to know more about the alternatives to the Cambridge English certificates? Our guide to English language tests covers IELTS, TOEFL and PTE Academic.

Last updated 21/05/2018

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