Cambridge CPE Exam

The Cambridge English: Proficiency exam, also known as CPE, is the highest level exam in the Cambridge English exam suite. Getting the Cambridge certificate of proficiency in English proves that a student has mastered English to a near-native level and can study or work in any type of English setting.

Like all of the Cambridge English exams, the CPE is a pass/fail test and for those who pass, it delivers a certificate that does not expire. The Cambridge Proficiency exam can be either a paper-based test or a computer-based test. Both paper and online versions last 236 minutes in total.

Exam structure

The CPE tests all four skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It is structured as follows:

Part 1 (90 minutes) – The first section of the CPE tests reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary. This part has seven subsections and a total of 53 multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching questions. There are about 3,000 words in total to read during this part of the CPE. All text is authentic writing drawn from books, newspaper and magazine articles, and the internet.

Part 2 (90 minutes) – The second section of the CPE exam tests writing ability. There are two sections. In the first section, the student reads two short texts and then must write an essay summarizing the arguments of both texts and presenting their own opinions about the same ideas. In the second prompt, the student has 5 options of texts to write, including one option which is based on a book of English literature that students must have read before the test. The books accepted are changed from time to time.

Part 3 (40 minutes) – The third section of the CPE exam tests listening comprehension. The student hears recordings of native English speech and answers questions about what he heard. Each recording is played twice. There can be a variety of English accents in the recordings, which are primarily radio, television, and other authentic speech at native speed. There are a total of 30 questions in this part divided into 4 subsections.

Part 4 (16 minutes) – The final section of the CPE tests English speaking ability. Students take the CPE speaking test in pairs, and may be asked to come back to the test center on a different day, depending on the test center’s schedule. The speaking test is in three short parts including one part in which the student speaks on his own with the examiner, and two parts in which the student speaks with the other student being tested.


From 2016, all Cambridge English Exams are reported using the same scoring scale. Lower-level tests are able to deliver scores on a lower range of the scale and more difficult tests are able to deliver scores higher on the same scale. Scores on the CPE Exam range from 180 to 230. A score of 200 or above is considered a “pass” and students with that score will receive the Cambridge English proficiency certificate, which corresponds to a level C2 in English on the CEFR.

Each student receives his CPE results broken down by the four skills as well as an overall result and the corresponding CEFR level. If the student got a passing score on the CPE, he will also receive his Cambridge Advanced Certificate, which never expires, but if he did not get a passing score, he will only get the score report.

Before signing up for the CPE, which is a rigorous, high-level test, take the free Cambridge placement test online to see if your English skills are strong enough for this exam.