The Cambridge Advanced exam changd at the beginning of 2015, as you may have heard. There are several reasons behind the change, among them being the desire for the exam to conform more closely to the criteria of the Common European Framework and Cambridge’s decision to standardise the First Certificate and Advanced exams to help students who are already familiar with the First progress smoothly to the Advanced. In this post, I will detail the exact changes to each part of the exam and conclude with my opinion on the new format.
The headline change is the combination of the Reading and Use of English papers into one single, shorter paper. In fact, the exam is somewhat condensed in general with many of the tasks throughout being shortened and the overall time being reduced from 4 hours and 40 minutes to 3 hours and 55 minutes.
In total, there will be 18, rather than the previous 19 parts, and the overall question count is reducing from 114 to 86. Let’s now look at the changes in each paper in more detail.
Reading & Use of English changes
- As mentioned previously, the Reading and Use of English papers are to be combined.
- The new combined paper takes 1 hour 30 minutes, 45 minutes less than the total time of the current Reading and Use of English papers.
- There are to be a total of 8 parts and 56 questions.
- Part 1 from the current Reading paper (the 3 short texts with 2 comprehension questions each) is to be dropped.
- Part 4 from the current Use of English paper (the gapped texts where you choose a single word that fits 3 sentences) is also to be omitted.
- There is a new cross-text multiple matching task where you have to select a text to which a given statement applied. It is similar in format to the final part of the PET reading test but obviously more complex.
- Hallelujah! Finally, Use of English tasks come before Reading tasks so that there is a clear progression from a focus at word and sentence level to a focus on whole text content and structure, a step of logic that should help teachers and learners alike in their mental approach to the tasks.
- The content is of a more academic nature, largely due to the omission of the short texts and gapped sentences as mentioned previously, which tended to be more of a mixed register.
- Part 1 remains compulsory and is always an essay, but the input takes the form of notes made during a seminar, lecture or panel discussion. Notably, the input materials seem to closely resemble the input cards for the individual long turn in the CPE exam, but with some accompanying suggested opinions to help you along. Click to see a CAE Writing part 1 question and answer.
- Part 2 remains largely the same but there will no longer be the possible options of an article or an information sheet
- There will no longer be set text questions (currently number 5)
- All current listening tasks remain unchanged in length and format
- However, in Part 3 (the multiple choice section), the questions are to focus more on interaction between the 2 speakers whereas in the old exam, they tend to focus on the ideas expressed by a sole interviewee
- In Part 1, Phase 2 is shortened to a single topic-question for each candidate (a maximum of 2). Part 1 timing is reduced by one minute. This essentially means that the students need to seize the opportunity to give a full answer to the question and not expect a follow-up.
- In Part 3, visuals are replaced with written prompts, perhaps in the form of a spidergram. This makes the task clearer as some of the photos in the existing exam are often criticised for ambiguity. The task is also now split into two with the examiner clearly introducing a discussion phase and a decision-making phase.
- Part 4 timing is extended by one minute.
- In general, efforts have been made to create tasks with more of a study or work related theme.
Take a look at the new speaking test in this video from Cambridge:
In most areas, the exam has improved. I feel the Use of English part of the exam will eventually be phased out completely in order to conform to changing teaching priorities and the general break from prescriptivism as English evolves at a faster pace than any time in its history as a global lingua franca.
The Proficiency exam has already undergone some similar changes and I have not observed a decrease in rigour there. Therefore, I expect the same to be true of the Advanced.I feel the reduction of the total exam time will create a fairer playing field as I have long seen the Cambridge exams as much as a test of concentration and stamina as English. There is no doubt that the exam will continue to present students with a very challenging and stressful day. However, the CAE’s shortening, along with other changes, particularly the more logical ordering of tasks in the Reading and Use of English paper, make the new exam format a better test of pure English.
In the long run, it makes both good academic sense, and good business sense for Cambridge to standardise their exam suite. Uniformity makes exam preparation more a matter of English learning rather than format familiarisation, while former FCE students are more likely to be inclined to take the CAE since they have successfully prepared and passed a similarly structured exam.
Don’t forget to check out our workshops and events page to find out about personlised preparation for the Cambridge Advanced exam, and of course, your comments are welcome.