Applications Preparation University

Overview: C1 Advanced (CAE)

If you are planning to study in a university abroad, especially in an English-speaking country, you may have to fulfill English language requirements on top of providing your grades and transcripts. These can add unnecessary stress during the application period if you don’t take a language test to advance. In this article, I will introduce one of the most popular language tests. the C1 Advanced, previously known as Certificate in Advanced English (CAE).

Exam Format

The exam contains 4 papers, but there are 5 logical parts. Each corresponding to a specific skill being tested: Reading and Use of English (combined in one paper), Writing, Listening, Speaking. The most time-consuming paper is definitely Reading and Use Of English: it takes 1 hour 30 minutes. This isn’t that generous, given that there are 8 sections to complete. These testing mainly written comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar. That same time limit felt like a breeze during the Writing paper: for just 2 pieces of writing, each 220-260 words, that’s plenty. Listening and Speaking both contained 4 parts and lasted 40 and 15 minutes respectively.

You sit 3 papers in one day, which is indeed an exhausting way to spend your weekend. The speaking exam is usually done the day before or the day after other papers. 

Level of difficulty

CAE is aimed at fluent English speakers. It stands at the C1 level in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This level means that you can express yourself fluently even in highly academic conversations, and thus would not have trouble understanding and participating in university lectures in English. 

The grading scale goes from 160 to 210, and incorporates 3 language levels. Getting less than 180 would mean the candidate fails to achieve the C1 level, and would have to re-do the test. Most universities require an overall grade of 180-195. They also usually have similar requirements for each component grade – this roughly equals obtaining a 6-7 in English B HL. Anything above 200 mark would put you at the same level as native speakers(C2). This is roughly equivalent to a 6 in English A. You can get a feel of how CAE is and get some practice if you follow this link.

Why CAE?

CAE looks quite similar to the usual English B HL assessment, meaning that if you are currently taking English B, you will need much less preparation for the exam. And you will most likely encounter familiar question format and text types. This was the main reason why I chose to take CAE; much less time, effort and anxiety went into the whole procedure than if I would’ve chosen IELTS or TOEFL. 

There are two formats available, paper-based and computer-based . This allows you to choose which better suits your needs. I chose a computer-based exam, because results usually arrive a month quicker. And even though I still had to physically show up to the test center for both the Speaking part and all the other papers, the exam experience was so much more pleasant. Luckly, for the listening part, all candidates could listen to the track in headphones (provided by the test center). Adjusting the volume is allowed and frees you of distractions – perfect if you find it hard to concentrate!

Something to be cautious of

The biggest drawback of this assessment is that it may not be recognised everywhere. It is usually suitable for universities in the UK, but in other countries it highly depends on the university/college or even course. So, I urge you to check course-specific English language requirements before booking your exam place. 

Additionally, I recommend checking whether CAE exams available to you are school-adjusted. Otherwise you risk getting papers on the topics you know little about, like the job market or household budget. I had no school-adjusted CAE exams available, so I ended up having a speaking partner twice my age. In addition, I got caught off guard with a discussion of advantages and disadvantages of working in a megapolis during my speaking examination. Since I was 15 at the time, and have never worked anywhere, the question stressed me out enough to forget half of the words I knew. So if a school-adjusted exam is available to you, definitely choose that one!

Final words

CAE is a convenient exam that would get the English Language requirements, and all the stress that comes with them, off the checklist, but before making your booking, you should definitely check whether your university accepts it. And stay tuned for articles on other language tests!


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