Content of CAE
Cambridge ESOL examinations reflect a view of language proficiency in terms of a language user’s overall communicative ability; at the same time, for the purposes of practical language assessment, the notion of overall ability is subdivided into different skills and subskills. This ‘skills and components’ view is well established in the language research and teaching literature.
Four main skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking are recognised, and each of these is assessed in a test component of the same name. Reading and listening are multidimensional skills involving the interaction of the reader/listener’s mental processing capacities with their language and content knowledge; further interaction takes place between the reader/listener and the external features of the text and task. Purpose and context for reading/listening shape these interactions and this is reflected in the CAE Reading and Listening components through the use of different text and task types which link to a relevant target language use context beyond the test.
Writing ability is also regarded as a linguistic, cognitive, social and cultural phenomenon that takes place in a specific context and for a particular purpose. Like Reading and Listening, CAE Writing involves a series of complex interactions between the task and the writers, who are required to draw on different aspects of their knowledge and experience to produce a written performance for evaluation.
Like writing, speaking involves multiple competences including vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, phonological control, knowledge of discourse, and pragmatic awareness, which are partially distinct from their equivalents in the written language. Since speaking generally involves reciprocal oral interaction with others, Speaking in CAE is assessed directly, through a face-to-face encounter between candidates and examiners.
A fifth test component in CAE (Use of English) focuses on the language knowledge structures or system(s) that underpin a user’s communicative language ability in the written medium; these are sometimes referred to as ‘enabling’ (sub)skills and include knowledge of vocabulary, morphology, syntax, punctuation, and discourse structure.
Each of these five test components in CAE provides a unique contribution to a profile of overall communicative language ability that defines what a candidate can do at this level.
The level of CAE
CAE is at Level C1 of the Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and a description of this level is given below in terms of:
• what material learners can handle
• what learners can be expected to be able to do.
The type of material an FCE candidate can deal with
At this level, learners are expected to be able to use the structures of the language with ease and fluency. They are aware of the relationship between the language and the culture it exists in, and of the significance of register. This means that to some extent they are able to adapt their language use to a variety of social situations, and express opinions and take part in discussions and arguments in a culturally appropriate way. Learners at this level can develop their own interests in reading both factual and fictional texts. They can also produce a variety of types of texts and utterances, such as letters of varying degrees of formality. They can use language in a creative and flexible way, with the ability to respond appropriately to unforeseen as well as predictable situations, producing, if required, extended and complex utterances.
The written and spoken texts encountered in most common everyday situations can be dealt with at a level below that reached by the C1 learner, but certain more difficult situations, e.g. discussing abstract or cultural topics with a good degree of fluency, demand this level of language. Users at this level can enjoy a wide range of social contacts.
What an FCE candidate can do
Examinations at Level C1 may be used as proof of the level of language necessary to work at a managerial or professional level or follow a course of academic study at university level.
The ALTE ‘Can Do’ Project
The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) has developed a framework which covers five levels of language proficiency aligned to the Council of Europe Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages. (See Table 1.)
Cambridge Main Suite ALTE levels CEF levels
Certificate of Proficiency in English 5 C2
Certificate in Advanced English 4 C1
First Certificate in English 3 B2
Preliminary English Test 2 B1
Key English Test 1 A2
Varieties of English
Candidates’ responses to tasks in the Cambridge ESOL examinations are acceptable in varieties of English which would enable candidates to function in the widest range of international contexts. Candidates are expected to use a particular variety with some degree of consistency in areas such as spelling, and not for example switch from using a British spelling of a word to an American spelling of the same word in the same written response to a given task.
CAE is recognised as fulfilling English language entrance requirements by many higher education institutions and corporate bodies across the world. More information about recognition is available from centres, British Council offices, Cambridge ESOL and from www.CambridgeESOL.org
Marks and results
• A candidate’s overall CAE grade is based on the total score gained by the candidate in all five papers. It is not necessary to achieve a satisfactory level in all five papers in order to pass the examination.
• All the papers are equally weighted, each contributing 40 marks to the examination’s overall total number of 200 marks.
• Results are reported as three passing grades (A, B and C) and two failing grades (D and E) and are set according to the following information:
– statistics on the candidature
– statistics on the overall candidate performance
– statistics on individual items, for those parts of the examination for which this is appropriate (Papers 1, 3 and 4)
– advice, based on the performance of candidates and recommendations of examiners, where this is relevant (Papers 2 and 5)
– comparison with statistics from previous years’ examination performance and candidature.
• Candidates are issued with statements of results approximately two months after the examination has been taken. These include the grades awarded, a graphical display of the candidate’s performance in each paper (shown against the scale Exceptional – Good – Borderline – Weak), and a standardised score out of 100 (which is converted from the aggregate mark of 200). This score allows candidates to see exactly how they performed. It has set values for each grade, allowing comparison across sessions of the examination:
Grade A = 80–100 marks
Grade B = 75–79 marks
Grade C = 60–74 marks
Grade D = 55–59 marks
Grade E = 54 marks or below.
This means that the score a candidate needs to achieve a passing grade will always be 60.
• Certificates are issued to candidates gaining a passing grade (A, B or C) approximately six weeks after the issue of statements of results.
• Certificates are not issued to candidates awarded the failing grades D and E.
Adapted from the 'CAE Handbook', which is available to order from Cambridge ESOL.