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How to prepare for and pass the Cambridge CPE exam (C2 Proficiency)

CPE, now officially called 'C2 Proficiency', is the highest of all the general English Cambridge exams. Passing C2 Proficiency is huge achievement that signals to the world that you are a highly capable and proficient user of the English language. The CPE exam is a mammoth undertaking, that's for sure. Cambridge thoroughly test you, not only on your language skills, but also on your language awareness through the Use of English paper. In this post, I'm going to share my five tips for successfully preparing for the C2 Proficiency exam. Don't forget to check out the video above to hear one of my successful CPE candidates talk about her experiences with this monster of an exam!

Read and Listen to as much English as possible

In my opinion, it is imperative that you read and listen to as much English as possible. By this, I do not simply mean reading articles in 'Proficiency Masterclass', although of course you need to do this too; rather you need to be reading and listening to a wide range of genres and text types throughout your preparation process. This is vitally important, as to pass CPE you need to give your brain as much exposure to English as you possibly can and the best way to do this is through extensive reading and extensive listening.

Become a Language Detective

Much of the Use of English paper tests you on your ability to recognise and manipulate linguistic patterns such as fixed and semi-fixed phrases, chunks, collocations and idioms. Therefore, particularly while you are reading, you need to keep a sharp look out for patterns in the language. For example, in the sentence above, keep a sharp look out for something is an idiomatic chunk. I call this skill 'being a Language Detective' and it is a skill that most learners could substantially develop. It's not the same as looking for new words which most learners do quite successfully. Rather, it is having the ability to spot interesting patterns and connections between individual words.

Make and Use a Leitner Box

You will have a vast amount of information to memorise during your CPE preparation so you need a system to help you do this. My favourite method is to use a Leitner Box. This is a box with 7 sections. You write new language (grammatical patterns as well as vocabulary!) onto flashcards and put them into the first section of the box. Then, you review the cards. Those that you remember move into the second section while those you forgot and more new language goes into the first. You should review the sections with the lower numbers more frequently than those with higher numbers. By doing this, you are slowly committing the new language to your long-term memory where it will stay forever!

Do authentic exam practice You need to do plenty of authentic exam task practice. There are resources online as well as some Cambridge past papers available in print. When you do some exam practice and 'get something wrong', make sure that the correct answer goes into your Leitner Box so that you can memorise it! Try to view the mistakes as mini teachers helping you on your way rather than as failures on your part.

Get help and support with the writing and speaking It's imperative that you practice for the writing and speaking exams as much as possible. These are often very challenging for candidates and you cannot, in my opinion, over-prepare for them. If you are preparing for CPE by yourself, I strongly suggest that you find a study buddy in one of the many Facebook groups for CPE and meet up regularly to practice the speaking exam. I also recommend that you get some feedback on your writing at least once during your preparation. This is the absolute minimum you should do - preferably you will be working with a skilled teacher to support you as you prepare for this exam.

Many of the techniques here are explained more fully in my Study Skills workbook.

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