Since I started teaching Cambridge Proficiency Exam courses in 2008, I have noted that being a perfectionist is a common denominator which most C2 level students share.

I think it was Confucious who said something along the lines of, ‘The more you know, the more stupid you are.’ What I mean is that you do not get to be a student at CPE by just being satisfied with just communicating. Compare these sentences:

  • They travelled overnight to Bristol and stayed in a hostel in the Harbourside. However, they finally went out to explore the city at midnight after they had caught up on their sleep.
  • They travelled overnight, staying in a bustling Harbourside hostel teeming with revellers and tourists alike, a renowned hub for both Bristol nightlife and local culture. However, only when they had caught up on their sleep, did they hit the town and search out its treasures.

Yes, quite a difference, isn’t there?

While the first group of sentences certainly does the job, the second encapsulates not just the type of language which needs to be used to pass a CPE writing exam, but also the desire of a typical student at this level to aspire to more than functional communication and really attempt to express themselves as much as possible like a native speaker. (Well, an ideal image of a native speaker anyway.)

In short, the second example brings in the necessary grammatical complexity (participle clauses and inversions), and precision, where the listener or reader gets a crystal clear rather than a vague picture of what is happening

What’s new then?

So, what does CPE entail? Well, many of you reading this may already know if you have come up through the Cambridge Suite system of First (B2) and CAE (C1). Reading, writing, listening and reading skills are all honed to a high degree at this level, while the Use of English paper covers yet more phrasal verbs which you haven’t heard of, idiomatic expressions to impress your friends with, and a whole load of new preposition collocation phrases and fixed phrases. And yes, native speakers do use them, but the good news is that you have probably learnt nearly all the grammar you need to by this point, although you really now have to use it!

Are there other people out there like me?

You get all sorts of people in a CPE class….spouses who have been in the UK for fifteen years whereas they only expected to stay for a year, university lecturers, engineers (Bristol is full of them), IT experts, English language graduates, and those who have found after negotiating a Masters in the medium of English, that spell check may have provided a short cut to accuracy but it made them lazy and in some way stunted in their language development.

How Progress English makes the difference!

Conducting courses to such people in the evenings requires a certain strategy. People are tired and often mentally scarred by Bristol’s traffic, so lessons need to be varied, dynamic and with clear objectives. There is a clear course overview, with the online platform, Moodle, providing a clear record of classwork, homework, and optional extra work for the really keen ones. All this attention to detail is vital. I have had three students who have achieved ‘A’ grades over the last year, while everybody else has passed. It’s one thing to have a talent for languages, but another to successfully navigate this exam, learn new language and get the best out of yourselves. That’s our job as well as yours!


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