Cambridge Proficiency Speaking Test

The Cambridge Proficiency Speaking Test, like all other elements in the exam, is a challenge to prospective candidates. This page covers the format and structure of the exam. For anyone who may be familiar with other Cambridge exams, there is a lot of common ground but some additional fundamental differences.

Cambridge Proficiency Speaking Basics

  • Total Time 16 minutes
  • 3 Parts
  • Candidates deliver an extended presentation

Part 1

This is the the time-honoured and standard introductory section of all Cambridge exams, where candidates are invited to respond to very general  questions, including questions about current studies or work.  Candidates are expected to respond in detail to any questions asked, even at this point of the exam.

Sample Part 1 Questions

  • Do you think it’s easy for people to find a good job nowadays?
  • What for you is the most interesting aspect about learning English?
  • How good are you at organising your time?

Part 2

This is the picture section of the exam and is in two parts. First, candidates are asked to look at some of the photos out of the collection on the page and discuss a specific question. Once they complete that part of the task they then consider all the pictures as part of an overall theme and make a decision about all of the pictures. The initial discussion of two pictures is for one minute and the remaining task is three minutes. In the second task candidates discuss a second question for about three minutes and are required to make a decision.

Part 2 Example

In this part of the test you going to do something together. Here are some pictures which show people in different situations.  First I’d like you to talk about pictures (A) and (B) and say which interests you most.
You have about a minute for this so don’t worry if I interrupt you. 

CPE Part 2 pictures example

Thank you. Now look at all the pictures. I’d like you to imagine that a magazine is planning an article on risk.  Talk together about the positive and negative aspects of risk, as shown here. Then suggest another type of risk that could be included in the article.

You have about three minutes to talk about this. 

Part 3

Part three is where candidates present an extended talk on a predetermined theme. This comes via a card, which lists a question and some suggested options to comment on. While their use is not a prerequisite, as stated in the instructions, invariably almost all candidates tend to use them.  One thing that is essential is the need to speak for at least one and a half minutes, but ideally for the full two minutes.

Part 3 Example

Now in this part of the test you are each going to talk on your own for about two minutes. You need to listen while your partner is speaking as you will be expected to comment afterwards. I’m going to give you a card with a question on it and I’d like you to tell us what you think.  There are also some ideas on the card for you to use if you like. Please let Candidate B see the card. Remember you have about two minutes before we join in.

Once a candidate completes their two minutes the examiner asks their partner a different question. The candidate may also be asked to comment on this question. The second candidate then receives a card and the procedure is repeated.

The last section of the exam is based around one of the themes which have just been discussed. These remaining four minutes or so then involve candidates responding both to questions and to what their partner has said.

Sample Instructions & Question

Now to finish the test we’re going to talk about “technology” in general.

In what ways do you believe technology helps our world to function efficiently?
Do you agree Candidate B?

Once the 16 minutes have elapsed the test comes to an end with the usual

“Thank you. That’s the end of the test!”

The Proficiency speaking test is indeed a special challenge but it is not just the language. Candidates need to follow instructions and most importantly, listen to their partner.

Take a look at our review of a Cambridge Proficiency speaking test.

CPE Speaking Part 1

Questions in this part are very general.

CPE Speaking Part 2

In this part discuss a series of pictures around a theme

CPE Speaking Part 3

In Part 3 present a topic and discuss a related theme.