In the summer of 1913, the first ever 'C2 Proficiency' English exam, then known as the Certificate of Proficiency in English, was taken by a group of three candidates in the UK. At a cost of £3, the exam had little resemblance to its modern day counterpart. Running for a gruelling 12 hours, candidates were tested in areas such as translation, dictation, and phonetic transcription. This pioneering group of test-takers were seeking to earn their credentials as English language teachers.
The Evolution: From Three Candidates to 6.1 Million
Unfortunately, none of these candidates managed to pass their exam on that day.
However, over the following years, Cambridge English exams have evolved remarkably, and our foundational principles remain the same. We continue to emphasise communication skills and demonstrate an unwavering commitment to assisting individuals in mastering English language and proving their linguistic skills to the world. Today, our exams serve as a stepping-stone towards higher education, fulfilling career aspirations, and ensuring employers access the talent they need in a globalised world.
Our emphasis on real life use also extends to our learning and preparation materials that are designed to help students be successful in their exams. This means that in the 21st Century, more and more candidates are gaining the English qualifications that they need for their future, taking their exams on paper, just as they did in 1913, or as computer based tests.
Now including the highest-level C2 Proficiency, Cambridge English exams are taken by a staggering 6.1 million people annually. These examinations are accepted as proof of English language proficiency by more than 25,000 organisations worldwide. From our humble beginnings with just three test-takers, we now play a vital role in the linguistic journey of millions each year.
Francesca Woodward, Managing Director for English at Cambridge, reflects on our 110-year journey: "Cambridge English exams have only grown stronger with time. This success is the fruit of our passion for education, ceaseless innovation, and dedication to delivering top-quality exams. Our historical papers offer a captivating glimpse into the evolution of English learning with Cambridge."
"From our ground-breaking original papers which revolutionised English language assessment, to our ongoing commitment to reshaping our delivery of assessments and learning products through digital innovation, we've come a long way. Our focus now includes enhancing online assessments and leveraging advanced technologies like AI and machine learning."
Can You Tackle a 110-Year-Old English Exam Question?
Have a look at this 110-year-old question from our first English exam:
As anyone who has seen one of our exams nowadays can see, the type of task was very different over a century ago. Since then, we have been continuously researching language use, gathering data and refining the way in which our exams evaluate a candidate's use of English language in real life situations.
Woodward elaborates on the modern approach to learning and assessment with Cambridge: "We've always strived to be pioneers in English language education. Our efforts are bolstered by dedicated teams specialising in language learning, assessment, and educational research. Current focus areas include personalising learning experiences, harnessing AI and machine learning to meet human needs, and seamlessly integrating learning and assessment into individual learning paths."
A lasting testament for the future
In 2023, the C2 Proficiency exam stands robust as ever, a testament to your exceptional proficiency in English. The exam assesses skills that align with C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference, the global benchmark for language ability.
Join us in this celebration of linguistic excellence and continuous evolution. Here's to the next 110 years!
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