At the time she took the Cambridge English test, it consisted of four parts – Reading and Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. Although Use of English and Reading are listed as part of the same module, they are scored separately. This means that next to your overall band, you can see your score on each of these five elements. In addition, the Speaking section takes place on a different day, usually 1-2 days before your written exam date. In this interview, Veselina shares some important details about the test as well as some handy preparation tips for non-native English speakers.
Why did you have to sit an English language test and how will this be useful for you in the future?
Ever since I graduated from high school I knew that my diploma was not going to be enough for prospective jobs and universities. As I chose to stay in Bulgaria I did not really need to take an English language test but at some point I realized that if I wanted to pursue higher career goals I needed to have something to prove my English level. I believe that this certificate will prove to be very useful in the quest to find my vocation in life if I choose to work someplace where almost-native skills in English are required.
Check out: How to Self-Prepare for English Tests
Why Cambridge English over any other English test?
Language is like a muscle — if you don’t use it regularly it loses its strength. I guess that is what the creators of most of the popular English exam formats had in mind while they were devising their tests, as the certificate has an expiration date. This is not the case with Cambridge exams. When you receive this certificate, it’s for life, or at least that is what they say. Of course you need to constantly use the language in order to avoid getting rusty but it is a very useful format if you have doubts about what exactly you want to do in life and you need to take time over your decision.
On the matter of exactly why Proficiency, I wish I could concur with my Cambridge class teacher that this is the “unnecessary level” of English. However, being the over-achiever that I am, I knew I could never rest easy until I proved to myself that I do indeed have proficient skills in English. Some people argue that Cambridge Advanced is sufficient in order to achieve any career goals that include English, and they are probably right. Furthermore, only a few universities require a certificate in Proficiency for admittance, but I truly believe that you must always aim to the highest possible level of knowledge and ability, and language should be no exception. Having a certificate in Proficiency will always give me a great advantage over any other candidates, because it not only proves that you have exceptional language skills but also shows that you are hard-working and focus on self-improvement, which are qualities valued by every prospective employer.
Check out: Which Admission Test Should You Take First?
How did you prepare for the test and what was most useful about this strategy?
When I first decided to sit the C2 Proficiency exam I believed I could prepare for it by myself since I had already covered this level of English in high school. What troubled me was that I was not prepared for the format itself and that is why I decided to get a tutor. The second I started my Cambridge class I realized I could have never succeeded on my own. The preparation for the exam is a very time-consuming process that needs a great deal of devotion in order to achieve high results. You need to be very organized, divide your study time wisely and constantly work on every aspect of the exam.
The class I took was created specifically for the purpose of helping you prepare for C2 Proficiency and it focused on each exam module individually (Use of English, Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking) by gradually building up your skills. Participating in such a class also creates the feeling of cooperation and even the desire to compete with your peers, which can prove to be highly motivational. It also sets aside a certain period of time in your weekly schedule devoted only to English, which is something that I would have otherwise found very difficult to enforce.
How did you select your tutor?
I took my first real steps into the realm of English studies with a local company that I knew from an early age could deliver. It seemed only natural to seek assistance from them when I needed to take my “final” steps in English learning. I didn't select my own tutor but I got lucky, since our teacher was a rather intriguing and intelligent individual who knew how to keep our interest and motivate us to aim higher.
What was your preparation like at home and outside the tutor center?
I mostly did practice tests, but I also tried to fill in some gaps in my education by studying advanced vocabulary, collocations, phrasal verbs, etc. I also revised some of the more complex grammar structures in the language.
I started watching TED Talks and TED-Ed videos, which proved to be very useful in terms of helping me structure my sentences better. Reading books in English and playing synonym games are also good ways of learning new words.
If you could go back and improve your preparation strategy in any way, what would you change?
I would most certainly start my home preparation earlier, because I never got to finish my plan as anticipated. For example, I had planned to complete an entire C2 grammar and vocabulary book, but by starting too late I would have needed to do 1-2 lessons every other day, which proved to be impossible while at the same time going to work and university.
How has the experience improved your language skills since you took the test?
I am certainly more confident with English now and I am even considering being an English teacher one day. Preparing for this exam was one of the greatest challenges I have had in my life up to now and I reckon that this experience and the fact that I succeeded in passing the exam with the result I had struggled to achieve has truly helped me grow as a human being and has finally allowed me to believe in myself and in my abilities.
Had you had experience with similar test formats before?
I took a lot of practice tests and mock exams in high school but I must admit that I have never before undergone anything similar to the real test. Most of the Cambridge English mock exams in high school seemed easier to me than the actual exam. Nevertheless, knowing the format before beginning the preparation for it can prove to be a valuable insight since you know what to expect and on what aspects you need to focus during your studies.
Check out: Do You Speak Academic English?
What was your overall level of English when you started the Cambridge English preparation?
Since the high school I attended taught almost every subject in English, I had already covered the C2 level of the language (the highest on the scale of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages). Unfortunately, after high school I did not get to use the language quite as often as I would have liked, so my skills gradually declined. By the time I started preparing for my exam, at least five years had gone by without me having to use English on a higher level than that needed in everyday conversations (my university studies were not in English). Because of that I had persistent problems with spelling and punctuation and I needed to revise and build up my vocabulary with more proficient words and collocations.
What section or task did you find most challenging and how did you approach it?
The section of the exam which I found most difficult was definitely the writing, which consists of two tasks. The first one is a compulsory essay in which you need to compare and evaluate the main points of two similar or opposing texts, and the second one is either an article, a letter, a review or a report. You can also choose to write on set texts of previously announced books. The reason why I found the writing part of the exam the most difficult is because almost all of these text formats have a very strict structure that you need to follow in order to get a high score. I am more into creative writing and prefer to use less academic language, which made this task extremely difficult for me. Time is very limited for each exam section but this is the one that makes you realize it the most. I tried my best to study each text format in order to be able to complete the task at hand in the time given, so I practiced writing by the clock without a draft, so I didn't waste any time on re-copying.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give prospective test takers?
C2 Proficiency is a very difficult exam, one that can push you to the limits of both physical and mental exhaustion. My piece of advice is not to focus too much on just one aspect of the exam at first, but to try to work on all of them equally. When you realize which parts you find most difficult you need to force yourself to improve these particular parts.
Do not, in any case, procrastinate on practicing for the writing since it is the section that requires the most time and self-discipline to improve. During the exam, try not to panic between the different sections and distance yourself from any test takers that discuss how difficult/easy the various sections were.
Finally, a piece of advice from PrepAdviser — if you decide to take this Cambridge English test, look for valuable resources and get inspired by success stories such as the one shared by Veselina. Good luck!