110 years of Cambridge English exams

Cambridge University Press & Assessment has been delving into the archives to paint a picture of how much has changed for people learning and teaching English with Cambridge. 

SINGAPORE, July 17, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In June 1913, three candidates in the UK took the first ever C2 Proficiency exam, which at the time was known as the Certificate of Proficiency in English. The exam, which cost candidates £3, was very different to what it is today. It was a 12-hour exam which included translation, dictation and phonetic transcription. The first exams were taken by people who wanted to become English language teachers. The Cambridge English exams have changed beyond recognition, but they still focus on communication skills, and they are still driven by a commitment to helping people learn English and prove their skills to the world. Today, they focus on helping people to get ready for higher education, achieve their career dreams and give employers the talent they need in today’s world. The Cambridge English exams, which include C2 Proficiency, are now taken by 6.1 million people every year and are recognised by more than 25,000 organisations around the world as proof of English language ability. 

‘In the last 110 years the Cambridge English exams have gone from strength to strength. This success has been driven by a passion for education, constant innovation and a commitment to delivering high quality exams,’ commented Francesca Woodward, Managing Director for English at Cambridge. She continued: ‘From just three candidates, we now open doors for millions of people every year to learn and teach English. The historical papers from our archives paint a fascinating picture of how much has changed when it comes to learning English with Cambridge. The original papers were a revolution in English language assessment, setting clear goals and emphasising the ability to use the language. Today we are constantly working to transform the way we deliver assessments and learning products through digital innovations. This includes how we deliver more online assessments and how we get the best out of technologies such as AI and Machine learning.’  

Francesca Woodward, Managing Director for English, looks at the first ever C2 Proficiency exam paper which is held in the archives at Cambridge University Press & Assessment.

In 2023 the C2 Proficiency exam is still going strong, and it is the highest-level Cambridge English Qualification. It shows you are a highly competent speaker of English and tests skills in line with C2 of the Common European Framework of Reference, which is the international standard of language ability. On the modern approach to learning and assessment with Cambridge, Woodward says: 

‘It’s always been important to us to be at the forefront of English language education. We’re now trusted by tens of thousands of organisations around the world and focus on developing unique learning experiences that could only come from Cambridge. Our work is supported by dedicated teams who specialise in language learning, assessment and educational research. Areas we’re focussing on include how we personalise learning experiences, how we harness AI and machine learning aligned to human needs, and how we fully integrate learning and assessment into people’s learning journeys.’  

Can you answer a 110-year-old English exam question? 

As part of the celebrations, Cambridge is asking: have you got what it takes to answer a 110-year-old English exam question? This is just for fun, so please do not send in your answers, but good luck! 

Can you answer a 110-year-old English exam question?