An overview of the CEFR examination

CEFR, the English Key Test, is aimed at elementary level students. It tests the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking and is based on the Waystage specification (1990, Council of Europe). Students at this level have probably covered between 180 and 200 hours of English.

CEFR tests the language used in everyday situations through a range of different test formats. There are two versions of CEFR available; CEFR and CEFR for schools. Both follow the same format and the level is identical. The only difference between them is that CEFR for Schools is particularly aimed at school students in the content and treatment of topics.

Candidates take three papers: Paper 1 Reading and Writing, paper 2 Listening, and paper 3 Speaking. They do not necessarily have to pass all three components, since their final mark is a total score across the three. There are two passing grades, ’Pass with merit’ and, ‘Pass’, and two failing grades, ’Narrow fail’, and, ’Fail’. A ‘Pass’ is around 72% of the total marks.

CEFR and CEFR for Schools are available throughout the year as a paper-based or computer-based test.


Paper 1 Reading and Writing (1 hour 10 minutes)


This paper carries 50% of the final marks (60 ‘raw’ marks are scaled to 50). Parts 1-5 require different reading skills. Parts 6-8 demand a combination of reading and writing skills. Part 9 is a test of continuous writing, where the candidate has to write a piece of 25-35 words.

Summary of paper 1

Part 1 Signs

Test Focus: understanding real world notices.

Part 2 Sentences about a topic

Test Focus: reading and choosing appropriate vocabulary.

Part 3 Verbal exchange patterns

Test Focus: reading and identifying suitable responses.

Part 4 Factual text

Test Focus: reading for main ideas and detail.

Part 5 Factual text

Test Focus: reading and choosing appropriate structural words.

Part 6 Word completion

Test Focus: Vocabulary and spelling

Part 7 Note, short message, letter

Test Focus: reading, and writing a suitable word in a series of gaps.

Part 8 Form completion

Test Focus: understanding two texts and transferring information from them to a form.

Part 9 Continuous writing

Test Focus: writing a short message.


Paper 2 Listening (about 25 minutes)


This paper has five parts and a total possible mark of 25, thus representing 25% of the total final marks. The listening material is on cassette and candidates hear each part twice.

Summary of paper 2

Part 1 Short dialogues

Test Focus: listening to identify information

Part 2 Conversation

Test Focus: listening and matching information

Part 3 Conversation

Test Focus: listening and choosing from 3 answers

Part 4 Conversation

Test Focus: listening and writing down information.

Part 5 Monologue

Test Focus: listening and writing down information.


Speaking (8-10 minutes)


The CEFR speaking test takes the format of two candidates and two examiners, one of whom assesses the candidates and takes no part in the interaction. A total possible mark of 20 is scaled up to 25, to represent 25% of the final marks. There are two parts to the Speaking test.

Summary of Paper 3

Part 1 Personal information

Test Focus: giving personal factual information (the examiner asks each candidate some questions)

Part 2 Prompt car activity

Test Focus: asking for and giving non-personal information (the two candidates ask each other questions)

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