Cambridge English Language Assessment Northern Europe

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Pretesting – Practice with a pretest

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PretestingWhat are pretests?

Testing materials before they are used in exams allows us to make certain our exams are accurate and fair. As part of our commitment to quality and fairness, we subject all the materials in our exams to a number of procedures to ensure they are accurate and reliable. One of these quality procedures is pretesting.

How can they help teachers and learners?

Pretests give learners a chance to practise taking Cambridge English exams using genuine English questions under exam conditions. After taking the Reading, Listening and Use of English papers, the pretesting candidates are given scores. Writing papers are marked by trained Cambridge English Language Assessment examiners and candidates receive detailed feedback about how they performed in the Writing test. This helps learners to know which areas they need most practice in, and gives them experience and confidence in taking tests. For teachers, it helps highlight areas where their learners might need more help.

How do they help Cambridge English Language Assessment?

Pretests are an essential part of the exam production process. Statistical data is obtained for each task, which allows us to construct our exams to a prescribed level of difficulty. This ensures, for example, that a Cambridge English: First Reading paper produced for June 2012 is at the same level of difficulty as the paper produced for December 2012.

When can pretests be taken?

Exams with fixed dates (such as Cambridge English: Preliminary, Cambridge English: Key and Cambridge English: First) usually have a pretest window of about three weeks. Exams which are ‘on demand’ (such as IELTS) usually have an open pretest date. The Pretesting Calendar gives the pretest dates available for this year as well as information about the length of the pretest.

It is advised that students take pretests six to eight weeks before their live exam. This helps to identify the candidates’ current assessment level and assists in their preparation for the live tests. It also means that teachers will get the scores back in time to focus on any particular language areas in need of practice.  

 What else should I know?

1. All test paper and despatch costs are paid by Cambridge English Language Assessment.

2. Pretest papers are marked in Cambridge, and scores are returned to schools within three weeks. Writing papers are sent to examiners for comments on individual candidates, so these scores and reports may take up to four weeks.

3. Pretest administration simulates the real exam, so that students not only experience the kind of questions they will face in their live exam, but also complete the answer sheets in a ‘test-like’ environment. We ask for your help in ensuring that as far as possible students take the pretests under exam conditions.

4. Students are asked to take a short anchor test (15–20 minutes) with each pretest administration to help us determine the difficulty of the pretest.

5. After the pretest, all materials must be sent back to Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Materials are strictly confidential and cannot be kept for classroom practice.

6. The number of pretests available is limited, particularly for Writing, and while we will try to supply the number of papers you request, we cannot guarantee this. To ensure the fairness of the sample, we also restrict the proportion of students for each pretest from each first language.

7. Please note that pretests are not available for Cambridge English: Young Learners or for Speaking papers.

How can we become involved?

To take part in pretesting, your school must either be an active Cambridge English Language Assessment examination centre or have candidates who are preparing for Cambridge English exams. You can request pretests via the online request form, telling us how many papers you want to administer for each exam. By requesting pretests you agree to maintain the confidentiality of pretest materials by observing Cambridge English Language Assessment’s pretesting security policy.

 How can I find out more?

You can find more information about the purpose and practice of pretesting from the website at If you have any further questions about participation in Cambridge English Language Assessment pretesting, please contact us:



Written by cambridgeenglishde

September 2, 2013 at 8:03 am

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