Changes to KEY and Preliminary (A2 and B1) Cambridge English exams

A fresh start to the academic year has brought with it a big announcement from Cambridge Assessment English: the KEY (A2) and Preliminary (B1) exams are changing as of January 2020. Here, I’ve created an overview of the changes, where teachers can find resources, and your options if you’re a student who is currently studying towards the Cambridge KEY or Preliminary exams.

Personally, I welcome these changes, especially at the KEY level, as they make the whole exams system much more coherent and learners will be building on skills that they have previously learnt, rather than having to learn something totally new.

An overview of the changes

Here’s a brief rundown of the changes to the Preliminary (B1) Cambridge English exams:

There are now 4 exams. The Reading and Writing paper has been separated into 2 separate exams. You will have 45 minutes to do the Reading paper and another 45 minutes to do the Writing paper.

Reading: The old part 3 (true or false statements) has been removed and there are 2 new tasks. In the new part 4 you will have to choose the correct sentence to fit in the gaps. In the new part 6 you will have to decide which word needs to go in the gap (open gap fill).

Writing: The Writing paper now has only 2 parts. In the first part you must write an email in approximately 100 words and in the second part you can choose to write an article or a story (again, 100 words).

Listening: The old part 4 (deciding if statements were true or false) has been removed and there is a new task where you will have to listen to 6 short texts for opinions.

Speaking: The only major change here is that the discussion topic in part 4 will be linked to the topic of the collaborative task (previously it was linked to the individual long turn).

And for KEY (A1), here are the elements that are going to change:

Reading and writing: The new part 1 includes short texts that students need to understand. In part 2 you will have to read three short texts and pick answers from multiple choice options. There is now no word limit on the short message writing (“25 words or more”) and there is an extra writing task where you have to write a story based on three photos (“35 words or more”).

Listening: In the new part 4, you have to listen to 5 short texts to get the main idea.

Speaking: In the new part 2, you have to talk together with your partner based on pictures about a topic given to you by the examiner. The examiner will then prompt further discussion.


If you’re looking for tonnes of resources, the dedicated Cambridge website (accessible here) is perfect, promising us lots of resources in the future in addition to new handbooks.

Students: Are you currently studying A2 or B1? What should you do?

This is the most frequent question I’m getting from my students at the moment. The way I see it, you’ve got two options: a) Use the changes as motivation to get your B1 before January 2020 or b) Start studying the new B1 format and take the exam from January 2020.

If you’re working hard and want to get your B1 before January 2020 and are looking for some help, send me an email for information about my online writing and speaking courses.

If you’re looking to get your B1 after January 2020, sign up to email updates from this blog to keep up to date with changes and study resources.

Published by teachernicola

English teacher in the south of Spain.

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