B1 Preliminary - 2020 format update

Cambridge B1 Preliminary is an Intermediate level exam. B1 Preliminary certificate is recognized by many higher education institutions in countries such as UK, Germany, Italy and Spain as an indication of English language proficiency. Many global companies and brands accept candidates that have obtained the B1 Preliminary qualification, among them - Chelsea Football Club Academy in London. In Ukraine, you can take this exam and receive the B1 Preliminary certificate in the ILC Authorised Cambridge Exam Centre.

When taking B1 Preliminary, it's important to firmly grasp the format of the exam – parts, tasks and their duration, nuances of grading and so on. Hence, we would like to inform you of the changes to the B1 Preliminary exam format by Cambridge Assessment English upcoming in January 2020.

These changes apply both to the standard and the “for Schools” versions of the exam and can be briefly summarised as follows:

  1. The exam will now consist of 4 parts – Reading and Writing will be taken separately.
  2. Each part will have some new or revised tasks.
  3. The grading will change – the candidates will receive A, B or C grades for this exam.

Instead of the Reading & Writing part, which lasted for 90 minutes, B1 Preliminary has now been separated into Reading and Writing parts (45 minutes each).


Reading part will include 6 tasks (Multiple-choice short texts, Matching, Multiple choice, Multiple-choice gapped text, Multiple-choice gap fill, Open gap fill) and 32 questions. The first three tasks are the same as tasks 1, 2 and 4 in the current format. In the Multi-choice gapped text, candidates need to understand the gist and structure of the text and choose the correct sentence to put in the gaps. The fifth task, Multiple-choice gap fill, will be the same as in the current version, but shorter. Open gap fill is another new task that requires candidates to read a text and write words in the gaps.


Writing now consists of 2 tasks, both of which require writing a text of 100 words or longer – an email and an article or a story (choose one). The sentence transformation task has been removed from B1 Preliminary, as was the task to write a short 35-45-word text.


Listening is going to become 6 minutes shorter and will now last for about 30 minutes. It still consists of 4 parts, 3 of which are the same as before (Multiple-choice short texts, Gap fill, Multiple-choice long text), and 25 questions. Instead of the True/False task, the test will contain one more task of Multiple-choice short texts, where candidates will listen to six short texts for attitudes and opinions, and choose the right option.


Speaking will last for 12 minutes for each pair of candidates. It still consists of 4 tasks, but those tasks have changed somewhat. The first task remains the same – the candidates are going to talk about themselves. The second, Individual long turn, is very similar to the third task of the current format - describing photographs and managing discourse using appropriate vocabulary, however the photographs are not necessarily on the same topic. The third, Collaborative task, is the same as the second task of the current format – making suggestions and negotiating agreement based on picture prompts. The fourth task, Discussion, is a dialogue about likes, dislikes, preferences, habits and opinions between the candidates. This is similar to the current task 4, except that it is based on the previous task, not the photographs.


Each of the four parts will have the same effect on the final mark – 25%. The grades themselves have changed - instead of Pass with Distinction (level B1), Pass with Merit (A2) and Pass (A2), the candidates will get, respectively, A, B or C.

According to Cambridge Assessment English, B1 Preliminary hasn’t become more difficult and tests the same language skills at the same level as before. The changes, however, are significant enough and may influence the exam strategy. For instance, due to the separation of Reading & Writing into two separate parts, a candidate who feels more confident in one of these parts now has no opportunity to gain a little time for the other. Every part except for the Speaking has received some new tasks and the Listening part will be 6 minutes shorter while still having the same number of tasks and questions. All of this is important to consider when preparing for the exam in order to increase the chances of success.

Just like before, receiving the highest grade for B1 Preliminary will get you a certificate that confirms your level of English at a level higher (B2). In addition, any certificate you receive for taking this exam will be valid indefinitely and you will not have to take it again.