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More about Aptis & the CEFR Levels

Aptis & the British Council

Useful info on Aptis & the CEFR levels

All these names and abbreviations can be very confusing!  So here’s some more information about Aptis and the CEFR levels B1, B2 & C1.  We’ll look at the Aptis General, the Aptis for Teachers and the Aptis Advanced tests in more detail, and also explain the format of the Speaking Test component.  We’ll also give you some useful links to the relevant official sites.

Aptis General & Aptis for Teachers Tests

There are five components to both these Aptis tests, and the timings are very nearly identical:

Speaking (12 minutes)

Listening (40 minutes in Aptis General, 55 minutes in Aptis for Teachers)

Reading (35 minutes)

Writing (50 minutes)

Core (25 minutes)

You’ll find more information about these components in the relevant posts on this site.

Aptis Advanced

Again, there are five components to the test, but the timings are different:

Speaking (10 minutes)

Listening (30 minutes)

Reading (60 minutes)

Writing (45 minutes)

Core (25 minutes)

For more detailed information on any of these tests, and also to be sure about any exam updates, go to the official British Council website.


So what’s the Aptis Speaking Test like?

Here is the British Council description of the Aptis General test:

Speaking Test Format

The Speaking test is only available on computer and takes about 12 minutes to complete. This test has four parts:

1. Personal information: Here, you are asked to answer three questions on personal topics, and have to speak for 30 seconds per question.

2. Describe, express your opinion, and provide reasons and explanations: This part requires you to first describe a photograph and then answer two questions related to the topic depicted in the photograph. The three questions (from description to opinion) intensify in complexity, and you have to speak for 45 seconds per question.

3. Describe, compare, and provide reasons and explanations: In this part, you first have to compare two pictures, and then answer two questions related to the topic. The three questions (from description to speculation) increase in complexity, and you will be asked to speak for 45 seconds for each question.

4. Discuss personal experience and opinion on an abstract topic: In this final part, you will have to see a picture and answer three questions about an abstract topic. You can take notes and will be given one minute to prepare an answer. You will have to speak for two minutes.

If you watch our mock-exam Speaking Practice videos, you’ll get a much clearer idea.  And for every video there’s an alternative version that gives you lots of help.  So don’t worry!

You’ll find the links to all the Speaking Practice videos in our Guide to the Posts.

Aptis for Teachers

The tests are the same in format, but the content of the teachers’ version relates specifically to teachers.  In other words, the questions are set in an educational context. They deal with themes and scenarios that teachers come across every day; the questions are familiar to them.  This means teachers can focus purely on the language rather than the context of the questions.

Again, you’ll find the links to all the Speaking Practice for Teachers videos in our Guide to the Posts.

We explain this in more detail in all the Aptis for Teachers posts, where you’ll also find specific Grammar and Vocabulary Practice Tests.

But how does it all work?

Well, the Aptis General and the Aptis for Teachers tests are for students with English levels that correspond to A1-B2 of the CEFR.  Everybody takes the same test and, depending on how well you do, you get a CEFR grade.  Aptis also awards a C grade if you do exceptionally well, although that isn’t a recognised CEFR grade.  We found this a little confusing, so we checked with the British Council.  This is what they said:

‘When a candidate gets a high grade in B2 they are given level C which is not effectively within the levels of the European Framework of Reference, it is an Aptis own grade. This grade, like the rest, is accepted by some institutions, and that is why it appears within the certificates that they can show for language qualification.’

Aptis Advanced is intended for students from B1 to C2. 

And what’s the CEFR?

The CEFR is the Common European Framework of Reference. We’ll explain a little more to help you better understand Aptis grades and the CEFR levels.

Their website can seem a little confusing, so let’s try to explain it simply.  There are three broad bands in the CEFR: A, B and C.  Think of them as Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.

Then there are two subdivisions for each of those bands.  So there are six main levels:

  • Beginner: A1/A2
  • Intermediate: B1/B2
  • Advanced: C1/C2

There are descriptors, or ‘can do’ statements, for each level.

Here are all the CEFR descriptors.

And here are official translations in other European languages.

Here are the descriptors for the levels we’re going to focus on: B1, B2 and C1.  These are the grades most candidates need for their studies or jobs.  And this is what you need to be able to do at each level.


B1 Descriptors

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.

  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions, and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.


B2 Descriptors

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects, and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.


C1 Descriptors

  • Understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations.
  • Express ideas without too much searching.
  • Effectively use the language for social, academic or professional situations.
  • Create well-structured and detailed texts on complex topics.


To learn more about what functional & grammatical language you need at these three levels, go to Use of Language.

To revise specific grammatical points, study our Grammar Reference.  We’ll be adding to this section all the time.


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