Changes to the PET exams in 2020

Big changes are coming to the Cambridge Preliminary (PET) exam in 2020. The changes will be significant for both candidates and teachers as Cambridge want to shift towards focussing on language skills rather than more traditional assessment methods. So, what exactly is being changed in the exam?

One of the biggest changes is that previously, the Reading and Writing papers of the PET exam were done together with a time limit of 1 hour and 30 minutes. These papers have now been separated and have their own individual time limits. Each part will now have a time limit of 45 minutes. We’ve included a side by side comparison of the exams previous and new format below.

Reading

Pre-2020 – Approximately 45 minutes2020 – 45 minutes
Part 1: Multiple choice short texts Candidates were asked to answer 3-option multiple choice questions based on texts such as messages, postcards and emails.Part 1: Multiple choice short texts No change.
Part 2: Matching Candidates were asked to connect 5 people to 8 short texts based on specific information. Part 2: Matching No change.
Part 3: True/False Candidates were asked to answer 10 true or false questions based on a long text. Part 3: Multiple choice long text Same as old Part 4.
Part 4: Multiple choice long text Candidates were asked to answer 4-option multiple choice questions based on comprehension of a long text. Part 4: Gapped text Candidates are asked to fit 5 of a possible 8 sentences into a long text based on the text’s narrative and grammatical accuracy. Similar to FCE and CAE Reading and Use of English Part 6/7.
Part 5: Multiple choice cloze Candidates were asked to answer 10 4-option multiple choice questions based on grammar and vocabulary within a short text. Part 5: Multiple choice cloze Same as old Part 5, but now there are only 6 questions instead of 10.
Part 6: Open cloze Candidates are asked to fill 6 gaps with one word based on grammatical structures. There are no options. Similar to FCE and CAE Reading and Use of English Part 2.

The only task that has disappeared from the Reading exam completely is the old Part 3. The gapped text style question from FCE exams and above now features in the PET exam as the new Part 4. While the content of the Part 4 questions will be relevant to the B1 level, the same concepts as the higher-level exams apply. Candidates will have to be aware of the overall construction of a text and the referencing and linking that happens between different parts of it.

The PET exam now also features an open cloze question (Part 6). Function words and the grammatical connections are the focus of this task.

Writing

Pre-2020 – Approximately 45 minutes2020 – 45 minutes
Part 1: Transformations Candidates were asked to transform 5 sentences so that they had a similar meaning to the original sentence with a different grammatical structure. Part 1: 100-120 word letter Candidates are asked to write a letter in response to a prompt which includes a short letter and key points for the candidate to include in their answer.
Part 2: 35-45 word short message Candidates were asked to write a short message in response to a prompt that contained 3 key points that had to be included in their answer. Part 2: 100 word story or article Candidates are asked to choose between a story or an article from prompts which include little input, making the writing more flexible.
Part 3: 100 word letter or story Candidates were asked to choose between a letter or a story from prompts which included little input, making the writing more flexible.

The transformation exercise has now been removed from the PET exam completely, as has the 35-45-word message. Part 1 of the Writing exam is now a 100-200-word letter. Part 2 requires the students to choose between writing either a 100-word article or story. The new time limit for the writing exam is 45 minutes.

Listening

Pre-2020 – Approximately 35 minutes2020 – Approximately 35 minutes
Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures Candidates were asked to answer 7 3-option multiple choice questions with picture answers based on short independent audios. Part 1: Multiple choice short audios with pictures No change.
Part 2: Multiple choice long audio Candidates were asked to answer 6 3-option multiple choice questions based on 1 long audio (an interview). Part 2: Multiple choice short audios with text Candidates are asked to answer 6 3-option multiple choice questions with text answers based on short independent audios. Similar to FCE Listening Part 1.
Part 3: Sentence completion Candidates were asked to complete 6 gaps with details of missing information from 1 long audio. Part 3: Sentence completion No change.
Part 4: Multiple matching Candidates were asked to answer 6 YES or NO (True/False) questions based on 1 long audio with 2 speakers. Part 4: Multiple choice long audio Same as old Part 2.

The changes to the Listening exam are minor. Part 2 has been replaced by a multiple-choice task which is very similar to Part 1 of FCE. Part 4 has been replaced with a task that is like the old Part 2.

Speaking

Pre-2020 – 10-12 minutes2020 – 10-12 minutes
Part 1: Interview – 2-3 minutes Candidates were asked to answer a couple of personal questions about their day-to-day lives. Part 1: Interview – 2-3 minutes No change.
Part 2: Collaborative task – 2-3 minutes Candidates were asked to discuss a situation in pairs using a visual prompt that includes images of the situation and possible options to discuss. Part 2: Long turn – 2-3 minutes Same as old Part 3.
Part 3: Long turn – 3 minutes Candidates were asked to describe a picture for approximately 1 minute. Part 3: Collaborative task – 3 minutes Same as old Part 2.
Part 4: Extended discussion – 3 minutes Candidates were asked to discuss a topic based on the same topic seen in Part 3. Part 4: Extended discussion – 3 minutes Candidates are asked a series of discussion questions based on the same topic seen in Part 3. Similar to FCE and CAE Speaking Part 4.

The changes to PET Speaking in 2020 are significant. In Part 1, candidates no longer have to spell their surnames. Parts 2 and 3 have been switched. Long turn pictures will no longer be on the same topic and they will no longer dictate what the extended discussion topic is. Instead, this will be linked to the collaborative task. It also provides a more natural progression from less to more interactive over the course of the speaking exam. Part 4 has also changed quite dramatically. Candidates will now be asked a series of questions on the given topic and encouraged to develop a conversation based on those questions. This is a stark difference to the single prompt in the old Part 4 which put a lot of pressure on candidates to maintain a conversation for 3 minutes with relatively little support. The new format should be more accessible for B1 level candidates and more supportive of less interactive pairs.

Take a look at a Cambridge Preliminary (PET) 2020 Speaking exam video and see what you think of the changes. Here you can see the Preliminary adults version, but a Preliminary for Schools version is also available on the Cambridge Assessment English YouTube page.