Should I take a BEC (Business English Certificate) or a general English exam (FCE, CAE, CPE,...)?

Difference BEC and General English

This is a question I am frequently asked by students when they are starting their project to improve their English. To answer it, let’s look at some of the differences between business English and general English exams.

Business English exams (BEC Preliminary, BEC Vantage, BEC Higher):

In Switzerland the most respected provider of business English exams is Cambridge. There are three levels of business English exam:

  • BEC Preliminary
  • BEC Vantage
  • BEC Higher

These correspond to B1, B2 and C1 levels respectively on the Council of Europe’s language classification system. All three exams are structured in the same way and include sections on reading, writing, speaking and listening.

General English exams (Cambridge First Certificate, Cambridge Advanced, Cambridge Proficiency,...):

Five of the most important general English exams offered by Cambridge are:

  • Key (KET)
  • Preliminary (PET)
  • Cambridge First Certificate (FCE)
  • Cambridge Advanced (CAE)
  • Cambridge Proficiency (CPE)

These correspond to A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 levels on the Council of Europe’s system. These exams also have reading, writing, listening and speaking sections. People beyond school leaving age in Switzerland normally focus on the higher three exams. 

Which is best for me?

Let’s imagine you are employed by a company and need to improve your English. Should you choose a BEC exam or a general English exam? The BEC exams demand a narrower more business-focused vocabulary. The questions are oriented towards the business tasks you may be performing at work. For example, in the writing section you will need to describe a graph.

On the other hand, the general English exams cover a wider vocabulary, but with fewer business-related terms. It really depends on whether you are interested in improving your business English specifically or your English generally. This may be related to your use of English in your current job. If your role requires you to focus on business-related terms, a BEC exam may be the one for you. On the other hand, if your use of English is wider than that, you may choose a general English exam. We are there to help you reach your goal in either case.

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Further information can be found on the Cambridge website.