Michigan ECPE Test of English
Introducing the Michigan ECPE
The ECPE exam from the University of Michigan in the U.S. is intended for students who are close to achieving an excellent level of fluency in English. As the "P" in ECPE indicates this is supposed to be a test of proficiency (as opposed to a test of mere competence, which is what the ECCE is). In the European framework the level is known as C2 and elsewhere referred to as level 5.
From the content of the ECPE exam it is clear that it is aimed in particular at people who might be considering going to an English-speaking university or college to do a degree course (not necessarily a course in English language or literature) and who want to demonstrate that their command of the English language is good enough for them to comfortably follow lecture courses, participate in seminars and write academic essays.
Learners who only want to use English in a business context would be better off doing some other exam (TOIEC is one exam aimed especially at candidates wanting to use business English).
The ECPE exam is relatively short, lasting only about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Candidates are given half an hour to write a short essay, choosing from two topics dealing with familiar and not too technical issues (the environment, crime, education, etc). The essays expected often combine a factual description of social problems plus an expression of opinion about what ought to be done to address the problems.
The listening paper lasts around 35-40 minutes and has a total of 50 questions (all multiple choice). One section consists of about 15 single statements and and after each one candidates have to choose the most suitable response from a choice of three. Another section consists of very short dialogues after which candidates have to choose one of three possible comments. The final section has three much longer dialogues, often about something technical (e.g. a new scientific discovery), and after each dialogue there are five comprehension questions with a choice of three answers for each. Note: the questions are heard on the CD but are not printed in the exam booklet and everything on the CD is heard only once.
This combines grammar, cloze, vocabulary and reading. Candidates have 75 minutes to answer 120 questions: 40 grammar questions, one cloze passage with 20 gaps, 40 vocabulary questions and then four short reading passages with five questions each. All the questions are multiple choice with four options. Scientific topics occur frequently in the reading passages but the vocabulary questions tend to avoid technical terminology and limit themselves to less common items from general (but challenging) English.
The oral exam (the ECPE speaking test, as it is known in Michigan) is often done on a separate day and lasts 25-35 minutes. There are two candidates and two examiners. After a short discussion about the candidates' studies/work/interests etc the two candidates have to work their way through a rather long multi-stage task which always involves chosing between four options (choosing one person for a job from a short list of four, for instance).
This is a new format for the Michigan ECPE speaking test which will be introduced in June 2009. It is rather complicated and will require much more preparation than the previous format.
Click here for a detailed look at the new ECPE speaking test.
See the fullspate.net site for a good collection of ECPE practice test material.
For help with essay writing you might find this brief essay writing tutorial useful.
How does the Michigan ECPE compare to the Cambridge CPE?
The Cambridge CPE is an academic exam like the ECPE (there is no business English) but it includes more literary English especially in its reading passages and there is always an option in the writing paper to write about a novel. Students who would never wish to read an English novel in their spare time will not be ideal candidates for the Cambridge CPE.
The Cambridge CPE is much longer and more complex in its mix of exercises. The Cambridge exam takes 5 hours and 59 minutes - more than twice the length of the ECPE. Whereas the ECPE relies on multiple choice questions, the Cambridge CPE includes completely open questions where candidates have to come up with their own answers (the sentence transformation exercise is an example of this).
The writing paper is much more demanding. Instead of one very short essay written in 30 minutes for the ECPE, the Cambridge CPE demands two longer pieces of writing written in two hours - forms of writing that might include: articles, formal letters, proposals, reports, reviews and essays.
In general, the Cambridge CPE is a more demanding exam and is therefore more suitable for students who are interested in teaching English in the future or studying English language and literature at university.
How does the Michigan ECPE compare to IELTS?
The IELTS exam is equal in length with the ECPE and is only slightly more complex an both exams have a similar academic focus without any literary English. The questions in IELTS are graded to cater for candidates with a range of abilities from upper intermediate to the most advanced. Instead of awarding a pass or a fail, as in the ECPE, IELTS awards a grade from one to nine and EVERYBODY GETS A CERTIFICATE. A score of 7.5 is recognised as a C2/proficiency-level grade. Students who don't quite make that grade will not come away empty handed.
Do I have to pass every paper?
Although Cambridge University allows candidates to pass the CPE if they are weak in one paper but sufficiently strong in the others, candidates for the Michigan ECPE have to pass all four papers to be awarded a certificate.
How widely is it recognized?
Recognition is a very important consideration when choosing an exam. Students need to check with the relevant authorities in their country to see if the ECPE is recognised.
What is the best peparation for the exam?
Sample materials can be downloaded from the University of Michigan English Language Institute website: http://www.lsa.umich.edu.
It is advisable to work through a good coursebook if your English is not already at the level required by the exam. One such book is ECPE Challenge by Michael Reid available from http://www.macmillan.gr
In addition to a coursebook and sample exam papers candidates should read a range of articles on scientific topics (without worrying too much about the most specialized scientific vocabulary). Sites on the web that sum up the latest scientific developments in a language suitable for non-specialists are very useful. One we often use is http://www.sciencedaily.com
Candidates must not overlook their listening skills. They must pass the listening paper to get their ECPE certificate but the listening tasks are often very challenging. Candidates need to feel very comfortable following conversations about everyday situations at a normal speed in American English and comfortable following longer talks about technical issues. Listening to movie dialogues is good for the first and listening to documentaries is good for the second. There are lots of podcasts and other audio material to download from the internet for free. A good source of American material is at the National Public Radio Archive, which has a long list of useful audio material. Or click here for other EFL audio material suggestions.