English Our News Press Centre Announcements The Revised City & Guilds Exam: Has it Become Harder?
The Revised City & Guilds Exam: Has it Become Harder?
by George Vassilakis
Language Certification Director PeopleCert S.A.


Following the City & Guilds CEFR alignment project, which was completed in late 2008, a number of revisions were introduced to the IESOL examination suite so that the format and the content of the exam would be brought into line with CEFR specifications and best practice in the area of language testing. Although English language teachers in Greece acknowledged the fact that this would result in a more valid, more reliable, more qualitative examination format, some expressed fears that the tasks included in the revised exam would result in an increased level of difficulty and, therefore, less favourable results for their students.

In particular, teachers felt that the fact that now candidates are only allowed to hear some of the listening recordings at the more advanced levels once would negatively affect their performance and that some of the new tasks in the reading section of the C1 and C2 exams might confuse learners.  These fears proved to be unjustified: in fact, the examination results of the December session are actually better than those of previous sessions, bringing the pass rate in Greece up to a level that is comparable to, and in most cases higher than, the City & Guilds IESOL results in the rest of the world.

It is well known that Greek candidates tend to do worse than candidates in the rest of the world in most English language exams; this is usually explained away by referring to the fact that Greek candidates are considerably younger and claiming that their young age negatively affects their performance, as the tests themselves are intended for adults and therefore young candidates are disadvantaged due to lack of knowledge of the world rather than linguistic inadequacy.

In the light of the December results of the IESOL and ISESOL examinations, this claim might need to be revised. It may be that it is not the age of the candidate that is the decisive factor, but the quality of the test itself, the transparency and fairness of the scoring system and the kind of preparation that the candidates are given. Indeed, the fact that the City & Guilds exams are now fully aligned to the CEFR, contain tasks that are more realistic and are designed with close reference to the descriptors in the CEFR and the associated literature seems to have had a positive impact on the learners’ performance.  That there is now a lot more examination practice material available and that teachers have become more familiar with the requirements of our exams has definitely helped, as well.

The table below shows the Greek December 2009 pass rates as compared to the 2009 pass rates for the rest of the world in the City & Guilds IESOL (Listening, Reading and Writing) and ISESOL (Speaking) examinations.


IESOL Pass Rate

ISESOL Pass Rate

Greece (Dec  09)

Rest of the World

Greece (Dec 09)

Rest of the World































Several conclusions can be drawn from studying these figures. We, at PeopleCert S.A., feel that the most important and most relevant conclusions are as follows:

Greek candidates at the lower levels (A1 and A2) seem to be doing consistently better than candidates in the rest of the world, even though they are considerably younger. It appears, then, that age does not affect test performance as long as language preparation is of a high enough standard.

Greek candidates are almost at the same level as candidates in the rest of the world at B1 level and considerably better at B2 level. Again, this seems to confirm that there is no age-related effect. B2 level candidates in particular appear to be very well prepared in Greece, which is unsurprising, given that there is (a) very strong motivation among Greeks to acquire a recognized B2 level certificate and (b) an exam-centred culture among both language teachers and students (and their parents!) in this country, with students focusing exclusively on exam preparation for as long as a year before they take a B2 level examination.

Advanced and very advanced candidates (C1 and C2) in Greece seem to be doing better than candidates in the rest of the world in the written exam.  However, as far as the speaking skill is concerned, very advanced (C2) candidates in Greece are doing a little worse than their counterparts in the rest of the world. It may be that in the case of spoken discourse on academic and abstract topics, which is a CEFR requirement for the C2 level, there is, after all, an age-related effect. Even so, the 60% pass rate that Greek candidates have achieved in the City & Guilds C2 exam is generally considered satisfactorily high.

Overall, the revised format of the City & Guilds exams, along with the fairer criteria used in the marking, have clearly resulted in an assessment profile for Greek candidates that puts them on a par with candidates in the rest of the world, rewarding their efforts and those of their teachers, while at the same time ensuring a high degree of validity and reliability of the assessment.

For more details about the revised grading criteria and cutt off scores, please follw the corresponding link on the right side of the page.