The B2 First certificate from Cambridge English is a hugely valued and respected qualification in English proficiency for those who don’t have it as a first language. Whether you’re a student thinking of taking the exam, or a teacher preparing your class for it, you have to ask: what is it, and is it any good?

The B2 First certificate, formerly known as FCE, from Cambridge English is internationally respected. Those who pass the exam have a qualification that proves they have an upper-intermediate level of English, and this is sufficient for most jobs where communication in English is common.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

I’ve prepared lots of students for the B2 First exam. The reason why I do it so often is that, here in Spain, and many other parts of the world, it’s one of the most important qualifications when trying to get employed. English is the global language of business, and the B2 First opens the door to that world.

So let’s have a look at what the B2 First is, and consider its merits. We’ll also look at some reasons why it might not be the best choice for everyone.

If you’re an EFL/ESL teacher looking for the best way to prepare your students for any sort of English exam, check out my guide, Getting EFL/ESL Exam Preparation Right: Tips for success.

What exactly is the B2 First certificate?

Cambridge English is arguably the largest and most respected English proficiency exam provider in the world. It’s synonymous with reliability, integrity and high standards. Not only does it run exams for all levels of English, but provides textbooks and educational resources to schools all over the globe.

The B2 First is one of the exams it offers. And from my experience, it’s the most popular one, as many employers demand their staff have a B2 level of English.

NOTE: The B2 First used to be called the FCE (First Certificate in English). Cambridge altered the format and changed the name to B2 First in 2015, with the intention of making their whole system clearer.

But what does B2 mean? The B2 level comes from the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Despite the name, the CEFR is found in many parts of the world, including Asia and South America. It’s a way of ranking proficiency in all foreign languages (not just English).

CEFR rates English proficiency at six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.

A1 is the lowest level, and is for people who have a basic level (simple sentences and basic vocab). The scale rises all the way to C2 which is totally proficient, and the kind of level a translator would need. (In fact, I think some native English speakers would fail the C2 exam!)

Here’s a video from the company itself, explaining the CEFR scale.

B2 is the fourth rung on the ladder – Upper Intermediate. It essentially means you’re fluent enough to talk functionally about almost any topic. Cambridge English describe the level as follows:

Can use English effectively, with some fluency, in a range of contexts.

So, the B2 First is a qualification you get by passing an exam, that shows you have a B2 level of English.

The exam takes about three-and-a-half hours, with four papers: Listening, Writing, Speaking, and Reading & Use of English.

You may have also come across the B2 First for Schools. This is almost identical to the B2 First, but the topics in the exam are designed for teenagers instead of adults.

Is the B2 First a good qualification?

The simple answer to this is yes, it’s a great qualification. Here’s why:

  • It lasts forever, so you only have to pass it once.
  • It’s recognised by universities and employers in Europe and around the world.
  • B2 is the level required for working in most international companies, so it makes you much more employable.

It’s also a great exam for you to take, for the following reasons:

  • Cambridge English has a worldwide reputations for quality and fairness of its exams.
  • Exams can be taken in over 2,800 test centres around the world, so there’s probably one near you.
  • The company has been around for so long that there’s a wealth of amazing, helpful resources online and in textbook format. Dozens of past papers, practice quizzes, and YouTube videos.

Who shouldn’t try to get the B2 First certificate?

The B2 First exam isn’t easy. To pass, you need a high level of grammar and vocabulary, as well as confidence in writing and speaking. It may be too hard, in which case, the B1 Preliminary exam might be better suited.

Alternatively, B2 might not be enough. Certain jobs, such as teaching English in public schools, require a C1 level of English, and a few (typically translation work) demand a C2.

If a certain English level is required for immigration purposes, or for applying to universities in the UK, the B2 First might not be accepted. The best exam for those situations is the IELTS (also provided by Cambridge English)

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

And if the aim is to get a visa in the USA, or study there, the TOEFL is the number one exam.

The final group of people who shouldn’t take the B2 First exam are those who don’t have the time or motivation to study. It’s not an easy process. Not only do you have to be good at English, but you have to get accustomed to different techniques and expectations in each of the different parts.

To learn more about helping EFL/ESL students prepare for the B2 First, make sure to read my detailed guides: Teacher’s Guide to the Cambridge B2 First Speaking Exam and Teacher’s Guide to the Cambridge B2 First Writing Exam.


It’s hard to argue against the fact that the B2 First certificate from Cambridge English is a great qualification to have.

For students of English, it’s a great marker of progress, as well as an important CV booster.

And for teachers, it’s a great exam to teach, thanks to the vast resources available.

In my opinion, it’s the best English proficiency exam out there, and although it’s quite hard to pass, a good student with the right guidance can deservedly pass, separating them from the rest of the field.

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