Preparing for and Taking the CELPIP Exam
I’m going to share my experience of preparing for and taking the CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program) exam.
Disclaimer: Personally, learning a language has been challenging for me, either due to my age or the lack of linguistic talent. Therefore, I have to compensate for this with persistence and perseverance. I don’t claim to be absolutely right, but I simply want to share the strategies that helped me pass the exam.
About Language Tests
There are several types of language tests that are taken for different purposes. The most popular ones are for immigration, obtaining legal status in a new country, studying at a foreign university, and for employment. Perhaps the most widely recognized English language test accepted in many places is IELTS. In Canada, both IELTS and CELPIP are accepted, with the latter being a Canadian development.
In various chats and communities, there was an opinion that CELPIP is easier to pass, but from my own experience, I have realized that this is not entirely true. It greatly depends on your level of language proficiency. It is likely that for those who already have a very good command of English, CELPIP may seem easier, but for those at an intermediate or lower level, IELTS might appear to be more relevant.
The Difference Between CELPIP and IELTS
The structure of the tests is very similar; both consist of four sections:
The differences lie in the details:
- In the Listening section of IELTS, you see the questions and answer options right away, whereas in CELPIP, you won’t see the questions until you have listened to the entire dialogue. As a result, this tests not only your English language knowledge but also your ability to remember information.
- In the Speaking section of IELTS, you have a conversation with a person. They ask you questions, and if you exhaust the topic, they move on to the next question. In CELPIP, you record voice answers on the computer without any human interaction. The test consists of several tasks where you are given 30 seconds to prepare, and then you need to speak for 60-90 seconds on a given topic. It may not sound intimidating, but in reality, it can cause anxiety for many. If you speak for less than 60 seconds, it will affect your final score negatively.
- CELPIP is taken in one sitting, approximately lasting 2 hours and 40 minutes, without any technical breaks. If you feel the need to use the restroom, you’ll either have to hold it or quickly run there and back because the test time does not stop (even between sections). In IELTS, the Speaking section is taken separately.
- IELTS uses a 9-band scale, while CELPIP uses a 12-point scale. However, both scales are converted to the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) scale, which is universal.
Overall, it varies from person to person, but in my opinion, Listening and Speaking are the most challenging components that are nearly impossible to train for in a short period.
According to my plan, I needed to achieve a minimum of CLB7, preferably on my first attempt.
This score is considered average, but I didn’t want to take any risks. So, I armed myself with books, applications, Grammarly, ChatGPT, and purchased a package of 8 lessons with a teacher.
Reading (like Listening) relies on having a passive vocabulary. It’s not something you can quickly fill up, so it’s better to start preparing in advance. Read books in English, documentation, news articles, and any other content that resonates with you. The key here is that you should enjoy the content; otherwise, it won’t leave a lasting impression.
I used to read a lot of documentation, so my passive vocabulary was already quite well-developed.
With Listening, it also relies on vocabulary knowledge, plus the ability to understand different accents. In the tests, they speak in correct English, but it may seem unfamiliar, too fast, or unclear to you. Therefore, in my opinion, the best practice is to watch TV shows and movies. You can start with English subtitles and gradually wean off them.
Back in 2015, I made a decision to watch TV shows in English. I watched a lot of series, which helped improve my skills. However, since CELPIP requires memorization of information, my initial practice tests weren’t great.
I quickly exhausted the options for applications that could be used as listening practice. So, I created a Telegram bot for myself, which used ChatGPT to generate random texts of 2-3 minutes, sent them to a Text-To-Speech service, and then delivered the audio to me. It would then follow up with questions about the text (also generated by ChatGPT). It worked well, and that’s how I spent my time commuting to work.
Writing turned out to be slightly more interesting. I asked a teacher to explain the principles of essay writing, and we checked one text together. After that, we didn’t focus on it much during the lessons.
The most challenging part (in my opinion) of this task is coming up with a story that sounds realistic. The teacher gave me tips on quickly and easily generating ideas for writing and how to verify the resulting sentences for meaning. Then, it was a matter of improving my grammar.
While writing texts, I realized that I had gaps in the areas of articles, past tense, linking words, does/has, conditionals, and who knows what else. Equipped with Grammarly, I started writing texts first in a simple manner, and then with time constraints.
Later on, I realized that I could actually ask ChatGPT to evaluate my text from the examiner’s perspective (and it worked!). So, I turned writing texts into self-study, and during the preparation period, I wrote over 60 texts. This significantly improved my skill in writing typical texts and also enhanced my grammar.
I practiced speaking with a teacher because, at the moment, there are no tools that would help with self-study. However, I expect that something will be available soon (Elsa made an announcement).
Additionally, using the OpenAI API, I taught my Telegram bot a few exercises:
- The bot sends a random phrase in Russian, and you record a voice message in English as a response. The bot, acting as an “English teacher,” compares expectations with the result and provides recommendations on how to improve.
- The bot sends a random image, and you record a voice message in English describing what you see. The bot generates an image based on your text and provides error analysis.
- The bot sends a general question to ponder, and you record a voice message in response, which the bot analyzes for meaning and grammar.
As for pronunciation training, I used Elsa.
And, of course, two weeks before the exam, I started taking practice tests every day.
The Final Result
In the end, I achieved a better score on the test than I had expected:
On the screenshot with the results, I added handwritten translations of the CELPIP score into IELTS and the CEFR scale (A1-C2) that is familiar to everyone.
Objectively, my speaking score is quite average. My teacher (who administered IELTS exams) said that in IELTS, I would have scored 6.5-7, which is 1-2 points higher than my current result.
All in all, I’m satisfied with the outcome, despite having two very intense months. In any case, while in Canada, it is necessary to continually invest in language skills. I believe that language improvement is cumulative, and a significant leap is only possible from Beginner to Intermediate levels.
Translated by ChatGPT