A2 Key and B1 Preliminary: a guide to Cambridge English Qualification changes in 2020

A2 Key and B1 Preliminary

A new year is coming, so it’s out with the old and in with the new. And that applies to exams as well! Cambridge Assessment English have updated their A2 Key, A2 Key for Schools, B1 Preliminary and B1 Preliminary for Schools qualifications. 

The exams went through a robust review based on feedback from students, teachers and examiners all over the world. The changes also help make sure the A2 Key and B1 Preliminary exams are in line with their higher level qualifications. 

Read on for all the information you need to know about these changes and see how we’ve updated our preparation materials to help you prepare your students.

Changes to A2 Key  

The A2 Key and A2 Key for Schools qualifications show that students have the language skills to communicate in simple situations and that they can understand and use basic phrases. It tests the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. There have been changes to each section of the exam.

Reading and Writing 

First of all, the good news – the Reading section of the exam has become shorter, with only 30 questions in the new version (instead of 55). There’s a new multiple-choice section which focuses on reading messages, emails and notices – a very useful skill to practice nowadays! The reading for the information task has also been revised slightly, and now has multiple-choice questions (instead of Right, Wrong, Doesn’t Say).

An extra writing task has been added to this part of the exam, where students have to write a short story (of 35 words or more) based on three picture prompts. 


A new multiple-choice task has been added to test listening for gist. Candidates need to listen to a passage to get the overall message and answer five questions. 


The first part remains the same – a chat between the candidate and the examiner. However, there is now a new section, where the candidates take part in a discussion and compare, describe and express opinions. They are given a number of picture prompts to help them and after the discussion is over the examiner will ask each student follow up questions on the same topic. 

Download our handy guide and discover all the changes to the A2 Key and A2 Key for Schools exams. You could display it in your classroom or give it to your students. 

Download now!

Changes to B1 Preliminary

This exam follows the A2 Key exam and prepares learners for future qualifications like the B2 First. This exam shows that students have progressed to a level of English where they have the language skills that they’ll need in everyday situations. If they pass this exam, it means that they are able to read textbooks and articles in simple English, communicate via letters and emails on everyday subjects, take notes in meetings, and express their feelings and opinions both in speech and in writing.


There are two new tasks in the reading section of the exam. The first one is a gapped text exercise, testing the candidate’s ability to understand the way that texts are organized. The second new task is an open cloze task, where they need to add words to complete the text, checking if they understand how different words and phrases relate to each other.


There are also two changes to the Writing paper. First, a new task has been added – writing an email and conveying specific information. This part 1 task is now longer than the previous exam and candidates have to produce 100 words. The second task has also been changed. As they are writing an email in Part 1, they have to choose between a story or an article in Part 2. 


Like in the A2 exam, a new multiple-choice task has been added to test listening for gist, opinions and agreement. Here candidates need to listen to six short recordings and answer a multiple-choice question about each one. 


This section of the exam has been changed slightly and is now more similar to the B2 First speaking paper. The collaborative task and the individual long turn and have been swapped around. In addition, in Part 4 candidates now have to discuss a series of questions linked to the topic in part 3 (as opposed to discussing a topic link to the long turn photographs). 

Download our handy guide and discover all the changes to the B1 Preliminary and B1 Preliminary for Schools exams. You could display it in your classroom or give it to your students. 

Download now!

Preparing for the new, updated exams 

Exam Changes 2020 Gold and Gold Experience

We’ve updated our preparation materials to reflect the new changes. This way there won’t be any surprises for your students when you’re sitting in the examination room!

Gold Experience 2nd Edition 

Gold Experience 2nd Edition provides engaging content that equips students to succeed in their exams and in their futures. While it covers all levels, from A1 to C1, updates have been made to the A2 Key for Schools and B1 Preliminary for Schools versions. Full of diverse material and relevant topics, it pushes students to develop their critical thinking skills and approach language learning with creativity. The new editions have been redesigned, with updated content and some brand new digital practice tools. 

Download a sample

Gold New Edition

This classic preparation course has been updated to reflect the new challenges in the B1 Preliminary exam. It offers students a robust, thorough preparation, with detailed grammar explanations and exercises, plenty of authentic materials and an extensive reference section.

Download a sample 

Practice Tests Plus

These preparation materials offer so much more than just practice exams. There is detailed information about what to expect in each section of the exam, and a clear explanation of what is being tested in each part, so students know exactly which techniques to hone in preparation. There are model answers, a grammar bank and videos of the speaking test so candidates know exactly what to expect when it comes to their turn. It even comes with an app so students can prepare on their commute or on their way to school.

New editions available for A2 Key and B1 Preliminary.

Find out more

Do you have any top tips when it comes to exam preparation? What has worked for your students in the past? Let us know in the comments! 

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