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Cambridge University releases century-old English test question

Cambridge University has released part of an English test that was first sat in 1913. This was to mark the 110th anniversary of its first Cambridge English exams.

The test, which cost £3 at the time, was taken by only three students. It included translation, dictation, and phonetic transcription. It took 12 hours to complete.

These first exams were taken by people who wanted to become English language teachers. Today, the C2 Proficiency exam is intended for students who want to prove their high level of English proficiency before entering higher education in the UK.

The exam has changed notably since it was first introduced. The current exam takes around four hours and costs around £172.

Francesca Woodward, managing director for English at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, said

“The historical papers from our archives paint a fascinating picture of how much has changed when it comes to learning English with Cambridge. The original papers were a revolution in English language assessment, setting clear goals and emphasising the ability to use the language.”

The changes to the exam reflect the changing needs of learners. In 1913, there was a greater need for English language teachers. English was becoming the lingua franca of the world. Today, there is a greater need for students with high levels of English proficiency. English is becoming ever-more important in the global economy.

The C2 Proficiency exam is still one of the most respected English language proficiency exams in the world. It is used by universities, employers, and other organisations.

Cambridge University 100 year old question

One of the questions from the test has been released. It asks students to identify a split infinitive and use the correct tense. The answer is:

I hope you are determined to seriously improve.

The split infinitive is “seriously improve.” The correct tense is “are determined.”

The question was designed to test students’ skills in using correct grammar and recognizing grammatical errors. It is interesting to note that the question is still relevant today, even though opinions about what is “correct” English have changed over the years.

The Cambridge English exams are now taken by 6.1 million people every year. The original Certificate of Proficiency in English is now known as the C2 Proficiency exam and is the highest-level Cambridge English qualification.

The university is asking people to try their hand at answering the question from the 1913 test. They say that the question is a “fascinating snapshot of how much has changed when it comes to learning English with Cambridge.”

Answers to the question:

  • The split infinitive is “seriously improve.” The correct way to write this sentence would be “I hope you are determined to improve seriously.”
  • The correct tense is “are determined.” The past tense “were determined” would not be correct because the sentence is talking about the present.


It is important to note that opinions about what is “correct” English have changed a lot over the last 110 years. For example, the use of split infinitives is now more widely accepted than it was in 1913. Therefore, the answer to the question may not be considered “correct” by some people today.