Distinguishing between CEFR levels: guidelines

We know that the concorso ordinario is apparently focusing overwhelmingly on CEFR levels, asking candidates to match descriptors with CEFR levels and sub-levels.

Therefore, we have prepared these last minute guidelines that may be useful to broadly distinguish between CEFR levels. It is based on Appendix 1 (p. 163) of the CEFR 2018 document.

–> The CEFR is covered in Unit 6 of our course Designing Activities and Lessons and in Unit 6 of our database Multiple Choice Quizzes: Methodology, Grammar and Linguistics.

We have also added a new quiz on matching descriptors and levels to:

  • our Multiple Choice Quizzes on Methodology, Grammar and Linguistics (Unit 6)
  • our course Language Teaching Methodology (Revision unit)
  • our course Designing Activities and Lessons (Revision unit)


  • the learner has not yet acquired a generative capacity, but relies upon a repertoire of words and formulaic expressions
  • can make simple purchases where pointing or other gesture can support the verbal reference (e.g. Can understand short, very simple questions and statements provided that they are delivered slowly and clearly and accompanied by visuals or manual gestures to support understanding and repeated if necessary)
  • can ask and tell day, time of day and date
  • references to user’s age, name, address are made explicitly in the descriptors
  • Note: pre-A1 level descriptors are not always available in all scales

Level A1 (Breakthrough)

  • learners can interact in simple ways
  • they can produce and understand language related to themselves (e.g. their lives, their contexts)
  • key point: learners must be familiar with the topics
  • keyword: simple

Level A2 (Waystage)

  • majority of descriptors stating social functions are found at this level (e.g. greeting)
  • descriptors on making short transactions (e.g get information on travel, ask and give directions)
  • keyword: everyday (e.g. everyday needs)

Level A2+ (Strong Waystage)

  • level characterised by more active participation in conversation given some assistance and certain
  • higher ability to sustain monologues

Level B1 (Threshold)

  • Two key features:
  1. ability to maintain interaction and get across what you want to, in a range of contexts (e.g. generally follow the main points of extended discussion around him/her, provided speech is clearly articulated in standard dialect)
  2. ability to cope flexibly with problems in everyday life, for example cope with less routine situations on public transport

Level B1+ (Strong Threshold)

  • same features as B1 plus descriptors which focus on the exchange of quantities of information (e.g. take messages communicating enquiries, explaining problems; provide concrete information required in an interview/consultation)

Level B2 (Vantage)

  • focus on effective argument (e.g. account for and sustain opinions)
  • ability to more than hold your own in social discourse (e.g. converse naturally, fluently and effectively)
  • new degree of language awareness (e.g. correct mistakes if they have led to misunderstandings; make a note of ‘favourite mistakes’ and consciously monitor speech for it/them)

Level B2+ (Strong Vantage)

  • same features as B2 plus new focus on discourse skills, particularly in terms of conversational management (co-operating strategies). Examples: give feedback on and follow up statements and inferences by other speakers and so help the development of the discussion
  • focus on negotiating (e.g. using persuasive language)

Level C1 (Effective Operational Proficiency)

  • access to a broad range of language, which allows fluent, spontaneous communication, e.g. “Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously, almost effortlessly”
  • emphasis on even more fluency than B2

Level C2 (Mastery)

  • high degree of precision, accuracy and ease (e.g. convey finer shades of meaning precisely)
  • keywords: smoothly, without needing to stop, without interrupting the flow, effortlessly, naturally
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