CEFR Language Exam Resource Centre

PART 3: SPEAKING Trinity vs Cambridge

ISE Trinity vs Cambridge Exams - is Trinity easier than cambridge is cambridge more difficult than Trinity Speaking-02To determine which speaking exam is more difficult, the following criteria have been analysed:

  • Requisite Grammar
  • Subject areas & associated vocabulary
  • Exam Format
  • Markin


Cambridge provides a list of grammar for PET (B1) in the handbook, while Trinity provides suggested grammar for ISE I (B1) and ISE II (B2).

Although the term suggested implies that Trinity’s lists are not exhaustive, we can still determine which set of exams are the most grammatically demanding by comparing what Trinity considers to be B1 & B2 level with what Cambridge considers to be B1.

The Results

VIEW: Comparison of Trinity vs Cambridge grammar functions

The unhighlighted areas represent the grammar points which are not covered by the other exam.

We can instantly see that the range of grammar required for Cambridge PET is a lot wider than for Trinity ISE I or ISE II. Moreover, we can also see that nearly all of the suggested grammar functions for ISE II, what Trinity considers to be B2, is on the Cambridge PET list.

The only grammar points on the ISE II (B2) list that are not covered in Cambridge PET (B1) are

  • Third conditional
  • Present perfect continuous

“you’d better”, “due to” and “even though/ in spite of” are not directly specified in the Cambridge PET handbook.
In other words, most of what Trinity considers to be evidence of B2 language, Cambridge considers to B1 language.

B1: ISE I vs PET

Trinity ISE I is grammatically less demanding than Cambridge PET.


Trinity ISE II is grammatically ess demanding than Cambridge FCE.


Seeing as neither Trinity nor Cambridge specify what constitutes C1 grammar, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that Trinity ISE III is grammatically easier than Cambridge CAE.


As with the grammar, Cambridge only provides a list of subject area vocabulary for PET (B1), while Trinity provides subject areas for ISE I (B1), ISE II (B2), ISE III (C1)

  ISEI – page. 11 of the Teachers Guide ISEII – page. 11 of the Teacher’s Guide PET – page. 6 of the Handbook
1 Travel Society and living standards Clothes
2 Money Personal values and ideals Daily life
3 Fashion The world of work Entertainment and media
4 Rules and regulations Natural environmental concerns Environment
5 Health and fitness Public figures past and present Education
6 Learning a foreign language Education Food and drink
7 Festivals National customs Free time
8 Means of transport Village and city life Health, medicine and exercise
9 Special occasions National and local produce and products Hobbies and leisure
10 Entertainment Early memories House and home
11 Music Pollution and recycling Language
12 Recent personal experiences People
13 Personal feelings, experiences and opinions
14 Personal identification
15 Places and buildings
16 Relations with other people
17 Services
18 Shopping
19 Social interaction Sport
20 The natural world
21 Transport
22 Travel and holidays
23 Weather

Cambridge candidates are required to know a wider range of vocabulary than Trinity. This finding is also relevant to the reading & writing exams because the Trinity students know that they can only be tested on texts from the specific subject areas listed above.


1-on-1  vs  2-on-1

There’s no objective conclusion that can be made with respect to the format of the speaking exams. I would merely like to comment that, from my experience as a teacher, director of studies and examiner, Trinity candidates are more anxious about their oral exam than Cambridge students, both before and during the exam.

This could be due to the fact that the Cambridge speaking exam is done with another student whereas the Trinity speaking exams are conducted one-on-one with the examiner. It could be argued that communicating with a native speaking examiner is more difficult than with peer who speaks the same L1.


It is also likely that a Cambridge student will have practised the various parts of the speaking exam on more occasions than a Trinity student. This is purely down to logistics in a classroom environment. In a class of 8 students, pairs can practise a Cambridge speaking exam comfortably without a teacher, whereas for Trinity, the input of a teacher is more necessary.

The prompt stage

For B2 and C1, the prompt stage of the exam is probably the most difficult of any of the parts of either Cambridge or Trinity. The students are expected to elicit information and produce specific language functions based on the nature of the prompt, for a duration of 4 minutes. This is especially difficult to practise in a classroom environment, in pairs, without a teacher, because it is very difficult for a student, acting as the examiner, to imagine a “back-story” required to for the prompt.

For example, a prompt could be:

” I received a really strange phone call yesterday. I was told something that I think might
change my life!” (taken from the Trinity Handbook)

If the students are working in pairs, the student acting as the examiner needs to create a backstory in order to answer their partner’s questions. The quivilent collaborative in the Cambridge exams requires no preparation adn is therefore easier to practise.


In terms of format, Cambridge speaking exams are easier than ISE Trinity. Students are under less pressure, the parts of the exam are easier and it’s easier to practise due to the 2-1 format.


Although the Cambridge and Trinity marking scales are different, there are enough similarities for them to be compared.

Cambridge marking for the speaking exam

The Cambridge B1 & B2 criteria are divided into four parts:

  • Grammar and Vocabulary
  • Discourse management
  • Pronunciation
  • Interactive Communication.

The Cambridge C1 is divided into five parts

  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary
  • Discourse management
  • Pronunciation
  • Interactive Communication.

Each area is marked out from 0 to 5 and roughly* a total of 14/20 is required to pass B1 (about 70%), and roughly* 12/20 (60%) for B2 and roughly* 15/25 (60%) for C1.

Trinity marking for the speaking exam

The Trinity criteria are divided into four parts:

  • Communicative effectiveness
  • Interactive listening
  • Language Control
  • Delivery

Each area is marked from 0 to 4 and roughly* a total of 8/16 (50%) is required to pass.

If we compare the minimum requirements for a pass grade for each criterion, we can determine which exam is more stringent.


The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE I and 3.5 for Cambridge PET.
Cambridge PET vs Trinity ISE I Speaking scale - marking the oral exams - is ISE trinity easier than cambridge - ISE Trinity vs cambridge

The B1 scales are the most similar. The only disenable difference is with respect to support. To pass Cambridge PET, a candidate needs to Keep the interaction going with very little prompting and support, whereas for Trinity ISE I, it is possible to Fulfil the task acceptably with support.

Videos of candidates from each exam who perform close to the minimum requirements can be seen here:

VERDICT: In terms of the marking scales, Trinity ISE I is slightly easier than Cambridge PET


The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE II and 3 for Cambridge FCE.

Cambridge fce VS ISE ii TRINITY B2 speaking scale ORAL EXAMS

Looking at the scale, there are three main differences that stand out:

To pass a Cambridge FCE exam, “Contributions are relevant” whereas for Trinity ISE IIcontributions are not always appropriate and/or somewhat dependent on the examiner.

To pass a Cambridge FCE exam, you need to do so with “with very little support”, whereas for Trinity ISE II the candidate can “Fulfill the task acceptably with support

Finally, for Cambridge FCE, the B2 pass candidate simply “is intelligible”, whereas for Trinity ISE II: “Intelligible despite some use of non-standard phonemes”; and in delivery: “Requires some careful listening”. There are no such allowances in the Cambridge scale.

VERDICT: Although similar, the language used in the Trinity scale suggests that the ISE II exam is more lenient than the Cambridge FCE exam in terms of the degree of relevance, support and intelligibility.

Videos of candidates from each exam who perform close to the minimum requirements can be seen here:


The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE II and 3 for Cambridge FCE.

Cambridge CAE VS ISE iIi TRINITY C1 speaking scale ORAL EXAMS
There are no obvious differences between the two exams. You could argue that Cambridge CAE places a greater emphasis on organisation of language, in terms of “a clear organisation of ideas” and a “range of cohesive devices and discourse markers”. 

On the other hand, Trinity ISE III the candidates are expected to “solve communication problems naturally” and “indicate understanding of what the examiner has said”, whereas Cambridge CAE students are not.

I wouldn’t have thought either of these requisites would have a significant impact on the difficulty of the exam.

VERDICT: The marking scales of the speaking exams seem to be of the same level of difficulty for C1 Trinity and Cambridge

Here are some official videos of speaking exams for candidates who have either just passed or just failed:

  • Cambridge CAE: Raphael:
  • Trinity ISE III: Karena (7/16 – fail)
  • Trinity ISE III: Sara (10/16 – pass)

Final Speaking Exam Verdict


The Trinity marking scale allows the candidate more support and the language and grammar requirements are easier and less expansive for Trinity. The format for Trinity, however, is more difficult to practise without a private teacher and it’s more stressful for the candidate.


The Trinity marking scale is less stringent in terms of the degree of relevance and intelligibility, and the candidate is allowed more support. The Trinity vocabulary is less expansive than Cambridge, and the grammar requirements are easier and less expansive. However, the format for Trinity is more difficult to practise without a private teacher and it is more stressful for the candidate.

C1: ISE III vs Cambridge CAE

The marking scale is the same. It isn’t easy to determine the relative difficulty of the grammar because neither Cambridge or Trinity specify grammar requirements. Seeing as Trinity specify vocabulary subject areas, it could be argued that Trinity ISE III is easier because a Cambridge CAE candidate doesn’t have the luxury of studying specific vocabulary areas. However, the format for Trinity is more difficult to practise without a private teacher and it is more stressful for the candidate.



For ISE Trinity training resources: https://fingertipsenglish.com/trinity/
For Cambridge training resources: https://cefrexambot.com