Rose Nassif Travers

Say goodbye to BEC Exams

In early December 2021, an announcement was made by Cambridge English Assessment that rocked the English teaching world in Switzerland. The well-known standardized Business English tests:  B1 Business Preliminary, B2 Business Vantage and C1 Business Higher will be eliminated as of June 2024.  It was an unexpected surprise for many. Others foresaw it as a change long time coming.

Why are BEC Exams being cancelled?

Exams, if they are to stay relevant, need updating to reflect the communication style and forms.  Although BEC Exams have been highly sought after in Switzerland, they have been popular in only a few countries. So, instead of updating BEC, it was decided instead to phase them out.  

According to Cambridge English Languages GmbH based in St Gallen,  “…(they) have seen a significant decrease in the number of candidates taking BEC globally over the past five years. Some of this is the result of demographic factors but (they) must also recognize that requirements for assessment products are changing, with a greater need for assessments that can be taken on-demand and remotely”.

Should I take the IELTS instead of a BEC Exam?

A popular high stake test beginning to replace BEC Exams is called IELTS. It is a multi-level test which has been authorized by English-speaking country immigration officials from England, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as a mandatory part of their immigration process. The IELTS test complies with strict security requirements to ensure test takers can not cheat.  This makes IELTS a highly coveted certificate. 

Not only have such government authorities adopted IELTS as their go-to language proficiency check but, so too have other institutions. Swiss universities, colleges and companies are amongst the thousands of tertiary institutions and international companies around the world that recognize IELTS results as legitimate validation of English language proficiency.

Read more about IELTS

Are there any other tests comparable to the BEC suite?

There are a variety of professional standardized English language certifications recognized around the world.  Most of them are not necessarily business oriented, however.  These non-business related certificates include the well-known Cambridge General English examinations: B1 Preliminary, B2 First, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency.

For American testing options for college bound or work bound individuals in the United States, there are the multi-level TOEFL and TOEIC tests.  TOEIC is the business English alternative.  Both test results are highly recognized throughout the USA and has been well established for many decades as the test required as a key part of university application processes not only in the USA but around the world.

Last but not least, there is also a quick online computer test that can be used to measure your level quickly and serve to measure progress – a computer-based test called LinguaSkill.  However, this certificate is not recognized for university or immigration purposes. It could be, however, an alternative for companies needing to verify the language level of applicants and/or current employees. 

What will be required within Swiss Business Commercial Schools?

Further Educational Schools such as “KV” schools already developed their own internal business English tests a few years ago. These tests are offered as an option to students who wanted to avoid the cost and pressure of taking an international test. The KV internal English tests have instructions written in German and culturally designed for the Swiss market. Those for KV Profile B and E students are set at a B1 level and have been designed more simply than the B1 Preliminary.

I soon will learn how KV schools will go forward and will be sure to update this blog once this information has been received. However, I can imagine that these KV internal English language tests may continue to be used after the B1 Business Preliminary exam has been phased out in 2024.  

Here are links to download sample tests and answer keys for:

Internal KV English language tests: B, E and BM/BM2 Profiles.

Can I still prepare for the BEC Exams through The Boston School?

Yes. The Boston School will continue to offer preparation courses on a one-to-one basis for Cambridge BEC Exams as well as Academic and General IELTS tests to those interested in receiving an internationally renowned language certification.   Group classes with a minimum of 2 students per course can also be arranged.  Please visit our group course page for scheduling and pricing details. 

Still not sure which language qualification is most suitable for you?  We welcome your call so that we can listen to your needs and offer specific advice to you.  Whether it is for yourself, a family member or your staff.  


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Eurovision 2021 – did you notice what happened?

Did any of you watch Eurovision last Saturday? It was unique.

Not only because it was the first European entertainment event held in front of a live (negative tested) audience of 3,500 held during the pandemic.  But also, I would say because it was difficult to choose the winner. There were so many well-written songs and talented singers who performed incredibly professionally. There were several countries I found who rightfully deserved to win.

Is that a good or a bad thing?  And why would I even ask such a question?

First, of course, it is a good thing.   I am guessing the reason the standard was so high this year is the accumulative effect of the many TV talent shows and song contests like “Got Talent” and “The Voice” which have been syndicated around Europe (not to mention the world) and have become ubiquitous. Each country has their own version.  Hundreds of people are pushing themselves now to win these highly competitive contests from all over Europe.  The Swiss entry, Gjon’s Tears, had competed in 3 of them starting at 11 years of age. And don’t get me wrong – he was my favorite!

Yet, why do I feel somehow disappointed when watching Eurovision?

One of the main reasons is that I find it a shame that so many entries sing in English now. Did you realize 1998 was the last time that all countries sang in their national language?

Also, because I miss seeing quirky, funny acts that take you by surprise.  It boils down to “Vanilla-ism”.  And – no, that’s not a real term.  “Vanilla-ism” for me is what Hollywood has done over the years, creating movies that sell by following a formula rather than taking a chance on something new.  “Vanilla-ism” lacks vulnerability, I guess. 

Less vanilla – more spice

And yet, I believe my sentiment was echoed by the way people voted.  And the way the jury voted, too. In lockdown, especially, I feel we crave for something different.  Something not so “vanilla”.  Uniqueness and vulnerability somehow feed our souls. So, with all the acts that sang so professionally, the best way to stand out was to sing in your own language.  And those were the ones who caught our attention.  Those are who everyone voted for most.

So, I see hope. These performers could have probably sung in English but instead chose to proudly take the risk of singing in their own language. It showed, quite frankly, singers who bet on the right horse and won.

A new development

There is yet another reason why the 2021 Eurovision signals a turning point. And that is, it was the first time that neighboring countries did not vote automatically for neighboring countries. 

Politics, perhaps, still had an influence, Russia for maybe the first time didn’t get so many votes.  And the Brexit factor to vote against UK continued.  However, I truly believe the Eastern Block vs. Western Block voting divide seemed to disappear. The votes seemed to be cast based on merit rather than sticking to expected, polite political norms. And that can only be a good thing.

P.S I do tip my hat to Gjon’s Tears for being vulnerable and true to himself.  For those who have not seen his music video for “Tout l’Univers”, I do invite you to watch this moving clip:             

And to take a look back in time, I invite you to watch the following Eurovision final recaps of:




And this year’s:


Cryptocurrency back in the news

Author Philip Inman wrote an online article for “The Guardian” in February 2021 soon after Elon Musk invested nearly $1.5 billion in bitcoin.  Here is a link to this article entitled: 

“Bitcoin surges through key $50,000 level in European trading”.

What do you think of bitcoin?  Is it just another Ponzzi scheme?  Will it only be a matter of time that the system will crash?  Or is it something that will become more secure over time?

We used this topic as the focus of one of our Hangout in English sessions and created a Vocabulary Quiz based on words found in the article related to the stock market.  Maybe you may find this also useful?   Or if you wish to read more about 

We hope you may consider discussing such a topic and others with us at an upcoming Hangout hosted by The Boston School soon! 

 And if you’d like to get the answers to the Vocabulary Quiz, click here:

Stock Market Vocabulary Answer Key:


B1 B2 C1 Progress

What are the differences between B1, B2 and C1?

What are the differences between B1, B2 and C1?

You’re an intermediate learner.  What now?

It is clear that to move from one language level to the next, learners need to expand their vocabulary. They also need to be able to apply increasingly difficult grammar rules correctly to progress from one level to the next. 

But what are these specific differences?  How can we know when we have finally progressed to the next level without taking an official exam? 

There are two main ways in which I would like to address this issue.

First, by showing specific examples of different vocabulary and grammar levels. 

And secondlythrough giving examples of communication skills learners can achieve through their ongoing process of gaining knowledge of the language. 

 Firstly, let’s look at the smallest elements to every language: vocabulary and grammar and see how these relate to the 4 skills: the “passive or comprehension skills” of reading and listening and the “active skills” of speaking and writing where learners apply their knowledge to express themselves. 

 VOCABULARY: Which words are B1, B2 or C1? 

For vocabulary level, there is a convenient online tool that uses AI to quickly assess the vocabulary level of each word of a text.   Let me show it to you here: (

It’s called English Profile Text Inspector, developed by the University of Cambridge, Cambridge University Press and Cambridge English Language Assessment.  

 We’ll analyse the text found in the first 2 paragraphs of “Crisis Communication Tips for Customer Service Teams” written by Matthew Patterson and referenced in a previous blog on The Boston School website, demonstrating the power of this AI tool. 

English Profile Inspector : Sample Input 

English Profile Inspector Screenshot

Overview of Word Analysis by CEFR level 

Text Inspector CEFR Analysis

Here, you can see the categorizing of each word by level: 

Text Inspector Analysis per Word


Based on this instant analysis of vocabulary level of each word, we can see that it should be relatively easy for a reader with a B2 vocabulary should be able to understand this text without much effort but could be a slight challenge for a B1 level learner.  And a great challenge for an A2 level learner.

 So we can say that vocabulary level of knowledge is an important factor in determining a learner’s reading comprehension level.   

 But at what level would the learner need to be to be able to write such a text as this?  

If you answered C1 or above.  I agree with you!  One’s writing level is not just about comprehension but being able to apply what has been learned to one’s own communication needs.  This requires critical thinking and not just memorization techniques.   

And what about grammar?


 GRAMMAR: Which points are B1, B2 or C1? 

There are many grammar points that students need to learn to progress from one level to the next. However, I would like to focus on 3 key grammar topics that seem to stand out amongst them all as progress indicators: 

  • Verb tenses and voices 
  • Conjunctions and connectors  
  • Sentence structure complexity 

What learners need to be aware of is that being able to use more complex forms when writing and speaker requires a much higher level than when talking about reading or listening comprehension skills. 

Just as a child needs to understand words before they begin to speak, so does anyone learning a new language.  One must follow the natural process: 

The Natural Law of Learning – 3 Steps

1: Comprehend:  understanding when listening or reading 

2: Learn:  studying and exposing oneself to the language in context repetitively so that learners turn understanding from short-term to long-term memory 

3: Know:  when you apply knowledge actively through speaking and writing, only then can the outside world know we understand and can use our knowledge properly 

Therefore, it is very common that someone with a B2 level knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, can speak and/or write at a B1 level only.  if they have not had the chance to use words and grammar points to express themselves, then their comprehension skills may never turn into proven active knowledge