I’m often asked what the difference is between the different levels in English, for example B1 & B2. So here’s my opinion.
A2 is very, very basic. You are expected to be able to understand very simple instructions and information when reading or listening.
Writing is also easy with a limited expectation of vocabulary and the most basic of grammar, for example present and past simple, continuous, and future simple.
Speaking is judged on your ability to answer questions from an information sheet, have the most basic of interaction, as well as being able to pronounce the alphabet.
Students who take B1 and are given A2 really must have performed badly in the exam to score so very low.
In my opinion B1 is quite a low level and adds maybe 30% to what you learn in A2.
Unlike A2 in B1 you are expected to be able to understand basic spoken and written information and also context. This means a larger vocabulary and better skills with listening and reading. Vocabulary is mainly basic word forms, a handful of phrasal verbs and mainly Celtic based words, for example put, take, give etc. These are extremely important for the 5 parts of Reading (synonyms, modals etc.) and the 3 parts of writing, particularly the sentence transformations in part 1.
The grammar is also a little more complex with reported speech, zero, first and second conditionals, passives, comparatives etc, and again these are mainly tested in the 3 parts of writing.
Writing is still quite simple with informal emails and short stories, but speaking is very different. You need to be able to describe, exchange opinions, hypothesise and interact conversationally. We have an in-depth post about the speaking part.
FCE – B2
Overall B2 is not very different to B1 but the level of required understanding is much higher. It adds about 25% more to what you learn in B1.
Grammar is very similar but you are expected to know the subtle differences in meaning between verb forms, verb and noun patterns, dependent prepositions, collocations etc. You need greater vocabulary and knowledge of phrasal verbs, set expressions, idioms etc. In B2 you have more abstract word forms and particularly Latin based words (though these are the same in Spanish, in 90% of cases).
Listening is quite different, questions are more subtle and people speak much quicker and with different accents. Again, we have a post dedicated to Listening (B1, B2, C1).
The biggest difference is writing – you are expected to be able to write informally, semi formally and formally for letters, articles, reviews, reports etc. This requires extensive use of complex grammatical structures, for example perfect tenses, participle clauses etc.
Use of English is a separate unit in the exam and is very difficult as it requires a good knowledge of word forms, dependent prepositions, collocations, etc.
There are some badly educated English people who would struggle to produce a good example of writing, Use of English or speaking at this level.
CAE – C1
Advanced is the hardest level in my opinion. It adds 70% more to what you are taught in all lower levels. You cannot study and pass this level quickly.
Complex grammar and thousands of new words/idioms etc make this level very dense.
Listening is very very difficult with natural speech, very subtle tricks and at fast speeds.
Speaking is similar to B2 but themes are more abstract and you are expected to be able to hypothesise about abstract concepts and themes..
Writing and use of English are similar to B2 but at a much higher level. Complex grammatical structures are expected, especially in semi/formal writing such as reports, articles etc. These include inversions, 3rd conditional structures and many fixed phrases and idioms,
Reading is very difficult with a required level of vocabulary that cannot be compared to other lower levels. Reading can be narrative, academic, scientific, or business orientated.
Proficiency – C2
C2 really only adds a layer of vocabulary onto C1. It is very language heavy with very little grammar because 99% if it is covered in C1.
It is the icing on the cake for those who have C1 but as a native speaker I personally don’t think it deserves its reputation for fluency – it means you are proficient or very very good in a language but not to the same extent as a born native. Language is not only a collection of structures and words, it is cultural and in the blood.