CIPLE A2 Portuguese: An Insider’s Guide to Exam Day (Plus Study Tips)

On June 22, 2024, I took my CIPLE A2 Portuguese exam at the Faculdade das Letras, part of the University of Lisbon.

This is a detailed account of my personal experience of the exam, from preparation to completion.

To apply for citizenship in Portugal, you must pass the Portuguese language proficiency test before submitting your application.

My goal is to demystify the CIPLE process and give you more confidence, plus share a few handy resources and tips that helped me prepare for it.

What is the CIPLE exam?

The CIPLE exam is a Portuguese language proficiency test, required to apply for Portuguese citizenship. CIPLE stands for “Certificado Inicial de Português Língua Estrangeira”.

The CIPLE is officiated by the CAPLE (Centro de Avaliação e Certificação de Português Língua Estrangeira).

You can take it in different language testing centers across the world (but most slots throughout the year are available at locations within Portugal).

The exam is designed to ensure that new citizens can make themselves understood in Portuguese. The required level is A2 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

On the CEFR, A1 level is beginner and C2 is native fluency. Hence, A2 is a relatively modest level of Portuguese.

That said, do not underestimate the CIPLE exam. You’ll likely need to spend significant time preparing for it (even if you’ve been living in Portugal for a while).

My personal CIPLE experience (June 2024)

The preparation process began well before exam day. The faculty had already sent several emails beforehand, all in Portuguese, with instructions on what to bring and where to go.

What to bring

  • Your ID (passport or residency card)
  • Black or blue pen 
  • Pencil
  • Eraser 
  • A signed data permission sheet (that, annoyingly, has to be printed out)

I brought a bottle of water and snacks from home (but there’s also a shop downstairs selling coffee, snacks and other drinks).

The original email from the faculty warned that the exam may run until 6:30pm. So I also brought my Kindle and my mobile phone charger (but luckily, I didn’t have to stay that long).

On the day

The arrival time was set for 8:30 am for a 9am start, so I made sure to arrive a few minutes before, to avoid any last-minute stress.

Entering the faculty building, I was relieved to see clear signs indicating which room to go to for the exam. The signs used different colors to guide candidates to their respective exam rooms, which prevented any confusion or getting lost.

Inside, the atmosphere was a mix of nervous energy and anticipation. The hallways were filled with candidates from many different countries, each preparing in their own way for the challenge ahead.

I chose to spend a few minutes stretching my legs, walking up and down the hallways, and mentally preparing myself for what was to come.

Just before 9am, examiners appeared at each door, beckoning us into our assigned rooms. I found myself in a room with about 12 other candidates – a comfortable number that didn’t feel overcrowded.

Part 1: Reading comprehension and written expression (1 hour 30 mins)

Shortly after 9am, we began the first part of the CIPLE exam: a combination of reading comprehension and written expression. This section makes up the largest part of the CIPLE exam, taking one hour and 30 minutes to complete.

Two examiners shared the invigilation duties, speaking entirely in Portuguese. At times, this was tricky to understand, but I managed to follow the general gist of what they were saying.

One examiner, a man wearing a “Big Trouble in Little China” T-shirt, explained the rules of the exam. He emphasized that we should use a pencil to fill in the answer sheet for the reading comprehension part, and a pen (in black or blue ink) for the written expression part.

We also had to place our ID in clear view on the table in front of us, and double-check that our candidate number matched the one printed on our exam sheet.

The reading comprehension exam consisted of 20 questions. The first 10 were short passages, including answerphone messages.

We had to choose the option that best matched each message from three choices: A, B, or C. I found it helpful to mark my choice on the question sheet first, then transfer my answer to the official answer sheet once I was certain.

Next, we had to read two longer texts and answer questions about them. The first text was about a family relocating to Germany for work. It discussed various aspects of their integration experience.

The second text was about the longest highway in Portugal, covering topics like different landscapes, the road’s length, and whether it was the longest in the world.

For the writing task, we had to produce two texts. The first needed to be between 25 and 35 words, and the second between 60 and 80 words.

You should leave enough time to count each word and provide a word count, making sure not to exceed the limit or go under it. The examiner provided a rough sheet of paper for preparing our written texts before transferring them to the final answer sheet.

My first task was to respond to a message from friends about dinner on Sunday. For the second, I had to write about a time when I changed my life and a person I met along the way. This required providing a physical description of the person, discussing their psychological characteristics, and explaining why I liked them.

I finished this exam with 15 minutes to spare, even after checking through everything a second time. I felt reasonably confident about this part, likely because I’ve been practicing writing and reading quite extensively.

After exactly one hour and 30 minutes, the invigilators stopped the exam and collected our papers. We then took a break of around 15 minutes before returning to the same room for the oral comprehension part.

Part 2: Oral comprehension (30 mins)

Everyone says the oral comprehension part is the most challenging aspect of CIPLE. And they’re right, it is.

Despite months of preparation – listening to Portuguese podcasts and TV news, talking with my online tutor several times a week, and having real life conversations as much as possible – I still felt underprepared for this part of the exam.

The oral comprehension section lasted for 30 minutes, with the questions becoming progressively more difficult.

The challenge was compounded by background noise on the audio and the occasional loud sound of a plane flying over the exam room (it’s on the flight path for Lisbon airport).

For each question, we were given 30 seconds to read through the three different answers in the multiple choice. Then, the examiners played the audio twice for each question.

I found that 30 seconds was not enough to properly grasp some of the potential answers. I felt really under pressure and nervous throughout this entire exam. My brain didn’t want to cooperate and kept going into panic mode.

The listening tasks got progressively more challenging. One part that stood out for its difficulty was an interview with the owner of a bakery. He spoke extremely fast and at length, with lots of background noise. It was almost impossible to comprehend.

The final task involved matching around 10 different sentences to what was being said on the audio. At this point, I was struggling significantly and ended up guessing answers at random. I wouldn’t be surprised if I scored extremely low on this part of the exam.

After the listening part was over, I looked around the room to see many unhappy and shocked faces. During the break afterwards, everyone I spoke to said they’d found the listening part extremely challenging, even those who seemed otherwise competent in the language.

In my opinion, the listening comprehension part is far beyond A2 level and represents an unfair challenge for candidates at this early stage of proficiency.

Before leaving the room after the listening part, the examiners gave us each a slip of paper with the timing for the final part: the speaking exam. Mine was scheduled for 1.30 pm.

That gave me around two hours to take a proper break, get some lunch and sunshine, and hopefully track down my conversation partner for the afternoon’s task.

This break was much needed after the intensity of the listening exam. It gave me time to relax, refuel, and prepare myself mentally for the final hurdle of the day.

Lunch break and preparation for speaking

With about two hours to spare before my speaking exam, I decided to grab some lunch and hopefully find my conversation partner for the afternoon’s task.

I went for lunch with two South African candidates who had sat next to me in the previous tasks. It was reassuring to hear that they also found the listening comprehension extremely tough. We ate sandwiches at a nearby snack bar type restaurant.

Annoyingly, the waitress kept responding in English when I spoke to her in Portuguese. This sort of thing happens often, and often discourages learners from making an effort to become more fluent.

In fact, I found it a significant barrier to making progress in the early stages of my learning journey. But luckily, I’m becoming more resilient to this and am less shy about continuing to use Portuguese (even when people reply in English).

At around 1 pm, we returned to the area outside the exam room. I did a bit of light conversation practice with one of the South Africans. We practiced introducing ourselves and talking about what we like to do.

At this point, some people had already finished their speaking exam and were saying that it wasn’t too bad, which helped ease my nerves a little.

I identified my exam partner, Liam (he was the person scheduled for the same slot in the same room as before). We had a brief chat before heading into the exam room.

I recommend doing the same if you can, because it gives you an extra confidence boost when you’re interacting with somebody you already know during the exam.

Part 3: Speaking (15 mins)

Just after the scheduled time, a new examiner – a fairly young woman with a friendly and smiling demeanour – came to the door of the exam room and called us in by name. Her pleasant manner immediately made me feel more at ease.

Liam and I were seated next to each other directly in front of the examiner, facing her, interview-style. This setup was a bit disconcerting at first, but the examiner’s friendly attitude helped us feel comfortable.

I noticed a camera and recording device in front of us, reminding me that the speaking part would be recorded (they had sent a data protection form by email, which we’d had to print out, sign and bring with us).

The examiner started by welcoming each of us and asking some simple introductory questions, such as how old we are, where we live, and what our hobbies are.

Then, she gave us the first task: describing a picture. Liam went first and had to talk for two minutes about a picture of a family of four people having dinner in a restaurant. Then it was my turn.

My picture was more challenging – a large and fancy kitchen interior, empty, with no people inside. Fortunately, I’d already spent time with my tutor preparing for exactly this kind of picture description.

I focused on describing the different items in the kitchen and where they were located in relation to each other. I felt that it went okay. I had sufficient vocabulary to describe almost everything (except the candles), and I spoke for the full two minutes.

The second task involved Liam and I working together to have a conversation. We were given another picture showing people in five different professions: police, firefighter, teacher, taxi driver, and nurse or doctor.

We had to talk about each profession, explain why we did or didn’t like it, and explain which one out of the five we’d prefer to do ourselves (both of us picked teacher). Again, we had to speak for around two minutes. I feel we did okay, not feeling lost for words and being able to express ourselves.

Finally, the examiner stopped the exam, thanked us, and that was it. This part of the exam took around 15 minutes in total. By around 2 pm, everything was finished and it was time to leave.

There was nothing else to do at the end. I simply left the building and grabbed an Uber home. It was a sunny day, and I was happy to leave the campus buildings behind.

Preparing for the CIPLE exam

Don’t underestimate the CIPLE exam. It’s the main barrier between you and citizenship.

Passing the exam requires serious preparation and effort. Ignore anyone who tells you that the CIPLE is ‘easy’ or ‘basic’ (as I’ve seen several other websites describe it). It’s not.

Remember, it’s in their interests for you to apply for a Golden Visa, so of course they’re going to downplay the difficulty of this essential exam.

I say all that as someone who has studied several languages, including Mandarin Chinese to a decent conversational level, with various dabbles in French, Turkish and Arabic. I’m no polyglot, but I consider myself reasonably competent as an adult language learner.

Everything I did over the last six months to get ready for the CIPLE

I invested significant time in the Practice Portuguese app, completing the entire A2 level and a lot of A1.

I created a habit of doing at least one lesson every day, often more. This consistent practice was key to improving my skills.

Then, I familiarized myself with the exam format by completing three CIPLE practice papers at home. This gave me a good idea of what to expect on the day.

To boost my listening comprehension, I bought a book of exercises and worked my way through them. But, the actual exam was much more difficult than any of these practice exercises.

I also immersed myself in Portuguese media as much as possible. This included listening to native-speaker podcasts, particularly “Portugueses No Mundo”.

I also watched Portuguese news and listened to radio political talk shows to get used to different accents and speaking styles.

For speaking practice, I found an excellent tutor through Preply and had weekly online sessions with her for about 10 weeks. As the exam date approached, I ramped this up to three times a week during the final month.

I tried to incorporate Portuguese into my entertainment as well. I used Portuguese subtitles on Netflix for both Portuguese and English-language programs.

I also watched two Portuguese Netflix series, “Rabo de Peixe” (Turn of the Tide) and “Glória”, which helped me get used to natural, conversational Portuguese.

To make language learning more enjoyable, I listened to Portuguese rock music. Not only was this fun, but it also helped with my listening skills and vocabulary.

Perhaps most importantly, I made a conscious effort to use Portuguese in my daily life as much as possible. I started conversations in Portuguese with Uber drivers, restaurant workers, and even people walking their dogs in my neighborhood.

I tried not to feel put off when people replied in English, as they did from time to time. Once I’d become more confident with the language, this happened less often.

Also, I could explain in a nice way that I wished to keep speaking Portuguese to improve for the exam and integrate as an immigrant to the country.

I felt my preparation was fairly thorough, but I still found parts of the exam challenging. Nevertheless, these efforts definitely improved my Portuguese skills and increased my confidence going into the exam.

I also feel more integrated in society and more comfortable going about my daily life in Portugal.

Booking your exam

You can book a CIPLE exam slot on the CAPLE website. They usually fill up a few months in advance, so I recommend that you plan well in advance. I booked my June exam in January 2023.

Don’t forget, once you successfully pass the exam and get the A2 certificate, it’s valid indefinitely. You can use it for your citizenship application without any time limit.

CIPLE alternatives

After reading my experiences, you might be feeling nervous about taking the CIPLE exam.

I’m not going to lie – the exam is challenging. You WILL need to prepare for it. Fortunately, there’s an alternative for those who prefer not to sit the exam.

Applying for citizenship requires proof of Portuguese language skills. You can fulfil this requirement by taking a government-approved Portuguese language course.

This can be done in two ways: long term (around six months duration with classes two evenings a week), or intensive (four hours per day for 10 weeks).

You can do the intensive course either in person or on Zoom. Keep in mind though, you’ll need to meet stringent attendance requirements in order to pass the course (I think it’s around a 95% attendance rate).

Personally, I decided against this option. I already spend the whole day on my laptop, so fitting in another four hours every day would have been too much. But your mileage may vary.

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2 thoughts on “CIPLE A2 Portuguese: An Insider’s Guide to Exam Day (Plus Study Tips)”

  1. Oh. So glad you felt the same about the listening comprehension. The baker completely threw me as did the format of those final ten recordings, where you had to match the response to the recorded statement. This compared with the examples I’d seen, where you simply had to decide where something was taking place (eg aeroporto, correios). And I couldn’t understand a lot of what my other half in the spoken section was saying.

  2. Samantha North

    I totally agree, Alison. It was nothing like the examples in the practice tests that I’d done. I reckon it was more at B1/B2 level. And my brain pretty much shut down during those final 10 recordings, ha ha. The speaking went okay (I hope) as my language speaking partner was at a similar level to me. Fingers crossed we’ll scrape through.

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