Changes to the Cambridge YLE tests: Starters, Movers and Flyers

From January 2018, the Cambridge YLE tests are changing. If you are a young learners’ teacher preparing children for these tests, you need to be aware of the differences.

These include:

  • Changes to the word lists
  • Changes to some of the task types, and tweaks to others
  • Changes in the way papers are assessed and results are reported, to be more precise and more closely aligned with the CEFR and main suite exams (Key, Preliminary etc)

You can watch a webinar from Cambridge English outlining the changes in detail and the rationale behind them. You can download the new handbook here, and new sample papers are available on the YLE website too. They have also provided a useful ‘at a glance’ summary of changes by paper.

For my own part, I’ve been involved in co-authoring Teacher’s Books accompanying the lovely Cambridge Storyfun series, now launching its second edition, which is brimming with new stories and activities, and is fully revised to reflect the 2018 changes to Starters, Movers and Flyers. It provides loads of useful practice and tips for these tests. You can find sample material and extra info at the World of Fun site.

What kind of changes have been made to the YLE tests?

In response to feedback from market research, changes have been made in order to keep these tests relevant to the evolving needs of learners in the 21st century. There’s also the need to keep in line with developments in pedagogy more widely. Changes to word lists have used corpus data to reflect what going on in the real world. This means asking “What other vocabulary do students tend to know at each level?” and incorporating it.

Scaffolding has been improved, so, for example, for the Movers and Flyers speaking task where learners tell the story based on picture prompts, they are now provided with the story title and names of characters on the page (rather than having to remember what the examiner says). In another child-friendly move, drawing tasks have been removed from listening papers, as they reportedly caused anxiety among some students.

The increasing popularity of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) has been recognised to some extent, too. In the Starters Reading and Writing paper, Part 4 is now based on a factual text rather than a riddle.

Overall, Cambridge English Language Assessment describe the changes to the tests as ‘fine-tuning’ rather than being a more drastic overhaul.

Which changes do I need to focus on?

There is an increase in the vocabulary syllabus for all three papers. The changes to the wordlists reflect trends in language use, and include sensible additions to equip learners with useful expressions. For example:

  • There are more words relating to technology (eg app, laptop, e-book, tablet, wifi, file).
  • Some names are changing. At Starters, Ann and Tony have been axed in favour of the more contemporary-sounding Mark, Matt, Alice, Hugo and Eva.
  • Learners are expected to know more adjectives, adverbs and verbs.
  • More exclamations have been introduced (such as Cool!, Fantastic! and Hooray! at Starters).
  • There are more words relating to the themes of health, leisure, animals and the world around us.
  • Gender neutral terms have been introduced, for example: firefighter replaces fireman/woman, police officer replaces policeman/woman at Flyers.

Overall, the changes make the tests slightly more demanding, and require more oral and written production from students.

In terms of activity types, I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty at this point, as the info is available at the links above, and is amply covered by lots of test tips and fun test practice activities in the Storyfun series. As a heads up, though, I’d particularly direct you towards the new listening and writing tasks which learners should be familiarised with before the test:


  • Listening Part 1


  • Listening Part 3
  • Listening Part 5
  • Reading and Writing Part 6


  • Listening Part 5
  • Reading and Writing Part 7

It’s also worth noting that for Movers and Flyers Reading and Writing papers, the order in which activities appear is changing, in order to have a clearer progression towards more difficult tasks at the end of the paper.

All that remains to be said is … Good luck to your young starters, movers and flyers!

Covers reproduced with permission from Cambridge University Press.






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