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CILS Exam: Italian Proficiency Test

Speak Italian? Prove It With the CILS Exam
Some people study Italian for self-enrichment or to satisfy language requirements in high school or college. Or, they're traveling to "il bel paese" and want to know how to tell time in Italian or how to use the phone in Italy. Others, though, such as art history students, aspiring teachers, or translators, study the language as part of a formal training program. For them, proving competency in the language is a requirement.

The CILS Exam (Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera) is the definitive proficiency examination to prove competence in the language. The CILS test is held twice a year in June and December at the Università per Stranieri di Siena and at other institutions abroad. The certificate is recognized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and most Italian universities as a requirement for admission. Divided into four levels—beginner, elementary, intermediate, and advanced—the CILS exams consists of five parts:

  1. Listening test
  2. Reading comprehension
  3. Use of the Italian language or metalanguage
  4. Written test
  5. Speaking test

CILS Exam Levels

CILS Uno: The first (B1) of the more advanced levels requires the passing of a three hour-long examination, testing an applicant's knowledge of basic Italian.

CILS Due: The second level (B2) features a four hour-long examination with greater difficulty. This level is considered as recognizing an applicant's sustained ability to adequately converse in Italian and is the level at which one may apply for entrance to an Italian university without sitting the normally obligatory language assessment.

CILS Tre: The third level (C1) is yet another increase in difficulty and represents a high competence in speaking Italian. An applicant must pass a five hour-long examination to receive this level of qualification.

CILS Quattro: The fourth level (C2) is the highest level of the CILS qualifications. Upon successful completion of the five and a half-hour long examination of this level an applicant is regarded as having reached a point of language mastery, almost akin to that of a native speaker.

Eligibility Requirements for the CILS Exam

The CILS exam is open to all (both Italian residents abroad and non-Italian speakers) wishing to validate their knowledge of Italian. Applicants of any age are eligible to apply.

Test Prep Courses

Many language schools in Italy, including The Cambridge School and Koinè, offer CILS exam preparation courses, which typically include diagnostic exams regarding grammar, conversation, and written Italian, didactic materials, and several weeks of instruction.

See Certification of Italian as a Foreign Language for more information on general Italian language proficiency certificates including tests for teachers and business professionals.

CELI Exam

An alternative exam, established by the Università per Stranieri di Perugia, is the CELI Exam (Certificato di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana), which consists of five language proficiency tests designed for non-native speakers of Italian. The test is based on the Council of Europe's Waystage Level specification. Candidates should be able to communicate in Italian in a limited number of standard everyday situations. The test consists of four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) has a comprehensive overview of the CELI Exam, including scoring parameters, materials, registration, and procedures. Test dates are in June and November, and candidates are awarded either a 'pass' or 'fail.'


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