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Advice about how to prepare for an ICAO English test from Aviation English Asia.

Article written by Michael Egerton

In this article I’m going to give you advice about how to prepare for the new CX ICAO English test. The test changed recently and for a very good reason – the old test was frankly… not very good.

So the changes to the CX ICAO test are a very good thing. We support all those who have helped implement these changes to bring credibility to the test.

In this article I will answer the following questions.

  1. What is the format of the new CX ICAO English Test ?
  2. Are there any past papers?
  3. What can I do to prepare?

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Expect the following:

1. Some personal questions
2. Some listening comprehension in an aviation context
3. Describe a picture
4. Answer questions about a video
5. Some more questions about aviation.

If you think that the above isn’t very specific you are right. The old test had specific answers and didn’t vary very much so candidates were able to memorise the answers. Now you have to actually have genuine proficiency in Aviation English. Luckily the possible content of the test is very well covered in our Aviation English courses.

Are there any past papers?

No this is a speaking and listening test. It’s not supposed to be assessed the way that tests like IELTS are assessed. But there is an example of the test in development. So here’s our advice…

Forget about the test and focus on improving your Aviation English – DO A COURSE WITH US!!

This is a much more effective use of your time.

Past papers and mock tests are pointless apart from to settle your nerves. Past questions encourage many candidates to focus on remembering specific answers. The truth is, the answer to a question is not that important, it’s how well you answer it. It’s your pronunciation, use of correct grammatical structure, range of vocabulary, fluency and lack of hesitation and appropriateness of your answers too. We can show you an example of the test but really you shouldn’t focus on the test. The new test is dynamic and the assessor will ask you questions based on your previous answers so you will need to respond appropriately too.

For a rough idea some questions are like the activities on our Facebook page

If you are not a fan already, become a fan and also select subscribe to updates so that you can get some free exercises in your news feed. Remember to interact and post on our page too, as we can give feedback to your answers.

If you are not a fan already, become a fan and also select subscribe to updates so that you can get some free exercises in your news feed. Remember to interact and post on our page too, as we can give feedback to your answers.

Expect many different versions of the test so asking your mate for the answers won’t help, but attending AVIATION ENGLISH ASIA COURSES WILL HELP.

What should I do to prepare for the new CX ICAO ENGLISH TEST?

The old test was riddled with problems because there was no real standard that had to be achieved. There was very little content that was related to flight operations and Cathay provided candidates no information about how to prepare for the test – Luckily many smart candidates followed our advice and ignored preparing for the previous test completely.

Free Resources to help you prepare for the ICAO English Test

Aviation English Asia Ltd has created some excellent free resources to help candidates prepare for the ICAO English test.

There are some excellent articles on this blog Aviation English Asia Blog,

There are some interesting news stories on the Learning Zone section of our main website Aviation English Learning Zone  and there are many opportunities to interact with other learners on the Aviation English Facebook Page

These free resources are all packed with great information about how to prepare for the new CX ICAO English test. But most candidates will need professional help to prepare for the test.

Here is our Top Ten ways to prepare for the New CX ICAO English Language Test

  1. You should improve your Aviation English. Aviation English (also known as English for Aviation Purposes) comprises of 3 parts, 1. radiotelephony, 2. technical vocabulary and  most importantly 3. the plain English that is used in an aviation context. We can tell you which areas you most need to focus on.
  2. You should focus on expanding your proficiency in talking intelligently and concisely about aviation. For example try and interact with other pilots using the activities on the Aviation English Facebook Page or ideally our current students.
  3. You should learn how to describe a picture – then contact us to get feedback because its the feedback that is most important if you want to improve. If you practice without reflection and feedback you are not actually learning.
  4. You should be realistic about your expectations. Preparing far in advance is good. You should expect to need between 3-6 months to get from mid ICAO level 3 to low ICAO level 4. And to be honest ICAO level 4 isn’t very good – really you should aim for ICAO level 5 or above. Treat learning English as a lifelong activity. Learn English for the job, not for the test.
  5. You should also get professional advice and feedback from Aviation English Asia teachers.  Value your time and invest in yourself by talking with aviation English professionals rather than candidates who don’t value language skills enough to pay for professional instruction.  Free study groups and chatting with your friends may be effective as a supplementary activity – but really most candidates will need professional instruction. Practice doesn’t make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect.
  6. You should contact us for a free consultation before starting a training programme.
  7. You should watch tv series like Air Crash Investigations and listen to regularly in order to become familiar with what actually happens during flight operations.
  8. You should talk to aviation professionals – like our students. Our students have varied backgrounds and are happy to share experiences. Make friends with them and practice giving personal information. You can find some tips in this article.
  9. You should do an Aviation English course with Aviation English Asia. We are the only credible Aviation English training organisation in Hong Kong. We are also an ethical organisation and are members of the College of Teachers. Our teaching staff includes  a senior captain with Cathay Pacific and we are friends with a lot of  reputable Aviation English teachers worldwide. We have a reputation for high standards.
  10. Although we need to assess each candidates suitability first, most candidates in Hong Kong will benefit from attending this course as it’s graded specifically for candidates in Hong Kong and it is proven to be effective. There is no magic pill for learning English but this course offers you what you need and is great value.

In the new format test, knowing the questions isn't necessarily enough because you need to be able to interact and answer questions about those topics, not just remember vocabulary.

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs. If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for special offers and details of courses in your area.

Customer service for prospective cabin crew

Reading is of course one of the best passive methods of improving your English. We’re always pleased to see English language books suitable for non-native speakers, particularly when they are directly relevant to airline careers. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Services Training & Development had published a book about principles of good service.

Service in the Sky is a nicely presented 267 page paperback, bilingual in English and Chinese, with English on the left and Chinese translation on the right hand page. The language is simple and appropriate for most English learners in Hong Kong.

What’s the book about? CUSTOMER SERVICE!

Of the 267 pages, 233 of them are about customer service, with the remainder being brief insights into Cathay’s training courses and the experiences of trainees. This is a good balance, as Hong Kong desperately needs better standards of service a lot more than it needs a gauge of interview questions for prospective flight attendants to memorise for their upcoming interview.  If you are looking for interview questions you won’t find them in this book but you might develop some insight into the kind of attitude that flight attendants should have.

Through reading the book you will become aware of how important cultural and linguistic awareness is for cabin crew, and see examples of how flight attendants have either got it right, or got it wrong. There are 24 such stories and they are very easy to read and digest. Interestingly CX is rarely mentioned by name, but the stories are accompanied by pictures that make the book seem a little too like a corporate brochure at times.

The sections on training and recruitment are not particularly developed, (and don’t really need to be). One major omission in my opinion is the lack of focus on cabin crew’s role in safety/security. This might be a reflection of cultural differences between US/European and Asian carriers – since 9/11 flight attendants in the United States have had a far more assertive role when it comes to onboard security. In this book the focus is firmly on service.  Perhaps “Safety in the Skies” wil be  the follow up title.

The best way to get hired as a flight attendant

Can reading this book help you get a job as a flight attendant?  Well, it’s a lot more valuable than those tacky “flight attendant interview preparation” courses you might have seen.  My advice is that if you want to get a job as a flight attendant you should improve your service skills and improve your English.  The HR department will want to hear about how you have provided good service and solved unexpected difficulties in the past.  If you think your English level is good enough you might be surprised when you are told that it isn’t up to scratch.  The truth is that a lot of flight attendants have only very basic English when they are hired and they are supposed to improve their English during their career.  If you are not sure about your oral English level take an assessment test with us first and find out what you need to improve.

Further reading for cabin crew careers

If you have good English comprehension skills you should also consider reading the excellent Singapore Airlines “Flying High in a Competitive Industry”, Joseph Michelli’s “The Starbucks Experience” and Patrick Smith’s “Ask the Pilot”. These books will also give you a strong awareness of customer service in an aviation environment, plus the latter teaches a few technical things about flying too.

Cathay also acknowledges the work of customer service guru Ron Kaufman, who has certainly had a great influence on how Aviation English Asia Ltd deliver service to clients. Kaufman’s book “UP Your Service!” is again highly recommended. You can find both of these titles in our online bookshop.

Improve your English and your soft skills

Of course, if you are a prospective flight attendant or a flight attendant wanting to improve your English and soft skills for the kind of situations described in “Service In the Sky” you can take the In-flight English or Social English courses developed by Aviation English Asia. These will give you thorough practice of essential language skills, making you more effective in your job and in your social life. To find out more please visit :

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s courses please visit  We can help you improve your English whether you are an experienced pilot, a cadet entry pilot, a controller, aerospace engineer or flight attendant, with custom courses designed specifically for your needs.  If you haven’t already please join the Aviation English mailing list for instant access to free demonstration units of the ICAO Aviation English Online course, special offers and details of courses in your area.

Of course, feel free to leave a comment or even a suggestion for a future article.  We value all of your feedback.