B2 First Speaking (FCE) test is unique among others because candidates are evaluated in pairs. Two examiners are present at each evaluation. While one engages with the candidates, the other listens and observes the interaction and the responses. FCE aims to recreate a more realistic communicative situation. Both B2 First for Schools (FCE) and B2 First for General and Higher Education (FCE) follow the same structure and carry 20% of the final score.
What to Expect on B2 First (FCE) Speaking
The FCE speaking test is structured into four parts and lasts 14 minutes per pair of candidates.
Part 1: Interview Stage
The candidate interacts only with the examiner and is asked questions allowing them to present themselves and express their opinions. Duration: 2 minutes.
Tip: Questions related to where you live, your career, aspirations, past experiences, hobbies, likes and dislikes, travel, sports, family and friends can be expected. This is the ice-breaker stage and is supposed to help the candidate relax.
Part 2: Long Turn Stage
Each candidate is given 2 photographs to compare and talk about without interruption for 1 minute. Questions at the top of the page describe what you must talk about. The other candidate is given 30 seconds to comment on your photographs. The exact process is repeated with the other candidate.
Tip 1: Listening to the partner candidate will ensure you don’t repeat what they described.
Tip 2: When answering the given question, remember that both photos need to be compared. For example, if the question is: Which photograph do you prefer? An answer such as The first one, because it is more colorful and illustrative, would only score half a mark. A complete answer would contrast The first one because it is more colorful and illustrative than the second one in black and white.
Tip 3: Use comparatives and superlatives: more crowded, duller, liveliest, most vivid, etc. Employ conjunctions and modals where necessary to give lengthier answers: but, and, however, on the other hand, similarly, in comparison to, in contrast, the same as, despite, etc.
Tip 4: Once you have exhausted your descriptive information, it’s time to guess, speculate or deduce possible scenarios based on the information presented. For example, if one photograph shows two children rowing a boat the candidate can assume that they are siblings rowing out on their vacation. Since speculation is mostly guesswork, the candidate can use terms such as: perhaps, maybe, suppose, could, would, assume, looks like, probably, might, etc.
Part 3: Collaborative Stage
In this part of the FCE Speaking Exam, the candidate interacts together with the partner. The examiner presents the pair with a task and some material, usually 5 written prompts with a question. The candidates are expected to negotiate ideas, express their views, exchange solutions and prepare a decision together. Duration: 3 minutes – 2 minutes to discuss and 1 minute to make a decision.
Tip 1: Candidates will be tested on their interactive communication skills. It is essential to talk with your partner, taking turns to express your ideas without speaking for too long, thereby taking away your partner’s chances at sharing their views.
Tip 2: It is a good idea to end each turn with a question for your partner and begin each turn by first responding to and acknowledging your partner’s idea/response. For example, you may say: Oh! That’s a great idea. I agree with you, but don’t you think that air pollution is more damaging to the environment than sound pollution? What do you think about that?
Tip 3: If your partner is unresponsive or shy, you can pose many questions, prompting them to share their view. You can begin with closed questions and expand into open-ended questions as the partner becomes more responsive. For example: Do you prefer taking the bus or the train? Once the partner makes a selection, the question can be expanded: Why do you like that?
Part 4: Discussion Stage
In this section of FCE Speaking, the examiner will ask the candidates an open-ended question related to the topic discussed in part 3. The candidates can discuss with each other and prepare answers. The examiner might interject a question or a comment if they feel you are moving away from the topic. Duration – 4 minutes.
Tip 1: Express your opinions while interacting with your partner and allowing them to share their thoughts on the question. For instance, if the question was about tourism, you may present your opinion and end it with a question for your partner: I think the tourist industry brings in a lot of revenue to the country. Do you have any famous tourist attractions where you come from?
Tip 2: Open-ended questions give you the freedom to create your answers. They do not always have to be correct. You can draw from your personal experiences to create a more lengthy and substantive reply.
For example, suppose the previous section was related to cultural diversity. In that case, the examiner may ask a question such as: Do you think we need to be exposed to various cultural traditions? A good answer would be: Yes, it is very important because we live in multicultural societies now. One of our colleagues is a devout Hindu, so when we order company meals, we keep in mind to order a vegetarian meal for him.
Helpful Pre-preparation Tips in B2 First (FCE) Speaking
Tip 1: Take a Look at Sample Papers
The official website for Cambridge exams, https://www.cambridgeenglish.org provides many valuable resources for candidates. The sample speaking test can help you familiarize yourself with the structure of the paper and anticipate the format and topics of the questions.
Tip 2: Research Topics and Take Courses
Other than official sample papers, there are many online resource centers, such as https://www.oxfordonlineenglish.com/, where you can follow free preparation courses.
Tip 3: Practice Speaking
Go in front of a mirror or turn up the shower and imagine scenarios where you have to speak with someone. Experiment with vocabulary and grammar structures. If you could find a practice partner, that would be even better. Always remember to express your ideas and formulate questions for your partner.
During the B2 First (FCE) Speaking Exam
Tip 1: Talk with Other Candidates
It is a good idea to casually interact in English with other candidates waiting for their turn. This will help you relax before you walk into the FCE Speaking Exam. It will also help you avoid getting tongue-tied because you wouldn’t have to make a sudden language switch.
Tip 2: Avoid Repetition and Filler Words
Very, you know, um, er, okay are filler words that speakers use when their vocabulary is limited or if they are not confident about their fluency. Examiners pick up these indicators quickly, which is terrible for you in the FCE Speaking exam. If you run out of ideas, you can always say, Let me think… and pause and continue with your answer.
Instead of using very, you can think of more expressive adjectives with the same meaning. For example, a better word for the phrase very cold is, freezing, very angry would be livid.
Tip 3: Be Mindful of Body Language
Greet your examiner with a smile when you walk in for your FCE Speaking Test. It will lighten the mood and help you interact with each other more comfortably. Avoid hunching in your seat. Make eye contact with whomever you are speaking to. This will create the impression of confidence. Let others talk as well and speak at an average and natural rate. If you are nervous, you might talk faster. Speaking clearly and coherently is important. It is also perfectly okay to ask the examiner to repeat a question than to answer something you have not understood properly.
Tip 4: Pronunciation and Accents
Adopting an artificial European accent will not improve your pronunciation. What is important is to articulate words clearly and coherently. If you are unsure how to pronounce a word, you can look it up on Youtube or online dictionaries. Candidates lose marks for pronouncing words incorrectly. A feigned accent will negatively affect the fluidity of speech.
Tip 5: Time Management
Most candidates forget that both partners have only 14 minutes together to speak. The first two parts of the FCE Speaking test do not take up much time. The last section is the most crucial because it allows you to explore your language skills and increase the complexity of your responses while maintaining a good rapport with your partner. Aimless ranting will reduce marks for irrelevance and lack of organization.
What is most important to bear in mind is to be yourself. This way, you will have better control over your ideas, how they are articulated through language, and how you engage with your partner and examiner.
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