Tips for preparing for the Cambridge CAE and FCE speaking tests

Many CISL San Diego and CISL San Francisco students are preparing for the Cambridge University Certificate of Advanced English or First Certificate of English tests. CISL has some tips to help our students prepare for this part of the exam. CISL San Diego and CISL San Francisco are both official Cambridge Exam Centers.

Elements of the CAE and FCE Speaking Test 

For both CAE and FCE, the test is about 15 minutes long and is on a different day than the other four written parts of the test. There are typically four people in the room: two students, the interlocutor, and the assessor. The interlocutor will ask all of the test questions while the assessor records your score.

On occasion there will be three students instead of two, but this is rare. In this case, the test will be longer than 15 minutes.

In this post, we will focus on Part 1 of the speaking test. Check back soon for tips on parts 2, 3, and 4!

Cambridge CAE and FCE Speaking Test Part 1

There are four parts of the speaking test. In the first part, which is like a warm up, you and your partner are asked to introduce yourself. The interlocutor will ask questions like “How long have you been studying English?” or “Why are you taking this test?” and he/she may also ask follow-up questions after your answer, so you might have to explain your answer further.

For part 1 of the CAE or FCE speaking test, be prepared to talk about the following things:

– where you are from (describing your hometown, what the people are like there, how life is different from life in the US, etc)
– why you are studying English
– what you like/don’t like about studying English
– what your future goals are (specifically, how you plan to use English in the future)
– what you like to do in your free time

Top tips for Speaking Test Part 1:

  • Expand your answers! Remember that the whole reason you are taking the Cambridge Exam is to prove that you have a very high level of English skills. Prove it by giving detailed answers that showcase your skills, and remember: a “yes/no” or one sentence answer is never enough.
  • This is the only section of the test where you have an idea of the questions that will be asked, which means that you can actually prepare yourself well for this section. Rehearse answers to the questions listed above and become comfortable with speaking about the subjects that might be asked of you.
  • Phrasal verbs and idioms are what separate native and non-native speakers, so take any opportunity you have to use these devices. The only challenge here is making sure that you do it naturally, which should not be a problem if you practice and are comfortable using these words and phrases.

Example of Speaking Test Part 1 Question and Answer

Let’s compare a good and a great answer…

Interlocutor: Student A, do you plan to use English in the future? How?

Student A: Yes. I plan to work in a bank in Switzerland and I need English for my job.

Interlocutor: Thank you. And what about you, Student B? Do you plan to use English in the future?

Student B: Yes, I certainly do plan to use English in the future, specifically in my career. Like my partner, I also plan on working in a bank, and many of the banks in Switzerland have English-speaking clients. To be hired, you must pass an English proficiency test, and I can imagine that I will use English on a daily basis when dealing with clients.

Student B’s answer is better for several reasons: it is more detailed and it uses more sentence structures and more impressive vocabulary. Instead of simply answering “yes”, Student B replies “Yes, I certainly do…”; in addition, the student uses the passive voice (“to be hired”), several modals (“must” and “can”), and the phrase “dealing with” very naturally. All of these things will probably be noted by the assessor and will result in a higher score for Student B.

This part of the test will last approximately 2-3 minutes.

Have fun practicing Part 1 of the speaking test with your friends, and check back for our tips on Parts 2 and 3 and 4 very soon. Good luck to our students who are taking the Cambridge Exam in the future!

For more information on CISL Cambridge Preparation Courses in San Diego and San Francisco, click here.