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CAMBRIDGE FCE B2 OVERVIEW

Updated: Feb 24




So, you want to sit the FCE (Cambridge First Certificate) – good call! On passing this exam, you will officially hold a B2 level English certification, which means although not proficient, you are an independent user of the language. This is usually the minimum level requirement for enrolling on university courses held in English, for national public job applications and jobs in contact with foreign clients and colleagues. As a bonus, your certificate does not expire!


FCE vs FCE for schools

When booking your exam you may see two option ‘FCE’ and ‘FCE for schools’, the exam level and tasks are exactly the same. The only difference is that FCE for schools has topics slightly more relevant to school-aged children. Having said that, if there are no more spaces on this exam, go for the classic FCE, I’ve had 11 year-old children pass. At the end of the day, if you are truly at a B2 level, you will pass either.


Exam Breakdown

Let’s break down the FCE and look briefly at each section. A more in-depth dissection of each part will be in considered in future articles.


There are four assessed parts of the exam:


1.       Listening

2.       Reading

3.       Use of English

4.       Writing

5.       Speaking


Each part is worth 20% of the overall exam. Although there are five parts, there are only four papers:


1.       Listening paper

2.       Reading & Use of English

3.       Writing

4.       Speaking


In the Reading & Use of English paper, parts one, five, six and seven are your reading tasks and parts two, three and four make up your Use of English assessment.


Listening

This part of the exam lasts 40 minutes. The audio is 35 minutes long and you are given five minutes at the end to transfer your answers from the paper onto the answer sheet (Fig.1). This part of the assessment has 30 marks divided over four parts. You can expect multiple choice on short dialogues, sentence completion, multiple matching and multiple choice on a longer discourse.


Reading

You have 1 hour and 15 minutes to sit the paper (including the Use of English parts) and will write your answers directly onto the answer sheet. I know of some candidates who wrote their answers on the paper first with the intention of transferring them onto the answer sheet at the end only to find that they had run out of time! It is therefore advisable that you annotate and mark up the paper whilst doing the task but use the answer sheet throughout the exam. The paper has 52 questions divided over seven parts. Parts 1, 5, 6 and 7 go towards your reading score. You can expect multiple choice questions testing vocabulary, multiple choice testing reading comprehension, gapped text to fill with sentence options and multiple matching. Note that parts 5 and 6 hold two marks per correct question, this is good to know when planning time management in the exam (a topic we will consider in a later article and video).


Use of English

You have 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete the whole paper, writing your answers directly onto the answer sheet. It is vital that you write your answers in CAPITAL LETTERS. There have been cases where the candidate would have passed this part of the exam, but wrote their answers in lower case and therefore scoring zero. Do not let that be you! In fact, when you practice in class or during self-study get into the habit of writing in capitals so it becomes automatic in the exam.


 Parts 2, 3 and 4 go towards your Use of English score. Part 2 is a gap fill exercise without options to choose from, part 3 is a word transformation exercise and part 4 is a sentence transformation using a given key word. Be aware that there are two marks available for each question in part 4, two marks if the sentence is completely correct, one mark if it is partly correct and no marks if the sentence is completely incorrect. The fact that you can get the sentence wrong but still possibly be awarded a mark means that you should always write something.


Many candidates are daunted by this part of the exam. It is very possible for someone to have a very good language level but fail this part. You will need to go over exam techniques and know how to do the exercises – it is unadvisable to sit the FCE without some preparation for the Use of English tasks. However, once you know how to approach the exercises, it is actually quite simple – and believe it or not, I have had some candidates even say fun! Fear not, we will look at techniques in a later article as well as on video.


Writing

You will have one hour and 20 minutes to do two tasks directly onto your answer sheet. You will be given a separate sheet for planning, which will not be assessed. For the first task, you will have to write an essay of approximately 140-190 words. Note that you do not have to waste time counting words, your examiner will read and assess your entire task. The word count is given only as guidance, it is probable that writing less than 140 words means that you have not developed your discourse adequately and by writing over 190 word, you run the risk of writing irrelevant content. I have seen candidate answers with numbers at the end of each line from counting – I reiterate, do not waste your precious time.


In part 2 you are given three tasks of which you must only do ONE. These three tasks could include a letter or email, an article, a review or a report. Again, you are given a word count suggestion of 140-190.


In both tasks you are assessed on relevance of your content, whether you have understood and fully completed the task, whether you have chosen the correct tone and style for your audience, the organisation of the writing – have you used paragraphs, have you used a range of advanced linkers to guide the reader through your discourse? In addition, you will be assessed on the level and range of vocabulary and language structures. To get all these elements in, planning becomes very important. I would spend a good ten minutes planning each task (please look out for my video on how to effectively plan for your writing task!)

It is easy to pick up points in this part of the exam if you know what the examiner is looking for. We will look at this in extreme detail in later articles and in videos.





Speaking

You sit the exam with a partner and occasionally a third candidate. In the room, there will be the interlocutor (the person asking the questions) and often an assessor, who is not active in the exam but is there to mark the test. The exam lasts about 14 minutes and 20 minutes if you are three candidates. The exam is divided into four parts: part 1, a short interview with the examiner on familiar and personal topics; part 2, a longer individual discourse; part 3, a collaborative task with your partner(s); and part 4, a discussion with the examiner and partner(s) on the topic presented in the previous part.


Although the oral exam might stir up a great deal of anxiety, once you get started, you will forget your nerves as you are concentrated on the tasks. The examiners know that you are nervous and are usually exceptionally friendly.


That concludes a very brief overview of the Cambridge First Certificate B2 exam. I hope you have found the content useful. If you prefer taking in information through video then please find the content soon in this link. Watch out for more of my articles in which we fully dissect each part of the exam discussing exam techniques and what the examiner will be looking for from candidates to gain easy points.


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