FCE Speaking is the last part of your Cambridge English: First exam. It has 4 parts that last for about 14 minutes. There are usually two or three test-taker like you because some of the tasks involve interaction between candidates. There will be two examiners present – one asking the questions (the interlocutor), and the other assessing responses (the assessor). This page has an overview of the exam structure, sample questions and answers, tips on how to get better score and how your answer is assessed. You can use the contents list below to navigate between parts or just read the whole thing (highly recommended if you are new to the exam).
1. Part 1 – Interlocutor and candidate conversation (2 minutes)
— 1.1 Part 1 sample questions with answers
2. Part 2 – Describing photos. Long and short turns (3 minutes)
— 2.1 Part 2 sample photos with answers
— 2.2 Part 2 tips and useful phrases
3. Part 3 – Discussion between candidates and reaching an agreement (discussing a mind-map) (3 minutes)
— 3.1 Part 3 sample mind-map with answers
4. Part 4 – Discussing and developing topic from Part 3 (4 minutes)
— 4.1 Part 4 sample questions with answers.
5. FCE Speaking marking criteria
- Part 1 lasts for about 2 minutes for each candidate
- Test-taker and examiner interaction, no interaction between test-takers
- Questions about familiar everyday topics
- Two to four questions, answers should be kept short (around two sentences)
Part 1 of FCE Speaking focuses on your ability to talk about topics of general interest, such as your work or studies, how you spend your free time or your plans for the future – something you are familiar with. In this part the interlocutor asks each candidate two or three questions. You are expected to listen what the other candidate says as well as the questions asked as you might be asked the same question (e.g. “And what about you?”). However, this part does not involve direct communication between candidates. This part is about two minutes long.
Your answers shouldn’t be longer than a couple of sentences. Make sure to stick to the topic at hand. Your answers should also sound natural – do not use any memorised responses as they are easy to spot and this can often lead to a lower mark. Rehearsed answers might also be not about the question asked as there is considerable variety in the questions, even though the range of topics is quite limited.
There are no helpful phrases or tricks for FCE Speaking, Part 1 as this part focuses on your general ability to talk about yourself. You might want to check entry on cohesion to better connect idea in your answer. Another useful thing is to know synonyms to words like very and other easily synonymised words and expressions.
If you want to feel more confident with Part 1 questions – find a partner to practice the sample questions. Take turns asking and answering them, write down any mistakes or recommendations for one another. Practice is the best way to improve your chances of scoring high.
What is your hometown like?
My hometown is Viña del Mar, it’s in Chile, just north of Santiago. It’s a coastal town that is popular with tourists because of the beautiful gardens and the beaches.
What do you do in your free time?
Uhm, I can’t say I have any particular hobbies to talk about, I guess I’m into oil painting. I enjoy painting landscapes in my free time because our city has such pretty views, they really inspire me!
How do you celebrate special occasions?
I’m not too outgoing so I either go for a walk in the city and treat myself to some food or just stay at home and listen to the music. If it’s something big, I might invite a couple of friends over, but’s that’s kind of a rare thing to do for me.
Do you have any plans for this summer?
Oh, definitely! The plan is to go to an art school in California, provided that I have successfully passed this exam. Another option is to study art in Santiago, that would be okay for me as well.
- Part 2 is 1 minute 30 seconds for each candidate
- Test-taker and examiner interaction, using another test-taker’s pictures for the second part of the answer
- Describing and comparing two pictures, answering a question related to them
- 60 seconds answer about your pictures (long turn), 30 seconds – additional questions about the other test-taker’s pictures (short turn)
This part involves two candidates – Candidate A and Candidate B. The candidate letter is assigned randomly. Candidate A goes first, they get two pictures from the interlocutor and a question they have to answer. The question is written on the page with the two pictures. The questions can be about how people in the pictures might be feeling, what could be the advantages and disadvantages of the situation in each picture and so on – see more examples with answers here. After that Candidate A gets one minute to answer the question.
After this it’s turn of Candidate B to answer an additional question from the interlocutor. This additional question relates to the same set of pictures. It can be either about choosing one of the pictures, like “In which might the people feel more comfortable?” or a more general one relating to the situation, where you don’t have to choose a picture, for example “Is it better to study alone or with others?”. Candidate B has 30 seconds to answer the question.
After Candidate B has answered, they swap roles. This time Candidate B gets two pictures, a question from the examiner and one minute to answer it. After that Candidate A gets 30 seconds and one related question.
One important thing is that answering the question is only part of this task. You also have to describe both picture, speculate about them (see below) and compare them. Read on for detailed explanation of each aspect.
FCE Speaking Part 2 is about three things:
1 – comparing (what is similar and what is different in the photos)
2 – describing (give brief description of what you see, usually description goes hand-in-hand with speculating)
3 – answering the questions
Comparing is essential in Part 2 of FCE Speaking. You have to mention at least one thing that is common between the two photos and one that is similar. One if each should probably be enough as you only have 1 minute for your answer.
|Talking about similarities||Talking about differences|
|In both pictures there is…|
Both pictures display/show…
Pictures one and two have…
Pictures one and two are similar in the way that there is/are… in each one.
Just like in the left picture , the right one has…
These two pictures have several things in common, such as/like…
|Unlike the left picture, picture on the right has/shows/displays|
In contrast with the right picture, picture on the left is …
Picture one…, while picture two…
Picture two has a different idea of … if we compare it to the first photo
While the second picture takes place in …
Contrastingly, these pictures show different takes on *some topic*
First thing to remember is to switch between various phrases that introduce picture description. Don’t reuse the same expression, switch between them, for example:
In the first photo, we can see/there is/ … is shown
The second picture shows/displays/demonstrates …
One big mistake that test-takers make is using the wrong tense. The only tense you should be using to describe pictures is Present Continuous! Failing this leads to lower mark – see official assessment report, page 3.
Another common mistake is spending too much time on describing. I’ve had student who would spend a whole minute on talking about what’s in the picture. Remember – do not spend more than 15-20 seconds on that. Another helpful technique is to include comparison in your description.
Finally, it is “in the picture”, not “
on the picture” – a very shameful mistake to make!
“The first picture shows us a group of friends, having a good time. Contrastingly, in the second picture we see colleagues who are having a business lunch.”
The part in bold text shows comparison, underlined text is the usage of Present Continuous.
3. Answering the question
When you answer FCE Speaking Part 2 question ideally you would want to do so for both pictures at the same time. You should answer it together with comparing because otherwise you might not have enough time to do comparison separately. Have a look at the sample answers to get a better idea of including comparison in your answer.
FCE Speaking Part 2
Here are the photographs. They show people waiting for something.
I’d like you to compare the photographs, and say in which picture the waiting feels longer.
Candidate A: The left picture shows a man expecting his flight to arrive to the airport. In the picture on the right we see a couple of people waiting for their bus at a rather late hour. While both pictures convey the same idea, the people at the bus stop are probably much less comfortable as it is at night and it could be quite cold.
I guess that for the man at the airport gate the wait feels much longer. Air travel is a thrilling, even scary experience for most of us. The anxiety he might be experiencing could make the time go really slow for him. Also, flights can get late and generally you have to wait for quite some time before your plane is ready for boarding.
Examiner: Candidate B, how can one pass the time while waiting?
Candidate B: Well, there are many tried and true ways. In the past, people would read books or magazines, this was the most popular way of killing some time. Nowadays what almost everyone does is stare at their phone screen, either texting or looking at funny videos online.
Remember that you should use Present Continuous when describing pictures (i.e. “This picture shows people hurrying to their work in the early morning hours”). More on tenses in English.
Another tricky bit is the preposition. You should use “in” when talking about something shown by the picture (i.e. “In this picture we see a man strolling down the alley”). See this short note on prepositions for more examples.
- Part 3 is about three minutes long
- Interaction between two test-takers, taking turns to express and justify their opinions
- A discussion topic with five aspects is represented as a mind map in the first part
- An agreement between test-takers on one of the aspects has to be reached in the second part
In Part 3 candidates receive a mind map which contains a questions and five prompts, or aspects, to be discussed. They have 15 seconds to study it and then have to decide who starts the discussion.
The candidates’ task is to discuss the topic using the given prompts. FCE Speaking Part 3 consists of two smaller parts. In the first part you should provide relevant responses on the topic, listen to and comment on the other candidate’s answers and transition from one idea to another in a logical way. This part lasts for about two minutes.
In the second part of this task you are given an additional question and have to choose one of the prompts and the answer providing reasoning and either agree or disagree on the chosen prompt. You get around one minute for this part.
There are three important aspects of FCE Speaking Part 3:
1 – Initiating the dialogue
2 – Going from one idea to another
3 – Coming to an agreement
1. Initiating the dialogue
When you start FCE Speaking Part 3 one of you has to start the conversation. The key here is to be polite and allow your partner choose, especially if they are shy or silent. You can either initiate this yourself of wait for your partner to go first:
|Starting the dialogue||Responding|
|Do you mind if I go first?|
Would you mind going first/starting?
Care to go first?
Should I begin, or would you like to go first?
Would it be okay with you if I started this?
Is it okay for you if I start?
|Yeah, sure, go ahead.|
Okay, I will!
I’d rather you went first, if that’s okay with you.
By all means, go ahead.
Sure, not a problem
A common rule is to allow whoever start first begin the conversation. Another thing that makes sense is to allow the other person initiate the dialogue in the second part.
2. Going from one idea to another
One thing that lowers your score in Part 3 is simply waiting for your turn to speak, not paying much attention to whatever the other student has to say. Such behaviour is penalised – in fact it is assessed in one of the marking criteria! A good approach is to include some points of your partner’s answer into your own. Another important thing is natural change from one idea (prompt) to another as you talk should be organic rather than a set of stand-alone sentences. Below are some ways to make your ideas better connected.
3. Coming to an agreement
In the second half of FCE Speaking Part 3 your task is to choose one of the aspects (prompts) in connection with the given question and either agree or disagree whether it fits best. Agreeing is not mandatory, you are free to disagree, but do with respect to each other. Here are some useful phrases for suggesting, encouraging a conversation, agreeing and disagreeing:
|I totally agree with your point…|
I’m with you on that one…
Your arguments are very compelling
I had a different idea, but your arguments sound very convincing
Your points are very persuasive, and I side with you on that one
|I see what you mean, however…|
You make some valid points, but let’s consider…
With all due respect, I can’t agree/I have to disagree
Your logic here is flawless, but another point to consider is…
Here are some different types of occupation people might choose to have. First you have some time to look at the task. (15 seconds)
Now, talk to each other about the advantages and disadvantages of each of these occupations.
Candidate A (Juan): Should I go first?
Candidate B (Marian): Yes, please do.
Juan: I think that working as a chef at a restaurant or some other place is great. It is a creative occupation and you can express yourself through the dishes you make.
Marian: I get your points about expressing yourself and I totally agree. However, I guess with time it can get a bit repetitive – cooking day in, day out. Now working as a doctor is never the same, would you agree?
Juan: Yeah, I guess so. You face new challenges every day, it is a lot of responsibility, and the salary must be really high. You have to know a lot though. What about being a teacher, you have to be pretty knowledgeable too, right?
Marian: Yes, definitely. I don’t think teachers make as much money as doctors do, but the job itself might be even more rewarding!
Examiner: Thank you. Now you have about a minute to decide which profession would be more suitable for a younger person.
Marian: Oh, maybe a driver? You need a lot of energy to stay behind the wheel all day, and young people tend to be much more energetic than older ones. What would you say?
Juan: I was thinking about teaching as the best choice for young people, but I guess you have to have more experience to be good at this. So yeah, I’d go with your option of a taxi driver!
- Part 4 is about four minutes
- Interaction between the examiner and two test-takers
- More abstract questions, answers are expected to be longer than in Part 1 (three sentences and more)
- The examiner invites the test-takers to discuss the questions together
Last part of FCE Speaking is similar to Part 1 – you are asked questions related to topic from Part 3 that you have to answer. However, there are three major differences in comparison with the first part. First of all, the questions are going to be more abstract than those in Part 1 and you will have to talk about things in general rather than your own experience. Secondly, your answers should be longer and more detailed – at least two or three longer sentences. Finally, the examiner will at some point encourage you and your partner to discuss one or two of the questions – so pay attention to your partner’s answers to be ready for a dialogue with them. This part of the exam lasts for up to four minutes.
Examiner: Juan, what is more important when choosing a job – how enjoyable it is or the salary?
Juan: I’d say that it really depends on your age and your life situation. Sometimes we might really need the money, while others can afford to work for fun, experience in social connections. I guess that ideally you need to find good balance between these things. Yeah, I’d say the right balance in most important
Examiner: Thank you. Marian, what do you think?
Marian: Yes, I believe Juan is absolutely right. You don’t want to work just because you like it very much if you don’t get adequate financial compensation for your efforts. The opposite is true as well – working for money alone with no fun involved won’t get you far.
Examiner: Marian, in your opinion what kind of jobs are going to be in demand in the future?
Marian: It’s really difficult to say, I mean who knows what future holds for us. I’d say that something to do with computers – after all, our society gets more and more dependent on computers and technology in general. Maybe something to do with robots. I’m not very good at predicting things!
Examiner: Juan, what’s your opinion?
Juan: Marian has made a very good point about computers. We rely on computers a lot and I think eventually most professions will get replaced and automated in some way. With that in mind we can say IT industry will stay relevant and grow considerably in the coming years
Examiner: Now I’d like you two talk about the following question: how can the government help people find employment?
Marian: Would it be ok with you if I went first?
Juan: Sure, go on.
Marian: For one, I would suggest including mandatory on-the-job training for high-schoolers. This way they would have an idea of what work actually is and make more educated decision when choosing their career and major to study at college. Another way the state could help is to pay the employers to employ people without experience – this would give young people more chances to land a job. What else do you think they could help with?
Juan: These are very nice suggestions. However, they are mostly aimed at younger job-seekers. To include older applicants, I think the government could create free trade courses so anyone could learn a set of skills like plumbing or basic electricity. This would allow them to get their foot in the door with more companies looking for specialists.
Marian: Yes, this does sound like a good idea! I wonder if something like will ever be implemented though…
Examiner: Thank you. That is the end of your FCE Speaking part.
It is important to understand how your FCE Speaking is marked. It helps give the examiners exactly what they want and improves your chances of getting a higher score.
During the exam two independent assessing procedures take place. The assessor (the person sitting in the back taking the notes) has 5 separate marking criteria that Cambridge uses to decide how good your spoken English is:
1. Grammar and vocabulary
2. Discourse Management
4. Interactive communication
The interlocutor (the person asking the questions) assesses you using a separate criterion, referred to as “Global achievement”. All of the assessment aspects will be explained below.
Each one is scored individually from 0 to 5 in 0.5 increments. They are then combined to get the average of six.
1. Grammar and vocabulary
What is assessed
Grammar – naturally, the variety and accuracy of your grammar. Some examples:
– Noun, relative and adverb clauses (some examples of each)
– Active and passive forms
– Verb patterns (infinitives, to-infinitives, gerunds)
– Contrast and command of tenses (e.g. showing a temporary situation with Present Cont.)
– Modal verbs and modality
– Conditional sentences
– Ability to produce longer, multiple-clause sentences
Vocabulary – how appropriate and how flexible your word choice is:
– Flexibility (able to rephrase in order to clarify).
– Appropriate collocations
– Register (formal/informal, depending on context)
– Rephrasing (if your speaking partner does not seem to understand you (Part 3, 4)
– Using synonyms, avoiding repetition of words
How to improve your score
– Alternate between active and passive voice.
– Try to introduce more advanced tenses into your narrative (e.g. Present Perfect to talk about your experience of learning English or Future Perfect to talk about plans that you are sure of).
– Learn verb patterns! They are extremely important in both written and spoken English.
– Use conditionals – Second Conditional for unlikely things in the present or in the future, Third Conditional for unreal results of things that didn’t happen.
– Use a variety of modal structures – modal verbs (could, might, must) and phrases that express likelihood (probably, likely, seems to be, appears to be, looks like).
– Be ready to rephrase your phrase or sentence if you feel that they might not have sounded clear enough (usually introducing the rephrased sentence with something like “What I mean to say is…”, “In other words…”, “Allow me to clarify – I mean that…”).
When you attempt to make your speech more complex, introducing two or more clauses to your sentences, mistakes are likely to happen. If you notice that you’ve made a mistake in your speech, it is perfectly normal to try and rephrase the idea. As long as communicative task is achieved, your score won’t suffer!
2. Discourse Management
What is assessed
In essence, this is about how well you ideas are linked – connection between words, phrases and even whole sentences. Another important thing is how easy it is to follow and understand your speech – how much sense it all makes, that is. It’s not about your pronunciation. These two aspects are usually called coherence and cohesion. Things that are assessed here:
– Cohesive devices (more on that below)
– Topical vocabulary (vocabulary related to the general theme that is being discussed)
– Various grammar that helps the listener understand what you’re referring to (articles and personal adjectives/pronouns)
– Discourse markers (words and expression that can normally only be found in spoken language, like “You know…”, “I mean… “
– Staying on topic (so-called “relevance” – you have to talk about the question, do not stray too far away from it)
– Expanding on your answer (not giving short, uninformative responses)
– Introducing new ideas (rather than going over the thing you have already said)
How to improve your score
– Know and use cohesive devices. They can be roughly grouped into ‘adding or elaborating’ (in addition, also, moreover, as well as), ‘showing consequence or result’ (as a result, consequently, so, thus, therefore) and ‘sequencing or ordering’ (firstly, first of all, to begin with, secondly, finally). These help structure your speech, making it both connected and easier to follow.
– Expand your vocabulary. It is pretty sad to see FCE candidates struggling to come up with any relevant words on topics as simple as Food, Holidays or Career. There is no way around it, learn new words! Here is a good vocabulary link that groups words and phrases in a nice way.
– Make sure to know the basics of articles in English. Use them to your advantage. Don’t forget about possessive pronouns and adjective to make your speech more cohesive (it, this, that, one).
What is assessed
First of all, elephant in the room – it is not about your accent. As long as your accent is easy to understand, you will do fine. This part checks other things, namely:
– Clearly pronouncing all the sounds that should be pronounced (more on that below)
– Placing the stress correctly, both in individual words and generally within the sentence (this is a common mistake with FCE test-takers)
– Correct usage of intonation to underline key points in your speech
How to improve your score
– Make sure you know how words are pronounced – if you do, then you will sound much more confident. Some candidates are unsure about certain words and can pronounce them “under the breath” – not clearly. This can cause misunderstanding and get in the way of communication. Another quick tip is not to use shortened forms of words: for instance, say “I have done” instead of “I’ve done” to make sure the examiner and your partner understand you correctly.
– Learn and use intonation. At this level you should be able to intone to your advantage. More information in an article on this topic by British Council.
4. Interactive communication
What is assessed
How well you can support a conversation, connect ideas and come to an agreement. This is what the examiners look at:
– How well you can start and support a dialogue by suggesting and discussing relevant points
– Including your partner in the conversation and encouraging exchange of ideas
– Rephrasing or explaining your point if you see your partner struggling to understand you
– Sharing the time in the conversation equally and fairly, not “hogging” it
How to improve your score
– Short answers do not give enough information to accurately assess your level of English. To give your examiners something to work with you should come up with at least two long or three shorter sentences in Part 1 and about three to four longer sentences in Part 4.
– Be sure to include your partner! There are some phrases that you might find useful for that.
– More phrases to initiate the dialogue and to support it with your ideas
– Do not take up too much time in FCE Speaking Part 3 – remember that you only have two minutes in the first half and one minute in the second.
FCE Speaking Tips
- There is a number of typical Speaking mistakes. Know them to avoid embarrassment and guarantee a higher score.
- Do not attempt to answer other student’s question even if you see them struggling – you might get penalized for that. However, you might help them by paraphrasing your ideas in the collaborative task.
- Keep practicing. The most effective way to improve your speaking is using the language, you can do so by either having live conversations or by writing.