The speaking test is a test of communication.  You don’t have to speak quickly, you don’t have to hurry and having an accent is OK.  To get a good mark on the speaking test you need to answer the examiner’s questions and show that you can interact naturally with the examiner and the other candidate.  It is very important that you listen carefully and read any material you are given carefully as well.

Test format and marking:  two candidates take the speaking test together, in most cases the candidates do not know each other.  There are also two Cambridge representatives in the exam, the interlocutor and the assessor.  The interlocutor will ask questions and interact with the candidates while the assessor will not interact or say anything, he or she will be giving marks in the following categories:

  • Grammatical Resource: measures the range and accuracy of simple and complex grammatical structures
  • Lexical Resource: measures the range and appropriacy of vocabulary
  • Discourse Management: measures the ability to logically connect phrases to form coherent and relevant answers to the tasks
  • Pronunciation: measures the ability to form intelligible speech, includes stress and intonation as well as individual sounds
  • Interactive Communication: measures the ability to take an active role in the development of discussions by taking time to speak and also inviting others to speak

One final mark will be given by the interlocutor:

  • Global Achievement: measures the overall effectiveness in responding to the tasks in the different sections of the speaking test

Parts of the speaking test:

Cambridge English: First (FCE) Speaking Part 1

Candidates will each be asked questions about themselves.  Topics will be home, work, school, hobbies, habits, interests and future plans.

  • Be relaxed and natural.  Smile.  Be the kind of person who is nice to have a conversation with!
  • Give honest answers even if you think they are “not good”.  Your opinions and lifestyle are not part of the marking criteria.
  • Don’t give one-word answers!  The examiner will not ask you follow-up questions.
  • Give complete answers.  “Because” should be your favourite word in this part of the test.
  • Listen to your partner, you may be asked the same question and you don’t want to repeat their answer.
Cambridge English: First (FCE) Speaking Part 2

Candidates will have to speak for one minute about two pictures.  They must compare the pictures and answer an opinion question about them.  Candidates will also have to answer a short question about their partner’s pictures.

  • You have two tasks to complete during your one-minute talk: compare the photos and answer a question about them.  The question you have to answer will be written on the card with the photos.
  • Starting your talk can be difficult, many times the pictures can seem unrelated or just bizarre.  Don’t worry though!  The examiner will give you the words to begin with.  Listen carefully as they give you the pictures.  They will say: “Here are your photographs.  They show _____.  I’d like you to compare the photos and say _______.”  Just repeat what the examiner said to start the words flowing: “OK.  Well, both of these pictures show ______…”
  • Remember, the first task is not to describe the photos but to compare them.  Connect the pictures to each other with linking words.  For example: “In the first picture the people are happy, but the second picture they seem bored.  In the first picture it is a sunny day, while in the second picture it is evening.  In the top picture I think the people are good friends, however, in the bottom picture I think they are work colleagues.”  Other good linking words are: and, but, while, whereas, although, on the other hand, compared to, just like, or contrary to.
  • When you have made some comparisons, look at the top of the page at the opinion question you have to answer.  Just relax and try to be honest.  If you honestly don’t have an opinion, just choose something and give a reason for it.  It is not a test of your opinions but a test of how you explain them!
  • You will have to answer a question after the other candidate speaks, so look at their pictures and try and think of words they haven’t used.  Listen carefully to your question and try not to repeat the things the other candidate said.
Cambridge English: First (FCE) Speaking Part 3

Candidates have a task to complete together without any input from the interlocutor.  A written topic with a number of ideas will be provided (see the practice test for examples) and candidates will have to discuss them, give their opinion, and make a decision.

  • Turn your chair to face your partner.  This will provide a physical reminder of what is important in this task, which is to interact with your partner.
  • Start the task with a question about one of the ideas to your partner, you should be trying to involve your partner and respond to what he or she is saying during this task.
  • Discuss all of the ideas before discussing the decision.  You are not required to actually agree about the decision.  In fact, if you reach agreement before the time limit, it makes it difficult to continue the discussion.
  • If your partner talks too much: you can still receive a good mark if you use appropriate phrases to interrupt them.  “Excuse me, may I interrupt?  I’m afraid I have to disagree.  Can I make a point?  I’d just like to say.”
  • If your partner doesn’t talk at all: you can still receive a good mark if you encourage them to speak and give them time to answer.
  • Remember, this is an interactive task and you must demonstrate your awareness of how to participate in a discussion
Cambridge English: First (FCE) Speaking Part 4

The interlocutor will join in the discussion on the general theme of the ideas from part 3.  The interlocutor will ask the candidates questions and encourage them to share their opinions about the questions and each others’ answers.

  • Relax!  The “hard” parts of the test are over, now you can just have a normal conversation with the people sitting at the table with you.
  • In Part 1, the examiner clearly identified the candidate they were speaking to, in Part 4, they will ask open questions to the table.  You must decide either to answer the question, allow your partner to answer the question or ask another question to your partner.
  • Give your honest opinion and don’t hesitate to react to what the other candidate says.
  • Don’t dominate the conversation, the other candidate deserves a turn to speak as well.

The end of the test: The interlocutor will say, “Thank you.  That is the end of the test.”

  • Thank the interlocutor and the assessor and leave.
  • Don’t ask your score.
  • Don’t say, “Oh my god, I’m so glad that’s over!”
  • Behave like you are at a job interview, go outside before you stop “taking the test”.

Take a practice speaking test with me over Skype

Visit the Do a Speaking Test page for details.