Changes are coming to the CAE! All exams starting from 1/1/2015 will be in a slightly different format. Please use the menu above to navigate to the relevant information for your exam.

The speaking test is a test of communication.  You don’t have to speak quickly, you don’t have to hurry your answers, and you don’t have to worry about your accent.  To get a good mark on the speaking test you need to produce relevant, informative answers to the examiner’s questions.  It is very important that you listen carefully to the examiner 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 CAE speaking test:

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.

Part 2: Candidates will have to speak for one minute about two pictures.  They will compare the pictures and answer two questions about each one within the time limit.  Candidates will also have to answer a short question about their partner’s pictures

  • Time management is very important for this task. One minute is not a long time!
  • Look at the script for the practice speaking test, the time begins after the interlocutor says “All right?” and they will indicate the time is finished by saying “Thank you.”
  • You want to begin your answer as quickly as possible, but often the pictures are not really easy to talk about and you don’t know what to say. A good, easy, and reliable way to begin is to repeat part of the interlocutor’s words. He or she will say (check the speaking test script and you’ll see this is written in bold), “Here are your pictures. They show XYZ. Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. All right?” Now you can say, “All right. These pictures show XYZ and I’d like to talk about this one and this one.” You can point to the pictures, it’s not necessary to describe them.
  • Just above, I wrote that the interlocutor will say “Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. All right?” If you look at the speaking test script from the practice test download page, you’ll notice that all of the blah blah information is written on the page with the pictures, but the XYZ summary is not. So you can concentrate on the summary statement because the other questions are written down for you.
  • Please do NOT simply describe the pictures! No part of the instructions asks you to say what you see in the picture. This is the biggest and most common mistake that candidates make on this part of the speaking paper.
  • The key part of the instructions is the word “compare”. You want to be speaking about both of the pictures when you are answering the questions at the top of the page.
    • Here are some good answers: “In the picture where the people are ___, they seem ___. But in the other picture, where they are ___, I don’t think they are as ___ as in the first picture. They’re probably ___ because they are ___ but in the first picture they don’t have to worry about ___. But in general, I think they people in both of the pictures are ____.” Each sentence makes a very clear comparison between the images.
    • These answers don’t make comparisons: “In the first picture, the people are doing ___. They probably feel ___. In the second picture, the people are doing ____. They probably feel ___ because of ___.” While the information about the pictures can be different, there are no explicit comparisons made and so the score in this section will not be as high as it could be.
  • Here are some other simple comparative words or phrases you can use: and, but, while, whereas, although, on the other hand, compared to, just like, contrary to, on the other hand.
  • Pay attention as your partner completes their task and listen carefully to the question you are asked about their pictures so you are able to give an original, informative and relevant answer.
  • Practice Part 2 of the CAE with me! Visit the CAE Quick speaking test page for more information.

Part 3: Candidates have a task to complete together without any input from the interloctor.  A number of pictures related to a theme will be provided and candidates will have to discuss the pictures, give their opinion, and make a decision about the pictures.

  • 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 pictures 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 pictures 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.  Can I make a point?  I’d just like to say… Excuse me, but I have to disagree…
  • 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

Part 4: The interlocutor will join in the discussion on the general theme of the pictures 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.
  • 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 quick or a full  practice speaking test with me: visit the Do a Speaking Test page for details.