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Cambridge Assessment English B2 Exam

Facts about Cambridge B2 First  ……

formerly known as Cambridge English

First  Certificate in English ( FCE) 

I have been an assessor (an examiner)  for Cambridge  English exams for 30 years ….yes, 30 years ! In that time I have tutored many students and helped them succeed in passing their exams. 

A Few Facts about The Exam  

  • It is one of the most popular ESOL exams globally
  • It is accepted for entry to foundations courses in English speaking countries  
  • It is accepted for entry to undergraduate programmes which are taught in English in non-English speaking countries  
  • It is required by many EU employers as proof of competency in English  
  • It shows you can communicate effectively face to face as well as in writing  

The Four Parts of the Exam 

 Reading and Use of English (1 hour and 15 minutes) ::You read  texts to show you can deal with different types of text and then exercises to test you grammar and vocabulary  

Writing (1 hour and 20 minutes)  You write two different pieces of writing such as letters, reviews, reports and essays  

Listening (about 40 minute)  You listen to spoken texts such as news programmes, conversations and presentations to show your understanding  

Speaking (14 minutes per pair of candidates) You speak to an examiner and another student in the exam room. This tests your ability to communicate in face-to-face situations . There are two examiners, one who asks you the questions and one who listens and gives you marks. 

The Speaking Exam

The speaking exam, even though it is the shortest part of the exam , is the part most students are scared of, get worried about and really do not look forward to….but let me change your mind as examiners really want you to pass your exam – our job is to listen for the GOOD language you use when you are speaking. 

Examiner Advice 

  • The most important thing is DON’T PANIC! Examiners are very kind and want to make you feel as comfortable as possible – even if it is a test! Always tell the examiner if you are extremely nervous or feel unwell, have a cough or cold or anything else! I had a lady who was 8 and half months pregnant in an exam once and , you guessed it ,  her labour started in her speaking exam!  
  • Listen carefully to the questions you are asked – it will help you form your answer correctly. The examiner cannot change the question if you don’t understand but they can repeat the question again for you.  Once , a young man did not understand the question he was asked in part 2 with the photos – he did not ask for the question to repeated  and did not read the prompt on the photo .  He sat very quietly with his head down without speaking – this was very difficult for him as he lost his confidence for the rest of the exam. If you don’t understand the question , look at the photos , the second part of the question is always written at the top to help you .
  • When you are preparing for the exam and learning new vocabulary, try to learn by topic, for example: The Environment, Education, Living Abroad and so on. Try and learn vocabulary in lots of different ways, maybe use different colour pens for each different topic, draw pictures, write funny sentences! This will help you to recall the words more easily in a test situation.  Be careful of false friends in vocabulary – once gentleman from France explained that he liked to and look around the local bras – of course he didn’t really want to talk about ladies lingerie as in French Une brasserie is either a brewery, or a bar that serves meals…he had just got a bit confused! 
  • Remember it is a test of COMMUNICATION – this means that you have to show that you can have a conversation in English with someone else, that you can ask questions, respond to questions, expand your ideas and be courteous to your partner. IT IS NOT A ONE-MAN SHOW!  Don’t worry about one student speaking too much , or one student being of a higher level than another student – speaking examiners listen to each candidate as an individual and do not compare them with their partner. 
  • Practice, practice practice and practice some more! The best way to feel confident in the speaking test is to get as much practice doing sample exams as well as speaking with other people in English – you can even talk to your self in the mirror!  

 it is really important that you know WHAT you are being marked on so you understand what to learn and practice. Take a look at the language areas below , the examiner can give you fro1- 5 marks in each section : 

  • Grammar and Vocabulary  make sure use a range grammatical forms and use a range of appropriate vocabulary  
  • Discourse Management  make sure that you use extended sentences and connectors  
  • Pronunciation  make sure that you practice your individual sounds and be careful with intonation  
  • Interactive Communication  make sure you initiate and respond and develop conversations – include your partner by asking his/her opinion, be courteous in turn taking. 

The speaking exam is for 14 minutes if there are 2 students taking part and 20 minutes if there are 3 students taking part. Normally it is only 2 students. So, you really have to make sure that you know HOW to do each part of the exam…. 

Content and Length of Each Part of the Speaking Exam: 

  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4 
Content  Getting to know you  60 second monologue  Discussion with partner(s)  Further questions 
2 Candidates  2 minutes  4 minutes  4 minutes  4 minutes 
3 Candidates  3 minutes  6 minutes  5 minutes  6 minutes 

B2 First Speaking Part 1: Getting to Know You 

In Part 1, the examiner will ask you and your partner some questions about yourself.  

In the very beginning examiners always ask : 

  • What’s your name? 
  • Where are you from? 
  • What do you like about living in candidate’s hometown? 

Other “ getting to know you “ questions may be about the type of music you like, your favourite film, your holidays, your family, friendships, eating out, your work or studies. It is important to answer as naturally as possible – just like having  chat to a friend!  

B2  First Speaking Part 2:  

  • This is the part of the speaking exam that most candidates worry about! You are asked to look at two pictures and the examiner gives you a question to answer. This is the part of the speaking exam where you really need to know your topic vocabulary and language for speculation. 
  • The examiner shows you two pictures and a question to answer (about these pictures) 
  • You have 15 seconds of thinking time before you start speaking 
  • Then you have 60 seconds to compare the pictures and answer the question 
  • After that, your partner is asked a question about the topic of the pictures 

For example: if the examiner shows you pictures of two families, one is of a family in the countryside outside a cottage  and the other is of a family inside a flat in a city , the question might be: “I’d like you to compare the pictures and tell me what is good or bad about living in these places?” After your 60 seconds, your partner might be asked: “Which place would you prefer to live in? 

Remember: 

You are NOT being asked to describe all the little details in the pictures – this is a mistake that many students make. You are being asked to compare the themes in the pictures.  

If you forgot a word …DON’T PANIC! We often forget words in our own language( well I do !) . The best thing to do is to describe the word you have forgotten like you would in your own language. 

You only have a minute to describe the pictures so make sure you start after your 15 seconds thinking time and the examiner has asked you to begin. Students who have practised for the speaking test all manage to talk to for one minute as they have learnt the skill of  this part of the test. Students who have not practised very often find they cannot speak for one minute. If you do find your self lost for words you can just say “ that is all, I have finished” – it is better to say something than nothing !   

 

B2 First Speaking Part 3: Discussion with partner(s) 

This is the part of the exam where you have a conversation with your partner . This is the communicative part. For part 3, you will be shown a spider diagram with a question in the middle and 5 topics connected to i(see the picture in the video below). 

  • First, the examiner explains a situation to you and shows you the spider diagram 
  • Then you and your partner are given 15 seconds to look at the questions and the related topics before you begin 
  • You get 2 minutes to discuss the different topics in a pair, and 3 minutes if you are in a group of 3 candidates 
  • When you have finished the two minutes, the examiner will then ask you another question for you to decide on with your partner – you have a minute for this. 

Examiner Advice. 

In this part of the test it is VERY important to show that you  can initiate, respond and extend your language. Ask your partner if he/she would like to start, ask you partners opinion once you have spoken, make sure that it is   a DIALOGUE not a MONOLOGUE. You don’t NOT get extra points if you just keep talking by yourself and do not let the other person speak – this is not good communication practice! Don’t forget it is ok to disagree with your partner as long as you do it in a polite way! 

B2 First Speaking Part 4: Further questions 

For the final part of the speaking test, the examiner will invite you individually or together , to answer some more questions . 

  • The examiner will ask you a question 
  • Then he/she will ask your partner if they agree/disagree, or what they think 
  • The examiner will then ask your partner a question. 
  • After this, the examiner will ask a question and then use a hand gesture to show they want you to talk together with your partner 

Sometimes in this part of the test, students really like the topic questions and just keep on talking to each other – and that’s great! Don’t be afraid to disagree with a question but always be prepared to back up your statements.  

Don’t learn passages off by heart! Sometimes, I have heard students who have learnt a whole topic off by heart – this does not work – we want to hear candidates speaking naturally in English NOT a paragraph they have learnt OFF BY HEART! 

Examiners Advice

My best advice to you is to speak , speak, speak. Why don’t you  join in a conversation class where you will go over all the key themes for the B2 First speaking exam . It is better to do short conversation classes a few times a week than wait until just before your exam to try and improve your speaking! It is very easy now to join in a zoom conversation class to practice your English. 

 

Get in touch if you would like any help with the B2 First exam  we have lots of experience and top tips to help you succeed in your exam!