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First Certificate Exam – Our tips

Thinking about taking the FCE exam? Want to know more about it? I’ll explain the different parts of the exam and give you some tips for success.

The FCE (First Certificate of English) exam is intended for Upper-Intermediate students. This is an official exam accepted by many universities and companies worldwide. Check the exam schedule on the Cambridge website and give yourself plenty of time to prepare. Only take the exam if you feel ready.

The exam is made up of 4 Sections:

The Reading & Use of English, Writing and Listening sections take place on the same day, and the Speaking section takes place on another day.

Reading & Use of English (1hr 15 min)

This section is divided into 7 parts, 52 questions total.

The sections in Use of English are:

Multiple choice
Open-cloze
Word formation
Key word transformation
Text with 6 multiple choice questions
Text with 6 sentences missing
Multiple matching

My advice

Try to read as many different kind of texts as possible. Spelling counts so be sure to check your spelling when studying for the exam. Keep a notebook with new vocabulary words. During the exam, follow the instructions carefully and read the entire text before answering.

Writing (1 hr 20 min)

This section is divided into 2 parts. The first part will be a letter or e-mail based on the prompt. For Part 2, you get to choose from a variety of texts including an article, an essay, a report, a letter, a review or a story.

My advice

Make sure you follow all instructions. Read the prompt carefully and make some notes before you start writing. For Part 2, choose something you feel comfortable writing. Is it a formal or informal text? Remember to use appropriate language. Use as much vocabulary as possible.

Listening (40 min)

This section is made up of 4 parts.

In Part 1, you listen to 8 recordings and answer 1 question about each.

In Part 2, you listen and complete gapped sentences.

Part 3 is multiple matching with 5 speakers.

Part 4 is a longer recording with 7 multiple choice questions.  

My advice

You’ll have time to read the questions before listening. The audio will be played twice. Try to get the general idea the first time and focus on the details the second time. If you try to answer the questions while listening, you may get distracted and miss something. You’ll have time after listening to transfer your answers.

Speaking (14 min per pair)

The speaking section is done in pairs. With your partner, you’ll complete each of the 4 parts.

Part 1 is a conversation between the examiner and each candidate (getting to know you)

In Part 2, you are given a set of pictures to discuss with your partner.

In Part 3, you and your partner have to make a decision together about something.

Part 4 is a discussion on topics related to Part 3.

My advice

Stay calm, don’t speak too quickly. Answer as completely as you can. Try to add details and use lots of vocabulary. Don’t repeat what your partner has just said.

General Tips

Stay calm! Don’t panic, take deep breaths.

Read the instructions carefully for every section.

It’s important to keep track of the time when taking the exam.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, move on and come back to it later.

You can find free practice exams on the Cambridge website. 

I hope these tips have been helpful! If you a question about the FCE exam, write it in the comments! Why not sign up to ABA English’s course for free and start improving your English with us? What are you waiting for?

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