The FCE speaking exam consists of four parts. Before we explain each section individually, it is a good idea to watch this video of an actual FCE speaking exam. Note that this speaking exam is done with a partner, and sometimes even in a group of 3. It is also worth noting that there are two people in the room with you. The person asking the questions is the interlocutor but there is also an assessor who takes notes and gives you a score. I suggest that you find a partner whom you can practise your speaking with regularly as soon as possible, and practise as much as you can!
The video below is a good example of what to expect in the exam.
An Overview of the Speaking Exam
Below you will find an overview of each part of the exam. At the bottom of each section, you will find various links to help you practise what we discuss here.
Part one of the FCE speaking exam is done one on one with the interlocutor and lasts about 3 minutes in total (you won’t speak for the full 3 minutes, so don’t worry!). In this part of the test, the interlocutor will ask you and your partner a series of questions based on some of the following topics:
- Likes and dislikes
- Education and work
- Free time
- Holidays and travel
- Personal experience
- Daily life
- Science and technology
The questions asked will be about you and your personal experience, but you will not be asked anything which is too personal. For example, you may be asked a question such as
“Who are you most like in your family?” (meaning who are you SIMILAR to, not who is your favourite!)
You will not, however, be asked things like “Are you married?” etc.
You will also never be asked simple yes/no/one word answer questions like “What’s your favourite colour?”
Here are some other kinds of questions which are typical of FCE speaking part 1:
- Do you prefer to spend more time alone or with other people?
- Do you enjoy playing computer games?
- What is your favourite part of the day?
- Do you find it easy to study where you live?
- Have you done anything interesting with your friends lately?
- Do you have any plans for the weekend?
- Where would you like to go on holiday in the future?
As you can see, you may be asked questions about the past, the present or the future.
- It is worth remembering that part one is the easiest part of the test. It is designed not only to test your English, but also to help you ease into the spoken part of the test.
- You may be nervous before your exam, but speaking with the interlocutor about topics which are familiar to you, should help to make you feel more comfortable.
- Also remember that, although part one is important, it is not as important as parts 2 – 4, so just relax and if you are going to make mistakes, make them in part 1.
- Remember to give more than a “yes/no” answer; expand your answers!
- If you do not understand a question, don’t panic! Just ask the interlocutor to repeat the question. You will not lose marks for this. Could you please repeat the question? Sorry, could you repeat that please?
Speaking part two is a little more challenging than part one. In this part of the speaking test, you will be given 2 pictures. You will be asked to compare the pictures, and answer a question related to them. You will need to speak for 1 minute in total. Once you have spoken, your partner will answer a short question relating in some way to your pictures. I have highlighted the word compare here, because it is important to say what is similar and different in the pictures, not just to describe what you can see. In the following example, I have italicised the words which show comparison and contrast
Here is an example of a part 2 question, followed by the best way to approach this part of the test.
Why is it important to help people in these situations?
The first thing to do here is to give an overview (or summary) of what you can see in each picture and compare them. Once this is done, you should move on to the question. My suggestion is to spend more time on the question than on the description, because this gives you more chances to use complex language. Here is an example of what I might say in this situation.
In the first picture, we see a policeman who appears to be helping an elderly man with some bags; it is probably the old man’s shopping, while in the second picture, there is a man who has hurt himself on the field and is getting attention from someone. Maybe the coach or a medic?
(this first part should take about 20 seconds. from here, I will answer the question and refer to the pictures)
In both situations, it is important to help people for different reasons. On the one hand, the policeman is helping the older man with his bags because as a policeman, he has a duty to help the public. Also, the elderly cannot always do day to day activities as easily as younger people, and so it is important that others, not just police officers, are willing to lend a hand. On the other hand, when we consider the second picture, it is obvious that the man, who appears to be a soccer player, is in some pain and has injured himself. For this reason, it is important that the medics help him so that the injury does not become any worse and also so that the match can continue. So in summary, I believe it is important to give support to people who need it, such as the elderly and the injured.”
If you finish this part of the test in less than a minute, the interlocutor will not speak to you until the minute is finished. Therefore, if you still have time left, you should always try to keep speaking. Make sure that you speak for the full minute. If you run out of things to say, then go back and describe more of what you can see in each photo.
Don’t worry if you can’t do this yet; you need to practise! Below, you will find links to practice materials and also to the kinds of language which are useful in part two speaking.
An introductory activity
Before I explain this part of the exam, I would like you to find someone to do the following activity with.
- First of all, I would like you to think of 4 common, everyday objects. Ask your friend/ speaking partner to do the same. Make a list but don’t show your partner yet.
- Next, compare your lists. You should now have 8 common objects. For example:
Shoes/ a TV/ a bottle of water/ a knife/ matches/ a microwave oven/ a mobile phone / a newspaper.
- Now, I want you to imagine that you and your speaking partner are trapped on an island after a shipwreck. The 8 items on your list are the only things that you have with you!
- Next, discuss with your partner how you could use each of these items to help you on the island. For example; “We could use the knife to hunt and cut food and the matches to make fire. The shoes would be useful for walking on the rocks when we go fishing…..” etc.
- Finally, you should decide which 2 items would be the most useful to you on the island. Make sure you and your partner both give your opinion clearly. You do not have to agree on which 2 items would be the best.
The above activity asks you to discuss the advantages of a number of objects before making a final decision. This is very similar to the process you follow in speaking part 3.
An example part 3
In part 3 of the speaking exam, the interlocutor will give you a situation and a diagram with different options to discuss (just like the shipwreck situation in the activity above). For example, the interlocutor might say
I’d like you to imagine that an international English school would like to attract more students. Here is a list of ideas that the students have suggested, and a question for you to answer. First, you have some time to look at the diagram.
At this point, the interlocutor will give you the diagram and you will have 15 seconds to look before you speak.
After the 15 seconds, the interlocutor will say
Now, talk to your partner about how the facilities would help attract students to the school”
At this point, you and your partner will need to speak for about 2 minutes about a number of the options. You will not have time to discuss them all if you are speaking enough, so aim to discuss at least 3 of them.
Decide before the test who will speak first, you or your partner. That person will start with something like “Shall we start with ________?” (new computers for example). From here you should give your opinion about the first option you have chosen and allow your partner to do the same. After that, select another option and discuss it. Continue to do this until the interlocutor says “Thank you”. This is your cue to stop.
Once the first section is completed, the interlocutor will ask you and your partner to make some kind of decision. It is not important to agree with your partner so long as you both give your opinion and you talk for the full 1 minute.
For the example above, the interlocutor might say “Now you have about a minute to decide which two facilities the school should use to attract the most students”. However, the question will be different for each part 3 question.
Overall, the most important things to remember in part 3 are:
- Speak with your partner until the interlocutor stops you (by saying “thank you”)
- Make sure that you give your opinion; don’t just choose an option. Say WHY.
- Make sure that you and your partner both speak for a similar amount of time. You can do this by encouraging a quiet partner or even interrupting your partner if they talk too much.
- If your partner can’t think of a word; help them! They can also help you.
- Decide who will speak first before your exam to save time once part 3 has started.
- Learn some synonyms for “I agree” and “I disagree”. For example;
- You make a valid point.
- I agree with you to a point, but have you considered…….
- I see your point, but I have to disagree.
- Phrases like these will help you to use a variety of language.
Follow the links below for a few more examples of speaking part 3 questions.
Part 4 of the speaking exam is always related in some way to part 3. For example, If you did the part 3 above, the topic for part 4 might be something related to school and study. The questions in part 4 are more “open” than in part one and they are not only about your life, family and friends. This section lasts about 4 minutes
- In part 4 the interlocutor will either ask you or your partner a question, in which case you should give your reply to the interlocutor.
- On the other hand, the interlocutor may give you a question to discuss with your partner. If the interlocutor wants you to talk to your partner, they will move their hands towards both of you to indicate that you should talk to each other (see the video at the top of the page at 12:00).
- As a rule, if the interlocutor asks you a question, you should face them as you answer. If they want you to discuss something together, you should turn and face your partner.
Here are some part 4 style questions about a variety of topics such as entertainment, visitors from overseas, living in cities, and consumerism. There are many other topics which could be covered in part 4.
- Some people say that there is too much entertainment available to people and so they are unable to entertain themselves. Do you agree?
- If a visitor from another country came to stay with you, what would be the first place you would take that person to?
- Some people think that museums and art galleries are boring. Do you agree?
- What kind of local events take place where you come from? Do you take part in or attend them?
- Some people think that in the modern world, local communities are not as important as they used to be. Do you agree?
- What are the best things about living in a city in (your country)?
- In your opinion, is it better for children to grow up in the city or the countryside?
- Some people say that advertising encourages people to spend too much money. Do you agree?
- Is it true that we buy a lot of things we don’t need these days?
- Some people say that there will be no need for shops in the future and that we will buy everything online. What do you think?