How would students know if they’ve got the level to take the exam?
Gill says that students need to do a mock exam (a practice exam)
Do practice tests and try to get your writing checked to see if it is at the correct level for the FCE exam.
Don’t automatically think that you have the level just because you have a friend who has passed.
You can compare your writing with model writings in course books and online, but it’s better if a teacher looks at your writing and gives you advice.
It’s important to know the different writing styles in the writing tasks and the timing and length of the writing (140-190 words).
Gill doesn’t think students should try to study at home. It’s better to go to a good language academy.
What advice do you have for students who are preparing for FCE at home?
Cambridge do have some resources online. You can find them on the Cambridge website.
What areas do students typically find difficult?
Gill agrees that most students pass the speaking test and your English needs to be quite bad not to pass it.
Sometimes students try too hard. Gill says, take your time and slow down.
Gill thinks the writing is really important and that you have more control over this part than other parts of the exam.
You choose which question to answer in part 2 and you choose what you write. In the essay in part 1 you give your own opinion.
Treat the exam like a driving test. Do all the things that the examiner expects (like finishing the letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the name of the person, and with ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t know the person’s name and begin with ‘Dear Sir/Madam,”
Craig says to move your chairs a little in part 3 of the speaking test so that you are looking at your partner and not at the examiner.
In part 3 of the speaking test you must only speak with your partner, so you should be looking at him/her.
The speaking test is quite unnatural, especially when you speak for a minute in part 2. We don’t usually speak like this in real life.
When speaking about the 2 photographs in part 2, you should talk about the differences and similarities between the photos and then answer the question.
If you answer the question and have more time, you can personalise the photos and say which one you prefer and why. It’s important to keep speaking until the examiner stops you.
Part 3 has now changed. There is not a picture, there’s a question with text that you have to talk about.
You discuss the question with your partner for 2 minutes. Then you have to reach a decision in one minute.
Use of English
Which grammar points do your students typically have problems with?
present perfect continuous
passives with It is said to be…/It is thought that../He’s believed to be…
modal verbs (modals in the past!)- You can study this grammar point with Gill and I here – Inbetweenasode – inglespodcast.com.
3rd and mixed conditionals – I wish…, If only…(regrets)
the article (a, an, the)
speaking about the future using present continuous and other ways to speak about the future
gerunds and infinitives
anywhere, somewhere, nowhere etc
used to/be used to/get used to
indirect polite questions
Which self-study books and materials would you recommend?
The course book that Craig is using to teach First Certificate at the moment is: Ready for First by Roy Norris.
First Certificate Trainer:
Cambridge Practice tests (past papers)
Gill says that it’s very important to practise listening and reading in your own time before the exam.
Students who read a lot do not usually have problems with the reading paper.
What’s the Pass rate in Gill’s experience?
Gill says a bit more than 60%. I agree, and in my experience the pass rate is often between 55 and 65%.
Although we advise students to wait sometimes and not take the exam, students often take it anyway.
Some students sho Gill thinks will not pass sometimes do pass, and vice versa.
Any other tips and advice for FCE students?
Be very careful when you pass your answers from the question paper to the answer sheet. If the numbers do not correspond, they could all be wrong!
Don’t count all the words in the writing. You should know, more or less, how many words are 140-190 in your style of handwriting.
Gill suggests that you not try too hard. Don’t overuse linking words.
Study some phrasal verbs, but don’t memorise long lists of phrasal verbs.
You can listen to Gill and I speaking about the grammar of modal verbs in the past here, and watch an interview I did with Gill for YouTube here.