Top Tips for Cambridge Exams

Many of you will soon be sitting the First Certificate, CAE, or Proficiency exams. We asked our Cambridge exam teachers for some expert advice on the different parts of the exams. Let’s start with Paper 5:


Karen Ludlow, who is an official speaking examiner, answers some of our students’ most frequently asked questions.

PART 1: general questions: personal information and everyday topics (FCE/CAE/CPE)

 Q: Is it a good idea to prepare a mini speech on topics such as work/studies, personal interests, travel, etc?

A: No. The examiner will ask each of you different questions in turn and your answers need to be fairly brief.  Part 1 is only 3 minutes and examiners are good at recognizing prepared speeches! Just try to speak as naturally as possible about the topic and relate it to personal experience.

 PART 2: individual turn: photos (FCE/ CAE)

 Q: What happens if I can’t talk about the photos for a minute or if the examiner suddenly stops me speaking?

A: If you speak for less than one minute the examiner should encourage you to talk a bit more so try to find one other contrast/similarity between the photos. If you speak over a minute the examiner will usually stop you by saying ‘thank you’. It doesn’t mean you failed this part!

Remember: you need to compare and contrast the photos, NOT describe them. Use the questions written at the top of the exam paper to help you focus on similarities and differences.

CAE: try and choose two photos that give good contrast.

 Q: After my partner has spoken about the photos, the examiner asks me a short question about them. Do I have to answer about the two photos my partner has talked about? (CAE)

A: No. The question is related to all three photos on the page, so choose the photo you think is best to answer the question. It’s a short answer:  I think….because

 PART 3: Long turn (two minute talk) and discussion (CPE)

 Q: Do I have to talk about all the points on the card in order for two minutes?

A: No. The points under the main question on the card are just there to give you ideas to focus on. Use the main question as your guide. The discussion points below should help you decide when to broaden the topic or when you can use more personalized information/ anecdotes. Add your own overall ideas, as they may be better than the points suggested!

 PART 3 and 4: collaborative task and discussion (FCE/CAE).

 Q: If I/we go blank and can’t think of what to say/a word/expression, can we help each other?

A: Yes! Help and move on to another point as soon as you can. Remember you are discussing a topic together so ask for/give opinions, agree/disagree, etc. Disagree if/when you can, as you can produce more interesting arguments and language.

Q: Does it matter if we don’t talk about all the pictures or photos on the page?

A: No. There are two questions related to the topic at the top of the page. Focus on the first question and try to talk about as many photos as possible before you answer the second question which is usually about making a choice. Don’t take turns to talk about each photo. It’s a two-way discussion and the examiner wants you to interact in  Part 3 and also in Part 4.

Good luck to all students taking Cambridge ESOL exams at CSIM June 2012!

Karen Ludlow: Cambridge ESOL exam courses, CSIM. Examiner and Examiner trainer at British Council Exams Centre, Madrid.

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