Do you ever get to see the test and your mistakes?
My answer in plain English:
No. You have to bear in mind that you are sitting for a test at the end of a school course. Although you may be doing a specific course or studying at your school to sit for First for Schools, this is a certification process. You have chosen a university to confirm you possess some knowledge of the language. The tests belong to the assessment body now. They will most probably be used for research purposes.
So, what do you get as a feedback? Every student sitting for the test is issued with a Statement of Results, which looks like this:
Whether you pass or not, you will access this statement of results online. If you pass, you will receive a paper certificate at you examining centre. That certificate is valid for life. Do remember to go and pick it up. It is issued only once. If you lose it, I guess you will need to sit for the test again!
There's a difference, right? When I read, I don't like wondering what you meant. I want you to spell it out to me.
Writing is about making it easy and enjoyable for the reader. I usually tell my students that when they plan a paragraph, they are signalling a road for the reader to have a pleasant journey.
Extending this journey metaphor...
"Think of punctuation and mechanics in terms of driving your car. Punctuation and mechanics provide direction and signal the information to which you need to pay attention. Without punctuation and mechanics, phrases and sentences would run into each other and would be unclear, and your writing would go virtually nowhere. The purpose of punctuation and mechanics is to make your meaning clear by telling the reader when to pause, when to stop, when to take notice, etc" (I found it here.)
The power of punctuation is better explained by examples. Then you need some general rules. Above all, you need exercises!
The Purdue University website has a good menu to cover the punctuation you need to know.
If you find that too much, you may wish to do a quick quiz instead.
In the middle of your writing, you may need to consult a guide about specific punctuation marks. This one is quite comprehensive. This one is faster and has exercises.
A quick cheat-sheet to have near you while you write could be this Oxford site.
The Cambridge English TV Channel in YouTube keeps updating samples of FCE Speaking tests. As you know, the oral test will undergo a few changes. Pay attention to Part 3 of the test where the examiner asks the candidates to do something together. So far, that part has been of 3 minutes with visual prompts. As from 2015, it will take 2 minutes of discussion of written prompts and then the interlocutor will ask you to evaluate the options together for another minute.
In my opinion, this is much clearer for students, since time goes by faster or much slower when you are under the stress of a test and some students tend to hurry to conclusions way before the three minutes have expired.
So here it is. These are Florine and María
You can also read a pdf document that Cambridge issues to explain the candidates' performance part by part.
I got a letter from Simon, a reader of this blog, who says:
" My biggest problem is my small vocabulary. [...] Do you have any tips for me to improve my English faster?" So I thought it was about time we revisited the topic of vocabulary learning.
Before I give you a list of recipes, please remember that whichever techniques you choose, it's important that you keep at them. Vocabulary learning -just as most of language learning- is like gym. Think training. Think how you'd prepare yourself if your objective was to grow muscles or be physically fit and you'll be on the right track. So, no magic or quick fixes here.
There is, above all, a memoristic aspect to vocabulary learning. That's the glue that makes you retrive the word if you mean to add it to the words you normally use. So, if you choose some of the memory training techniques below, try to make a list of words which are highly frequent in your everyday English. Why? Because you'll be likely to need the word when you speak, therefore, you'll go beyond the memoristic game to real learning in a meaningful context.
Synonyms are a great way to learn words. You never know which one sticks to your mind first, but, at least, by giving your brain choices you create other association possibilities that may spell success.
However, this is a word of warning, our brains are not that prepared to learn antonyms when both words in the pair are new to you. Trying to learn "tall/short" at the same time is not a good idea. Try it with a list yourself. You'll probably doubt which is which for a long time. Many students confuse words like "before&after" even in advanced levels.
Next, you may try to group words linked to a topic context:
Brainstorming a topic. Which words come to your mind when you think "fashion"?
I find all of these useful when the starting point is words in my mother tongue and then look for the foreign equivalents. Then, you may systematize all that in word maps. The kind of maps you find in Lexipedia, for example. This is particularly useful for the Use of English Paper.Check out these flashcards.
Onother helpful hint to learn words is to vary the senses you use to learn them.
From any text you read online, you may create a word cloud to help you retell it by using the image only. You may just drop words and use them as a story prompt, if you feel more creative. What story would you make with these?
One last word, you'll find sharing and teaching the words a powerful source of learning. So go ahead and teach someone what you now know. Remember the muscle training principle applies to words: use them or lose them!
Now I'd like to focus on a strictly linguistic aspect: the form. How to say it. What words and phrases can you use to link what you say? The ideas of this post apply to all parts of the oral interview.
'How you say it', as opposed to how many structures and how much vocabulary you use, is technically called Discourse Management: to what extent can you give logical, well presented ideas.
Remember: no one is counting how many mistakes you've made to give you a pass or a fail. You will be awarded marks for everything you succeed in doing in terms of communication.
Ascención Villalba has shared this presentation which outlines and highlights the language you can use in FCE Speaking. I think it is quite complete and worth studying in detail:
What's the goal? To approximate to using the language in that presentation. Beware of memorizing or forcing the expressions in your speech. It's unnatural and not a mark of learning. Try these phrases on as it they were new clothes. Select what fits best; make sure you have enough to change for the sake of variety.
The blog where it was originally published has some posts with tips and links . Take a look at the links on the sidebar of Skills for FCE.
On a final note, I just want to say that I love bringing other teacher's goodness to my own students in my class.
Author : Claudia Ceraso
What is B2 Level? Students often ask how to describe their level of English language in a CV. To say words like "advanced" "near native" are not only high sounding, but also purely subjective and generally inaccurate.
The EU has solved the issue of subjective qualifications by providing a descriptor of levels.
Take a look at this video introducing you to the Commom European Framework of reference.
Now the new Cambridge scales are far more specific as of 2015. We have discussed the statement of results before. Now watch this video to understand what you can expect from your statement of results, mind you, not the Certificate.
Now, back to the title question, what is B2 level?
B2, as explained by the British Council , describes an independant, fluent user of the language in familiar and unfamiliar situations. Read the full description in that link. You can also explore how your level compares to others and how you score in an IELTs exam.
Speaking Paper- Part 2 In Part 2 of the Speaking Paper, you are given a couple of pictures you will have to discuss on your own for about a minute. This is the long-turn. It is not a dialogue and you are expected to give an extended answer to one question.
I'd like to share with you some of the frequent doubts my students have on Part 2.
Should I describe the two pictures?
As you will have to start speaking as soon as you see the pictures, you most probably will describe what you see first. This is good to get a general idea, to place yourself and to avoid saying "in picture one" or "in the first picture", which are vague and poor ways to refer to them. Forget about merely pointing at them with your finger. Instead, you could give the pictures a title, something descriptive such as, "the picture with the elderly woman" or "the picture which shows a doctor", etc. That gives you a change to use more precise language, which suits your B2 level.
-Should I answer the question right at the beginning or towards the end of the minute? Throughout.Everything you say must have relevance to the question. That goes back to the first issue, you're not supposed to describe just because. You are not asked to have right answers, just ideas. So what you will do is constantly speculate about possible answers. The question the examiner reads at the beginning is printed on top of the set of pictures. This is there to help you. Make sure all your ideas are pointing to it.
-My problem is that I run out of ideas. I don't know what to say. Students who say this do not like talking about small topics. They like important ideas. Hey, you are not presenting at a conference! This is not a creativity contest. This is just a snapshot of casual conversation. Your ideas are good just because they are yours. Show us you want to communicate them and that you want to be understood by detailing and expanding on what you mean. There are no wrong answers. There are probably wrong attitudes towards the task. I know it's hard to do when you get nervous in the middle of the exam, but an attitude of someone interested in having a conversation and honestly sharing what you think is the path to success.
Sometimes students run dry because they assume the question is to have only one answer. That's not true. There may be several possible answers and you give your hypothesis. The important thing is you address the question, not that you arrive to the most definite reason why. That would leave you with nothing else to say in 30 seconds. Instead, be ready to discuss alternatives.
-How can I practise for this part? What this task requires the most is confidence. This takes practice. You do not need any specific exam materials to do this. Any photograph which includes people will do. At first you can just time yourself while you describe any photo. Once you are at ease with filling the minute, try to answer one of these questions:
Why are these people in these pictures?
How are they probably feeling?
What do you think these people enjoy about ...(whatever they are doing)?
-Where do I get pictures? Google images will do. The syntax could be something like this: "people + holidays", or +jobs +memories +sports +home. You name it. If you run out of search terms, go to your coursebook and use the title of the units as a guide. They refer to the vocabulary and themes you are to talk about with fluency at the FCE level.
This is just a start. Yet a key step. Practise frequently!
Many of the students sitting for the FCE exam are afraid of writing stories. You know that in your part 2 of the Writing Paper you get a choice of rubrics to write about. Stories are, in my opinion, the freest and most creative opportunity the exam gives. We need to unlearn so much guided or repeated practice using typical starters and endings in letters. We need to go out of our comfort zone. To tell a story, we are always putting a lot of ourselves out there. And that's scary, yeah. How to start? I do not have enough imagination...
Think of this:
"The scariest moment is always just before you start [writing]. After that, things can only get better." ? Stephen King
Here is the site where I found Stephen's quote. It's an emergency line for those in need of getting ahead in their writing, but suffering from writer's block. Do you need a setting for your story? A verb? Do you need to kill a character?
Now, would you let yourself be inspired and write a story? Take a look at these beautiful photographs. She's Dominoe.
My last year students did beautifully. Today we are writing again. You can read their versions in our class wiki. The wiki is not worldwide open, but you can post your version of the story in the comments here, if you like.
Stories help us getting connected. Connected to ourselves, to othe reader and the author as well! Alan, the author and owner of the real Dominoe, read the class production and wrote this post in return.
Here you can and hear Alan telling his original story.
What I enjoy about re-writing Dominoe is how a dog can wake up our imagination, how we can all become a new owner that breathes another life to it. So here are our frisbees to Dominoe. Hope you enjoy them and join our storytelling. Author : Claudia Ceraso
Reading comprehension is quite a challenge for some students. First of all, it is hard to distance yourself from your own culture and the possible interpretations that can force into a foreign text. It can be learnt, though.That's something that takes a lot of reading in original texts or dialogues.
Next, we need to recognize the anatomy of a text. You need to learn to develop an X-ray view of a it. That is to say, learn to see the logical nodes, the progression of ideas, the links. Forget about the details or the specific content. I'm talking about learning how it is that a text flows naturally while making sense.
So the idea is to learn to identify this with the aim of improving our capacity to read and eventually write a sequence of organized paragraphs. This link from Victoria University of Wellington will help you to do just that.
-Types of paragraphs: introductory, body, and concluding paragraphs.
This online 'course' might take about two hours of your time to complete. It's simple basic knowledge of how to go about an essay or any article paragraph. This is a recognition exercise before you try your hand at writing. At FCE and BEC Vantage level, I'd say this knowledge is sort of taken for granted.
Make sure you get the basics! Improving reading and writing go hand in hand.
Hat tip to Carl Dowse for sharing the Academic Writing link in his Business English wiki.
I love Edgar Allan Poe. As a teenager, I remember reading and enjoying the tales intensely. Those were days when I only read in Spanish, but Poe can survive a translation. However, I am afraid I cannot say the thrill of reading poe can survive an abridged version. That is what is recommended by the exam centre lately, abridged editions. In my opinion, most of my students at FCE level can read the original version and get a real taste of what Poe is about.
The tales have been a continuous inspiration for writers, TV and cinema. Last January 19th, marking Poe's birthday, OpenCulture.com published a post including three animations of the story The Tell-Tale Heart. Check them out and do make sure you explore the links at the end of that post where you can find Poe's books and audio books. A treasure on the Internet sea.
Yesterday was our last BEC Vantage class. Today is our last FCE class. I always have mixed feelings about ending a course. We've shared learning and laughter, for which you'll certainly be missed. On the other hand, I am glad for your achievement. As you know, language schools are not obligatory in Argentina, so it makes a difference to see people choosing to stay in class, motivated in spite of being tired of compulsory school exams for some as well as office work for others.
I won't say something like: "Sadly the day has come for us to say goodbye..." because we are now connected in so many ways. I proposed a wiki and a blog, but some of you have surprised me with Facebook invites and even Twitter. You see, you've disrupted my online world this year. I welcome it.
-When you write outside the exam rubrics, with freedom of number of words or wider choice of topic, you show your real voices. You can even make grammar mistakes a teacher would have thought you wouldn't make at this learning stage. I think these cannot go unseen or unheard in a language class.
-You like teacher's corrections. Even if there are many. Even if they make you tired of thinking.
-You like reading what other students have done in the past. You look for real models.
-You love investigating online. I've never seen so many hits to the online dictionary sites during class time.
Now not all learning comes from the things I've heard or seen from you. There has been a silence this year about past papers. Anxiety levels to practice strictly in exam conditions went down.I've noticed you are all more interested in specific questions you have. You seem to follow your own learning paths. This is not the case with online followers of this blog, who tend to ask for links to past papers and listening practice. I wonder if that is a difference between studying with a teacher or studying on your own. It makes me re-think my teacher role. What is a teacher there for anyway?
To end this letter/post... (snif, snif)
Thank you for participating so much. I am grateful for every anecdote you shared. Thank you for being so curious, alert and fun. It has been my pleasure to be your teacher.
Wishing you every success in exams and life,
PS/ Do let me know how you did on your exams! I'll be looking forward to hearing from you.
To the online readers of this blog, please share your exam experience in the comments.
To: All fcebloggers, my dear students, teachers and people who generally love learning.
From: Claudia- (also known as fceblog)
Subject:It's official. We have two Facebook spots!
This is not strictly new. In April 2009 I decided to open a couple of places in Facebook to keep in touch with FCE students. It surprises me to see people finding it on their own. I thought it was about time to announce it here as well.
Welcome everyone to the group! This is a new online adventure. It's about leaving digital footprints. It all started in March 2006 with this blog, then a Corpus wiki, now Facebook... We'll see how this develops.
I thought it would be a good idea to start by joining some of my former students, now FB friends, who have always been a source of inspiration. Thank you all for joining. For the new FCE generations, I guess it is better to have a meeting point which does not oblige us to befriend each other to have a conversation.
-Why Facebook? you ask.
OK. Several reasons.
1- Although Facebook was not created to support learning, I know there are many lurkers who like this blog, but do not actively choose to participate of a blogosphere. There is no need for them to do so. They are spending time connecting and networking on Facebook. Learning is a conversation, I would like to extend this conversation of autonomous learning to where you are already.
Why befriend the teacher? Why befriend all of my new classmates when I hardly know them? Facebook groups allow us to stay connected, yet not sharing all of our online space visibility.
3. This is about you
This blog has been my own printing press.
The wiki, my own class
Facebook group is all about you.
4. International voices and collaboration
So I look forward to seeing your interests, hearing your voices. If we find a resonance, we'll stick together.
Hope it becomes the spot where an international project springs (with a little help of a teacher somewhere...).
I have always been pleasantly surprised by people wanting to connect in order to learn. I'm ready for more. What do you say?
I thought I would stop planning my first lesson and take a break to write to you. Writing before I meet you this afternoon, that is. This is an introductory letter with a very wide audience and a late arrival. What do I mean? Some people have already read this because they have subscribed by e-mail or RSS to my blog, but the specific addressee of this letter, you, my new student, will only know about its existence after you meet me in class and I point you to this blog url as a kind of homework. Well, not quite.
This blog is not homework, but an invitation. There is no proper way of reading this. See the menu or help yourselves. Read it all or just a bit every other day. Either way is equally perfect. You decide.
This blog is all about learning, developing autonomy to study and reflecting all along. Exams and certificates are papers. Communication with the world is magic.
Every year, every new start of a course is something exciting for me. This is how I see my challenge with you:
-you have enrolled in this course either because you want to know more English at this level or because you need to present a certificate to a future employer. Maybe some both.
-I particularly do not like teaching exams. I like teaching English. More accurately: I enjoy learning with you. Yes, teachers learn a lot in the process of preparing lessons for you!
My challenge? How to balance the two extremes. (I can feel many a teacher nodding at this point).
In my class I will always be inviting you to explore on your own, to be curious, to read voraciously. Are you ready?
I have been taking a good look at the new book we will use this year and I am glad there is lots of writing practice. Writing these days, writing when you don't know how far a Facebook post or a forwarded email gets to, is difficult. You need to think a little bit like bloggers do: you do not always control how the message is received or who reads it or what for!
When you write for an exam, you also need a split target reader in mind: an imaginary friend, a story reader or an employer receiving your application letter. At the same time, we write for a teacher, an exam corrector who is interested in your skills to get a message across.
It doesn't matter if you write on or offline: you always write for people you know and a lot more people you do not know.
Enough said for starters. There is so much I want to share with you, but we have time till the course ends in November. We'll meet in class or online soon.
All very best,
P/S: Oh, one last thing. I can imagine you saying "Wait, tell me about the exam!"
Here is a presentation a teacher called Hellen has made. She summarizes the task you'll have at hands.
Understanding English shares a couple of videos on the oral exam. By the way, thank you Gordon for your kind words about this blog and for introducing Simon and Marcela. We have been exploring their blogs with my students.
Let's take a closer look at part 2. This is the part where you are supposed to compare two pictures and answer a question about them in one minute. Then, your partner will be asked a short question about your picture (30 seconds) before his turn.
I asked my students today what they find challenging about this part. Let me share their answers:
-The pictures are not that inspiring. At times, it is hard to improvise ideas about them. -As you speak, you become more aware of the language you are using. You keep monitoring yourself and that is kind of "tense". -Sometimes, you find you need the "right" word or expression and you cannot find it so...ahem, you need to say something else!
Fair enough. I'd say, try to think about this test as a game with rules that we can play clumsily at first and get better with practice. Check out this previous post for ideas on how to practice on your own.
Practice and tips, of course.
This is a page for teachers, but you will find there a list of 38 useful phrases to use in part 2. There is a full description of the format of this part as well as detailed advice on the language you may be expected to use.
If the previous page has too much detail for you, I'd recommend a visit to FCE Pass. Find a brief collection of phrases arranged by function: description, comparison, expressing differences and answering the question. There are photos for practice, too.
This pdf document highlights useful phrases for asking for clarification, correcting yourself and the language of speculation, which is very important in this part.
Lastly, I'd like to recommend this video of part 2 with advice from a teacher to their students as they perform for part 2. This is not an example from Cambridge, it is useful practice, though.
Related post See this previous post for a description of the language needed for the complete oral test.
The end of the school year is approaching for my FCE and BEC Vantage courses. They will be sitting for their exams in a couple of weeks. For both, teachers and students alike, these are days with lots of work mixed with reflections and a sense of farewell, which is never the part I like.
While my FCE students were speaking in class today, I couldn't help noticing how much they've grown. Do they realise? They sound much more confident with the language in spite of the inevitable errors here and there. They look calm and yet excited about the challenge ahead. I think that if they could access to a film about the exam date details, they'd ask to watch it! Only to perpetuate insecurity and exam nerves. But that is far from what I want them to focus on.
I needed them to stop thinking about exam dates, rooms and strict regulations. So I asked them if they would like to be part of my next year class. I said that with a years' experience of sweating towards improving their foreign language skills, I consider them experts who can provide valuable advice to my next year students. So, why not Skype them in sometime?
Most of them said yes immediately. Others were pondering whatever that Skype call could look like.
I expanded. As my new courses will share the inherited writing Corpus wiki, future students may like the way they write and wonder how well they did at the exam, what kind of tips they would be able to give, etc. In short, they could be either interviewed or consulted as mentors.
The look on their faces when they heard the idea is still on my mind.
Hey teachers who also read this blog,
Have you ever asked your students to teach with you next year?
Do. It's worth it.
I must say is I'm glad this course started with success and ends with a seed of a project.
I want to give a special thank you to all of my 2010 FCE and BEC Vantage students for their enthusiasm, patience and commitment to carry on. You've certainly been a pleasure to work with. Remember the door of the blog is open for you to carry on learning at your pace. If you feel so inclined, leave us a comment.
We have talked before here on the blog about the tips for the preparation of the set book option in the writing paper.
The set books for FCE 2012 are:
-Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thakeray (Any edition)
-This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart. (OUP)
Some useful links on Vanity Fair
The Wikipedia entry on Vanity Fair provides a succint plot and characters overview. The links at the bottom of the page are a good way to start some finer research on it.
The Cliff notes. Although they are not meant to prepare for the FCE exam, the character analysis and sample essays are debate worthy and a good introduction to writing for the set book option of the Writing Paper.
You can get the book online for free or download it in pdf format here or here.
This Rough Magic is a book which is copyright protected. So you'll have to get yourself a copy. Here is a pdf with a short test + answers to help you with the book comprehension.
To end, I'd like to say that the links here are meant to help you get into a world of fiction and by no means replace reading the original book. Let me remind you of what Borges used to say about reading: it's supposed to be for pleasure and not just because your teacher told you to do it for homework.
Every school year is a new beginning. New faces. I am trying to remember all of your names. A lot of ideas I would like to share with you. Precisely sharing is what this blog is all about.
We have known each other for a month now and I must say I am inspired by your presence. I really enjoy your willingness to participate, your curiosity and positive attitude. Be sure us teachers need that kind of inspiration like food. It keeps us going.
I am also pleasantly surprised to find a lot of you are interested in art. Some of you also speak Italian, which I am struggling to learn. One of you mentioned enjoying art museums. There are music lovers who also play music. This is just a start. We will certainly discover more amazing things as we get along.
Standardised exams do not sound like a lot of fun. I know. The interesting thing is that to certify your knowledge is outside your school or job requirements and everyone is learning here in my class out of their own will. I believe that as a group we can balance learning certain rules of speaking and writing in a foreign language without forgetting that rules can and should be broken at times. You can remind me of these last words before the test ;-)
I mentioned the idea of blogging some of our class discussions instead of relying only on the classic speaking mode. Some of you liked the idea but needed help to choose a blogging engine. Let me tell you something: stick to those ideas that can be shared. Stick to your writing style even if it does not exactly fit the exam format. That can be learnt later. Blogging tools? We will find a tool. That is the easy part. By the way, pens and papers are among my favourite technology.
I like blogging. This FCE blog has turned 10 years old last week! There have been times when I blogged very frequently and times when I went silent for months. Maybe not totally silent because there is Twitter or commenting at other blogs... You see, the Internet is a very interesting place.
This blog home is still open. It is not homework. It is up to you.