THE FCE BLOG

FCE Listening Practice through Dictation

The word dictation probably brings to mind images of old, dull teaching practices. However, dictation has long been proven a learning device for foreign language students.

To mention but a few benefits, dictation can:
-help you obtain a list of words you usually misspell
-give you practice in note taking (FCE Listening Paper, part 2)
-foster thinking in the new language. Every learner's dream, isn't it?

Now, none of these benefits will happen unless you are motivated to practice dictation. If you choose how to practice it and try to vary the exercises, you'll focus more on its benefits rather than getting bored in a few minutes.

Here is a choice of websites to browse.

This site gives you three options of practice: jotting down the first letter of a word only, the whole word or a fill in the blanks with a bit of context to help you.
http://www.listen-and-write.com/
Here you will find dictations with real life English videos. British accent throughout.

Perhaps you'd like to try dictations from texts first. Then, the graded dictations at
http://www.fonetiks.org/dictations/ can be the place to start.

For a quick practice at the word level only, try
http://www.learnenglish.de/dictationpage.htm

How can this practice help me develop listening skills?
Many students complain that listening is one of the most difficult parts of the test. Indeed, English has an isochronous rhythm that languages like Spanish do not share. Dictation can help you at the level of the sentence, the words, the division of a chunk of speech into sensible units.

For the FCE level, however, all of that is taken for granted. You will be asked to make assumptions, establish connections and not simply recognizing sounds and words. So, if listening is your stumbling block, why not get some dictation practice to help you break such a big task into manageable portions?



Image source:

Author : Claudia Ceraso

Spelling (Yeah, it\'s important)
Students are sometimes surprised to learn spelling mistakes count when you are an advanced student of English. They prefer to focus on more difficult structures as if they were the only important things. Spelling is a detail, right? Well, this is what studying for standard exams can do to your priorities. Remember it's not the exam, but your English what counts!

Let me put it this way:
If you write with fairly good structures and vocabulary, what does bad spelling say about you in that context? Probably carelessness. There are so many tools that will help you identify poor spelling with a red line underneath that not doing anything about it is plain lazy.

Now watch this (you may have received the sample text via email),



So, why does spelling matter?
Becuz badd spilleng is hrd two undstnd wen u reed it. Because when you write, you do so not just for yourself but for a reader. Good communication is not an intention, it is the real effect we make on another person. Little time to write or our haste to pass a message quickly are just excuses unless you are texting from a busy street. Bad spelling is communication noise.

OK. Let's get down to learning.

Google can be the first place you go to check if a word exists. We are assuming you already suspect you are mispelling it. Most of the times, we may be unaware of our mistakes, so you probably need a tool to help you with two things:
-identify the mistake
-suggestions for correcting it

You can try cutting and pasting your text here or here to get a report with suggestions. That's easy.

However, spell checking tools are not enough.


Homophones -words with the same pronunciation, but different spelling and meaning- escape the scrutininzing eyes of the tools. There are a lot! Check them out.

Mastering spelling takes time and patience. Somehow, you need to keep track of your frequently misspelled words. Boring, I know. Maybe it can be fun, too. I really like the way the people at SpellingCity.com help you to learn. You can create your own tests based on the words you have problems with. There's plenty to do in that site.

Do you make any of these frequent spelling mistakes (Hush, but native speakers also do!)?

Last, but not least. There are differences in spelling depending which side of the Atlantic Ocean you are at. With so many sources to read English, you are probably mixing British and American styles. Are you?

Happy spelling!











Author : Claudia Ceraso

Set Text for Cambridge English First: Edgar Allan Poe

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.


Author : Claudia Ceraso

You can count on it!

Every now and then, the question about the number of words in your essays pops up. Cambridge First (as well as the CAE and CPE tests) rubrics include an approximate number of words you must write. 

Foto de Mikhail Nilov en Pexels

A colleague from Poland, Simon Jones, has a couple of interesting posts about this topic in his C1 blog. In Do I need to count my words? Simon says;

  1. Before the exam, look at some old written work.
  2. Count the number of words in the first three or four lines and calculate the average number of words in one line. It?s usually around ten but depends on the size of your handwriting.
  3. Remember this number. Then, in an exam, you can multiply it by the number of lines you write.

I definitely agree with Simon's advice. You should not lose time on the word count. There are far more important uses of your limited exam time. As a general rule, I would say that if you write what you are asked, with proper expansion, without going off-track with your ideas, you need the number of words proposed in the rubrics to do your task well. 

So stay on topic. Remember you are communicating through writing, not just trying to write and reach number of words.


Author : Claudia Ceraso

Cambridge First-The Speaking Test Updated for 2015

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.

So, are you ready to sit for it?



Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Set Texts 2011
The Cambridge set texts for the 2010 and 2011 FCE exam are:

Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (Black Cat or any edition)
Michael Chrichton: Jurassic Park (Macmillan or any edition)

Both recommended texts are graded readers. You may read one or both. These books are not discussed in the oral exam at all. They are the basis to answer a choice of optional writing tasks in Part 2 of the Writing Paper.



The Woman in White
Fiona Joseph has a great ten-minute podcast to introduce you to the book The Woman in White. Her tips are spot on. You should be very well prepared to choose one of the set text writing options, which can be an essay, an article or a letter.


Jurassic Park
This book is still copyrighted and unavailable online. You can find chapter summaries and notes here or here.






The range of set books recommended by Cambridge for the FCE exam has been full of classic authors. Most of the books are read in their unabridged editon. If you are one of those students who loves reading and needs advice with titles to quench your reading thirst, here is a good reading list created by OM. They also provide free downloads with information about the authors as well as some of their most famous books.

One final thought...

Apart from the recommended abridged readers, I would advise you to include some original work in your personal reading list. But most importantly, choose books you like! If you find a novel or story never ending, perhaps it's time to go and discover other titles that confirm reading can be a great pleasure.


Related posts


Author : Claudia Ceraso

Breaking the ice

It is that time of the year again. I am about to start a new Cambridge English First couse and I am thinking of the first lesson. A plan for students I have not met yet. A quick search for pages to practice lead me to this article listing possible questions for the Oral exam Part one.

Take a look.
https://www.fceexamtips.com/articles/first-certificate-speaking-questions-part-1

Quite complete in my opinion. Now... what would your answers reveal about you and your new classmates?

Which questions would you ask your teacher? That would be an interesting scenario...

Toast to another year of learning from my students.


Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Speaking Paper: Useful Phrases
In our previous post on Speaking Paper Part 2, we discussed the content of this part of this exam:
-what kind of information to give
-what you are expected to do with it

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:



Fce speaking part from Ascension Villalba
Source

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

The Interactive Communication Skill

The Speaking Paper of the Cambridge First exam offers opportunities to talk with your partner without the intervention of the examiner. Those are moments when you are in total control of your say, the turn-taking, initiating and responding for about 3 minutes.

There are phrases that add up to making it all fluent and natural. Without those phrases, we sound like words read aloud from a book. You need to make a bit of effort to acquire them, These are expressions that range from:

  • agreeing
  • disagreeing
  • asking for an opinion
  • asking for clarification
  • rephrasing
  • summing up
Here is a presentation that lists quite a few examples:


Perhaps one the challenges when using these expressions is not feeling like an actor or actress performing a part. Think of what you say in your own language instead of the English words. Mind you, I do not mean you should attempt a word-for-word translation. What needs translating is the situation. What do you say instead?

Once you are aware of what you naturally say in those situations, it is only a question of practising and directing your attention to those colloquial links in our interactions. Having interactive skills means you can effortlessly initiate, respond and react to what your partner is saying. Remember the old adage: practice makes perfect!


Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Oral Interview & ELT Pics

For part 2 of the FCE oral interview, it is necessary to practise comparing and contrasting photographs. If you have taken a look at the past paper examination books, you have probably discovered that the photos chosen are not always that telling of exact details of place and what the people in them are up to. My own students usually complain they do not know what else to say about them.

I usually point my students to Flickr for finding striking photos that will ignite their imaginations. I use some of my own photos in class too, but I try to encourage them to surf and find new images.

What to bear in mind when choosing photos:

-You aim at stretching yourselves to speak about a variety of topics.
-You can follow tags to find similar images to pair.

The idea is to get you to be fluent about any topic, not just your favourite ones. You should try to relate to the photos as well as guess and predict what's going on. This exam task is, in my opinion, a step before creating a story.

Think of the story setting or conflict and you get the picture!


The is a drawback. It is hard to find a pair of closely related photos to compare and contrast. Doing it on your own is time consuming.

How to solve this?

I've found this initiative that Sandy Millin explains in her blog. Several EFL teachers have been collecting photos for classroom use and organized them in sets according to topics. These are over 2,000 photos from all round the world and they cover the vocabulary range you need.




Ceri Jones has an idea about annotating the photos on an interactive whiteboard to enlarge your vocabulary. That gets interesting. But why not do it in Flickr? Students could choose themselves whether to click on further vocabulary or ideas for their description on a need-to-know basis.

See this example:




I think it's great that teachers can share these photo prompts online, but it would be wonderful to see students creating notes on them and sharing the learning!



Author : Claudia Ceraso

FCE Set Texts 2012
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.

-Is there a film based on the book? -You ask.
-Yes, there is.

Trailer (2004)


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.

Attitude to reading is up to you.


Related posts



Author : Claudia Ceraso