Wednesday, May 16, 2012

First for Schools

The webinar conducted by Cambridge ESOL Examinations was very informative. The aim of the webinar was to give an overview of the format of Cambridge English: First for Schools exam and to share some classroom ideas for preparing students for the examination.

First of all, it is important to know that FCE Certificates do not expire, they are for life. However, some universities will only accept the certificate only if it is no more than two years old. This certificate is also accepted by the UK Border Agency for Tier 1, 2 and 4 visas covering studying and working in the UK.

Reading Paper of the exam takes 1 hour and has three texts. Exam takers should transfer their answer to the answer sheet while reading as they do not get extra time for this after 1 hour is over. It was interesting to find out that Multiple Choice and Gapped Text type of questions receive two marks for each correct answer, whereas Multiple Matching questions receive only one. The answers must be written in pencil. In order to take the exam successfully our learners need to be able to trace an argument in a text, to move quickly through the text, decode references, find information quickly, infer meaning and check/revise decisions.

Paper 2 is Writing and it has two tasks and takes 1 hour 20 minutes. The first task is compulsory and is to write either an email or a letter. The second one offers a choice of 4 tasks. The last option is to write on a set text, but we were advised to tell our learners not to attempt the last task if they have not read the set text. One of the participants said that this part MUST be written in pen. Exam takers are advised against writing too long or too short because in the first case there might be repetition (even extra 20 words are considered unnecessary) and in the second case it is likely that they will not cover all the points.

Next paper is Use of English and lasts for 45 minutes, after which Listening part starts. We should make sure that our students know that they are going to hear each section twice so if they have not heard an answer the first time, they should not worry. This paper takes about 40 minutes, and exam takers get some time to transfer their answers onto the answer sheet. The answers for Papers 3 and 4 should be written in pencil.

Finally Paper 5 - Speaking. Exam takers take this section in pairs and this part lasts 14 minutes. There are two examiners but one does not take part in the conversation, s/he only makes notes to discuss the marks with the other one afterwards. Here our learners should know that they should not interrupt their peer while it is his/her long-turn; after one candidate has finished, the second one has up to 20 seconds to express their opinion.

To develop our learners reading skills we were advised to find interviews with their favourite stars on the Internet (if very difficult - adapt them), read and discuss them with our learners. Jigsaw reading will also help them with Gapped Text part. It is also useful to find various adverts/reviews of our learners' favourite products and ask them to compare the reviews and find similarities and/or differences. It also helps to read Graded Readers and discuss the text with our learners. Teachers are also advised to find materials related to the topics studied in the classroom to expand on the subject-related vocabulary. To find out what words our learners are expected to know at B2 level, we were advised to check the words studied on English Profile Website.

For the writing paper we were advised to train our learners to complete each writing task within 40 minutes. Our learners need to get into habit of doing this and they should not have problems with the timing on the exam day. It is also a good idea for them to underline all the important points in the task before planning the answer. Students should learn to write legibly.

For the Use of English section, students should be encouraged to learn groups of words with the same root to make it easier to remember. For example, to impress, impressive, impressed, unimpressive, impression, etc. Dictionaries are a great help here.

Students can be encouraged to find and share various podcasts or programs on the Internet that are related to the subject studied in each unit int he classroom. We an either set up a group page on Facebook for them or create a blog where then can post their findings and discuss them in writing which will also improve their writing skills.

To improve speaking skills (Part 2 - long turn), the advise was the following:

  • practise the language of comparison about topics or interests chosen by students
  • break the task down into 3 sections: 1. describe first picture, 2. describe second picture, 3. answer the question (Important to time each part!)
  • ask students to bring pictures of their own choice, then they in groups choose some pictures and write questions to ask other group members.

Sites we were advised to use:


For future webinars check out the Webinars page of Cambridge ESOL.

You can also join the Webinar Forum to discuss any problems that you face while preparing your learners for this examination.

Good luck!

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