First Certificate in English (FCE)

The First Certificate in English is the most widely taken Cambridge ESOL examination. It is set at Level B2 of the Council of Europe Common Framework for modern languages. Learners at this level are expected to be able to handle the main structures of English with some confidence, demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of vocabulary and use appropriate communication skills in a variety of social situations.

Is FCE for you?

Can you?

  • understand texts from a wide variety of sources?
  • use English to make notes while someone is speaking in English?
  • talk to people about a wide variety of topics?
  • understand people talking in English on radio or television programmes?

If this describes your skills now, or describes the level of skills you are working towards, then FCE is the right exam for you.

What will FCE do for you?

Cambridge ESOL is a department of the world-famous and historic University of Cambridge. Attaining one of its certificates is an achievement and a reward in itself. However, there are many other benefits to taking FCE:

  • an FCE certificate is valid for life
  • FCE is truly international, recognised around the world for business and study purposes
  • thousands of employers, universities and government departments officially recognise FCE as a qualification in upper-intermediate English.
  • FCE gives you a pathway to higher qualifications such as the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) and Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE)

What will taking FCE help you do?

FCE is at Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) — an internationally recognised framework which Cambridge ESOL helped to develop. The framework uses six levels to describe language ability from A1 to C2. For example, at B2 level, typical users can be expected to:

  • understand the main ideas of complex pieces of writing
  • keep up a conversation on a fairly wide range of topics, expressing opinions and presenting arguments
  • produce clear, detailed writing, expressing opinions and explaining the advantages and disadvantages of different points of view.

Your preparation for FCE will give you these kinds of practical language skills.

What does FCE involve?

FCE has five papers:

FCE: Specification from December 2008
Paper Timing/Length Task Types and Format Test Focus
Reading •1 hour • 30 questions • length of texts: about 550–700 words per text • about 2,000 words overall Part 1 - multiple choice Part 2 - gapped text task – sentences removed Part 3 - multiple matching Part 1 - detail, opinion, gist, attitude, deducing meaning, text organisation features (exemplification, comparison, reference), tone, purpose, main idea Part 2 - text structure, cohesion and coherence Part 3 - specific information, detail, opinion and attitude

Writing •1 hour 20 minutes •2 parts Part 1 - compulsory letter or email (120-150 words) Part 2 - Q2-4 choice of one task from the following: article, letter, report, essay, review, story Q.5 task based on set texts– task types from: article, essay, report, review, letter; two set books to be used, with a question on each text (120-180 words)

Part 1 - focus on expressing opinions, justifying, persuading, comparing, recommending, suggesting, advising, apologising, describing and explaining Part 2 - varying focuses according to task, including: expressing opinions, justifying, comparing, recommending, advising, describing and explaining

Use of English • 45 minutes • 42 questions Part 1 - multiple choice cloze Part 2 - open cloze Part 3 - word formation Part 4 - key word transformations Part 1 - lexical/lexico-grammatical Part 2 - grammatical/lexico-grammatical Part 3 - lexical/lexico-grammatical Part 4 - lexical and grammatical

Listening • 40 minutes • 30 questions Part 1 - multiple choice – eight short unrelated extracts; monologues or exchanges between interacting speakers; one question per text Part 2 - sentence completion – a monologue or text with interacting speakers Part 3 - multiple matching – five short related monologues. One task, requiring selection from list of six options. Part 4 - multiple choice – a monologue or text involving interacting speakers. All texts will be heard twice. Part 1 - general interactional and social language Part 2 - organising a larger unit of discourse; comparing, describing, expressing opinions Part 3 - sustaining an interaction; exchanging ideas, expressing and justifying opinions, agreeing and/or disagreeing, suggesting, speculating, evaluating, reaching a decision through negotiation, etc. Part 4 - expressing and justifying opinions, agreeing and/or disagreeing

FCE: Summary of changes and rationale
Paper Change Rationale
Paper 1 Reading • three tasks (instead of four) • reduced to one hour by removing Part 1 • testing focus for the multiple choice is widened • gapped task will only be in sentence form (without paragraphs as an alternative) From 1 hour 15 minutes, 35 questions To 1 hour, 30 questions

• the new format is shorter, but has a broader test focus • item numbers will be fixed by part which simplifies the format • no alternative tasks will be available, which will make it more accessible for preparation
Paper 2 Writing • includes the production of emails • reduction in word length for Part 1 • includes a review task type • includes a rationalisation of the set text question From 1 hour 30 minutes To 1 hour 20 minutes • writing more briefly is a relevant real life skill, so the output required from Part 1 is reduced. The letter or email are compulsory because writing these is an important skill relevant to the candidature • the writing of email messages is added because they are used in modern life • a review task is added to Part 2 to increase the choices and broaden the candidates’ experience • the set text questions will be related to a specific book • set books are reduced from five to two, as not all are well used

Paper 3 Use of English • reduced to 45 minutes by removing Part 4 (error correction) and amending lengths of the other parts From 1 hour 15 minutes, 65 questions To 45 minutes, 42 questions

• four of the five current tasks remain the same • the grammar that the error correction task tests is tested elsewhere in the paper • the skill of error correction can be tested through the writing paper
Paper 4 Listening • format to be standardised with other ESOL general English listening tests by having only one task available in each section • the length and test focus are not affected

• a single task type in each section will improve comparability between versions of the test and standardise the candidate experience. Candidates will know exactly which tasks to expect • the sentence completion task will be retained in Part 2 as this is more suitable to the level than note-taking • For Part 4, the multiple-choice task will be the only task retained; ensuring reliability between versions and over time
Paper 5 Speaking • questions to be added to the visuals page in Parts 2 and 3 • no change to the overall timing

• adding questions to the visuals page will help candidates to recall the tasks. This will standardise their responses and improve the comparability of the tasks • Part 4 is enhanced with additional prompts for the interlocutor