Taking the FCE.

The UCLES First Certificate Examination (FCE) consists of five papers:

1. Reading 1 hour 15mins
2. Writing 1 hour 30mins
3. Use of English 1 hour 15mins
4. Listening 40mins (approx.)
5. Speaking 14mins (approx.)

There is an overall pass mark (somewhere around 60%), which means you can theoretically fail one part if you do well enough in the other parts to make up the difference. Statistically, Polish students do least well on the listening paper, followed by the Use of English. Each paper represents 20% of the total score for the exam.

The Speaking Exam at only fourteen minutes, is by far the shortest paper. Since Polish students are relatively strong in this area it is well worth making the most of this time. Richard Baker of the British Council in Warsaw advices on strategies for passing the listening exam.

Listening Exam

This is the paper in which Poles seem to do least well. But there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself. Remember: you will hear each section twice.

Read the questions and the answers

Before each section you have 30-45 seconds to read the question paper.
Use this time.

The first part of the exam is a multiple-choice exercise. Read the introduction to get an idea about the subject of the question. Read the answers. You will be listening for a general understanding. You do not have to understand every word. Listen for words or phrases that lead you to the answer. Don't worry if you don't get it the first time, you'll have a second chance.

In the second part you have to write notes or fill gaps. You won't need to write whole sentences - three words is usually the maximum. Make sure that the whole sentence makes sense with your words in it. But don't worry too much about spelling. If the examiner can see what you're trying to say it'll be OK. But again the most important thing is to read the introduction at the top of the page and all the text. Make guesses about what the answer might be. Is it going to include a noun or a verb? It is often helpful to compare your imagined answer with what you hear on the tape.

Part three is the multiple matching exercise. The five short texts you hear are related in some way. That is why this task is more difficult. It is even more important to make sure you read the question because you will be listening for details or synonyms in each piece. Underline key words in the questions to make it easier to recognize relationships when you're listening.

The task in part four can vary but the advice for answering it is the same as for part two. Try and guess the answer and listen to see if you are right.

Some General Tips

DO read all parts of the question before the listening starts
DO make notes on the question paper
DO check that gap-fill sentences make sense
DO make sure you fill in the answer sheet carefully
DO listen to the news/videos - and practice making notes of the key points or ideas
DO watch/listen again and check how accurate you were
DON'T panic if you don't get everything the first time
DON'T leave any gaps / questions unanswered
DON'T worry if you don't understand every word - the tasks rarely depend on knowing one word

Practice Tests

There are lots of practice test books on the market now. The Cambridge ones are probably the best because they contain actual tests from the past. Most good bookshops should stock them.

In the next issue of The World of English we will look at the FCE Reading and Use of English papers.