FCE – First Certificate English is a language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations).
FCE is an upper-intermediate, international English language qualification that focuses on Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
FCE is one of the most widely taken of all the exams provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment and is accepted in commerce, industry, universities and higher education institutions as proof of everyday written and spoken English for work and study purposes.
The FCE exam is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: First (for adult learners) and Cambridge English: First (FCE) for Schools. Both versions assess at the same level, have the same exam format (four papers) and lead to the same qualification – the FCE. The only difference between the two versions is that the topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school-age learners.
FCE for Schools is part of a suite of qualifications designed specifically for school-aged learners, which includes KET, focused on CEFR Level A2, and PET for Schools, focused on CEFR Level B1
Both versions of the FCE are made up of four exam papers, designed to test the key language skills. The four papers are: Reading and Use of English; Writing; Listening; and Speaking. Both Cambridge English: First and Cambridge English: First for Schools offers candidates the choice of taking their exam on either a computer or on paper. The Speaking test is taken face-to-face with two examiners and two candidates, providing a realistic and reliable measure of ability.
1. Reading and Use of English (1 hour 15 minutes)
The Reading and Use of English paper has seven parts and 52 questions. The paper contains texts totalling approximately 3,000 to 3,500 words and candidates are expected to understand different types of text, such as fiction, newspapers and magazines, promotional and informational materials. In Cambridge English: First for Schools the text topics are targeted at the interests of school-age pupils.
In Parts 1–4, candidates read a range of texts and complete tasks that test their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Part 1 has eight multiple-choice questions related to vocabulary in a text. Parts 2 and 3 involve completing gaps in a text (i.e. choosing / forming the correct word for each gap). Each question in Part 4 has a sentence and a ‘key’ word, which must be used to complete a second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first sentence.
In Parts 5–7, candidates read a range of texts and complete tasks that test their reading ability. Part 5 involves answering multiple-choice questions about a text, with candidates expected to be able to read a text for detail, opinion, tone, purpose, main idea, implication and attitude. Part 6 involves choosing paragraphs to fill the gaps in a text, with candidates expected to demonstrate understanding of the structure and development of a text. Part 7 involves matching statements to the correct part of a text or several short texts, with candidates expected to demonstrate reading for specific information, detail, opinion and attitude.
2. Writing (1 hour 20 minutes)
The Writing paper has two parts. Part 1 has one compulsory question and involves writing an essay. In Part 2, candidates are given three options and are asked to write one of the following using between 140 and 190 words: an article, email/letter, report, or review.
3. Listening (approximately 40 minutes)
The Listening paper has four parts and includes a mixture of monologues and dialogues from a range of familiar sources, such as news programmes, radio broadcasts, speeches and public announcements. In Part 1, candidates listen to a series of unrelated recordings (approx. 30 seconds each) and answer one multiple-choice question for each recording. In Part 2, candidates listen to a monologue or a dialogue with two or more speakers (approx. 3 minutes) and complete sentences on the question paper using the information they heard in the recording. In Part 3, candidates listen to a series of statements and related monologues (approx. 30 seconds each) and choose which statement best matches what each speaker says. In Part 4, candidates listen to a recording with two or more speakers (approx. 3 minutes) and answer seven multiple-choice questions. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a wide range of listening skills needed for real-life purposes, such as understanding the gist of an extract, listening for specific information, and understanding a speaker’s opinion, attitude or feeling.
4. Speaking (14 minutes)
The Speaking test has four parts and is conducted face-to-face, with one or two other candidates and two examiners. Candidates are expected to be able to participate in discussions, express opinions, exchange ideas and reach decisions through negotiation.
Part 1 is a short conversation with the examiner. The examiner will ask the candidate some questions about their lives, focusing on areas such as work, leisure activities and future plans. Candidates are expected to respond to the examiner’s questions, give basic personal information about themselves and use general social and interactional language.
Part 2 (1 minute ‘long turn’ for each candidate, plus 30-second response from the second candidate) involves speaking for 1 minute without interruption. Each candidate is asked to compare two colour photographs and comment about the photographs in response to a task read out by the examiner and a prompt question written above the photographs. The listening candidate is also asked to comment briefly after their partner’s long-turn.
Part 3 (3 minutes) is a two-way conversation between the candidates. The candidates are given spoken instructions and visual stimuli, which are used in a decision-making task. There is no right or wrong answer to the task. The candidates are expected to express and justify opinions, evaluating and speculating, in order to work towards a negotiated decision.
Part 4 (4 minutes) is a discussion between the candidates and the examiner on topics related to the collaborative task in Part 3. The examiner directs the interaction by asking questions which encourage the candidates to broaden and discuss further the topics introduced in Part 3. The questions ask primarily for evaluation rather than for information and give candidates an opportunity to show they can discuss issues in more depth than in earlier parts of the test.
The FCE is usually followed by the CAE