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Cambridge Speaking Exam for FCE and CAE – part 2

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Speaking is considered one of the most challenging skills when learning a foreign language and especially when one is tested on it. Tips of the tongue, stress, and even personality traits can hinder a natural flow of words that one wishes to accomplish during the exam.

However, FCE and CAE speaking tests are not only about language and structures. They are tasks based on specific steps and strategies that, if followed, can lead to successful results. In this article, we will focus on the second part of the FCE and CAE speaking test and we will take you through some useful techniques that can ease your anxiety and boost you with a bit more confidence.

Here's a sample video of this exam by RichmondWorld

Description of the task

The speaking test is a face-to-face interaction between two (or three) candidates, which means that you will not only have to interact with the examiner, but also with another person taking the exam. In the second part of the test you will be asked to talk about 2 pictures for about one minute. The examiner will ask you to first compare the photographs and then to answer one or two questions about them.

girl speaking megaphone

Step 1: Comparing the pictures

A very important aspect that you need to remember is that your aim is to compare the pictures and not simply describe them. This means that you need to find similarities and differences between them. These can concern the age of the people shown, relationships (e.g. personal and professional), different types of activities (e.g. physical and mental), different surroundings (e.g. outdoors and indoors) and much more. So try to see what the pictures have in common and what is different and start speaking! It might be wise to equip yourself with a couple of phrases that can be useful when comparing. 

apple and orange

Useful language when comparing

- Both pictures show…
- In both pictures the people …
- The main connection/similarity between these pictures is that…
- What these pictures have in common is that….
- There are several similarities/differences between these pictures. Firstly, ....
- The first picture shows…., whereas the second one illustrates….
- The main difference between these photographs is…

Step 2: Answering the question(s)

After you’ve made your comparison, you will have to answer a question (or two for CAE candidates) which will be relevant to the pictures and/or their topic. For example, let’s imagine that the two photographs are related to the topic of learning (school/university, learning skills such as driving and cooking, learning languages, etc.). A possible question might be “Who do you think might need to work the hardest to succeed”? Here you need to answer the question honestly. You don’t have to give a single answer straight away if you cannot choose one, but you certainly need to speak and SAY SOMETHING. In other words, you need to speculate! For instance, a possible answer could be “I can’t really be sure, as in both situations you need to try/study really hard to have successful results. But perhaps the university student needs to try the hardest, especially if he is studying something challenging, such as medicine”. Have a look at the following phrases you can use to speculate.

Useful language when speculating

- He/She/They could/might/may ….
- Both people seem….
- I suppose/imagine that…
- I can’t be sure/certain, but maybe/perhaps...
- I can’t be sure, but I think/I believe/it seems to me that ….

Stage 3: Supporting your arguments

When answering the questions, you basically give your own personal opinion on something. To support it and make it convincing you need to give some brief justifications. The best and simplest way to do this is by giving examples. These examples can be personal, taken from your own experiences, or more general.

Stage 4: Answering a question about your partner’s photographs

After you’ve finished with your photographs, the examiner will ask your partner to answer one question about them. This is something that you will also have to do in your turn. It’s important to listen to the other candidate while speaking to get a clear understanding of his/her pictures and some ideas! After that, all you need to do is to answer with the same strategies previously mentioned. Only this time, you need to be brief!

General Tips for this part

Remember that when describing pictures you need:
- Present continuous to talk about what is happening (e.g. The two people are talking)
- Present perfect to talk about actions you think are completed (e.g. He has probably just finished painting)
- Language of Speculation as you don’t know what really happened (Maybe he has just bought this house)
- Plenty of Adjectives and adverbs (Learning how to drive can be stressful and maybe time-consuming)
- Comparatives and Superlatives (I think that driving is more challenging than swimming)

Final tip: STAY CALM! You can do this!

nothing to say in oral exam just smile

Did you find this useful? Leave a comment about your ideas! May you all pass your FCE speaking test with flying colours!