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8 key information to remember
FCE (First Certificate in English), also known as B2 First, is a standardized language exam designed to determine a candidate's English level. This test is administered by the University of Cambridge and is used more specifically to attest a B2 level (corresponding to an intermediate level on the CEFR scale). Candidates for the FCE mainly seek to find out whether they have the required level to speak and write in English, in a completely English-speaking environment, whether in a professional or academic context. Possessing the B2 level means that you’re capable of having a spontaneous conversation in English, expressing your opinion and supporting it with arguments, understanding the main ideas of long and complex texts, writing letters, e-mails easily and short essays, but also expressing yourself through writing in a well-argued manner, from various viewpoints.
In addition to the standard version of the exam, there is also a "First for Schools" version of the FCE, specially adapted for middle and high school students.
When the FCE is passed as part of a higher level of study, the CTI (Commission des Titres d'Ingénieurs) recognizes this certification which can help in obtaining the engineer diploma.
The Cambridge FCE (or B2 First) exam aims to score and analyze the candidate's language skills. Therefore it assesses 5 different skills: reading comprehension, grammar, written expression, oral comprehension and oral expression. The test lasts around three and a half hours and is made up of 4 separate tests
First test : FCE “Reading and Use of English”
This section is dedicated to written comprehension and Use of English and is itself divided into seven exercises, for a total of 52 questions. It is the longest part of the test and the candidate has 1 hour and 15 minutes to complete it. In this section, the candidate is assessed on his vocabulary and grammar in English. This test accounts for 40% of the final score and is structured as follows:
- Part 1: 1 text or sentences - 8 questions
- Part 2: Finding the Missing Words - 8 Questions
- Part 3: Fill in the gaps text - 8 questions
- Part 4: Finding the Right Term - 6 Questions
- Part 5: Multiple choice with fill in the gap text - 6 questions
- Part 6: Choose the correct sentence - 6 questions
- Part 7: Associate a paragraph with the answer - 10 paragraphs
For parts 1, 2, 3 and 7, each correct answer is worth 1 point. In parts 4, 5 and 6 they are worth double.
Tips: To pass this test, you must prove good grammar skills and enriched vocabulary skills. To do so, proper preparation is key.
To save as much time as possible, first read the sentence or paragraph while trying to understand the general context, quickly searching for the words or sentences that can be included in the gaps (when this is the case). Then read the propositions to choose your answer.
This B2 First section helps assessing written expression of the candidate. It lasts approximately 1 hour 20 minutes and is divided into two parts. In each of the parts, you will have to write a text whose format can vary (e-mail, review, report, letter ...). This part accounts for 20% of the final score for B2 First. Pay attention to your spelling and turn of phrases, while making sure it’s relevant and that your words are clear, in order to obtain a good score.
Spend a maximum of 40 minutes for each part, ideally dividing your time as follows: 10 minutes of organizing ideas and developing the plan, 25 minutes of writing and 5 minutes of proofreading.
- Part 1: write an essay of 140 to 190 words, by giving your opinion
- Part 2: write a well-argued answer (140 to 190 words also) related to the offered medium.
Examples of possible questions for the Writing test:
Answer the question below. Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style.
In your English class you have been discussing whether robots and computers will replace humans at the workplace in the near future. Now your teacher has asked you to write an essay.
Write an essay using all the notes and giving reasons for your point of view.
The topic: Some people claim machines will replace humans at work. Others think that technology will change jobs rather than destroying them. Do you think robots and computers will take away our jobs or will they help us perform new ones?
Answer your letter below. Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style. Do not write any addresses.
Question : You have received a letter from your English penfriend, Dave. Read this part of his letter and then write your letter to Dave.
“I’m really looking forward to visiting your country next month. I have saved some money and I want to buy some nice clothes during my visit. Can you give me some advice about shopping? See you soon,
Third section: FCE “Listening“
The Listening part of the B2 First is devoted to listening comprehension in English. This section has 4 parts and has a total of 30 questions. The candidate has 40 minutes to do the entire test. The obtained score counts for 20% of the final score.
The B2 First (or FCE) candidate is asked to listen and understand several audio recordings, which can be of different types (conversation between 2 people, presentation to an audience, information programs, etc.).
The structure of the test is as follows:
- Part 1: 8 audio of short monologues or dialogues - 8 questions
- Part 2: 1 monologue of 3 to 4 minutes - 10 questions
- Part 3: 5 tiny monologues - 5 questions
- Part 4: 1 interview or discussion between two people of 3 to 4 minutes - 7 questions
All audios are broadcast twice. In this test, you are not in control of your time but must follow the natural pace of each part. We advise you to carefully listen to the audio for the first time, then to go through the questions during the second listening. Quickly pinpoint the main ideas and keywords. Do not answer until you have finished listening to the 2nd listening. In any case, you won’t gain any time.
It should also be noted that you are likely to hear various accents (British, American, Australian, Irish ...) in this test. Therefore, it is important to work in advance on this point, to get familiarized with the various pronunciations of English..
Example of a possible question in the “Listening” section:
You hear: I’ve been waiting here over half an hour! I know you’re busy but so am I. I don’t mind waiting a few minutes, I think that’s normal, but half an hour is really not acceptable.
I don’t understand why it takes so long! I have an appointment later to look at a new car and now it looks like I’m going to be late. Some people who came in after me have already been served, they are on their main course already. I want to speak to the manager!
Question : A man is complaining about something.
He is at…
- A. a garage.
- B. a restaurant.
- C. a post office.
Right answer : B.
Third section: FCE “Speaking“
The oral expression test lasts 14 minutes per candidate dual and includes 4 parts of different formats. In this section, the candidate's ability to communicate verbally with an interlocutor is assessed. This test accounts for 20% of the final score and takes place as follows:
- Part 1: questions about the candidate - 2 minutes
- Part 2: description of images - 4 minutes
- Part 3: discussion with another candidate on diagrams or photos - 4 minutes
- Part 4: Conversation with the examiner and the other candidate on a given topic- 4 minutes
After the exam, a Statement of Result shall be sent to each candidate. This will indicate the various scores obtained for each part, the final score and its correspondence with the CEFR levels. If the candidate succeeds at the test, a certificate will also be issued to the latter.
To obtain your B2 First certificate, you must obtain at least 160 points.
Here are the values of the B2 First (or Cambridge FCE) grades in keeping with the CEFR:
- Between 80 and 119 points: A1 level
- Between 120 and 139 points: A2 level
- Between 140 and 159 points: B1 level
- Between 160 and 179 points: B2 level
- Between 180 and 199 points: C1 level
- 200 points and more: level C2
When the results are given, a general score is given to you, accompanied by a detailed score for each area of expertise (written comprehension, oral; written, oral expression and "Use of English").
For the first test, the score is divided into two: the first score relates to writing comprehension while the second refers to the Use of English section.
The calculation of your FCE score is done from the Cambridge English Scale.
Generally speaking, Cambridge English First (or B2 First) does not have an expiry date. Therefore, you can theoretically pass it only once and use the score certification obtained for life. However, some organizations require a B2 First certification of less than 2 years.
To be able to take the Cambridge English First (or B2 First), you must register at an examination center. The dates of the test and the registration process will be given to you through the center in question. There are several examination centers all around the globe: in UK, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, Belgium, Netherlands, etc.
The Cambridge First is an examination which can take place on computer or on paper, as one would prefer. There is no difference in how it’s carried out or the scoring between the two. However, it is obligatory to be face to face with the examiner, while taking the oral expression test.
A proper preparation for the First Certificate of English is essential, in order to be ready on the big day and to pass the test in the best of conditions. Like with the majority of standardized exams, training in advance is necessary, if you want to obtain an optimal grade. Working on mock subjects and typical exercises allows you to get familiarized with the instructions and therefore minimize your chances of coming across unknown issues, on the day of the test. Therefore it is important to choose the best resources for your FCE training.
The Cambridge First certificate is one of the most prestigious English language qualifications in the world. For a large number of companies and establishments abroad, FCE is accepted as a qualification of higher intermediate level. This is why it is extremely important to prepare and stack all the odds on your side to succeed.
Our interactive platform GlobalExam offers online training, to prepare you for the FCE. Due to two training modes, you can carry out a specific and complete preparation for Cambridge First (or B2 First) from home.
The “Training” mode allows you to train with many standard exercises, classified per exam section.
The “Exam” mode gives you access to several mock subjects, to get trained in real exam conditions.
All the exercises on the GlobalExam site have been developed and written by language certification experts. On the platform, you also have the corrected and progress statistics at your disposal, allowing you to follow the evolution of your level on a daily basis. These answers and statistics are key elements to progress properly, while you prepare for the exam.
In addition to the training platform, our GlobalExam blog is also full of useful tips and resources to help you prepare. You will find various contents on many topics, related to the B2 First exam: how to succeed at the FCE, what is the price of the FCE, how does registration take place etc.
This blog is our most effective way of passing on our expertise, which has been acquired over the years on language tests. It is an important source of information, which should be used without moderation.