The Cambridge FCE B2 First Certificate is an exam that universities and workplaces around the world use to evaluate a person’s English level.
I’ve been preparing students for the Cambridge FCE exam for the past three years and have come up with 10 tips to help your students prepare for this exam.
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1. Teach lots of phrasal verbs!
Firstly, it’s important to teach your students as many phrasal verbs as you can. Have your students keep a list of phrasal verbs in the back of their notebook and encourage them to write down their own definitions (in ENGLISH, not their native language) and example sentences as well.
Phrasal verbs appear in every part of the exam, so it’s essential that students practice them in listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities.
I also recommend teaching a phrasal verb of the day:
- Write the phrasal verb on the board
- Ask students to explain it if they can
- Go over several examples
- Challenge students to use the phrasal verb of the day during the week in speaking and writing tasks
Your students can practice 10 phrasal verbs for family and friends with this free lesson.
2. Show students how to use the Cambridge online dictionary
The online version of the Cambridge dictionary is a fantastic tool for students. It gives easy to understand definitions, example sentences and the level of the word.
This is important because students want to make sure they are using enough B2 level words in their writing and speaking tasks.
Another advantage of the dictionary is that it includes definitions and examples for phrasal verbs.
You can try this free B2 vocabulary speaking lesson with your class to encourage them to use higher-level vocabulary words while speaking.
3. Teach students how to manage their time on the Cambridge FCE exam
One of the downfalls of even the most brilliant students is time management. A student’s grammar and vocabulary may be at the B2 level, but if they can’t fill in the answers in time, it doesn’t matter.
Help Cambridge FCE students by tapering down timing on reading and speaking tasks. At the start of the course, give your students more time on reading tasks while they learn and try out different strategies. Each week, reduce this time by 30 or 45 seconds.
Remind students that they don’t need to read or understand every word. Teach them how to take notes, highlight, skim and scan the text.
Similar to reading, start out speaking tasks with more time than is actually allowed on the exam. This helps students gain confidence in their abilities and focus on increasing vocabulary and grammar usage.
You can also do this by creating speaking activities which are similar to ones on the exam, reducing the time each week.
For example, choose two photographs and have students take turns saying a sentence to describe, compare or contrast the images. Ask them to keep speaking until they run out of ideas. This will help train them for speaking part 2 on the exam.
If you aren’t sure what’s on the speaking exam, try this post about the Cambridge FCE speaking exam including practice activities.
Here are some other ways that students can improve their speaking skills.
4. Encourage students to study “beyond the book”
When students are preparing for an exam, it consumes them and can become very stressful. You can assign alternative, non-book related homework to students every few weeks to give them a rest from the monotony of the test. These activities help expand vocabulary, pronunciation, and more.
Some ideas for non-book homework/activities:
- Watch a tv episode and write a summary of the plot or a description of a character
- Listen to a song and try to write down the lyrics that you hear – Lyrics Training is a great resource
- Listen to a song and identify the verb tenses
- Interview another student and record it
- Listen to a podcast and write 5 questions for the speaker
5. Use online quiz games to review
These days there are so many great options for vocabulary and grammar revision. You can find pre-made quizzes based on your textbook, or easily make them yourself.
To find quizzes, search for “Cambridge FCE” or the name of your textbook. Students will need a phone to play.
Top 3 Quiz Websites:
6. Provide as many practice Cambridge FCE exams as possible
The more exposure students have to the exam, the better they will perform. Initially, I like to break down parts of the test into simple activities for students to complete in pairs or small groups.
As students become more familiar with the test and strategies, you can begin to use full parts of the test.
Exam practice available online:
FCE Handbook (There are sample tests in the handbook)
7. Have students record themselves
Few people enjoy watching or listening to recordings of themselves, but it is a good way for students to increase their speaking scores. Students are often so focused on the time and what they need to include in their answers, that the answers don’t make much sense.
Encourage students to record themselves speaking while doing tasks like the long turn in part 2 or the partner work in part 3.
Then, ask students to evaluate their performance.
- Did you answer the question(s)?
- Have you used enough B2 words?
- Was there a variety of tenses in your answer?
- Do your answers make sense? Did you say anything extra?
- Were there any pauses or hesitation when speaking?
Watching records of themselves will help your students become more self-aware and able to focus on what to improve.
8. Check in with students frequently about their progress
I have my students fill out a chart with their scores every time that we do a practice test in class. This way, I have an idea of what parts of the test to focus on or review in class. I can also provide more individualized support.
Likewise, students like to keep track of their progress. It motivates them to continue working hard and shows them which parts of the test to focus their own studies on.
9. Set up opportunities to interact with native speakers
Depending on where you are located, connect students with native speakers around their age either in person or virtually. I studied both Spanish and Arabic abroad and made it my mission to practice the vocabulary and grammar covered in class with friends, co-workers, and shopkeepers. It really made a difference!
Nowadays, online platforms like Zoom make it easier to meet up with people from other countries. You can also try the app Meet Up to see if there are any language learner meetings in your area or online.
I highly recommend joining the Speaking Club Online! You can try one class per week for free, or sign up for a membership for unlimited speaking classes. Interact with other English language learners and guest native speaking teachers on Zoom.
10. Approach the Cambridge FCE exam like a marathon, not a sprint
I have seen many students burn out while preparing for the Cambridge FCE exam. I have also seen students realize too late that they should have studied more.
Begin each course by telling students that a little bit of practice each day is much better than cramming for the exam the week before. With this exam, it just isn’t possible. Students need time to develop their skills and increase their knowledge.
It’s easy to fall behind the large amount of work both in and outside of the classroom. That’s another reason why checking in with students periodically keeps them on the right path.
I hope you are able to implement some of these tips into your Cambridge FCE classroom. Leave me a comment if you found this post useful!
For FCE Cambridge lesson plans, PowerPoints and activities, check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Shop!
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