The First Certificate in English (FCE) is a B2 level exam for those individuals at an upper-intermediate proficiency in English. This First Certificate in English is the most commonly taken exam of all ESOL tests and is available in a computer and paper version. Many students taken this exam because it conveys a high mastery of English needed to work in a business and educational environment.

The 5 W’s of the First Certificate in English Test

Who takes the FCE exam?

The FCE exam is for those individuals who can use everyday written and spoken English including understanding radio and TV programs and those who can take notes while listening to a lecture in English. Many individuals take this exam if they are going to study abroad or need certification for employment purpose. If you pass the FCE, your level of English is good enough to be of practical use in many types of job.

Why should you take the First Certificate in English?

Because the certificate confirms a mastery of all language skills, it has widespread recognition. Typically, to reach this level students study between 500-600 hours of English.

Many universities, especially in the United Kingdom, require proof of student’s English ability by submitting results tests results of the TOEFL , IELTS, and FCE. You will need to contact your employer, organization, or prospective school to confirm which exam(s) they accept. This exam is generally accepted by employers, however most universities prefer results from the Certificate in Advanced English (CAE).

Although the First Certificate in English is comparable in difficulty to the TOEFL, the results for the TOEFL expire after two years whereas the results of the FCE do not expire. The University of Cambridge has put together a database to see who accepts this certification.

What can I expect to see on the FCE?

Understanding the Format

This three hour exam has 5 papers testing reading, writing, listening, speaking, and your use of English all worth 20% of your total score.

Reading 20% of overall score

The First Certificate in English reading section is composed of 10 questions divided into three parts over the course of one hour. Part 1 of the FCE exam will give you a text followed by multiple choice questions with 4 options. Part 2 will have an article with missing sentences or paragraphs. You will have to choose from a list of possible options that properly fit into the article. There will be one extra answer that will not be used. The last section, Part 3, will give you different prompts which you would need to match with corresponding paragraphs or short text. The total amount of text is approximately 2000 words.

Writing 20% of overall score

The writing section of the First Certificate in English will take about 1 hour and 20 minutes. This section is divided into two parts; the first part provides you with information requiring an email or letter response of 120-150 words. The second part will allow you to select one of five options including writing an essay, an article, a report, a review, a letter of application, an informal letter, or a short story. This response should be between 120-180 words.

Use of English 20% of overall score

The Use of English section of the First Certificate in English consists of 42 questions in 4 parts. You will have 45 minutes to complete this section. The first two parts will give you a text with single gaps that you will have to identify the missing transition word (s). The first part will give you a list you will choose from and the second part will require you to provide your own answers. The third part is similar in structure as it provides you with a long text with a gap. You will be given a word that will require you to put into the correct tense to properly complete the sentence. The last part provides you with two sentences, one sentences is missing word (s). You will have a key word to use that you will need to modify to both fit into the sentence and keep the meaning of the first sentence.

Listening 20% of overall score

The Listening section of the FCE has 30 questions in four parts. You will have 40 minutes to complete this section and all recordings will be repeated twice. You will be required to listen to conversation and answer questions based on what they directly said, identify the main idea/attitude/option of speakers, or choose a common theme among multiple speakers.

Speaking 20% of overall score

The Speaking section divides candidates into groups of two along with two examiners. If there are an odd number of candidates, the last group will have three candidates. The time allotted is 14 minutes per pair divided into four sections. In the first part, you will speak with the examiner and will be expected to provide information about yourself and give your opinions. In Part 2, you will speak for one minute about two photographs given to you by the examiners which you will be expected to compare, contrast, and react to them. The other candidate will do the same based on different photographs. Both candidates will have the opportunity to comment on the other photographs. Part 3 is a 3 minute discussion with the other candidate based on pictures provided by the examiner. The last part will include the examiners based on questions from the dialogue in Part 3.

Understanding Your Score

Your score will range from 0 to 100 so you can determine where on you fell on the scale. According to this score, you will fall into five possible results:

100-80 Grade A
79-75 Grade B
74-60 Grade C
59-55 Grade D
54-0 Grade E

In order to pass and receive a certificate, you would need to achieve an A, B, or C. You will also get a breakdown on the five sections (reading, writing, listening, use of English, and speaking) as to whether you performed exceptional, good, borderline, or week. In order to pass, however, you do not need to pass every section.

When and Where can you take the First Certificate in English?

The First Certificate in English has recently released a computer version in addition to the paper version. Both formats provide the same questions, so you’ll want to decide which method you’d prefer. When you contact your exam center, you will want to make sure that your preferred version will be administered on your test day. Fees are set by the test center, however costs are approximately $166 USD, €82, or £69.

Check out the Cambridge ESOL Exam centre tool to find the exam time best for you!

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