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How to Study For The FCE

Do you ever wonder what the best way is to help students study for the Cambridge exams, like the FCE? Well, here in Europe they are definitely more popular than the GMAT, GRE, TOEFL or even IELTS exams. In fact, almost all of my upper intermediate level (B2) students are hoping to take the exam as soon as they can!

As you know, exam stress for the FCE (or any exam), is not a lot of fun. So, it helps to know what to do to help your students prepare. That’s where I come in!  Over the last three years, I’ve been preparing students for the First Certificate Exam (FCE)lot.  Here are my 8 best tips!

8 Top Tips For Teaching The FCE


If you follow these tips, I’m sure you’ll have FCE teaching (or studying) success!


1. Explain the Format Well

Take a few minutes and be sure that you know the exam format and the rules. Actually, you can find the latest exam information all right here, on the Cambridge official exams website.  You can even download a practice exam in a convenient .zip file!

Basically, there are 4 sections that students need to know how to do equally well:

  • Reading & Use of English –   Four exercises that involve sentence completion,  parts of speech transformation, speaker matching and multiple choice vocabulary, and three reading comprehension exercises
  • Writing – 2 parts, one shorter response (email, newspaper ad, letter, etc) and one longer response (an essay)
  • Listening – 4 parts, with a total of 30 questions. Speakers have different English accents, so be sure to practice!
  • Speaking – 4 parts, 20 minutes, done with a partner (you can book your exam with a friend, or one will be assigned to you)


2. Practice Every Part – Every Week 

Well, this one is pretty self-explanatory!  Don’t understimate the power of practice. If you learn a new word or expression, USE IT or you will LOSE IT! Seriously, though, make a list of all the words you learn when you try the practice exams.  Do your best to use at least 2 or 3 every week.

Get a book of official examsand/or a trainer exams guide (this official FCE one is great).


3. Watch Official Videos

So, I always ask my students to watch the video below, which is Cambridge’s official exam recording video (you can see it on Youtube, here).  Sometimes it makes them more nervous, sometimes less.  However, it’s very important that students know exactly what the oral exam will look like!   A quick Google search for “Florine and Maria 2015 FCE” will get you the official examiner’s marking sheets, too, so you can see exactly when Maria got a 3/5 and Florina got a 5/5 (but both passed!).


4. Do Timed Mock Tests

You know those practice exams I told you to use?  At first, start doing them slowly, then, be sure to try them using an egg timer or stopwatch with the official time. Remember, you can’t skip ahead on the exam, so you need to be able to complete each section within the allotted time.

Schedule a time (1 hour 15 minutes for the Reading/Use of English, for example). Turn off ALL distractions. FOCUS. See how well you can do!


5. Use Authentic Audiovisual Materials

This is my favourite tip!  One of the best ways to improve  listening and speaking skills is to use authentic audiovisual materials. Be sure that your students watch tv series in English (without subtitles if possible!). Movies or documentaries work well, too!

Actually, one of my students watched Youtube videos and followed video bloggers before school, online for a whole year – and her listening comprehension and speaking have both improved immensely!



6. Practice Phrasal Verbs, Idioms & Prepositions

Phrasal Verbs. Idioms. Prepositions.   This triad is what has most FCE learners stumped! Usually, students find the Use of English to be the most difficult part because of the prevalance of these three grammar items.

Practice, practice, practice!   Remember, teachers, I have the Ultimate Phrasal Verbs game in the free printables library, which you can access and use any time. It’s helped a lot of my students get really good at phrasal verbs!



Free Printables Library



7. Practice Transforming Parts of Speech 

So, this part will help with Use of English, too!  Simply grab a list of verbs – and find their adjective and noun forms. Create a handy chart to keep track of them.

Want the chart?  Sign up for my free printables at the end of this post, and they’ll be in the February Printables Package later this month!


8. Speak A Lot

So, what can you tell students to do to improve their English speech?

Take absolutely every opportunity you have to speak in English.  Join Facebook or Meetup groups. Find a language exchange partner. Speak with your teacher or private tutor.  Speak, speak, speak!  Practice all that vocabulary you’ve learned from the Use of English sections of your practice exams.

What are your top tips for passing or teaching the FCE? What do you struggle with most? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Happy Teaching!




P.S  Photo lovers, I took the photo for today’s post at Lady Margaret Hall, my college at the University of Oxford, UK in 2012.

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