8 Tips to pass the FCE Exam


What is the Cambridge First Certificate exam?

The Cambridge First Certificate Exam (FCE) is a certificate organised by the University of Cambridge. It is aimed at upper-intermediate English learners who wish to prove the everyday use of written and spoken English for work or study purposes. The certificate can be an excellent qualification to have, since it is widely recognised by thousands of universities and employers worldwide.

Obtaining an FCE certificate can open the door to better education or employment opportunities, as well as increasing the chance of you being allowed to live and work in English-speaking countries.

The FCE consists of 5 papers:

1) Reading

2) Writing

3) Use of English

4) Listening

5) Speaking

Papers 1, 2, 3 and 4 are always taken on the same day. Paper 5 is taken on a specified day, either on, or close to, the main exam day. The five papers are each worth 20 per cent of your overall mark.

» Before you sit for your exam.


The FCE is an important challenge of your English ability. To be able to pass the test, you have to be confident in all skills of English – reading, writing, listening, speaking, sentence formation, grammar, vocabulary and so on. Typically English learners will need to have been preparing for the test full time for at least six weeks before they are able to pass the exam. Learners from non-European language speaking countries (such as Middle East and Far East countries) may need even longer.

Remember to only take the test once you are ready. If you take the exam before you are ready, you may fail and lose much of your confidence in your own ability. If this happens you may be discouraged from studying further.

On the other hand, having an exam date to look forward to can be an excellent motivator to study hard and make the most of your time. Some students study harder than ever and see a huge increase in their ability in the weeks leading up to an exam.

» How to pass the Cambridge First Certificate exam.

1) Read the Instructions first.

Make sure you know what to do – always start by reading the instructions first!

2) Don’t feel discouraged.

If you are struggling to find an answer, move on to the next question and go back to the question later. There is no need to do the questions in chronological order. Start with the questions that you find the easiest and leave the more difficult ones till last.

3) Keep an Eye on the Clock.

Don’t run out of time! If you have developed an FCE exam strategy, you will know before you start how much time you have allocated to this part of the test. Stick to your timetable. Remember, each part of the FCE Reading Paper carry approximately the same amount of marks. If you do one of the other two parts quicker, you can go back and finish the part you left uncompleted – it is all about maximising your chances to pass your FCE exam!

4) Reading tip.

If you believe that you should be reading the text first and trying to understand it, followed by answering the questions, then you are wrong! You don’t have much time for this. It is always better to read each question first and then look at the text. Scan read the text to find the answer you need. Usually the question order is similar to the text order. So the answer to question 1 will be, usually but not necessarily, close to the beginning of the text and the last question will be close to the end.

5) Writing tip.

Part 1 and Part 2 carry the same number of marks. So remember to spend 40 minutes on each. Start by reading the question first and then spend a minute thinking about a good answer. It would help if you write a short plan for your answer. This will mean you can write a well-structured answer and not miss anything you want to say.

Write about what you can explain, even if you have to give an opinion you don’t agree with. Just show your writing ability, that’s all! But always make sure you write enough to show your ability. Part 1 should be 120-150 words, and Part 2 120-180 words. On the other hand, don’t say unimportant-unnecessary things to increase your word count, this will definitely not help.

6) Use of English tip.

Just keep a clear head. If you have done your preparation by doing a lot of practice papers, these questions are quite simple and can be done quickly. If you don’t know an answer, leave it and come back later.

7) Listening tip.

Avoid the the biggest mistake students make!  Do not try to remember the meaning of a word you have heard because then you will miss the rest of the recording. The second  common error is trying to concentrate on reading the questions and as a result you are missing the recording again. If you can’t concentrate on both, just listen to the recording. You can look at the questions afterwards. It has proven useful to my students to write a few key words while they listen. This can help you remember what you have just heard when you answer the questions.

8) Speaking tip.

The most useful advice is to breath deeply and relax, in this way you will be able to speak clearly and calmly. You have to talk for a few minutes, so you should not finish too quickly. Don’t rush. Talk about what you are confident saying. If you don’t know the words, you can describe it in a different way or even say something different. Remember that the exam is to test your English, not to learn your real opinion. So, go ahead!  Another common mistake is that because you will have another candidate with you in the speaking exam, sometimes you will be tempted to repeat what they say. Do not do this, show what you know.

Paul Warren M.A.

Senior tutor



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