Cambridge English: First

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Cambridge English: First, also known as the First Certificate in English (FCE), is an English language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations). It is an upper-intermediate, international English language qualification that focuses on Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).[1]

Cambridge English: First was first developed as the Lower Certificate in English (LCE) during the 1930s and was intended to meet a demand for certification of English below that of the Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) exam.[2] Cambridge English: First is one of the most widely taken of all the exams provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment and is accepted in commerce, industry, universities and higher education institutions as proof of everyday written and spoken English for work and study purposes.[3]

The exam is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: First (for adult learners) and Cambridge English: First (FCE) for Schools. Both versions assess at the same level, have the same exam format (four papers) and lead to the same qualification – the First Certificate in English. The only difference between the two versions is that the topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school-age learners.

Cambridge English: First (FCE) for Schools is part of a suite of qualifications designed specifically for school-aged learners, which includes Cambridge English: Key (KET) for Schools, focused on CEFR Level A2, and Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) for Schools, focused on CEFR Level B1.

History[edit]

Introduced in 1939, the Lower Certificate in English (LCE) was the second English language exam developed for speakers of other languages by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate, the organisation that would later be known as Cambridge Assessment. The arrival of thousands of refugees from the Spanish Civil War and occupied Europe into the UK had created a growing need for language assessment. The LCE was intended to meet a demand for the certification of an English proficiency level below that of the Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE).

One hundred and forty-four students sat the first LCE exam on 21 June 1939.[4] The exam was divided into three sections:

  1. Oral (Dictation, Reading Aloud, and Conversation)
  2. English Composition and Language (2 hours for a free composition on a choice of subjects and various tests on the correct use of simple English)
  3. Prescribed Texts (2 hours on Dickens, Swift, Shaw and/or the Oxford English Course book).[5]

By 1943, LCE included a choice between ‘either prescribed texts or a paper in translation from and into English’. By 1944, 18 languages were catered for in the translation paper, including Polish, Arabic, Hebrew, Czech, Persian and Swedish.[6]

Many of those who took LCE served on active duty during World War II: the LCE December 1943 Pass List includes candidates from the Polish Army, the Polish Institute of Air Force Technology (RAF), the Netherlands Fleet Air Arm, and the Czechoslovakian RAF Squadron. On one day in 1948 over 2,500 men and women of the Polish Resettlement Corps took LCE.[7] A special version of LCE was also made available to prisoners of war detained in Britain and in occupied Europe. The test was made available to 1,500 prisoners of war in Britain, 900 of them Italians. In Germany, the test was offered at seven prisoner of war camps, with Indian prisoners of war encouraged to take LCE or School Certificate exams. After the war, LCE proved to be the most popular Cambridge English exam of the time, with over 4,000 candidates in 1947, compared to 2,028 candidates for the Certificate of Proficiency in English, now known as Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE).[8]

In 1975, driven by evolving principles of communicative language teaching and testing, LCE was revised and renamed as the First Certificate in English (FCE). The exam was updated to have five compulsory papers: Composition (free writing task); Reading Comprehension; Use of English (testing grammatical structures and vocabulary); Listening Comprehension (multiple-choice items); and an Interview (oral tests).[9]

The qualification was further updated in 1984 and 1996. Following the 1996 revision, FCE covered a greater range of writing, listening and speaking micro-skills. Its Speaking test format used two candidates and two examiners and the five papers were equally weighted, each representing 20% of the available marks.[10]

In January 2015, another set of revisions were introduced. The main changes are: the overall exam is now 30 minutes shorter; there are four exam papers, instead of five; and the Reading and Use of English papers have been combined into a single paper. Further information can be found in the revised Exam Specification.

In addition, a new way of reporting results has been introduced (effective from January 2015), with Cambridge English Scale scores replacing the standardised score and candidate profile used for exams taken pre-2015. The Cambridge English Scale was developed to provide exam users with more detailed information about their exam performance than was previously available.[11]

Cambridge English: First (FCE) for Schools[edit]

From 2009, in response to increased use of its exams within schools, Cambridge English Language Assessment introduced versions of some of its exams designed for school-age students. This included: Cambridge English: Key (KET) for Schools, Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) for Schools and Cambridge English: First (FCE) for Schools.

Cambridge English: First for Schools (FCE) follows the same format as Cambridge English: First for adults and the level of the question papers is identical. Both versions of the exam lead to the same certificate. The only difference is that the content and treatment of topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been particularly targeted at the interests and experiences of school-age pupils.[12]

Format[edit]

Both versions of the exam are made up of four exam papers, designed to test the key language skills. The four papers are: Reading and Use of English; Writing; Listening; and Speaking. Both Cambridge English: First and Cambridge English: First for Schools offers candidates the choice of taking their exam on either a computer or on paper. The Speaking test is taken face-to-face with two examiners and two candidates, providing a realistic and reliable measure of ability.[13]

1. Reading and Use of English (1 hour 15 minutes)

The Reading and Use of English paper has seven parts and 52 questions. The paper contains texts totalling approximately 3,000 to 3,500 words and candidates are expected to understand different types of text, such as fiction, newspapers and magazines, promotional and informational materials. In Cambridge English: First for Schools the text topics are targeted at the interests of school-age pupils.

In Parts 1–4, candidates read a range of texts and complete tasks that test their knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Part 1 has eight multiple-choice questions related to vocabulary in a text. Parts 2 and 3 involve completing gaps in a text (i.e. choosing / forming the correct word for each gap). Each question in Part 4 has a sentence and a ‘key’ word, which must be used to complete a second sentence so that it has the same meaning as the first sentence.

In Parts 5–7, candidates read a range of texts and complete tasks that test their reading ability. Part 5 involves answering multiple-choice questions about a text, with candidates expected to be able to read a text for detail, opinion, tone, purpose, main idea, implication and attitude. Part 6 involves choosing paragraphs to fill the gaps in a text, with candidates expected to demonstrate understanding of the structure and development of a text. Part 7 involves matching statements to the correct part of a text or several short texts, with candidates expected to demonstrate reading for specific information, detail, opinion and attitude.

2. Writing (1 hour 20 minutes)

The Writing paper has two parts. Part 1 has one compulsory question and involves writing an essay. In Part 2, candidates are given three options and are asked to write one of the following using between 140 and 190 words: an article, email/letter, report, or review.

3. Listening (approximately 40 minutes)

The Listening paper has four parts and includes a mixture of monologues and dialogues from a range of familiar sources, such as news programmes, radio broadcasts, speeches and public announcements. In Part 1, candidates listen to a series of unrelated recordings (approx. 30 seconds each) and answer one multiple-choice question for each recording. In Part 2, candidates listen to a monologue or a dialogue with two or more speakers (approx. 3 minutes) and complete sentences on the question paper using the information they heard in the recording. In Part 3, candidates listen to a series of statements and related monologues (approx. 30 seconds each) and choose which statement best matches what each speaker says. In Part 4, candidates listen to a recording with two or more speakers (approx. 3 minutes) and answer seven multiple-choice questions. Candidates are expected to demonstrate a wide range of listening skills needed for real-life purposes, such as understanding the gist of an extract, listening for specific information, and understanding a speaker’s opinion, attitude or feeling.

4. Speaking (14 minutes)

The Speaking test has four parts and is conducted face-to-face, with one or two other candidates and two examiners. Candidates are expected to be able to participate in discussions, express opinions, exchange ideas and reach decisions through negotiation.

Part 1 is a short conversation with the examiner. The examiner will ask the candidate some questions about their lives, focusing on areas such as work, leisure activities and future plans. Candidates are expected to respond to the examiner’s questions, give basic personal information about themselves and use general social and interactional language.

Part 2 (1 minute ‘long turn’ for each candidate, plus 30-second response from the second candidate) involves speaking for 1 minute without interruption. Each candidate is asked to compare two colour photographs and comment about the photographs in response to a task read out by the examiner and a prompt question written above the photographs. The listening candidate is also asked to comment briefly after their partner’s long-turn.

Part 3 (3 minutes) is a two-way conversation between the candidates. The candidates are given spoken instructions and visual stimuli, which are used in a decision-making task. There is no right or wrong answer to the task. The candidates are expected to express and justify opinions, evaluating and speculating, in order to work towards a negotiated decision.

Part 4 (4 minutes) is a discussion between the candidates and the examiner on topics related to the collaborative task in Part 3. The examiner directs the interaction by asking questions which encourage the candidates to broaden and discuss further the topics introduced in Part 3. The questions ask primarily for evaluation rather than for information and give candidates an opportunity to show they can discuss issues in more depth than in earlier parts of the test.[14]

Scoring[edit]

All candidates (pre- and post-2015) receive a Statement of Results, with those scoring high enough also receiving a certificate.[15] In January 2015, Cambridge English Scale scores replaced the candidate profile and standardised scores used for pre-2015 results. Candidates continue to receive a CEFR level and a grade, in addition to their Cambridge English Scale scores.

From 2015 onwards, candidates receive a Cambridge English Scale score for each of the four skills (Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening) and for Use of English, with these scores averaged to give an overall score for the exam.[16]

Scoring from January 2015[edit]

From 2015, the Statement of Results and the Certificate have the following information about the candidate’s performance:

  • A score on the Cambridge English Scale for each skill (Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking) and for Use of English
  • A score on the Cambridge English Scale for the overall exam
  • A grade for the overall exam
  • A CEFR level for the overall exam.

The certificate also contains the UK National Qualifications Framework (NQF) level.[17]

The candidate’s overall score is averaged from the individual scores for each skill (Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking) and for Use of English.

Cambridge English: First is targeted at CEFR Level B2, which is equivalent to a Cambridge English Scale score of 160–179. The following scores are used to report results:

Grade Cambridge English Scale Score (140–190) CEFR Level
A 180–190 C1
B 173–179 B2
C 160–172 B2
CEFR Level B1 140–159 B1

Scores are also reported between 122 and 139. Candidates who achieve a score in this range will not receive a certificate, but their score will be shown on their Statement of Results.[18]

Scoring pre-2015[edit]

Pre-2015, the Statement of Results had the following information, reflecting the total combined score from all four papers:

  • A grade (A–C) for the overall exam
  • A score (out of 100) for the overall exam
  • A CEFR level for the overall exam.
Grade Score (total mark of 100) CEFR Level
A 80–100 C1
B 75–79 B2
C 60–74 B2
CEFR Level B1 45–59 B1

Pre-2015, the Statement of Results also had a Candidate Profile, which showed the candidate’s performance on each of the individual papers against the following scale: exceptional, good, borderline and weak.

Pre-2015, candidates who achieved a score of 45 or more (out of 100) received a certificate. The certificates awarded at each score/grade are outlined below:

Cambridge English Level B1 certificate

  • For candidates scoring between 45 and 59.

First Certificate in English – CEFR Level B2

  • Grades B and C
  • For candidates scoring between 60 and 79.

First Certificate in English – CEFR Level C1

  • Grade A
  • For candidates scoring between 80 and 100
  • Awarded to exceptional candidates who show ability beyond Level B2.[19]

Timing and results[edit]

Candidates take the Reading and Use of English, Writing and Listening papers on the same day. The Speaking paper is usually taken a few days before or after the other papers.

The exam is available to be taken at test centres in paper-based and computer-based formats. Both versions of the exam lead to the same internationally accepted certificate. The format of the Speaking test means that speaking elements are only available to be taken face-to-face with an examiner.

Dates to take the paper-based exam and computer-based exam are offered at test centres throughout the calendar year. There are over 1,400 exam centres worldwide where candidates can sit the exam. A directory of all global exam centres and their contact details can be accessed on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

Successful candidates receive two documents: a Statement of Results and a Certificate. Universities, employers and other organisations may require either of these documents as proof of English language skills.

An online Statement of Results is available to candidates four to six weeks after the paper-based exam and two weeks after the computer-based exam. Successful candidates (those scoring above 140 on the Cambridge English Scale) receive a hard-copy certificate within three months of the paper-based exam and within six weeks of the computer-based exam.[20]

Usage[edit]

Cambridge English: First for Schools demonstrates language proficiency at Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and is used for study and work purposes. It is an upper-intermediate qualification used to demonstrate that a candidate can use everyday written and spoken English for work and study purposes.

A significant number of higher education institutions accept Cambridge English: First for admissions or exemption purposes. This includes universities based in:

  • Australia (e.g. Box Hill Institute)
  • Canada (e.g. Thompson Rivers University)
  • Germany (e.g. Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Hong Kong (e.g. City University of Hong Kong)
  • Netherlands (e.g. University of Amsterdam)
  • USA (e.g. The Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago).

Many companies worldwide accept Cambridge English: First as part of their recruitment processes, or use it for training and development. These include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, HSBC, Marks & Spencers, and Nestlé.

A full list of organisations accepting Cambridge English: First can be accessed on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

Preparation[edit]

A comprehensive list of authorised exam centres can be found on the Cambridge English Language Assessment website. Free preparation materials, such as sample tests, are also available from the official website.

Future[edit]

In 2015, Cambridge English Language Assessment introduced an updated version of the exam and a new way of reporting results: the Cambridge English Scale. There are no further plans to revise the exam in the immediate future.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/25091-fce-level-b2-document.pdf Retrieved 7 May 2014
  2. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.30
  3. ^ [2] http://www.britishcouncil.org/czechrepublic-exams-fce.htm Retrieved 7 May 2014
  4. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.30
  5. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.28-33
  6. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.32
  7. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.40-42
  8. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.52
  9. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.77
  10. ^ Studies in Language Testing (SiLT), Volume 28, Hawkey, R. (2009) Examining FCE and CAE: Key issues and recurring themes in developing the First Certificate in English and Certificate in Advanced English exams. Cambridge University Press
  11. ^ http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/first/exam-update-for-2015/ Accessed 18 January 2015
  12. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.292
  13. ^ http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams/first/exam-update-for-2015/whats-in-the-exam Accessed 18 January 2015
  14. ^ [3] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/first/whats-in-the-exam/ Retrieved 7 May 2014
  15. ^ Cambridge English (2014) The Cambridge English Scale explained: the methodology behind the Cambridge English Scale, [4] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/177867-the-methodology-behind-the-cambridge-english-scale.pdf
  16. ^ Cambridge English (2014) Exams for Higher Education Guide, http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/24935-exams-for-higher-education-guide.pdf
  17. ^ Cambridge English (2014) Cambridge English Scale Factsheet, http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/167506-cambridge-english-scale-factsheet.pdf
  18. ^ Cambridge English (2014) Exams for Higher Education Guide, http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/24935-exams-for-higher-education-guide.pdf
  19. ^ [5] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/25091-fce-level-b2-document.pdf Retrieved 7 May 2014
  20. ^ [6] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/advanced/why-choose-the-exam/ Retrieved 7 May 2014