Cambridge English: First (FCE)

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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]

The exam is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: First for adult learners and Cambridge English: First for Schools. Both versions assess at the same level, have the same exam format (five 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-aged learners.

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]

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]

Further changes are planned to both variants of the exam in January 2015.

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-aged students.

Cambridge English: First for Schools follows the same format at Cambridge English: First for adult learners 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 pupils.[11]

Format[edit]

Both versions of the exam are made up of five exam papers, each worth 20% of the total marks. There are papers for each of the four language skills (Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking) and a paper on ‘Use of English’, which tests knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. Both Cambridge English: First and Cambridge English: First for School offers candidates the choice of taking their exam on either a computer or on paper.

1. Reading (1 hour – 20% of total marks)

The Reading paper has three parts. Part 1 comprises a long text with eight multiple-choice questions. Part 2 involves a gapped text exercise with a choice of sentences for each gap. Part 3 is a multiple-matching activity which involves finding specific information in a long text or several short texts to answer a series of questions. The reading paper contains texts approximately 550-700 words in length. Candidates are expected to be able to understand texts taken from a range of sources such as magazines, newspapers and leaflets and demonstrate a variety of reading skills including skimming, scanning, deduction of meaning from context and selection of relevant information.

In Cambridge English: First for Schools the texts are taken from sources familiar to school-aged learners, such as magazines, articles, fiction and advertisements, with topics targeted at the interests of students.

2. Writing (1 hour 20 minutes – 20% of total marks)

The Writing paper has two parts. Part 1 has one compulsory question and involves writing a letter or email using information from an input text (such as an article, leaflet, notice, formal or informal letter). In Part 2, candidates are given five options and are asked to write one of the following using between 120-180 words: an article, essay, letter, report, review or a story. Two of the options will relate to set texts (a book or film) that the candidate has studied before the exam.

3. Use of English (45 minutes – 20% of total marks)

The Use of English paper tests a candidate’s underlying knowledge of vocabulary and grammar and has four parts. Parts 1 to 3 involve texts with missing words or phrases (gaps). Candidates must fill the gaps by selecting from multiple choice answers (Part 1), forming a suitable word themselves (Part 2); and changing a prompt-word in some way to complete the sentence correctly (Part 3). Part 4 involves sentence-based tasks. Candidates are given a complete sentence and a keyword. They must complete a second sentence with a gap in it, so that it means the same as the first sentence, using a maximum of five words including the keyword. Parts 1 and 3 test knowledge of vocabulary, whereas Parts 2 and 4 test both grammatical and lexical knowledge.

4. Listening (approximately 40 minutes – 20% of total marks)

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.

5. Speaking (14 minutes – 20% of total marks)

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.[12]

Scoring[edit]

The Statement of Results has three elements: a grade (A-C), a score (out of 100) and the CEFR level. The Statement of Results reflects the total combined score from all five papers.

Grade Score (out of 100) CEFR Level
A 80-100 C1
B 75-79 B2
C 60-74 B2
CEFR Level B1 45-59 B1

The Statement of Results also contains a Candidate Profile, which shows the candidate’s performance on each of the individual papers (Reading, Writing, Use of English, Listening and Speaking) against the following scale:

  • Exceptional
  • Good
  • Borderline
  • Weak.

Candidates who achieve a score of 45 or more (out of 100) receive a certificate, which states the grade and the CEFR level that has been achieved. Although the exam is focused on Level B2, it also certificates reliably at the lower B1 level. The achievement of candidates who do not demonstrate ability at B2, but do show ability at B1 is recognised with a Cambridge English certificate at that level. The exam also certificates at the higher C1 level, for those exceptional candidates who show ability beyond B2 level.

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.[13]

Timing and results[edit]

Candidates take the Reading, Writing, Use of English 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 45) receive a hard-copy certificate within three months of the paper-based exam and within six weeks of the computer-based exam.[14]

Usage[edit]

Cambridge English: First is used for study, work and immigration 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)
  • UK (e.g. University of Warwick)
  • 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 Nestle.

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

Cambridge English: First is also recognised by the UK Home Office (formerly UK Border Agency) for all four categories of visa for immigration to the UK.[15]

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]

Changes to both versions of Cambridge English: First are scheduled to be introduced in January 2015.[16]

The updated exam will have four papers instead of five. Reading and Use of English are to be combined into a single paper, which will assess language knowledge and reading skills. Tasks in the current Cambridge English: First papers will be retained in the new ‘Reading and Use of English’ paper, albeit with modified formats. The updated exam will be approximately 30 minutes shorter than the current one.

The updated Cambridge English: First will feature some new testing foci and task types in the Writing and Speaking papers, as well as in the combined Reading and Use of English paper. Specifications for the new exam can be downloaded from the Cambridge English Language Assessment website.

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. ^ Hawkey, R. & Milanovic, M. (2013) Cambridge English Exams: The First Hundred Years, Cambridge University Press, p.292
  12. ^ [3] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/first/whats-in-the-exam/ Retrieved 7 May 2014
  13. ^ [4] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/images/25091-fce-level-b2-document.pdf Retrieved 7 May 2014
  14. ^ [5] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/advanced/why-choose-the-exam/ Retrieved 7 May 2014
  15. ^ [6] http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/applicationforms/new-approved-english-tests.pdf Retrieved 7 May 2014
  16. ^ [7] http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/first-for-schools/exam-update-for-2015/ Retrieved 7 May 2014