THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cambridge First- Statement of Results

Here is a question I often get from my students:

Do you ever get to see the test and your mistakes?

My answer in plain English:

No.

You have to bear in mind that you are sitting for a test at the end of a school course. Although you may be doing a specific course or studying at your school to sit for First for Schools, this is a certification process. You have chosen a university to confirm you possess some knowledge of the language. The tests belong to the assessment body now. They will most probably be used for research purposes.

So, what do you get as a feedback?
Every student sitting for the test is issued with a Statement of Results, which looks like this:


Source

Whether you pass or not, you will access this statement of results online. If you pass, you will receive a paper certificate at you examining centre. That certificate is valid for life. Do remember to go and pick it up. It is issued only once. If you lose it, I guess you will need to sit for the test again!

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Cambridge First-The Speaking Test Updated for 2015


The Cambridge English TV Channel in YouTube keeps updating samples of FCE Speaking tests. As you know, the oral test will undergo a few changes. Pay attention to Part 3 of the test where the examiner asks the candidates to do something together. So far, that part has been of 3 minutes with visual prompts. As from 2015, it will take 2 minutes of discussion of written prompts and then the interlocutor will ask you to evaluate the options together for another minute.

In my opinion, this is much clearer for students, since time goes by faster or much slower when you are under the stress of a test and some students tend to hurry to conclusions way before the three minutes have expired.

So here it is. These are Florine and María





You can also read a pdf document that Cambridge issues to explain the candidates' performance part by part.

So, are you ready to sit for it?


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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Learning Vocabulary Tips


I got a letter from Simon, a reader of this blog, who says:

" My biggest problem is my small vocabulary. [...] Do you have any tips for me to improve my English faster?"

So I thought it was about time we revisited the topic of vocabulary learning.

Before I give you a list of recipes, please remember that whichever techniques you choose, it's important that you keep at them. Vocabulary learning -just as most of language learning- is like gym. Think training. Think how you'd prepare yourself if your objective was to grow muscles or be physically fit and you'll be on the right track. So, no magic or quick fixes here.

Let's see.

11 words

There is, above all, a memoristic aspect to vocabulary learning. That's the glue that makes you retrive the word if you mean to add it to the words you normally use. So, if you choose some of the memory training techniques below, try to make a list of words which are highly frequent in your everyday English. Why? Because you'll be likely to need the word when you speak, therefore, you'll go beyond the memoristic game to real learning in a meaningful context.

So outside context, you may create:
  1. Word lists
  2. Post-it notes on your desk
  3. Flashcards
Here is a video that exemplifies the technique. By the way, it's not necessary to stick the post-it notes to the ceiling!

Then, you may want to add some sort of context to the words by adding associations. Here you may do;
  1. Related words
  2. Synonyms
  3. Antonyms
In this website, you'll find what I mean well exemplified.

ReadingQuest.org gives you a template (pdf) like this to work on.

concept of definition map

Synonyms are a great way to learn words. You never know which one sticks to your mind first, but, at least, by giving your brain choices you create other association possibilities that may spell success.

However, this is a word of warning, our brains are not that prepared to learn antonyms when both words in the pair are new to you. Trying to learn "tall/short" at the same time is not a good idea. Try it with a list yourself. You'll probably doubt which is which for a long time. Many students confuse words like "before&after" even in advanced levels.

Next, you may try to group words linked to a topic context:
  1. Parts of a bicycle (Make your own)
  2. Objects in your bedroom
  3. Brainstorming a topic. Which words come to your mind when you think "fashion"? 
I find all of these useful when the starting point is words in my mother tongue and then look for the foreign equivalents. Then, you may systematize all that in word maps. The kind of maps you find in Lexipedia, for example. This is particularly useful for the Use of English Paper.Check out these flashcards.

Onother helpful hint to learn words is to vary the senses you use to learn them.
  1. Go from the photo to the words
  2. Listen to songs and find the lyrics
  3. Write them, feel them. Don't be ashamed to try a poem with a set of words! Play games.
Finally, the contextual techniques, which can be summarized as;
  1. Read
  2. Read
  3. Read
From any text you read online, you may create a word cloud to help you retell it by using the image only. You may just drop words and use them as a story prompt, if you feel more creative. What story would you make with these?





One last word, you'll find sharing and teaching the words a powerful source of learning. So go ahead and teach someone what you now know. Remember the muscle training principle applies to words: use them or lose them!


ring of cards


Related Post
Phrasal Verbs


Footnote
Some research on vocabulary learning


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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

FCE Speaking Paper: Useful Phrases

In our previous post on Speaking Paper Part 2, we discussed the content of this part of this exam:
-what kind of information to give
-what you are expected to do with it

Now I'd like to focus on a strictly linguistic aspect: the form. How to say it.  What words and phrases can you use to link what you say? The ideas of this post apply to all parts of the oral interview.

'How you say it', as opposed to how many structures and how much vocabulary you use, is technically called Discourse Management: to what extent can you give logical, well presented ideas.

Remember: no one is counting how many mistakes you've made to give you a pass or a fail. You will be awarded marks for everything you succeed in doing in terms of communication.

Ascención Villalba has shared this presentation which outlines and highlights the language you can use in FCE Speaking. I think it is quite complete and worth studying in detail:



Fce speaking part from Ascension Villalba
Source

What's the goal? To approximate to using the language in that presentation. Beware of memorizing or forcing the expressions in your speech. It's unnatural and not a mark of learning. Try these phrases on as it they were new clothes. Select what fits best; make sure you have enough to change for the sake of variety.

The blog where it was originally published has some posts with tips and links . Take a look at the links on the sidebar of Skills for FCE.

On a final note, I just want to say that I love bringing other teacher's goodness to my own students in my class. 

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Speaking Paper- Part 2

In Part 2 of the Speaking Paper, you are given a couple of pictures you will have to discuss on your own for about a minute. This is the long-turn. It is not a dialogue and you are expected to give an extended answer to one question.

I'd like to share with you some of the frequent doubts my students have on Part 2.

  Should I describe the two pictures? me?

As you will have to start speaking as soon as you see the pictures, you most probably will describe what you see first. This is good to get a general idea, to place yourself and to avoid saying "in picture one" or "in the first picture", which are vague and poor ways to refer to them. Forget about merely pointing at them with your finger. Instead, you could give the pictures a title, something descriptive such as, "the picture with the elderly woman" or "the picture which shows a doctor", etc. That gives you a change to use more precise language, which suits your B2 level.

  -Should I answer the question right at the beginning or towards the end of the minute?
Throughout. Everything you say must have relevance to the question. That goes back to the first issue, you're not supposed to describe just because. You are not asked to have right answers, just ideas. So what you will do is constantly speculate about possible answers. The question the examiner reads at the beginning is printed on top of the set of pictures. This is there to help you. Make sure all your ideas are pointing to it.

 -My problem is that I run out of ideas. I don't know what to say.
Students who say this do not like talking about small topics. They like important ideas. Hey, you are not presenting at a conference! This is not a creativity contest. This is just a snapshot of casual conversation. Your ideas are good just because they are yours. Show us you want to communicate them and that you want to be understood by detailing and expanding on what you mean. There are no wrong answers. There are probably wrong attitudes towards the task. I know it's hard to do when you get nervous in the middle of the exam, but an attitude of someone interested in having a conversation and honestly sharing what you think is the path to success.

me again lol
Sometimes students run dry because they assume the question is to have only one answer. That's not true. There may be several possible answers and you give your hypothesis. The important thing is you address the question, not that you arrive to the most definite reason why. That would leave you with nothing else to say in 30 seconds. Instead, be ready to discuss alternatives.

 -How can I practise for this part?
What this task requires the most is confidence. This takes practice. You do not need any specific exam materials to do this. Any photograph which includes people will do. At first you can just time yourself while you describe any photo. Once you are at ease with filling the minute, try to answer one of these questions:
  • Why are these people in these pictures?
  • How are they probably feeling?
  • What do you think these people enjoy about ...(whatever they are doing)?
-Where do I get pictures?
Google images will do. The syntax could be something like this: "people + holidays", or +jobs +memories +sports +home. You name it. If you run out of search terms, go to your coursebook and use the title of the units as a guide. They refer to the vocabulary and themes you are to talk about with fluency at the FCE level.

This is just a start. Yet a key step. Practise frequently!

 Photos shared under a Creative Commons license by lukemontagne on Flickr

 Related posts:
Paper 5: Oral Interview
FCE Oral Interview ELT Pics

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