THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thank You

End of 2006 Academic Year

From: Your teacher blogger
To: All fcebloggers and especially to my FCE students
Subject: End of the 2006 FCE course, but not the blog!


Dear All,

I would like to thank you very much for all your enthusiasm and support in all these months. We have certainly learnt a lot, although there are challenges ahead too. Finishing this year's course certainly leaves us with a sense of achievement. It is my hope that you have found this online experience fruitful and entertaining.

I am still amazed when I see the map of visitors and think of how far this blog has travelled. We have trespassed the frontiers of our classroom to carry our writings to the homes of other students who also share our learning objective. Our comments have probably helped them. At the same time, we have opened the windows of our classroom to let the world’s community of knowledge come in to aid us!

Vygotsky, a Russian cognitive scientist, taught us early in the XX century that learning happens when we connect with other people. Studying with online support is about expanding the Zone of Proximal Development in which learning can occur. It has been my aim to help you feel a bit of the passion for learning English in our interconnected XXI century world. I like to think that you will go on designing discovery paths for yourselves. True learning is that which never stops.

Wishing you every success in your exams,


The FCE Blog Editor

Related Post: Our first post, March 2006

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

Organising your Revison

Exam Day is Approaching

So you have done your studying. You are at home surrounded by a coursebook, past papers and notes –hopefully legible ones. And the fceblog, of course! It’s time to get organised.

  • Keep focused

Learning a foreign language is all about making it yours. This is precisely what the oral examiners and corrector are after: how far you have gone in the path of internalising the sounds, the words, the structures and the ways you organise them in English. It is not about showing off how well informed you are, but how naturally you use the language -within FCE level.

  • Understand what revision is about

Revision is all about helping you to consolidate knowledge as well as managing the exam nerves. We’ve all been through that and, perhaps, the right amount of anxiety makes you sound more interested, write and review more accurately –nothing to complain about. There is a positive side to it.

  • Plan and stick to it

You may feel there is not that much time left to learn, yet there is no time to lose. Decide what you will do and make your schedule. Remember to allow yourself some free time, particularly the day before the exam. Tired minds do not work well.

Have a look at these Revision Tips from the British Council:

This is a Cambridge site with plenty of advice on exam taking techniques. It is not originally meant for FCE students but the content points still apply. You will find a helpful guide to what to do before, during and even after the exam!

Get organised! Big day is approaching...

Image source:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

DOs and DON'Ts

Useful Study Tips

Studying is so personal. Perhaps we all study in different ways. Even when we study in groups our minds need to find a way to link the new bits to previous concepts. No two minds share exactly the same information saved in their virtual disks. Mmm all this sounds rather techie, as if our brains functioned like a computer! But learning has a lot of similarities with computers and the Internet. Just think: When we study, we slowly classify information in folders or tag it with a good label. That helps you retrieve it –remember it easily. Not too different from the way search engines work!

Learning goes beyond the tagging and storing metaphor. We need to know what to do in totally new situations. Applied knowledge is about transferring, adapting, and sometimes creating anew! An exam requires these skills. A good exam will not ask you if you just remember something, it will push you a little bit further to know if you can solve the unexpected with some success. No matter how many past papers you’ve done, the next one will be new. An exam is a new problem that will require knowledge and strategy to solve it. The idea is that with what you know you can deal with it.

I imagine what you may be thinking at this point: Easier said than done! I grant you that. Exams are perfect for triggering off anxiety and some nervousness. Don’t ask me why, but I have always felt a bit tense before and after an exam –never during the exam. I probably feel more in control while writing or speaking than waiting for the mark! The thing is you choose to sit for an exam. You try to do your best and then you will enjoy a sense of achievement.

By the time you put yourself to the test, techniques should have been internalised already. I have received some emails asking for help with dos and don’ts. Actually this FCE blog is mainly about useful learning and study tips. As most of my posts deal with specific techniques for each part of the exam, I thought it would be a good idea to have a general picture. So here it goes. Let’s see what other teachers have prepared to help you.

Dos and Don’ts
The Cambridge Teacher’s Resource site offers detailed techniques for every part of the FCE test. A must read I would say...

Use of English

Longman outlines different techniques when studying for all parts of the exam. These are more general than the ones in the Cambridge site.

OneStopEnglish features tips for Speaking and Use of English. Written for teachers, these tips are very detailed with activities and lesson plans.

Teacher Dude is a native teacher of English living in Greece and an active reader of this blog . Find his advice for the FCE oral interview here. The tips are grouped under the different sections of the oral interview and they are a very good summary of what us teachers always correct in our students mock oral interviews.

As I said before, this is the general picture: The complete dos and don’ts grouped together in one post for your convenience. Remember to practise them separately –slowly linking to previous knowledge in your brain CPUs! Start by learning the tips of the parts you find most difficult at first, but it will prove a good exercise to reflect on all of them. They are not capricious; they state abilities that all of us as native speakers of our language naturally possess. It’s just that when we learn a foreign language all those skills demand a little more effort to learn.

To sum up, you should keep a balance with your study priorities and allow time to learn all of these throughout your exam preparation:

  • Solid knowledge of the Language
  • Techniques to transfer that knowledge
  • Exam Timing procedures to ensure success

Hey Everybody!
To all of you struggling towards the exam...Do you have any comments or questions on these techniques? How about those who have already passed the exam... Do you have any advice of your own to share?

Hope to hear from you! Don’t forget to mention your country of origin, there are so many fcebloggers out there...

Photo by Reinhardt Hoft

Related Posts:
Past Papers
Time yourself!

Friday, November 03, 2006


Writing a Mini Short Story

FCE Task Type Overview
The FCE short story task probably poses two major problems. For some students who believe they lack creativity to invent stories, it is perhaps difficult to decide what to write about. For others, it is difficult to tell a story within the word limit.

To begin with, let’s de-mystify the task. You are not expected to write a story with full development of setting, plot and characters. You should remember that the purpose of the text is to entertain the reader. You may imagine you are taking part in a writing context or that your story will be published in a magazine. An anecdote dealing with just one episode worth telling will do.

Let’s see some guidelines

What is the expected language here?
It is important to have a good handling of tenses for the reader to follow the sequence of events. Try to vary your structures, you can use reported speech or quote some words from the characters to make it more vivid. Sentence length and punctuation require some thought, too.

Possible start & finish lines:
The instructions for this task usually include a start or finishing line for your story. You must not alter it. This line could be in the first or third person. Look at these past paper example:

You have decided to enter a short story competition. The competition rules say that the story must begin with the following words:
I will never forget my first day at...
Write your story for the competition.

Source: Cambridge First Certificate in English 4. Examination Papers from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. CUP, 2000 p. 41.

How many words can I write?
Between 120 to 180 words. Let’s say that 201 is too much!

To keep within the range of the word limit, you will probably have to focus on some of the many things involved in writing a story. How much to say about the place, time, characters and action are decisions you make at the planning stage. Choose what is more important to clearly picture the episode you want to narrate.

Here is the task analysis and writing guide from Cambridge ESOL. You will find rubric examples from past examinations together with the questions you need to ask yourself before planning your story. There are also some questions to help you structure your plan. It might be a good idea to print it and keep it at hand until you learn the writing steps.

In this second link, there are evaluation questions for the revision of your draft. They will help you to make adjustments to your story while keeping language and reader in mind!

Remember that you will not be tested on creativity. You should be able to clearly put forward a mini short story that can create interest and entertain. I know, I know, it is not so simple.

A Sample Answer

To end this post here is a sample answer from one of my FCE students. The author tells me this story is fictional and not based on any true happening.

Your language school is running a short story competition. The story must begin or end with the following words:
I had never been so angry in my whole life.
Write your story in 120-180 words.

Source: Haines, S and Stewart, B. First Certificate Masterclass Student’s Book. OUP 2004, p. 84.

Author: Alicia

Note: I am transcribing the task as it was submitted to me without any of the language corrections.

I’d never been so angry in my whole life. 2005’s New Year reminds the worst evening I’ve ever spent.

I was flying to
Rio de Janeiro to receive the new millennium and spend my holidays with my dear father, as I usually did since my parents had divorced in 1992. The journey began well. The flight was very quiet, I could enjoy watching a romantic film called ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and before getting anxious the airplane had landed.

My father was there. He seemed to have changed since the last time I had seen him. Although he was in his sixties, he kept on being an attractive man. We were just arriving at home when he gave me a marvellous piece of news. 'I'm engaged with a charming woman and I can't wait you meet her'.

I was still shocked when a very young lady appeared with a big smile to receive us. She was his girlfriend. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I shouted: ‘Is it a joke? She is on her thirties; she can be your daughter?’ You can imagine the dinner.

As the song says: ‘The time goes by...', and fortunately my father recovered his common sense and that love story finished in a few months.

Some comments

Although a bit wordy (209), this is an interesting realisation of the task. It is quite challenging for a student to remember being angry and express it with clear and correct language. There are a few grammar mistakes, which do not interfere with communication at all. The writer has given enough details about the context to understand her own feelings and, at the same time, she has used varied structures and sentence length to keep the reader engaged. Paragraphs are well balanced and the story gets to a smooth ending.

Anyway, love is love, isn’t it? Just a thought.

Disclaimer: The story presented in this posting is property of its author and has been reproduced with permission. Surnames have been avoided for the sake of privacy.

Note: Would you like to read other sample stories by FCE students? Here is a selection of love stories by Italian students.

If you think you have written a story worth publishing, email it to me!

Related Post: English Grammar