1. Warm up Before the Exam
While you’re waiting with your partner, use this time to talk in English and even practise together. This will help you feel more comfortable and get used to how your partner talks.
Even if you are alone, start thinking in English, or practise answering questions by yourself. This way, when you walk into the exam, you will already be in English mode, and ready to speak.
2. Communicate Clearly
Do you know how your score is decided in the CAE speaking test? What do you need to focus on when you speak?
Did you think of grammar and vocabulary? Many students do. But actually, grammar and vocabulary are only two of the five marking criteria.
The other three marking criteria are communication, interaction management (how you communicate with your partner), and pronunciation.
To get a high score in the CAE speaking exam, you need a balance between accurate English and clear, fluent communication. Grammar and vocabulary are important, sure, but they’re only part of the picture.
So what can you take from this?
Many students are so worried about speaking perfectly that they run out of ideas or waste time searching for the perfect word, or the perfect sentence. This can make you feel nervous and uncomfortable, which makes it even harder to speak well.
So what can you do?
When this happens, it’s better to focus on your ideas. Express what you want to say, even if you can’t say it perfectly. It’s always better to say something than nothing, right?
Of course you should try to use high level vocabulary and accurate grammar when you can. But the fact is, the examiners mainly want to see that you can communicate well, and will be impressed if you show that you can use the English you know to communicate effectively.
3. Focus on Interacting with the Other Candidate
Remember that the CAE speaking test is an interaction. You aren’t alone in the exam; there’ll be at least one other candidate with you.
Many students focus too much on communicating with the examiner, and not enough on talking to the other candidate. But remember: how you communicate with the other candidate is important─it’s 20% of your score.
The good news is there are three simple things you can do to improve your interaction skills.
Firstly, actively listen when your partner speaks. This may be as simple as maintaining eye contact, or nodding or saying ‘yes’ as they speak. You could also comment on what your partner says. Say “That’s interesting,” or “Really?” This will show that you are engaged in the discussion.
Secondly, engage with what your partner says. While your partner speaks, don’t just use this time to think of something you want to say; respond to your partner’s ideas. You might agree, disagree, or add your own thought.
And here’s one particularly useful tip:
Encourage your partner. If you do this, the other aspects of a natural interaction will likely follow, and both of you will perform better. The examiners really like to see candidates who encourage each other, and they will notice this.
4. Manage your Time Carefully
You don’t have a lot of time to speak in the CAE and FCE speaking tests – so make sure you use your time to demonstrate your ability. You need to think about two things:
The first is to avoid silence. Do this by responding to answers as soon as possible. If you don’t know what to say, use filler phrases such as:
- Let me think about that for a moment
- That’s a good point.
The second way to use your time is to keep the conversation moving forward. Don’t stay on one idea for too long. If you get stuck on a word, find a different way to express your idea. If you forget what you want to say, move on to something else. If your partner is staying on a point for too long, gently direct the conversation in another direction.
To get a high score, you need to use your time effectively and show the examiner everything you can do in English.
5. Develop Your Ideas
With everything you say, always add an example, a personal experience, an opinion, or a counterargument.
The more you do this, the more likely you will demonstrate your language ability. For instance, in Part four of the CAE speaking exam, both candidates answer questions, giving opinions about a particular topic.
Let’s look at this sample question:
- Which do you think is more important – hard work or talent?
Here’s a sample answer:
- I think that hard work is more important.
This is obviously too short. It simply answers the question, but it doesn’t say anything more. Here’s a better answer:
- I think that hard work is more important, because this way I feel that I can always improve and that if I want something I’ll be able to achieve it.
Here the candidate has given a reason behind his opinion. This has allowed for the use of some more advanced language.
But that’s not all.
As you know, in the exam you will often interact with your partner. So don’t just elaborate on what you say – also elaborate on what your partner says!
Imagine your partner says something like this:
- I think that hard work is more important.
Now, YOU can also add to it. You can agree, or disagree, or add a reason. Just find some way to build on it:
- I totally agree. For example, people often describe my sister as being a really talented painter. Yet growing up, I saw just how much time she spent painting and in my opinion it was this time she spent practising that made her so good.
Here the speaker agrees with his partner, and provides an example from his own experience. As you can see, doing this not only allows for more advanced language, but also improves the interaction.
6. Enjoy Yourself – You’ve Already Come So Far!
I know that speaking exams are stressful and the conversation is not natural, but it’s still important to at least try to enjoy it. This will help you to be more expressive and feel more confident.
Remember: this is your opportunity to demonstrate all the work you’ve done to learn English.
Also remember: by preparing and sitting the CAE speaking exam, your English has improved! Whether you get the result you want or not, your English is still better than it was.
OK, let’s review the main points from this lesson. On the day of your CAE speaking test, you should:
- Warm up before the exam.
- Focus on communicating clearly and fluently.
- Interact with your partner.
- Manage your speaking time carefully.
- Develop your ideas.
- Try to have fun!
Thanks for watching, and good luck for your exam!