How to pass the Cambridge English speaking exams

If you’re taking the University of Cambridge ESOL exams KET, PET or FCE, a good result in the speaking test will help your overall result. In fact, if you find the reading, listening or writing part difficult, a good result in your speaking can balance out the other marks.

Here are some tips for getting the best results in the speaking.

At KET level

In the second part of the speaking test, you have to ask and answer questions with your partner. Often, you have to give numerical information, such as a price.

Make sure your pronunciation is correct. For example, £1.30 is pronounced “one pound thirty” (with the stress on “thir” and not “ty”.) If you say “one pound thirty” (with the stress on “ty” and not “thir” it can sound like £1.13.)

Know how to pronounce 100 (hundred) and 1000 (thousand) and fractions of numbers, such as £10.50. (It’s “ten pounds fifty, not “ten fifty pounds”!)

There’s often a question about times of the day.
7am – 7pm is “from seven am to seven pm” or “from seven o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock in the afternoon”.
For more information about telling the time, see our page on talking about your job and daily routines.

Sometimes you need to give a website address.
Remember www = “double you double you double you” and .com = “dot com”.

Know how to make questions from the prompts. Often there’s a question about money.
music lesson / £ ?
“How much is a music lesson?” Or “How much does a music lesson cost?”

For more information on how to ask about prices, see our page on asking questions.

Be careful about how you make questions with auxiliaries like “can”.
see lions / zoo?
“Can we see lions at the zoo?” (Not “Do we can see lions…” or “We can see lions?”)
For more information on how to ask questions with modals, see our page on how to use can.

Conversation tip: Try to keep the conversation going. If your partner asks you something and you don’t understand, ask a question.

What did you say?
Can you repeat that?
Can you say that again?

At PET level

To do well at PET, you need to contribute to a conversation. This means you need to have ideas. For example, in Part 2, don’t limit yourself to “I don’t agree because it’s boring…” Instead, give some examples why you agree or disagree with your partner. Make sure that what you say helps to extend and develop the conversation. Don’t just say “yes” or “no”.

You also need to be organised (especially in the photo) to give enough detail without repeating your ideas. Use linking words (“so”, “but”, “and also”, “then”, etc) to help connect your ideas.

Interesting vocabulary and grammar will help you. It doesn’t matter if you get difficult grammar wrong, but if you try (for example, a conditional sentence or present perfect) the examiner will be pleased!

Use a range of adjectives, and think of ideas where you can show off your English vocabulary. Try to avoid “boring” vocabulary such as boring, interesting, nice, and beautiful. Use synonyms so you don’t repeat the same things.

Don’t get stuck on words that you don’t know. Sometimes in the discussion or the photo you can see something but you don’t know the word in English. Don’t pause too long – go on to the next thing. You can also point to the thing if it helps.

Your pronunication is assessed not just on individual sounds, but also stress and intonation.

Conversation tip: In part 4 (the conversation), move your chair so you face your partner and not the examiner. This will help you look at your partner and have a “real” conversation.

At FCE level

You can impress the examiner with some more complicated grammar and vocabulary. Use a range of infinitive forms (“she seems to be studying” or “they seem to have had an accident” such as in the photo comparison, conditionals, passives and phrasal verbs.

Expand your ideas and speak without too many pauses. For the photo comparison try to give two or three comparisons before you go on to the second part of the photo question (how the people are feeling, for example.)

Use linking words and phrases. Words like “this” and “it” help you avoid repeating the same words; “while”, “whereas”, “however” help you compare photos; and “firstly”, “secondly” etc help you to build an argument in the conversation part.

If your partner is finding Part 3 difficult, take the initiative. You can use phrases like “So do you mean…?” or “So do you think this is a good idea?” Use summarising phrases to finish part 3: “So to summarise…”, “So in conclusion…”

Conversation tip: During the exam (and especially part 4) try and relate what you say to what your partner has said. For example, “Like Sara, I think that…”