11 Top Tips for B2 First (FCE Exam) Success

B2 First, FCE or First Certificate – whatever name you know it by, and wherever you are in the world, if you’ve learned English at some point, you are probably familiar with the Cambridge Assessment English exams. These proficiency tests show employers and academic institutions what level your English is, and may even be required in order to get a particular job or promotion or join a university course. Here at BSC, we specialise in helping you prepare for these potentially life-changing exams with our B2 First (FCE) preparation courses, and while nothing can compare to an intensive preparation course with our qualified teachers, here are 11 tips that will help you achieve exam success.

B2 First (FCE Exam) Tips

1. Identify your motivations

Before you do anything, it’s really important to understand why you are taking the test. Is your motivation intrinsic (you want to do this for a sense of personal achievement or improve your career prospects) or extrinsic (you are being asked by an employer or university). Often it is a mixture of both. It’s important to remind yourself of these reasons if you ever lose enthusiasm or drive when things get tough.

2. Do a diagnostic test and get to know your strengths and weaknesses

By finding out which parts of the test you are good and bad at, will help you decide what areas to work on the most. You may want to focus on your weakest areas, in order to improve them or work on making your strengths even stronger. This depends on how much time you have to prepare. Doing a course in school with us, or booking some online lessons will allow a teacher to help you decide what is best for you.

3. Use authentic exam past papers from Cambridge to practise

Familiarising yourself with the exam structure and the type of questions found in each paper will help you feel more secure and know what to expect on exam day.

4. Pay attention!

The Cambridge exams are General English exams, so make sure you pay attention to all the English being used around you (if you are in the UK) or in any English media that you consume like English podcasts, songs or TV shows. Notice the language used in signs and announcements, write these phrases down and any unusual collocations you may notice, especially if they do not translate well into your language. What prepositions follow certain words? What intonation do people use to convey how they feel? The more you notice about ‘real-life’ English, the easier you will find the material used in the exam.

5. Know the common mistakes

Cambridge has published a book of the mistakes that are most often made in their tests. Buy this and inform yourself so you can avoid doing the same!

6. Do a mock test

Avoid exam-day nerves by experiencing what it feels like beforehand. BSC will always run a mock exam towards the end of the course, so you can practice each paper in a similar context that you will find yourself in on exam day. Familiarising yourself with the procedure and knowing what to expect will help you manage your nerves and get the best possible result.

7. Watch YouTube recordings of the speaking test

You can watch recordings of the exam speaking tests online. You can also see the examiners comments on the candidate's performance, which can help you benchmark your own abilities and identify areas you need to improve. You can also steal some useful phrases and tips from the participants!

8. Immerse yourself in English

Have the radio on in the background. Set your phone language to English. Listen to podcasts on the bus. The more you absorb the way the language is used and get to know common phrases and vocabulary, the more instinctive you will become as to what does and doesn’t ‘sound right’ in English.

9. Read the question and write a plan!

This is so important. In the writing paper, you get marks for how well your answer addresses the question but it is so easy to just start writing and not realise that by the end, you have answered the question you wanted, not the one on the question paper. Underline the keywords and identify the main things the question is asking of you (is it asking for your opinion? If so, give it. If not, then don’t)! If it is asking for problems and solutions, how many does it ask you for? Then spend at least 10 minutes planning your answer. The more time you spend planning, the quicker it will be to write your answer.

Our teachers will help you with strategies to truly understand what the examiner wants to see, and give you practice on the different styles of writing tasks.

10. Analyse model answers with the mark scheme

Looking at good examples of writing or speaking, and understanding the mark scheme will help you know exactly what you need to do to get a good result. How did the student answer the question? What structure did they use? What language did they use to express their ideas?

11. It can worse before it gets better

When you start looking at English in a whole new way, it can feel that you are getting worse rather than better. This is normal! It’s like when you tidy your bedroom – there is always a point when it looks messier than when you started. Keep going and following the advice in this article and you will come out a better, more confident user of English with the best possible chance of exam success.

Good luck and we hope to see you on one of our exam preparation courses at British Study Centres soon!

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