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CAE Exam: Speaking paper

Updated on September 29, 2012

All five sections of the Cambridge Advanced English test have to be studied prior to the test, this because you should familiarize yourself with the test format. However, only the study of two of the five parts can be expected to significantly improve your score within a short timeframe. One of these subsections is the writing section of which I have written a short guide to writing letters in CAE. The second subsection that ought to be studied is the speaking section, featured here.

The TOEFL test is the most famous English test as it is the main test for access to US universities. The Cambridge Advanced English exam is supposed to be a more difficult exam. However, in my opinion the CAE speaking test is less scary than the speaking test of the TOEFL. Main reason is that it is more like an interview and that you get an overall score instead of sub score for each part of the test. I have recently taken the CAE exam, and if the level of your spoken English is beyond the requirements of a CAE exam, and you learn the rules, I´m sure you will be fine.

CAE Speaking test – Framework and Evaluation

The test is divided into four subsections. The score is an overall score so you shouldn´t be too worried about messing it up on any individual test. That being said, it would be silly if you made mistakes as a result of not knowing the basic rules. I myself, for example, barely spoke in part 4 as I thought it was not allowed to comment on the others´ responses (and no instructions were given between part 3 and 4) while the two others, in a group of three, made ample use of commenting on the others´ comments.

The setting of the test is that you are in the room with either one or two other test takers as well as two examiners working for Cambridge. One of the examiners (the assessor) will only be introduced but not further participate in the interaction. The other examiner (the interlocutor) will provide all the materials, ask questions and provide follow-up questions.

The assessor evaluates what he or she hears based on five criteria:
- Grammatical Resource
- Lexical Resource
- Discourse Management
- Pronunciation
- Interactive Communication.

In addition the interlocutor will assess you on overall criteria.

Individual parts of the CAE speaking tests

In Part 1 (lasting 3 minutes) the interlocutor will ask you and your partner(s) questions about you, your interests, hobbies, studies, travels etc. This could be questions about what you do when you meet up with your friends; what you prefer to do in your spare time; where you would like to travel; whether you are a morning or an evening person etc.

You are also in this section expected to listen to the others´ responses as it is always good to be able to validate the response of others into your own response. You are not supposed to speak out of turn or comment on the responses of others in this section unless the interlocutor specifically asks you to!

The questions should be answered fully and to the point. Example if you get a question about whether you like to study, you should not answer with a yes or a no. Instead you should elaborate. For example: “I wasn´t fond of studying when I was younger, but after I became older and could to a larger extent choose which subject matter to spend my time on, I found studying to be quite enjoyable.”

You should familiarize yourself with the task or the kind of questions. Reflect on your personality, likes and dislikes, plans for the future, where you are from etc. All topics prepared with a response of few phrases. Also be prepared on being caught off guard with a question. If you have to think before you respond, try to think with a “hmm” or express that you have to think with for example “that is a difficult question, eeh”. Instead of just sitting quiet for 5 seconds.

So what if you do not have any interests, hobbies, friends or family? Don´t worry. Because you should try to get in responses during the test that contains responses relating to the past, future and the speculative, just answer with hobbies you have had, would like to have etc. The examiners do not (at least should not) care whether you have won an Olympic gold in figure skating. What is interesting is your oral use of the English language, so most importantly you should try to speak with elaborated answers, even if you do not have anything particularly interesting to say.

In Part 2, with one minute long turn to each candidate and a 30 second follow up question to the second candidate, you have to pay attention to what the other candidate says. The follow up question is related to the same topic as the one minute response. If possible it is therefore good to relate your answer to what the other person already has said.

In the one minute long turn you will be presented with three pictures. The interlocutor will then ask you to talk about TWO of the images for one minute. There are TWO parts of the question you have to answer. Good idea is that you choose two contrasting images and start to talk about one of them from the beginning, without wasting time explaining to the examiners which pictures you are about to discuss.

It is smart to pick two pictures that are very different to have something to contrast. Second commonality in this part is the use of the word “might” being very common in the questions. “What might they be feeling?”, “Who might want to practice these sports?” To see samples of the pictures you should get one of the preparation books provided to the right.

In conclusion, MOST part 2 exams follow the pattern that it is wise to: Start talking about one picture and speculate shortly related to question one. Then you contrast this with the second picture (again keep focus on question one). Question two is then a more general question of which to speculate, or it is another speculation question in which you contrast the pictures.

After your partner has answered questions related to his/hers pictures it is your turn to answer a 30 second follow up question within the same topic that already has been addressed. It is therefore important that you listen when the other person speak. It is excellent if you can refer to something he/she has already said. It is of course easier to agree with something that has been said as you then don´t have to give arguments but instead can complement the response given.

In Part 3, the real group work or communication part begins. The two of you (or three of you) will be given a set of several pictures to discuss for three minutes without the interlocutor interfering. Similar to the individual picture task there are two questions. The first question requires you to discuss a general theme as it relates to the pictures. For time management purposes it is easier to talk about two pictures at a time, where one of you answer about two of the visuals and then the partner comment upon that answer before commenting on two different visuals. The first of the two questions require the most time, normally two minutes or more. The second question requires the two of you to reach some form of conclusion where you agree (or disagree). It is important that you leave time for this question to be answered. It is also important that you have some control of the time. If there is one minute left and your partner has made his or hers comment about the correct answer you should disagree and perhaps suggest a different visual. If on the other hand you have less than 30 seconds left it makes more sense to agree and provide your own reasons for it. Avoid looking at your clock all the time but DO try to keep control of the time. Practice this task beforehand to have an idea of how long three minutes are.

In Part 4, the discussion continues from part 3. The interlocutor will ask you questions related to the task under part 3 and you CAN comment on the responses of your partner. Try as much as possible to show your skills by using examples from what was said earlier in the exam. The length of this part is based on how much time you have left of the exam. In addition, the interlocutor will try to ask more questions to the person that spoke the least in part 3. I will assume that the assessor already has decided on the scores by this time, but the interlocutor can still change his or her mind so do not lose interest just because the test has almost been finished.

External resources

The Official Cambridge website provides resources for you to understand the format of the CAE speaking test.

Flo-joe and its subsidiary is the primary educational resource outside of Cambridge itself. I tried splendid-speaking when preparing and in my situation it was not all that helpful. I started to study the writing and speaking section one week before the exam and the “course” mainly consisted of a lot of flash slides making it very time consuming in addition to being rather expensive. I would recommend them if you have a month or more to your exam. For shorter periods you have to decide for yourself.

The author provides private English course in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil - Curso ingles Porto Alegre.


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    • profile image

      7 years ago

      *paper based test

      And btw your article is great! I'll have these things in mind!

    • mbergo profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Porto Alegre, Brazil


      I'm only familiar with the rules for the Computer based test - Not the paper based. So question 1 does not apply. For the rest I can only answer based on how it was here in Brazil, for the computer based.

      They provided paper that you have to return after the exam and instructions were in Portuguese (native tongue for Brazil)

      Otherwise it seems you have everything you need (at least in Brazil). There are no forms to fill out as they already should have your information.

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      Hi! I have a few questions. I'd be very grateful if you could answer me as soon as possible. My exam is in a few days!

      1. Am I allowed to write on the question papers?

      2. Am I allowed to use rough paper and at which part?

      3. Do I have to write my answers on the separate answer sheet in capital letters?

      4. What am I supposed to bring with me beside pens, pencils, a rubber, a sharpener and my ID card?

      5. If they ask me to fill out a form, do I have to write in capitals again? I know my picture will be taken on the day of the exam.

      6. If I have a question should I ask it in English or in my native language?

      I'm sorry if my questions seem silly, but I don't want any unpleasant surprises.


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