Did you know that you can google CAE answer sheets using Google Images? These are the sheets where you mark the correct answers. Have a look at them, read the instruction – it will save you time and nerves during the real exam.

Remember that the sheets are later read by a machine. It’s important to shade the lozanges well, use capital letters if necessary, not to write outside of the box etc.

The lozanges are the little boxes. You don’t just tick them – they need to be completely filled with one colour.

If in doubt, ask an invigilator during the exam – they are there to help.



My last speaking post concerns Part 3 and 4 of the oral exam, when you talk to your partner discussing photos (3) or answering the examiner’s questions.

When you look at the official Cambridge brochure, what you need to present in the oral exam is the following 12 skills:

For Part 2 mostly:

  • comparing (whereas, slightly more, by far the biggest)
  • describing (in the top right picture)
  • speculating (it seems as if, might, doesn’t look particularly)

For Parts 3 and 4:

  • general interaction (right*, well**, where shall we begin?)
  • sustaining interaction (moving on to, shall we move on?, anyway, as I was saying)
  • expressing opinions (it seems to me that, I believe that, as I see it, from my point of view, I have an impression)
  • justifying opinions (you see, I mean, besides, basically)
  • (dis)agreeing (I completely agree, I couldn’t agree more, I think I see what you mean but***, that’s true in a way I suppose but)
  • exchanging ideas (what about you? I bet you, so all in all do you feel)
  • suggesting (why don’t we, how about, wouldn’t it be better to)
  • evaluating (looks like we have a winner here, so it’s definitely out, let’s cross this one out shall we)
  • concluding (so to sum up, it seems we have reached a conclusion)

*”Right” is what you say quietly WHILE your partner is speaking. It’s good manners in English to make noises to show you are listening.

**Feel free start ANY utterance with “well” if you are talking to the examiner. You can also start ANY utterance with “so” if you are talking to your partner.

***In English you can’t say that you disagree. You need to somewhat agree, then present your point of view after the “but”.


The best way to practise the expressions is to find a partner and prepare a set of cards with the expressions. Try:

  • talking about anything using the cards
  • doing exam tasks from Part 4 using the cards
  • doing exam tasks from Part 3 using the cards
  • doing exam tasks from Part 3 using the cards and timing your task (give yourselves 3-4 minutes)
  • doing exam tasks from Part 3 without the cards


As you can see, what you have to do during the exam is:

  • to use a lot of expressions rather than say something intelligent
  • to do “the ping pong” with your partner, that is either encourage them to speak or fight for your turn
  • not to waste too much time at each photo, keep moving on, time flies


After an informal chat about yourself comes the dreaded Part 2 of the Speaking exam. I don’t know about you but I think it tests how well people understand instructions under stress rather than your level of English. As a result, the most important strategy for this part is to know the procedure BY HEART.  Be able to explain it when they wake you up at night. Be able to explain it in English as well as in your mother tongue. Be able to explain it to your 7-year-old nephew. Can you? Great, now you can actually practise it.

It looks like this:

You and your Speaking exam partner are shown three pictures and two questions.

Person 1 has to talk for 1 minute about just TWO of the pictures answering the two questions.

Person 2 is asked another question about the pictures and has 30 seconds to answer.

You are shown three different pictures and two different questions.

Person 2 has to talk for 1 minute about just TWO of the pictures answering the two questions.

Person 2 is asked another question about the pictures and has 30 seconds to answer.

The end. You move on to Part 3 of the Speaking exam. 

Ha, I wish that was everything! However, this is just the sequence and the time limits. You still need to know how to answer the questions because 1) you can’t just answer them like a normal (English) person, 2) you CAN’T DESCRIBE THE PICTURES. Well. you can a little, but only if it answers the questions. Which it usually doesn’t, so it’s a waste of time.

Here’s the sequence again with some extra comments:

You and your Speaking exam partner are shown three pictures and two questions.

  • If you can, don’t use the words from the questions in your answer, use synonyms.
  • Don’t identify the pictures by describing them! (“The girl playing tennis…”) It usually means using very easy vocabulary, which is a waste of the exam time. Say things like “in the top right picture” or “in the bottom left picture“. 

Person 1 has to talk for 1 minute about just TWO of the pictures answering the two questions.

  • As you have to compare and contrast the pictures, choose the two that are very different.
  • You are obliged to SPECULATE. You must use expressions such as “might well be”, “may have arrived” or “can’t have done”.
  • You are obliged to compare and contrast the pictures using expressions such as “much bigger”, “not quite as good as” or “considerably less efficient”.
  • To jump between the pictures use “whereas“, “while” or “on the other hand”.
  • 1 minute gives you time to answer the first question about the first picture in one sentence, jump to the other one, say one sentence, move to the other question and repeat the procedure. You absolutely MUST practice it at home with a watch.

Person 2 is asked another question about the pictures and has 30 seconds to answer.

  • They always ask you to choose one picture, so revise superlative structures and advanced expressions for giving opinion (“Well, clearly,…”, “From my perspective”, “If it was up to me” etc. “In my opinion” is good for First Certificate.)
  • 30 seconds is basically saying one sentence,

You are shown three different pictures and two different questions. (…)


All in all:

  • learn the procedure well (you can cut up this page for example)
  • prepare at least 3 expressions for: speculation, comparison, jumping, superlatives, introducing your opinion, moving to another questio
  • you don’t need to say anything intelligent in between using the above language
  • train with a watch



The first part of the oral exam is simply answering questions about yourself. It’s aim is to relax you. However, many people are so scared at this point (or tired, as sometimes the oral exam follows the written exam marathon) that they answer with “yes”, “yyyyhm” or “I don’t know”.

The trick here is to start using a phrase such as “Oh, that’s a tricky one” or “Well, let me see…”. It gives you extra time to think, makes you sound more natural and earns you extra points in the eyes of the examiner.

You can even use a whole table to make sure you start with a phrase, talk, link and talk some more.

Phrases: Well,… / Actually,… / As a matter of fact, … / That’s a tricky one. / Let me think. / Difficult to say, really. / No, I’m afraid I… / I haven’t made up my mind yet but I might… / Oh, very much so.

Linking: in fact / which / as / particularly / who / even / Who knows, I might even

Another important strategy is to LIE. Don’t think about the real answer, just invent one. In the exam you don’t have the time to analyse your future career, decide which of your interests is worth mentioning or count how many countries you have been to.


The title of this post is a bit misleading as I’ve been posting about listening for quite a while now, however, this post is exclusively about the exam listening.

If you want to know more about the length of this part and what tasks are included, see this link:

Other important details:

1. There is a sound check at the beginning of the exam. Feel free to complain!

2. You can’t complain about sound quality during the exam, however, you can complain in writing right after the exam.

3. The teachers present during the exam fill in special forms about the sound quality, too.

4. The listening cannot be stopped. You can’t ask questions or go to the bathroom.

5. You have 5 minutes to copy your answers onto the answering sheet after the exam.

6. It’s better to choose an answer than leave a gap.


It’s very popular these days to recommend listening to TED talks online to Cambridge exam candidates as well as other learners of English. There are thousands of topics to choose from plus, more importantly, they are similar to those of Cambridge exam listenings where there is only one person speaking. It’s TED talks and the BBC, not series, that you should listen to on regular basis.

Here’s a little trick to make your listening more active.

While listening to a talk, make note if the moments where you heard the typical English whaglumbriglum instead of separate words: “Ok, so he said something about hotdogs and then no idea”. Your list should look like this: hotdogs….? beach…? his birthday…? (If there are many fragments like that choose just a few)

Now listen again with English subtitles on (most talks have subtitles). Locate the difficult fragments and remember them or write them down.

Listen again looking at your notes. Rewind, close your eyes, whatever you like.

At some point you are either going to hear all the words or learn that whochugo-ere means “what have you got here” 🙂

You can also use lyricstraining.

Please don’t watch anything for the first time with the subtitles on. This is not listening – it’s reading.



Languages can be divided into two groups. Listening to Spanish, German and Japanese (as mentioned before) we can usually write things down even if we don´t understand them. This is because, in these languages, the more syllables we pronounce, the more time we need to pronounce them. Sounds logical, doesn´t it? The bigger the number, the longer the time. But not in English.

In English you need to keep a certain rhythm while you speak. Stressed vowels in the most important words are going to be pronounced “well”, that is in such a way that we, learners, can understand them. All other vowels are going to be reduced to the minimum – they often simply disappear.  It doesn´t matter how many syllables/vowels there are between the important ones – the rhythm is always the same.

To see how it works, try this example (which I learned at British Council Krakow). Start by saying the first line slowly, clapping as you pronounce each word. Keep clapping at the same rhythm, while including more and more words from the other lines. You use the same amount of time to pronounce each line.

Exercise 1.

WORDS                                 HAVE                         STRESS

some WORDS                       HAVE                         STRESS

some WORDS                       HAVE                         some STRESS

some WORDS                       should HAVE             some STRESS

some of the WORDS                         should have HAD      some STRESS

some of the WORDS                         should have HAD      some of the STRESS

Of course, “some” or “should” (on their own or in shorter groups) are pronounced in a certain way, which can be found in a dictionary. However, in longer groups, their vowels or even consonants are going to be reduced or eliminated. In reality, the lines above are (more or less) read like this:

Exercise 2.

WORDS                                 HAVE                         STRESS

sm WORDS                           HAVE                         STRESS

sm WORDS                           HAVE                         sm STRESS

sm WORDS                          sh HAVE                    sm STRESS

sm of th WORDS                  sh av AD                     sm STRESS

sm f th WORDS                    sh av AD                    sm f th STRESS


Generally, we reduce “little words”: articles (e.g. the), pronouns (e.g. her), auxiliaries (e.g. can), linking words (e.g. and) and so on. We can´t eliminate the article “a” because it´s important for the grammar, but we can reduce its vowel to something that is neither “a”, nor “i”, nor “e” – just a neutral, indistinguishable, short vowel sound.

It´s easier to learn which vowels to reduce or eliminate in a given word than a given sentence, and there are even some rules to help you. Below are some examples. Remember that you can listen to the words using an online dictionary.


Exercise 3.

Try not to pronounce the unstressed vowel before the final “n”:

nation > na tn

mountain > moun tn

London > Lon dn

Sweden > Swe dn

urban > ur bn


Berlin > b lin

Japan > J pan

(Here we pronounce the vowel because the final syllable is stressed)


Exercise 4.

Try not to pronounce the unstressed vowel before the final “l”:

label > la bl

total > to tl

local > lo cl

Google > Goo gl

national > na tn l


Exercise 5.

In international-looking words, you “eat” as much as you can. Count the syllables – the English word is going to have at least one less.

literature > li tri che

chocolate > cho clt

restaurant > re strnt

history > hi stri

Barbara > bar bra


Exercise 6.

Consequently, “able” at the end of a word is NOT pronounced like “to be able to”:

sociable > so ci bl

comfortable > com fti bl

vegetable > ve gti bl

fashionable > fa shn bl


Exercise 7.

“Age” at the end of a word is NOT pronounced like “at the age of 3”:

courage > cou ridge (like in “fridge”)

storage > sto ridge

wreckage > wreck idge


Exercise 8.

Basically, if you see a short familiar word at the end of a longer word, it is not pronounced like the short word you know:

“climate” doesn´t rhyme with “mate”

“surface” doesn´t rhyme with “face”

“purpose” doesn´t rhyme with “pose” etc.


Exercise 9.

Finally, “-ture” and “-dure” are one syllable long:

structure > struc che

posture > pos che

texture > tex che

torture > tor che

procedure > pro ce je


What about reducing sounds in sentences, you ask? Fortunately, it helps just to KNOW about this phenomenon of “eating sounds”. A fellow teacher told me that her students thought that she talked a lot about some “festival”. If they knew better how English works, they would blame the pronunciation instead of focusing on the meaning. The “festival” was, in fact, an expression both easy and common: “first of all”.

You already know some phrases like that. If you remember that “wanna” is “want to” and “gonna” – “going to”, what could “dunno” be? It´s “I don´t know”! As you can see, English people themselves need to guess a lot from the context, that´s why they have so many jokes based on this, for example the so-called “knock knock jokes”, which you can easily google:


Joke 1.

A: [outside] <Knock, knock> [on the door]
B: [inside] Who’s there?
A: Orange.
B: Orange who? [demanding a surname]
A: Orange you going to let me in?


Joke 2.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Lettuce.
B: Lettuce who?
A: Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.


Joke 3.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Police.
B: Police?!
A: Police open the door!


Joke 4.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Bingo.
B: Bingo who?
A: Bingo in to come and see you for ages.


Joke 5.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Juno.
B: Juno who?
A: Juno what time it is?


Of course, there are other jokes based on pronunciation, too. There is even a separate word in English for them all: “puns”.


Joke 6.

When you’ve seen one shopping centre, you’ve seen a mall.


Joke 7.

Q: How do you fix a broken tuba?

A: With a tuba glue.



Exercise 10.

Here is a list of all the lines mentioned above, which you can use to practise:

I want to have some fun. > I wanna av some fun.

I don´t know. I´m going to phone her. > Dunno. Gonna phone her.

Aren´t you going to let me in? > Orange you going to let me in?

Let us in, it’s cold out here. > Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.

please > police

I´ve been going to come. > Bingo in to come.

Do you know what time it is? > Juno wha time it is?

You´ve seen them all. > You´ve seen a mall.

a tube of glue > a tuba glue


Finally, do remember that if you are a Spanish speaker, you eat sounds too and this can lead to some serious mistakes in English pronunciation. No wonder if “helado” is pronounced “elau”! Personally, I even have problems understanding English names on Spanish TV because “Robert Hunt” becomes “rover hun”. What other words are seriously mispronounced because of “eating” sounds the Spanish way?


Exercise 11.

Don´t eat these consonants! Remember there is an important difference in pronunciation between these pairs of words:

car – card                                block – blog

for – Ford                                dock – dog

wear – word                            path – pub

boar – board                            crap – crab

han – hand                               rover – robber – Robert