Of course you can lodge a complaint either during or after a Cambridge exam. It’s even encouraged during the sound test before the Listening Paper, especially as you can’t interrupt the listening. In other cases, the best idea is to complain immediately – in writing if it’s really important and needs t reach the authorities. If you “remember” that the room was too noisy on seeing your exam result, your complaint is not going to sound too well, isn’t it?

If anything objective occurs (the sound system doesn’t work, a bird flies into the room, an invigilator dies of a heart attack), Cambridge is sure to give you another chance or some extra minutes, depending on the situation, so don’t worry.

Also, if you have any special needs that are documented, let your centre know while signing up for the exam, so that they can help you. The help ranges from wearing headphones during the listening exam to being in a separate room to being able to write your writing exam on a computer.



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.