CAE - The Speaking part

The Speaking Part of the CAE exam is surprisingly short. Candidates are almost always pleasantly surprised at how fast it goes. Officially it is 15 minutes long but can be over or under time by as much as two minutes or so.

There are 4 people present in the room. 2 candidates and 2 examiners. 1 of the examiners acts as the interlocutor, asking questions and giving instructions. The second examiner sits quietly in the corner and doesn't speak as he/she is taking notes and grading the quality of your language and the manner in which you complete the tasks. If there is an uneven number of candidates waiting three candidates CAN be taken together but a single student will NEVER have to do the speaking part alone. The very nature of the exam itself requires you to interact with other learners of English. It is imperative.

The exam theoretically consists of 4 parts but there is a very seamless transition between them. The examiner doesn't announce the changes in task. ("And now for PART 2 of the exam")

Part 1 is a kind of warmer. The questions are extremely easy. They are usually about what you do in your free time or where you live. There is a very strategic reason for this. The examiner would like you to start with easy things in order to relax you a bit and put you at ease and even subconsciously build up your confidence before the more challenging tasks. Questions are often:

'Tell me about your home town.'

'How do you usually spend the weekend?'

If the examiner feels that you are more or less at ease already questions MAY be of a trickier nature such as:

'Describe what you suspect your life may look like in 10 years time.'

This question can be potentially easy but it also allows a student to experiment with more complicated grammatical constructions if he/she feels comfortable. i.e. / Well... Hopefully I will have bought my own house (the future perfect construction)

In Part 2 the candidate is shown a pair of photos. The photos will be quite different but simultaneously linked by a common theme. i.e./ a snowy mountain resort and a villa on the beach. (places where people could spend a holiday) The examiner will then ask you to compare and contrast the photos AND answer a kind of follow up / opinion-oriented question. (Where would YOU prefer to spend a winter holiday?)

The important thing to remember about Part 2 is that it is important to both link the photos by their common theme AND contrast them by talking about what is different.

"In both pictures we can see beautiful holiday resort-type accommodations in exotic locations. That is pretty much where the similarities end because the first picture is set in a beautiful wintery mountain setting and the second photo shows us a resort by the sea in warm and sunny weather. There are also other differences, namely the fact that the first picture ............ As for the second part of the question, I would much prefer to stay in the warmer climate because it would provide a nice break during the winter months and also ..........."

Part 3 of the speaking test requires you and your partner to discuss a series of pictures or diagrams together and choose certain ones for a defined purpose.

"Here are 5 photos of famous places in Britain. Choose 2 that will be used in a brochure encouraging tourism in the UK and justify your choices."

The important thing to remember about this part of the exam is to try and share the speaking time as equally as possible with your partner. It is not good to be overly dominant nor is it a good idea to be quiet and passive during this part. As well as the quality of your English the examiner wants to check your ability to manage the discourse. This means: how well do you interact with other speakers? Do you let other people have their turn? Are you aware of techniques used in conversation to encourage turn-taking and checking for mutual understanding etc?

It is a little known fact that Part 4 of the speaking test is present mostly for logistic and 'timing' purposes. I informally call it the "Time-kill Part". The examiner looks at his watch and sees that the tasks have been completed and there is still 2 minutes left so he can go back to any one of the previous parts (most often the 3rd) and ask you a completely random follow-up question to encourage a few more seconds of speaking from you.

"Ok so ............ (looks at watch) oh ............ so uh Maciek you chose the picture of Big Ben ............ Have you ever been to London? What were your impressions of Big Ben?"

It also very often happens that there is simply no time for the Part 4 when Part 3 takes a long time and it is the least meaningful part of the speaking test.

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