Today’s ideas may help you speak better even if you aren’t taking an exam.
Exams such as the Cambridge First (FCE) and Business English Certificate (BEC Vantage) papers ask you to speak for a minute in one of the parts. For example, in part 2 of the First (FCE) exam, you are asked to describe two photographs and to answer a question about them. Quite often it involves comparing the photos or the situation in each, and then to give your own opinion. Meanwhile, in the Business English Certificate, you’re asked to give a short talk about a business topic.
“Why Do They Ask Me To Do This?”
Well, it’s not so the examiners can quickly go and make themselves a cup of tea or check their cat photos on Facebook.
In fact, it’s for you to show them, and indeed yourself, that you *can* produce ‘stretches of language‘ and not just one or two simple phrases or utterances.
Speaking for a minute gives you the chance to show that you can produce spoken language which is organised and relatively easy to follow and understand.
To get a higher mark, you’ll show that you can speak at length, using a variety of grammar and vocabulary.
Accuracy (ie not making mistakes) is also important. However, mistakes are totally ok at B2 level! But just not to the extent that your communication breaks down.
But note – in the Cambridge exams, you’re not marked on an individual part, but rather, on your performance in the exam as a whole.
It’s also worth adding – while speaking for a minute is part of the First (FCE) and BEC Vantage exams, the final part of the exam also involves giving extended answers! The difference is that in part 3 of the exams, you’ll interact with your partner and the examiner, whereas in part 2 you’re speaking on your own.
So to re-cap, when you speak on your own for a minute it’s important for you to speak the whole time! In part 3, you’re expected to give reasons for your views and opinions, but you’re also expected to interact with your partner (or partners, when you’re in a group of 3).
Other important tips in speaking for a minute (as well as in giving extended answers):
- Speak clearly, and you’ll get a higher mark the better your pronunciation is considered. As well, in exams like the FCE or BEC there are two examiners, and they both need to hear you. So speaking down towards an imaginary cat on the floor won’t be as helpful as speaking up and clearly so everyone can hear.
- Try not to hesitate much – the old cliche of speak, speak, speak works well here!
Of course, it’s natural to have a little hesitation, but there is a point where it shows you have problems thinking of the right thing to say. Usually go with your first thought or thoughts even if this sounds ‘obvious’.
- Answer the question that they ask you! This seems obvious, doesn’t it, but sometimes candidates can go off track and potentially lose marks for lack of relevance. You need to answer the question appropriately.
- You’ll use some linking words like ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘however’, ‘despite’, ‘finally’ and so on, as a way to organise your talk. However, there’s no ‘list’ of words you should use.
- If you’re not sure what to do, you can ask the examiner to repeat the question.
- ‘Filler’ phrases like “One thing that comes to mind is…” or “Let me consider this for a moment..” will give you a little more time to present your points if you’re not sure what to say.
One more point – listen to your partner’s talk carefully because you’ll be asked a question about it, and you’ll be expected to give an answer for about 20-30 seconds, depending on the exam (the examiner will say “thank you” if it’s time to move on to the next step).
“How Can Speaking For A Minute Help Me In Real Life?”
Have you ever heard an English teacher say that exams have nothing to do with ‘real life English’? Here’s the thing – in the Speaking paper, the more natural you speak, the better you’ll do! So it’s not true that the exam is somehow 100% separate from the real world.
Speaking for a minute (in part 2) and being able to interact and give extended answers (in part 3) is the kind of thing that you want to be able to do at work or in your social life. You’ll want to tell stories, give your opinions on a variety of topics, and be able to hold a conversation. Being able to ask and respond to others is part of everyday human interaction. Who doesn’t want to improve in this area..?
As well, at work you might be asked to give a short talk or presentation at a meeting or when you’re with a client. Part 2 of the Business English Exam seeks to replicate this, though of course you have a time limit, and in real life your talk will probably be more than one minute long.
How ‘real life’ is it to be able to compare two photographs and answer a question about them? Well, it’s pretty common for people to swap photos on Facebook or describe their holiday snaps to their friends using their iPhone. I’d even argue that communication is a little briefer these days (check out how brief some Facebook messages are) and that asking people to speak for a minute is a good way to see how developed their communication skills are.
But of course, when you’re talking to your friends about your twerking photos, it usually won’t be in front of two Cambridge examiners…
“Doesn’t This Sound Difficult?”
No! In fact, when my students see a real Cambridge English exam recorded on YouTube they feel a lot better because they can see they’re either the same level as the students who pass – and quite often, they’re better!
Preparation helps make a better impression!
Cambridge First (FCE) Part 2
Here’s an example of my own (using my own photos). You could be asked to compare two photographs like this on the topic of free time, and to describe which situation is more enjoyable for the people involved.
Although you shouldn’t memorise any answers for the exam at all, you could use the answer below as a possible skeleton for how you can present your own topic:
“Both pictures show different people spending their free time. In the first picture I can see a lot of people queueing up outside a shop, whereas in the second photo there are people spending their time in a park. It looks as if they’re lining up for ice-cream in the first picture, and it doesn’t seem to be as attractive as the situation in the second photo. The people in the park seem very relaxed, they’re talking together or lying down, and one person is reading a book. As well, we can see a couple spending some time together, perhaps it’s a Saturday and they have the weekend together. Although the ice-cream might be worth the wait, I’d rather be in the second picture with my friends out of the city…”
If you check the language above, that’s totally fine for B2 level! Your answer doesn’t need to sound like you’re delivering a speech to the United Nations. Start with your first thoughts, and you’ll see that your answer will be more fluent, and you’ll be more likely to produce some of those cool collocations that help you sound more natural 😉
As you can see from the model above, you can:
- Introduce the topic by saying what both pictures show
- Then add some detail about each photo, but concentrating on the topic (= free time activities) to stay relevant. You don’t need to describe what they’re wearing or what their hair colour is like, for example!
- Following this, you can add your personal perspective by saying which situation seems more appealing to you.
Don’t forget to use a variety of phrases and expressions while you do this so you get a higher mark for producing a range of language.
Once again, I’ll say that this is just an example – you won’t see these photos anywhere else except this blog 🙂
Business English Certificate B2 – The Part 2 Short Talk
Usually you’ll be asked to present a short talk about a typical business topic. For example:
“What is important when…writing a letter of application for a job.”
(nb this is also my topic as an example for teaching purposes).
They even give you two ‘prompts’ which you can include in your answer. They’ve already helped you!
A simple model to follow could be:
- Introductory sentence
- First point – and then give an example or further information
- Second point– and then give an example or further information
- Third point – and then give an example or further information
If for some reason you have extra time, you can add a fourth point or argue against what opponents might say/argue against an opposing view.
This short talk model should help you in various English exams, and indeed at work when you need to give a short presentation.
A possible answer:
“I believe there are 3 main things | points
to take into account | consider | take into consideration
when talking about writing a letter of application.
it’s very important to think about who will be reading your letter.
For example, if it’s for an American company, the tone might be a bit different compared to writing to a British company.
In addition, you might use a different register in your letter for a more conservative company than a more trendy one.
it’s necessary to present a brief overview of who you are and why you would like to work at this company.
This is because they will need to see what kind of person you are, and whether you have the right qualifications and experience.
it’s really important to highlight why you think you’re a good match for the position, in your own words.
I believe many people leave this out, just presenting their qualifications without thinking of answering the most important point: “How can this person help us?”
To sum up,
you need to consider who you’re writing to, how you’ll present yourself and give an overview of why you believe you’re a good match for the company.”
Even though some of the vocabulary above is probably above B2 level, you can certainly produce the phrases in bold or similar, right?!
So you too can also present a solid answer using the ‘3 Point Model’!
Good luck for your exam and let us know how it went!