CAE Speaking – Structures (Also for FCE / CPE)

I’ve been doing a lot of CAE exam preparation classes recently, and I’ve noticed that a lot of people are making three similar mistakes. This short article will hopefully help you avoid them. NB: These tips also apply to FCE and CPE, although the tasks I have chosen are CAE tasks.

1) Don’t feel you have to say too much in Part 1

It’s quite normal to learn the idea that “speaking more is better” at schools. This is only partly true. If you are asked a very simple question (Where do you live?), then it is unnatural to say something like this:

“I live in Barcelona, a city in the North of Spain. It’s a large, cosmopolitan city with a population of several million, and has a remarkable landscape including beaches, mountains and a fascinating mixture of architectural forms”

Does that answer the question? Really, you’ve answered the question “Can you tell me a bit about your city?”

Don’t feel the need to go too far in this part – just answer the question: “I live in Barcelona, a major city in the North of Spain”. Save the other information for when you’re actually asked about it!

2) Don’t spend too much time “describing” in Part 2

So, with Part 2, you are given three pictures and have to choose two to talk about / answer questions on. Have a look at the example below:

Compare the educational settings

Describe how they are feeling



A good start here is to make your choice first: “I’m gonna go for the first and second pictures…”

Remember, from here you have about 55 seconds to do three things:

  • Describe
  • Compare
  • Interpret

Of these, the easiest is describing, so this is the part that should take the least time. Have a look at the example below:

“In the first picture, the two students are engaged in some kind of practical experiment – groupwork in a science class, whereas the setting in picture 2 is a lecture, so the students are passive – listening, rather than active – doing.

That’s enough for describing! Now for interpreting:

“Well, I reckon that the students in picture 1 are feeling pretty motivated – learning by doing is supposed to be really effective, and being able to control a process and see its results can be quite exciting. Also, as a small group, they can interact with each other and are probably quite good friends as they’ve chosen each other, so they’re probably happy and quite comfortable too, whereas, in the second picture, obviously they’re not talking. It’s possible that they understand everything that is being said perfectly, and they’re interested and listening intently, but it could also be the case that they are confused by some things, and not in an environment in which they can ask questions, which can be a bit daunting. It’s a less relaxed environment and requires a lot of concentration and discipline, so I guess they probably aren’t feeling as good as the two students in the first picture.”

Much longer! You could signal that you are going to finish by including a brief comment on your own feelings:

“Personally, I would be happier in the situation of picture 1, because…”

Good! Now, if you’re the “second speaker…”

Don’t waste time describing what you see – speaker 1 already did this. Immediately try and interpret, using the question you are given. Remember, you only have thirty seconds!

3) The “making a decision together” part of part 3 is more important than the general overview of the pictures!

Take a look at the example below:

How do these pictures show the role of computers nowadays?

Which picture best reflects the difference computers have made to our lives?



  • You don’t need to describe every picture – just give a general picture (example below)

Well, these pictures show that computers have basically infiltrated every part of our lives – from work at home, to children’s games, education and even retail systems. Everything is now computerised!

That’s enough! The other speaker can agree / disagree / add a bit to what you’ve said, but after that it’s time to focus on the second task, in which you have the opportunity to get the most marks for “interactive communication” (20% of your mark for this exam).

Make sure you take the opportunity to speak, but also give the other speaker a chance. Here are a few strategies.

  • I want to speak: Say “mmm…”, “yeah” or “but” while the other speaker is talking. They will hear this and naturally give you a chance at the end of their sentence – you don’t need to start talking (this is interruption and will lose you marks)
  • I want to give the other person a chance: Ask a question: “What do you reckon?” “Don’t you think?” “So, do you think that….?”  Asking questions is an important part of acknowledging the other person.
  • I made my decision really early, but I want to consider other pictures: Phrases like “But then again…”, “Although…” and “Mind you…” allow you to reconsider, or move on to other pictures – make sure you use the 3 minutes and don’t finish early.
  • We have finished: A question, or a statement: “So, we’ve decided that this picture is…” or “So, have we come to the conclusion that…?”

I hope these help. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

Good luck!



2 thoughts on “CAE Speaking – Structures (Also for FCE / CPE)

  1. Simon, thank you for your priceless advice. I have only one question to ask. Is it a good idea to use such an expresion as “I’m gonna go for…” in a exam?

    1. Hi

      Thanks for your message! Yes, it’s definitely a good idea. These exams are designed to test your ability to speak natural English- informally. Gonna / wanna, phrasal verbs, expressions and “chatty” English are exactly what the examiners are looking for, as they are exactly how an English person would speak. Save your formal English for the writing paper (where appropriate).

      Hope this helps


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.