About FCEExamination content and processing
Content of FCE
Cambridge ESOL examinations reflect a view of language proficiency in terms of a language user’s overall communicative ability; at the same time, for the purposes of practical language assessment, the notion of overall ability is subdivided into different skills and subskills. This ‘skills and components’ view is well established in the language research and teaching literature.
Four main skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking are recognised, and each of these is assessed in a test component of the same name. Reading and listening are multidimensional skills involving the interaction of the reader/listener’s mental processing capacities with their language and content knowledge; further interaction takes place between the reader/listener and the external features of the text and task. Purpose and context for reading/listening shape these interactions and this is reflected in the FCE Reading and Listening components through the use of different text and task types which link to a relevant target language use context beyond the test.
Writing ability is also regarded as a linguistic, cognitive, social and cultural phenomenon that takes place in a specific context and for a particular purpose. Like Reading and Listening, FCE Writing involves a series of complex interactions between the task and the writers, who are required to draw on different aspects of their knowledge and experience to produce a written performance for evaluation.
Like Writing, Speaking involves multiple competences including vocabulary and grammatical knowledge, phonological control, knowledge of discourse, and pragmatic awareness, which are partially distinct from their equivalents in the written language. Since speaking generally involves reciprocal oral interaction with others, Speaking in FCE is assessed directly, through a face-to-face encounter between candidates and examiners.
A fifth test component in FCE (Use of English) focuses on the language knowledge structures or system(s) that underpin a user’s communicative language ability in the written medium; these are sometimes referred to as ‘enabling’ (sub)skills and include knowledge of vocabulary, morphology, syntax, punctuation, and discourse structure.
Each of these five test components in FCE provides a unique contribution to a profile of overall communicative language ability that defines what a candidate can do at this level.
The level of FCE
FCE is at Level B2 of the Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and a description of this level is given below in terms of:
• what material learners can handle
• what learners can be expected to be able to do.
The type of material an FCE candidate can deal with
At this level, a learner should be able to handle the main structures of the language with some confidence, demonstrate knowledge of a wide range of vocabulary, and use appropriate communicative strategies in a variety of social situations. Their understanding of spoken language and written texts should go beyond being able to pick out items of factual information, and they should be able to distinguish between main and subsidiary points and between the gist of a text and specific detail. They should be able to produce written texts of various types, showing the ability to develop an argument as well as describe or recount events.
What an FCE candidate can do
Examinations at Level B2 are frequently used as proof that the learner can do office work or take a course of study in the medium of the language being learned. Learners at this level can be assumed to have sufficient ability to operate effectively in English in many clerical, secretarial and managerial posts.
The ALTE ‘Can Do’ Project
The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) has developed a framework which covers five levels of language proficiency aligned to the Council of Europe Common
European Framework of Reference for Languages. (See Table 1.)
Cambridge Main Suite ALTE levels CEF levels
Certificate of Proficiency in English 5 C2
Certificate in Advanced English 4 C1
First Certificate in English 3 B2
Preliminary English Test 2 B1
Key English Test 1 A2
Varieties of English
Candidates’ responses to tasks in the Cambridge ESOL examinations are acceptable in varieties of English which would enable candidates to function in the widest range of international contexts. Candidates are expected to use a particular variety with some degree of consistency in areas such as spelling, and not for example switch from using a British spelling of a word to an American spelling of the same word in the same written response to a given task.
FCE has widespread recognition in commerce and industry, e.g. for public contact or secretarial work in banking, airlines, catering, etc. Many universities and other educational institutions recognise FCE for English language entrance requirements. More information about recognition is available from centres, British Council offices, Cambridge ESOL and
Marks and results
• A candidate’s overall FCE grade is based on the total score gained by the candidate in all five papers. It is not necessary to achieve a satisfactory level in all five papers in order to pass the examination.
• All the papers are equally weighted, each contributing 40 marks to the examination’s overall total number of 200 marks.
Adapted from the 'FCE Handbook', which is available to order from Cambridge ESOL.