Public speaking is the number one fear in your country.
(Death is number 2)
We can help!
Public speaking is the number one fear in your country.
(Death is number 2)
We can help!
It's only 15 minutes long, but for many students, the CAE Speaking Test is the most stressful part of Cambridge English: Advanced. A lot of students don't know what to expect, they don't feel confident in their English, and they don't know how to prepare.
This page will help! Keep calm, and keep scrolling down.
Because what I'm telling you is good advice (for free!) and it works. We've helped more than 120,000 Advanced students get a better grade. Take a look at what your peers from all over the world have to say about CAE Exam Tips:
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You will join another student for the Speaking Test. There will be two examiners watching you - only one will talk - and there are 4 sections. There are parts where you should talk to the examiner, parts where you talk alone, and parts where you talk to the other student. Everything is explained in more detail below, and you will find lots of tips and advice.
Start by watching this official Cambridge video.
You'll see a couple of students take the test. They do a good job, but with the tips on this website, they would have done even better!
Now use the buttons below to jump to the part you want to focus on, or click 'speaking' at the top of the page to load all the tips in one long, sexy page.
Part 1 is a nice, easy start. The examiner will ask you and the other candidate some basic questions about you and your life. You shouldn't talk to the other candidate at this time. In this section you will learn how to avoid some common mistakes, and how to prepare.
The examiner asks you questions. You answer. When the other candidate is talking, don't interrupt or ask your own questions.
Here at CAE Exam Tips we love the radio, and we know that the worst thing a Disc Jockey or radio presenter can do is leave 'dead air'. There should always, always be music or chat. If there is dead air, listeners will switch to another station.
Dead air is just as bad in the speaking exam. It's a total of 15 minutes long. Some of that time will be the examiner telling you what to do. Half of the time the other candidate will be talking. Did you watch the video with Raphael and Maude? I timed how long Raphael spoke. In part 1 he spoke for just 25 seconds. In parts 2, 3, and 4 he spoke for 84 seconds, 64 seconds, and 98 seconds. A total of 4 minutes 50 seconds. Not much time to show all the vocabulary and grammar he learned!
So the absolute number 1 most important lesson to learn about the speaking test is never leave dead air. If you forget a word, keep talking. If you realise you just made a big grammar mistake, keep talking. If no-one is smiling at you and you think you are doing badly - KEEP TALKING!
Typical questions about your hometown, your home, your job, your hobbies, and your personality. Plus one or two slightly more advanced ones. Here are a few you could prepare for:
Where are you from?
Do you have a job or are you still a student?
How long have you been studying English?
What do you enjoy most about learning English?
How do you like to spend your free time?
What would your ideal job be?
Are you the kind of person who can do two things at once?
Are you planning to do any courses in the near future?
Do you use social networking sites a lot?
Would you enjoy preparing food for a large number of people?
Do you like to give yourself targets or goals?
If you won the lottery what would you do?
Q - Do you like your job?
A - Yes.
Hey, come on! This is the CAE Speaking Test! A means advanced.
Q - Do you like your job?
A - Yes, it is good. Having a job is good and my job is good.
Okayyyy... How about three sentences and use some C1 vocabulary?
Q - Do you like your job?
A - Yes and no! I mean, it's a challenge and the work is varied. But sometimes the workload is overwhelming and my work-life balance suffers.
(This is a good length and the vocabulary is spot-on. A longer answer might start to annoy everyone. Let the other candidate have time to answer questions. Being selfish is not a good strategy in the CAE speaking test.)
The examiners don't want to hear a rehearsed speech. You are not
President Obama President Hillary Clinton. You are not a politician or a newsreader. The point of the test is to see how well you would cope in a spontaneous real-life situation.
So: learn some CAE level vocabulary that you can use for the questions you might be asked. The offices of 'CAE Exam Tips' have floor-to-ceiling windows and we get a lot of light. One Advanced (C1) level phrase to describe such a room is 'bright and airy'. If we took the exam, it would look like this:
Examiner: 'What do you like about your job?"
Reply: 'I like helping people and our offices are bright and airy.'
Examiner: 'How has your life changed in the last 5 years?'
Reply: 'A lot! My company changed their office - the old one was quite dark and in a bad location. The new one is bright and airy. It's nice to work there.'
Now that you have some idea about what will be in part 1 and you understand the importance of using advanced language, it's time to start adding high-level words to your active vocabulary.
That's something only you can do, but I've created a page with lots of book recommendations. You'll find the textbooks that I use in my classes, smartphone apps and so on.
Use this link - Courses, Products, Tools - or the link at the very top of the page.
But listen! YOU have to start using these new words. That means saying them in conversations, writing them in emails, and being prepared to make some mistakes. If you aren't making mistakes you aren't learning.
As the interaction chart (above) shows, in this part of the test you shouldn't talk to the other student. But most candidates 'switch off' when it's not their turn to speak. They stare at the desk or at their hands.
WRONG! You should turn your body slightly towards the other candidate. Look at them and listen to what they are saying. Nod, smile, be interested - the examiner will see this and feel more warmly towards you and more positively about your English.
Crazy? Not really. There's a lot of research into body language, but you can see for yourself. Look at this photo. Who looks stressed, struggling to understand? Who looks confident and in control?
I found a great website that matches teachers and students - for a low fee you can have online lessons with really good teachers. You can read all these tips and then practice with a qualified professional teacher - just like on my Youtube channel! I wrote a review about it - click the next link.
In part two of the Cambridge English: Advanced Speaking test, you are given a piece of paper with 3 photos on. The photos are almost always about people.
You have to talk about 2 of the pictures, on your own, for a minute. Then the examiner will ask the other candidate a question about your pictures. Next, the other candidate will have to talk for a minute about some different pictures, and you will be asked a question about those pictures. The technique for answering this follow-up question is the same as Speaking Test Part One - respond in about 3 sentences and try to show off your vocabulary.
In this section we will focus on what to say in your 60 second 'long turn'. In the exam, you don't get time to plan or make notes, so now is the time to prepare! (When you've read the tips, be sure to watch the videos, especially the public coaching one.)
When the examiner gives you the instructions for the task, he or she will always start, 'I'd like you to compare two of the pictures and say...' Comparing is the heart of the task.
If you aren't comparing, you aren't scoring points.
Comparing means saying what's the same in your chosen pictures and what is different. There are many ways you can do that, but the easiest way is to use the magic CAE words:
How should you use these? Let's look at two photos and listen to Ernesto trying to compare them:
"Both pictures show men using phones."
That's great, Ernesto, but the goal isn't to talk for 60 seconds... the goal is to say as much as you can in the time you are given! So talk a bit faster...
"Whereas in this picture the man is wearing a suit, in this picture the man is dressed in some kind of traditional costume."
"While the businessman is sending a text or checking his portfolio, the man in the fluffy hat is checking his voicemail."
There are always lots and lots of possible comparisons - indoors/outdoors, cheap/expensive, old/new, old/young, traditional/modern - even if you have no imagination, you can practice finding similarities and differences before you get to the exam. (One way to do that is to take any two photos and find 5 similarities and 5 differences.)
In most of the CAE speaking exam part 2 scenarios, the word 'might' will be in the instructions. 'Say why the people might be checking the time'. 'Say how safety might be important in this job.' That's because the examiners want to know if you can use speculative language.
Useful speculative phrases include:
Look at these photos - imagine the task is 'Say why the people might be wearing hats.'
"Perhaps these men are retired and are spending their day feeding ducks by the lake. In contrast, the policeman has to wear a hat for his job. It could be that he hates wearing the hat, whereas the old men have probably chosen to wear theirs. Maybe it's a sunny day and they want to protect their heads from the sun, while the policeman's helmet might protect him from attackers."
In the last example there was a lot of speculative language, but also a lot of comparing language. See how easy it is?
Let's put it all together - A student called Heidi tries with a real example from Cambridge.
The examiner gives Heidi this page and says, 'Here are your pictures, Heidi. They show students doing different activities. I'd like you to compare two of the pictures and say how students can benefit from doing these activities, and how helpful the activities might be in preparing them for their future lives.'
(Remember: only two pictures / always be comparing / speculate.)
Her answer: "They're both young students, girls, and both in a traditional school setting. This picture shows a student on her own, whereas this student is in her whole class. She has the support of a teacher, but this student doesn't have that. She has to learn to study on her own, and that's not bad. I think she might be studying for a test or - oh! Probably she's just doing her homework. Both are useful skills for her future. I'm sure she has a lot of tests and homework still ahead of her! While the first student is doing her homework for tomorrow, this one has already done her homework and now she's presenting it to the whole class. That's useful - she'll have to do presentations when she gets a job or give a speech when she gets married! What else? Well, it's beneficial for the second girl to practice this - but I think doing the research will have more benefit in the future, because you have to prepare before you can give a good presentation."
(Listen to the audio file below to hear Heidi attempt this task.)
In part 3 you and your speaking test partner are given a 'mind-map' (or 'spider web') with five keywords linking to a theme. The themes are often universally interesting ones such as 'health' or 'the environment'. If the topic is 'health', the keywords will be things like 'diet', 'exercise', 'sleep', and so on. Have you ever had a conversation about the food you eat or how well you slept? Of course you have. In part 3, that's what you do. (The theme in this picture is communication.)
It's often called the 'collaborative task' because for the first time in the CAE Speaking test, you have to work as a team.
You discuss the first question for two minutes, and then there's another question you talk about for one minute.
In previous years, part 3 used pictures instead of keywords. Cambridge changed it because candidates described the pictures instead of discussing the topics.
Cambridge also split the task in two. Before 2015, candidates were given 3 minutes to discuss the topics AND decide which was the most important. They changed it because a lot of candidates quickly decided which topics were the most important and had nothing left to talk about.
The new system helps make sure students have a full discussion before coming to a decision.
Collaboration means team work. In parts 1 and 2 you talked on your own. If you were following these tips, you looked at your speaking test partner and listened to what they said. But now you have to talk to them, too.
Imagine you're watching Roger Federer playing tennis against Rafael Nadal. It's fascinating because they keep hitting the ball back to each other. What will the other person do with the ball now? That's the excitement of tennis.
Now imagine that Nadal hits the ball to Federer, and Federer catches it, holds it in the air, and runs around the stadium saying 'Look at me! Look at me!' It would be entertaining for a short time, but then everyone would get angry and begin to hate the Swiss superstar. The angriest person of all would be the umpire, who would announce that Federer had lost the match.
To succeed in part 3, you have to
ask your partner questions
agree and disagree with what they say
include them in every step of the process
be interested in what they have to say
The difference between you and Federer is that you aren't trying to 'beat' your partner. By hitting the ball to them (asking them questions/letting them talk) you will both win.
If you're worried about this, you're not alone! Almost every candidate gets stressed thinking about who their partner might be and how this partner might ruin THEIR chances of getting a good grade!
The first thing to know is - you can choose your partner! If you know someone who is taking a CAE course in your area you can register together and list them as your speaking partner. Problem solved!
But if you don't have that luxury, don't worry - the only person who affects your grade is you. The Cambridge examiners are EXPERTS and they have seen everything many times before. They will understand whatever situation you are in.
If your partner talks too much in part 3 they will penalise him, but not you. If you have to talk too much because the other candidate is so nervous, that won't count against you.
Whatever happens in part 3, the examiners will assess your performance in the whole Speaking test in a fair way.
(Having said that, you should be able to interrupt people who are talking too much - see Speaking Test part 4, bullet point 7 for some ideas.)
Monologues (you shouldn't talk more than 20/25 seconds without passing the ball to your partner)
Not reacting to your partner's ideas
Getting stuck on 1 topic (it's very easy to talk about one keyword for a long time, but you should try to organise your conversation so that it covers everything on the mind map)
Rushing through all the topics without analysing them at all (it's better to talk about 4 in a meaningful manner than 5 in a superficial way)
Dead air (many candidates race through the 5 topics in less than a minute, look up at the examiner and are shocked to find they have more time. Keep talking until the examiner stops you! These topics are HUGE with many, many issues behind them)
Nodding and other non-verbal communication (socially normal, but this is a speaking test. At least say 'yes' while you are nodding!)
Getting sidetracked (for example, if the topic is 'How important are these things for our health?' many candidates will say explain why health is important. That's not the question! The correct answer to 'how important' is: not important/quite important/very important.)
Linking words and ways to organise the discussion. The examiners will be impressed if you can:
combine two keywords into one point ("well, I think exercise and sleep are similar things - they're both connected to your physical health")
move from topic to topic in an elegant way ("so I totally agree with you that exercise can contribute a lot to having a healthy life. And I think that brings us to this point about sleep, because if you exercise a lot you'll sleep better.")
include your partner in the process ("So shall we move to the next point?)
Some useful language about asking questions and agreeing/disagreeing can be found in part 4 (scroll down), but they are also essential parts of your toolkit in part 3.
So you spent two minutes talking about the theme, and you discussed most/all of the keywords. The examiner will stop you, and then ask you a follow-up question. It will include words like 'most', 'best', or 'easiest'. These words make it possible for you to come to a decision.
If the topic was health, the examiner will say, 'Now you have about a minute to decide which of these things can benefit people the most.'
Note that word 'minute'! Deciding the answer too soon will lead to ... dead air! Always start by eliminating two or three options (giving reasons).
Start by saying, 'Well it definitely ISN'T [xxx] because [yyy].'
Watch this video in which I give tips to a couple of German students. They have read the tips in this section and do pretty well.
I've got reviews of online English courses, books, smartphone apps and more on the Courses, Products, Tools page. Nothing is very expensive and you're sure to find something that helps you out.
And don't forget we've got lots of articles about improving your English and passing CAE.
Part 4 takes the topic from part 3 and extends it. While CAE Speaking test part 3 is quite structured, you have more freedom in part 4. You can answer questions in a more natural way, like you would in everyday conversation. However, there are some strategies to keep in mind, and the questions can be quite challenging.
* You should consider this part of the exam as a continuation of part 3. You don't have to reach a decision together or talk about keywords, but you do have to use the same techniques - ask your speaking partner questions, organise your responses with linking words etc. Your replies in this section can be longer than in part 3.
* The biggest mistake students make in this section is thinking they should talk to the examiner. Yes, the examiner starts by asking you a question, but after you've answered it you should bring your partner into the discussion ("What do you think?"). When the discussion runs its course, the examiner will ask a new question (still on the same general theme). Remember, if you take the lead and ask your partner what he thinks, that's more speaking time for YOU.
* When has a discussion run its course? It could be that on one question you both instantly agree and the conversation ends quickly. It could be that on the next question you have an interesting discussion with two or three responses each. It might be hard to judge under exam conditions, but try to be natural - if you followed these tips and made good eye contact from the very start of the CAE Speaking test, you will have good rapport with your partner by now and the discussion will be more relaxed and you'll know when to continue and when to stop.
Questions in part 4 can be extremely varied from one exam to the next. Take a look at these:
- Are we too obsessed with healthy eating and physical fitness nowadays?
- Do you agree that experience is the best teacher?
- What is the best age to retire?
Clearly it would be hard to rehearse an answer for every question they might ask you! So it's more rational to think in terms of what topics frequently appear in the exam, and then sit and work on your vocabulary for those topics.
Common topics are:
-HEALTH- -THE ENVIRONMENT- -SOCIAL ISSUES- -JOBS-
-TECHNOLOGY- -RELATIONSHIPS- -MONEY-
Questions. Ask lots of questions. Always start part 3 by saying, 'What do you think?' and in part 4 ask for feedback after you've given your opinion. Say what you think about the topic and finish with
It would be quite impressive to refer to something your partner said earlier in the exam. For example, if she is a dentist and the topic in part 4 is health, you could say, 'You're an expert in this area - what do YOU think?'
While candidates tend to agree on most topics, a certain amount of disagreement is good - it makes the discussion more interesting. Disagreement also prolongs a discussion, and can be done in a friendly way. Give reasons why you are agreeing or disagreeing.
There will be times in the exam where you don't have anything to say right away. You need a second to think, but you want to avoid dead air. So you need to 'buy time' with phrases such as these:
If your partner talks a bit too long, it's okay for you to politely stop the flow of words.
If you have questions about the CAE speaking exam, use the contact form to send it to us. We'll answer them in this section.
Q - What if I don't understand something the examiner says to me?
A - You can ask them to repeat it. You can even ask them to explain a word if you don't understand it. If you do that 6 or 7 times they might think your English is not so good, but if you do it once that's totally okay.
Q - I love your site! You must be a great teacher. Can we do lessons on Skype?
A - I don't have time! Also, I'm very expensive. But I want to work from home more in the future so I will consider reasonable offers.
Q - What is an interlocutor? It says that in my CAE coursebook.
A - That's the examiner.
Q - Do I need to have a British accent? Cambridge is in Britain, right?
A - Cambridge is in Britain but an American accent is just fine. ANY accent is fine as long as you speak clearly and your words are understandable.
That's it for the CAE Speaking test tips! Let us know in the feedback section if they were useful or if we missed anything. And good luck in your exam!