First (FCE) Examination 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.

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 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. 

Cambridge Main Suite      ALTE levels CEF levels
Certificate of Proficiency in English  C2
Certificate in Advanced English 4   C1
First Certificate in English  B2
Preliminary English Test   2 B1
Key English Test  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.

Recognition

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
from www.CambridgeESOL.org 

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.

Official accreditation in the UK

FCE has been accredited by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), the statutory regulatory authority for external qualifications in England, and its counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland at Level 1 in the National Qualifications Framework, under the title ‘Cambridge ESOL Level 1 Certificate in ESOL International’.

The FCE candidature

Information is collected about FCE candidates at each session, when candidates fill in a Candidate Information Sheet. The candidates for FCE come from a wide range of backgrounds and take the examination for a number of different reasons. The following points summarise the characteristics of the current FCE candidature.

Nationality

FCE is taken by candidates throughout the world in about 100 countries, although the total number of nationalities represented in the candidature is over 200. The majority of these candidates enter for FCE in European and South American countries.

Age and Gender

The majority of candidates are aged between 15 and 17. About 58% of the candidates are female.

Education

Most candidates are students, although there are considerable differences in the proportion of students in different countries.

Preparation

A large proportion of candidates (about 88%) undertake a preparatory course before taking the examination.

Reasons for taking FCE

Candidates’ reasons for wanting an English language qualification are roughly distributed as follows:

• to gain employment (32%)

• for further study (26%)

• out of personal interest (11%)

• other (31%).

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.

source: FCE Handbook For Teachers

 

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