First Certificate in English

The First Certificate in English or FCE is an examination in English from Cambridge Assessment which is internationally accepted.

The holder is generally thought of as being able to use English adequately in most everyday situations: exchanging basic information, asking and answering questions and suchlike. It allows the user in general to:

  • understand texts from a wide variety of sources
  • use English to make notes while someone is speaking in English
  • talk to people about a wide variety of everyday topics
  • understand people talking in English on radio or television programs

The certificate is valid for life and is often accepted by employers as a sign the holder is a competent English speaker. Often students who have taken the FCE will then consider their studies in English “complete” or they will move on to higher examinations such as the CAE or CPE.

The FCE is at level B2 in the CEFR league.

The Examination

The test consists of five sections each of which carries 20% of the total mark. There are 5 Grades for the examination: A, B or C are passes but candidates who receive a D or E do not receive certificates.

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Use of English
  4. Listening
  5. Speaking


In the reading section, the candidate is expected to answer a set of questions based on the context of four texts, which are approximately 350-700 words in length each. Types of questions include multiple choice, multiple matching or gap filling. This part of the exam lasts 75 minutes.


The Writing part consists of two parts. One is a mandatory task and the other is chosen from a set of four optional tasks. The first task is usually a transactional letter, which has a stricter format, and the second one’s type ranges from discursive compositions to articles, whose format is less stringent. One of the four options includes two questions based on a set of pre-set books. This part of the exam lasts for 90 minutes.

Use of English

The Use of English includes five tasks, whose types vary, including multiple choice filling, open gap filling, key word transformation, error correction and word formation. This part of the exam lasts for 75 minutes.


The Listening section consists of a set of questions based on four spoken texts. The texts vary from news announcements to speeches and stories. This section lasts approximately 40 minutes.


In this section of the exam, two candidates are interviewed by two examiners. The test has four parts. In the first one, the candidates are asked personal questions, whereas in part two they are given a pair of photographs to compare and contrast. In part three, the candidates engage in discussion, and in part four, the candidates and the interviewer discuss an issue on a certain topic.

Useful Links

Qualifications for Students – an overview of what is available for your students

Learner Levels– a look at levels for TEFL students

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Posted in How To Teach English, Qualifications for Students.

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