Following on from the extensive revision of the Proficiency(CPE) exam in March this year, Cambridge have just released a revised handbook for the changes they’ll be making to the First exam (FCE) from the start of 2015. Similar changes are also likely to take place to the Advanced exam (CAE), though details on this aren’t available yet.
The big news is that the Reading and Use of English papers are being squeezed into a single paper. The combined version weighs in at 1 hour 15 minutes (half an hour shorter than the current combined lengths) and contains exactly the same tasks as the current versions, though each section contains fewer questions (about 20 fewer questions overall). From a practical point of view the skills, sub-skills and strategies learners might need for the tasks won’t change, and other than changing the frame of reference for the tasks, it appears little else does either. That said, the descriptions of task focus in the handbook have improved – rather than referring to “lexical / lexico-grammatical” as with the current handbook, the 2015 version offers a bit more detail: “The main focus is on vocabulary, e.g. idioms, collocations, fixed phrases, complementation, phrasal verbs, semantic precision.”
There doesn’t appear to be any difference in the new listening paper, though the number of possible text types has been reduced – this is, I suspect, simply acknowledging the reality of what is actually used rather than providing a list of possible sources.
A few minor alterations crop up in the speaking. In part one the timings are reduced from 3 minutes to 2 minutes, but in practice I doubt this will have much effect. In part three, currently candidates are asked to “talk together about how _________ might be. Then decide which two would _______” and have three minutes to do this. The new version separates these two tasks out. Candidates are given two minutes to discuss the pros and cons of the options and are then interrupted and asked to come to a decision about which option is best in one further minute of discussion. It isn’t clear whether candidates are required to actually reach a decision – the assessment scales for interactive communication describes “negotiation towards an outcome” but not necessarily reaching it…
Finally, changes to the writing paper. Possibly to make the exam more marketable to academic institutions, possibly because a change is as good as a rest, but the mandatory Part One task is switching from the letter / email to an essay providing and justifying an opinion. A title (and therefore topic) is given, along with two ideas to write about, but the candidate is also required to provide one idea of their own. The possible text types for the Part Two task have also therefore changed and are given as: article / email or letter / report / review. So no more stories and also – no more book questions! At least the Part Two I’ve seen makes no mention of set texts and there are only three questions in the sample tasks provided, but this, it seems, has been quietly dropped. Which I have mixed emotions about – I’m glad because there’s nothing worse than reading someone’s opinion of a book they’ve clearly not read and because there’s always someone who tries to blag it; but at the same time it seems to reflect a trend away from extensive reading or the inclusion of reading for any purpose other than information gathering – whether this leads the trend or is simply reflective of it, I’m not sure.
Other important changes to the writing paper include word lengths, which are now the same for both tasks: 140 – 190 words. This represents an increase for both tasks, while the length of the writing paper hasn’t changed – so more writing required in the same amount of time.
To download your own copy of the Cambridge English: First handbook – just click the link. (PDF opens in new window). If that doesn’t work, try accessing the handbook from their Exam update web page.
Wednesday 15 May 2013 at 16:27
Thanks for this summary. I am disappointed that the set texts have been removed because, even though not everyone wanted to read one of the books it provided motivation for some people to do it.
Thursday 16 May 2013 at 13:15
I’ve never worked with set texts largely because the cost of acquiring relevant numbers of the books is prohibitive. Both the best and worst pieces of student writing I’ve ever read have been on set texts. Not sure what that says….
Thursday 16 May 2013 at 14:01
Thanks for this very informative update: very useful.
Thursday 16 May 2013 at 14:54
No problem… anytime!
Thursday 16 May 2013 at 15:21
Thanks David for keeping us up-to-date! Hope all is well with you and yours.
Saturday 10 January 2015 at 21:18
Thanks, very useful summary. I’ve just received the first book of official updated practice tests, and another difference from the old exam I’ve found is that Speaking Part Four now has written prompts rather than pictures. Also, the old Part Four tasks sometimes seemed a bit like roleplay discussions, whereas the new ones are just opinion questions. With that and the change to all essay questions in Part One, it looks like they are maybe hoping that FCE will become some kind of university entrance test.
Saturday 10 January 2015 at 22:09
Sorry, I mean Speaking Part Three of course.
Sunday 11 January 2015 at 21:52
Do you happen to know if students still need to write in pen? I couldn’t find any mention of it in the handbook or on the sample writing answer sheet.
Monday 12 January 2015 at 12:42
yes – thanks for pointing out the part three change, I think when I originally wrote this that hadn’t been made clear, but subsequent information releases have done so. I did a much more detailed and updated overview of the changes for both First and Advanced recently as an IH Live online workshop (video and slides available via the link below).
I’m not sure about the pen thing. I assume exam centres provide writing implements, which should make it clear, but I can’t see any reason why that would have changed. The marking process is the same, so I guess the old rules still apply there.
All the best,