Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

Tips and FAQS for the Speaking paper of the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam

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Here are some tips and answers to questions we often receive on the Speaking paper of the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam.


  • Make sure you know what you have to do in each part of the test and the timing involved.
  • Raise the level of the conversation and discussion above the everyday and purely descriptive.
  • Listen to the instructions carefully and focus on the task set.
  • Listen actively to your partner, develop their ideas and opinions and work with them.
  • Show interest in and respect for your partner’s ideas and views.
  • Make use of the prompts in your long turn if you want to.
  • Respond as fully as possible and extend your ideas and opinions, giving reasons where possible.
  • Remember your partner’s name and use it when referring to them.
  • Don’t let your partner always ‘take the lead’ – you must also initiate.
  • Don’t waffle – be direct, get to the point and say what you mean.
  • Don’t speak during your partner’s long turn.
  • Don’t waste your opportunities to show the examiners what you can do.
  • Don’t ask the examiners how you have done.
  • Don’t monopolise the discussion. You must be sensitive to turn-taking. (Part 2)
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Why can’t I do the test alone?
Research studies have shown that in order to test a wide range of language and interactive ability with different people (here the examiner and the candidate’s partner), and where the test targets a particular level of ability (e.g.Cambridge English: Proficiency as opposed to IELTS), it is better to have pairs. Thus, the standard format is two candidates and two examiners. If there is an uneven number of candidates at the end of the session, the candidates will be asked to take the test in a group of three, never alone.

Can I choose who will examine me?
No. The centre decides which candidates will be assessed by which examiners. Examiners are specially recruited and trained to assess impartially and to the same standard, so it doesn’t matter which examiner you have. Also, examiners are never allowed to assess their own students or anybody they know socially. And do remember there are always two examiners, both of whom make an assessment.

Do I have to prepare a talk on a topic in advance?
No. Just follow the instructions from the examiner. During your long turn, the examiner will give you a card with a question on it for you to talk about.

Can I choose which topics to talk about?
No. You will have to discuss several topics during the Speaking test and these will be ones which you should have covered when preparing for the exam. None of the topics require specialised knowledge – they will all be accessible.

What should I do if I don’t understand the examiner?
You can always ask the examiner to repeat the question or the instructions. However, you should listen carefully and try to understand the first time.

Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

May 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

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