2012

FCE EXAM
Practical advice for students
How to improve your English skills, what to do once in the exam, among others. This document was written using my personal experience in this test, it is NOT in a formal style (Some ‘special’ words were used to put emphasis, but they were censored, anyway, he he)

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Michael Contreras Giha 09/01/2012

How to improve your English level
My dear fellows: In order to help you in the improvement of your English level, I have created this document with some tips for you. These things will be useful to pass the FCE (Combined with your classes AND your own studies of the language) I divided this paper for skills, and at the end, you’ll find some general tips for the test. Remember that these are the things that I usually do every day, so DO IT!!!

1. - Speaking:
If you have someone to talk to (I don’t need to tell you that it must be in English, do I?) you can write titles of things in some pieces of paper (based on your own interests, for example, seasons of the year, sports, nature, video games, ghosts, etc…) Then, choose one at random and start asking questions about it to your comrade. Download some images from the internet or use ANY of the ones you can find in books, newspapers, etc. Start describing it following a pattern (From left to right, from the bottom to the top, from the background to the foreground, etc…) in this part, write down the words you don’t know for future reference. If in any case you don’t have anyone to talk to in English, try doing these things: Use your imagination (This is essential, what we call ‘Daydream’) while you are in the restroom (Why not?) or sitting on your bed doing nothing, try to imagine a situation, for example, you are in front of a big audience and you are the host, start SPEAKING (It doesn’t matter if your neighbors think you are crazy, just SPEAK, ok?) remember that in our minds there is an unlimited power that can be used for everything, you can be a super hero, a teacher, a firefighter, or anybody else… USE IT! You can also remember a situation of your real life (Something that happened at the University, you came across with someone, a conversation with a teacher, etc…) and reproduce it in your mind, again, SPEAKING! Those people are really in front of you, so talk to them and don’t be ashamed! Practice with different phrases that you commonly use in your day to day life, those phrases will be useful to improve the fluency of your speech (Phrases for ‘Every occasion’) While imagining things or talking to someone (Imaginary or real, you know what I mean) Write down the new words that you discover! This is excellent to increase your vocabulary. Describe your house; can you name all the things that are around? If not, you know what to do. Think aloud, instead of thinking in Spanish, do it in English: ‘Ok, now I’ll take a shower, and then I’ll go to the supermarket to buy some….’

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2. - Writing:
- In order to practice writing, what you have to do is to write (Don’t say…) as much as you can, here you have some concrete actions to start improving this skill: - Use the vocabulary you learned in the speaking activities (Imagining diverse things or talking to someone) to write sentences, then you can take all those sentences, expand them, and write a paragraph. - Choose a free topic to write about, for example, a short story that MUST start with certain phrase, example: ‘There was a sad man sitting on a bench, the atmosphere was particularly grey that day, the leaves were falling, the kids were laughing and playing, the echoes of their laughs could be heard far, far away…’ (So poetic, isn’t it? I can visualize the entire scene in detail, can you? ) See? In order to write things like this you have to have a big imagination, it’s EXTREMELY RELEVANT to be able to see what you are listening, reading, writing, or speaking…That’s why it’s so important to train this awesome skill in your day to day life. - Use the format of the FCE to write different things, a good idea is to have two favorite items, for example, in my case they were the e-mail and the short story (Especially the latter) doing this you’ll be better prepared. - Practice your handwriting, remember that in the exam you WILL NOT use a computer; speed is an important factor as well. - Using the social networks, follow different pages in English, they are always playing jokes and that can be useful for your vocabulary, on Facebook, ‘like’ these pages: ‘English is fun’ / ‘English is your future’, ‘I don’t want to live on this planet anymore’ and so on… //// On Twitter, follow @EnglishOTR / @FunnyFacts / @SchoolFacts // Among others… - Write ESSAYS about topics of your interests, and use different websites to upload your creations, one of the best ones is www.scribd.com (Ok, ok, it’s the best one) - Do you have classmates added as friends on Facebook? (Of course you do…) then post on their walls in English! This is the language that you all are studying, so feel free to make mistakes; nobody is going to kill you for that… Practicing together will boost a feeling of friendship and camaraderie. - Most of the web browsers allow you to use the spell checker, set it in English, doing that will help you to improve your confidence when writing.

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3. - Listening:
- There are many cable operators that allow you to listen to the original audio of the TV Shows. A great idea is to choose ‘English’ (Don’t say…Again) and to be surprised about all those new expressions that you can learn watching your favorite TV shows. In addition, there are many channels (BBC, CNN, among others) that can be quite useful as well, there you can compare and get used to the different accents. - Videos on YouTube can be pretty beneficial for you, there are diverse things that you can find there, funny, interesting, etc… - Seize the day, if you are on the bus doing nothing (Just watching through the window and thinking) listen to some music and try to understand what the singer is… Well, singing! - Of course, try practicing official listening activities from some FCE books, this is helpful if you want to get accustomed to that annoying male voice saying ‘This is the Cambridge first certificate in English, hello, I’m going to give you the instructions for part one’ (I do hate that guy, seriously) - Websites:     Tons of listening exercises for all levels: http://www.esl-lab.com/ Exercises for all your skills and levels: http://www.teachya.com/ English on the rocks (@EnglishOTR on twitter) http://www.englishontherocks.com/ Free practice tests for English Learners http://www.examenglish.com/ While watching a TV show in Spanish, translate what you are listening to into English (I know, I know… Translating is out of style and all that sh*t you have heard about it, it’s true, but it can be useful, so do it)

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4. - Reading:
- Once more, you can use the internet to look for many resources in order to improve this skill, visit websites like http://www.nytimes.com/ http://www.cnninternational.com/ http://www.bbc.com/ and read the breaking news about hurricanes, accidents, curiosities, among others… Post one of them on your wall, some of your classmates can comment it. - Read articles and think about questions like: What was it about? How many people were there? Why did the man say that? / Explain in your own words what you have just read. - Visit this web and solve exercises about comprehension: http://www.usingenglish.com/comprehension/ - Try to develop your top down reading skills, people who use bottom up ones (The opposite) need to understand word by word in order to get the meaning of a text, and if in any case there is a word they do not comprehend, getting the meaning becomes almost impossible. - Try to infer the meaning of words, and to visualize the story you are reading (Again, TRAIN YOUR F****** BRAIN! Use your imagination!) This will be helpful when trying to understand specific details. - DO NOT TRANSLATE INTO SPANISH WHAT YOU READ! A terrible mistake, your mind gets accustomed to doing it and reading in English does not mean anything to you, TRAIN YOUR BRAIN, READ IN ENGLISH AND UNDERSTAND IN THIS LANGUAGE, otherwise, you are just wasting your time… Picking your nose with a screwdriver will be more productive… - If in any case you are reading and you don’t understand a word, resist the temptation of asking the meaning to somebody else… Use your dictionary or WordReference.com, doing this; the meaning will last longer in your mind.

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Once in the exam
DO NOT BE NERVOUS, if you studied, if you did your best, then there is nothing to be afraid of… Control this factor; otherwise you’ll not be able to think straight, causing hesitation…  Speaking: Concise and precise. There is a part in which you have to describe and compare two pictures, go straight to the point, a brief description of each one, followed by similarities and differences, and the answer to the main question (As far as I remember, you have one minute to do this, otherwise the examiner will stare at you like saying ‘Ok, enough, STAHP!’). When you are asked to talk to your mate, be aware of the time, ask questions, give opinions, and be sure of answering all the inquiries that you are supposed to answer! You and your mate need to talk, not just one of you! (don't try to dominate your mate or interrupt him/her abruptly during the Speaking test, in addition, remember not to leave long or frequent pauses) Oh! Another hint, there is a moment in which (After your mate has described his/her pictures) you are supposed to answer a question related to what he/she described. BE SURE TO SAY SOMETHING (You are allowed to lie) NEVER, EVER ANSWER THAT QUESTION WITH A ‘No’ because that will decrease your score (20 seconds for this answer, that’s all) Writing: Be creative; use the imagination that you trained so hard… If in any case you have the chance to write a story, do it. A story (In my opinion) is great because it allows you to write anything about that phrase at the beginning, it was a dream, or maybe an accident, what about a ghost story? You decide… Another good option is the e-mail, it’s quite easy to write, and most of the time you are allowed to use an informal style. Pay attention to your handwriting, also.

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Listening: I know, I know, the skill you hate the most… Listen (Y u do dis…) Ok, no, read this. Once in the listening, forget about everything else, it’s just you and the test, there ISN’T anybody else there, just you… Ok? Now that you are focused, remember these tips: In the first part, you have three options for each question, and you are supposed to infer what the right one is, GENERALLY the first one that YOU LISTEN TO is not the correct one, so it can be discarded… If in any case you didn’t understand anything, forget about it, just put a mark beside the option you think could be correct, but NEVER feel frustrated, remember that ALL YOUR ATTENTION MUST BE on each question, if you start thinking about the one you didn’t comprehend, you are (Sorry for being so honest) lost… One more time, use your imagination to visualize the person speaking, pay attention to the intonation, to those little details that will allow you to find what the right option is. The easiest part of the listening test is (In my opinion) the one in which you have to write a missing word, this because little inferring must be done, you just have to listen and (Most of the time) write what you heard, but pay attention, because sometimes there is a sudden change in what the speakers are saying (Their job is to make our lives miserable, they really enjoy doing it). Seize the time you have before each item, read the alternatives and UNDERLINE the key words of each one, this will help you to emphasis the things you think the speakers will mention, and, subsequently, to save time. Reading: I don’t have too many things to tell you for this part, but here are some tips, anyway: Read the sources, titles and subtitles of the texts; they are there to give you an overall impression about what you are going to read. Now, in my opinion, you shouldn’t read the whole text (Since it’s a waste of time) what you have to do is to read the first question and immediately look for the answer in the transcript, that’s the way to do it, one by one, question by question. Use of English: What you have to do here is to pay attention to the different options that are available, and to infer how they affect the meaning, always remember that the verb MUST agree with its subject. Another important thing about this part is time, copy your answers IMMEDIATELY to the answer sheet, 45 minutes are just NOT ENOUGH (For the majority of people) to do it later, remember that the examiners WILL NOT give you extra time here, so if you didn’t do it, you are doomed… The ‘Key word transformations’ part is easy; just remember to keep the meaning and the time used in the original sentences.

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General advice: The time (That’s a good point about listening, you don’t have to be worried about it) always remember the time you have for each part, if you finish and there are 30 minutes left, do not waste them! Check your spelling, reread the texts, be sure you recorded your answers in the answer sheet, etc… Sometimes, little mistakes that you didn’t notice can be corrected doing this. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS! For God’s sake, they are called ‘Instructions’ for something, ok? DO NOT get stuck in one question, if you don’t know what the answer is, continue and once you have answered all the other ones, breathe and try again. COPY YOUR ANSWERS TO THE ANSWER SHEET FOLLOWING THE INSTRUCTIONS! When I was doing the FCE, there was a girl in front of me that didn’t do it, quite sad to see that… DO NOT SPEAK! If something unexpected (Doesn’t matter what it is) happens, keep calm and… do not laugh or stand up or any other inappropriate thing, examiners are always paying attention to your behavior, and they are allowed to ban you. If you have a question, just raise your hand before the exam starts. TURN OFF your phone! (No silence or meeting mode, just turn the F****** CELL PHONE OFF!) If it rings while in the listening (Or any other part) that’s all, try again next year. Take two pencils (Just in case) and an eraser. Focus, remember, there isn’t anybody else there, just you and the test.

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For more information and advice, visit this website: http://www.cambridgeesol.org/exams/fce/index.html#ls

Good luck!
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