CAE Speaking Exam Basics

The Speaking exam is one of the four exams that you will do when you take the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) exam. Below you'll learn some essential information about the Speaking exam and the different parts of it.

How many parts in the exam

There are different 4 parts in the Speaking exam. When you do the Speaking exam, you'll do them all together, one after the other.

How long the Speaking exam takes

It takes up to 16 minutes to do the speaking exam.

When you do the exam

Normally you will do the Speaking part of the exam on a different day to when you do the rest of the CAE exam (you will do the Reading/Use of English, Writing and the Listening parts of the exam together on a different day). Normally, you will do the Speaking exam one or two days before you do the other parts of the exam.

Differences to the FCE Speaking Exam

If you haven't done or studied for the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) exam before, you can ignore this part and start reading the next one. But if you have, I recommend that you read it.

The obvious difference between the CAE and the FCE Speaking exam is that to do well, you need to be able to speak better in English. This is not only using more advanced and varied English vocabulary and grammatical structures when speaking, but also more fluently and with better pronunciation. In addition to this, the topics which you will be asked to talk about will be more diverse than in the FCE exam (to test if you have a broad/wide knowledge of English vocabulary) and the questions you will be asked will require more detailed answers.

Apart from your ability to speak, the topics asked and the questions, the exam itself is almost the same. Three of the four parts of the CAE exam have the same format as in the FCE exam (although In one of these (part 4), you have to speak for a minute more than you do in the same part in the FCE exam). There is only one which is different in format, part 2 (the part where you have to talk about some photos). But even this part isn't too different to the same part in the FCE exam (you'll find out more about this in the 'the parts' section below) and you should have no problem adapting to it.

The format of the exam

You will do the exam with another candidate (with either somebody you know or a stranger). Occasionally, you may have to do the exam with another two candidates (this only happens if there is an odd number (e.g. 13, 15, 17 etc...) of people doing the speaking exam on the day you do it).

When you arrive to do the exam, you can tell the Cambridge supervisors who you would like to do the exam with. If you don’t know any of the other people doing the exam, the Cambridge supervisors will select the person you will do the exam with for you.

The parts

As I said above, there are 4 parts in the exam. Depending on the part, you'll have to speak alone (individually), you’ll have to speak with the other candidate or both.

Part 1

In the first part of the exam (which takes 2 minutes) both you and the other candidate will be asked both your name and to answer a few simple questions about yourself (e.g. 'Where you are from?', 'What do you do?', 'Who's the most important person in your life?' etc...) You answer these individually.

To hear questions which you are likely to be asked in this part of the exam and practise answering them, go to our CAE Speaking Part 1 Questions Practice web page.

Part 2

In the second part, you are each given a task to do individually in a minute. You are given a sheet with three photos on it. You have to choose two of the three photos and then answer two question about them (which are written on the top of the sheet). At the same time as answering the questions, you have to compare and describe the photos. After you do this, the candidate who isn't doing the task is asked a question by the examiner about the photos (e.g. 'Which of these experiences would be the most beneficial?') and be expected to talk for about 30 seconds on it.

To see examples of photos and questions you will be given in this part of the speaking exam and to practise talking about them, go to our Four CAE Speaking Exam Part 2 Photograph Examples web page.

Part 3

In the third part, you have to speak together. In this part you and your partner are given a sheet with a question (e.g. 'What factors do you have to consider when choosing where to live?') in the middle and five different things that can be used to answer the question (e.g. 'location', 'amenities', 'transport', 'work', 'cost'). You have to talk together for 2 minutes and answer the question talking about some (but not all) of these five things. Normally, you should talk about three of them.

After the 2 minutes has finished, you are then asked a question where you have to together select one or two of the things you have just looked at on the sheet. They could ask you which two are the best or which two are the worst, or which one is the least or the most important. This part lasts only 1 minute.

Part 4

After this, you will then do the last part of the exam. This part lasts 5 minutes and you will speak both individually and together at times (depending on the speaking examiner). You will be asked questions connected to the topic of what you have talked about in part 3.

Although you will mainly be asked questions individually, it is no problem (and I recommend you do this) after your partner in the exam has finished speaking to comment on their answer or the question, or to ask your partner why they think what they have said . But, if they are directly asked a question, don't interrupt them while they are answering it.

After this, the Speaking exam is over.

You can ask the the examiner questions

If you are confused about or didn't hear a question, you can ask the interlocutor (the examiner who you speak to and asks the questions) to repeat a question they asked. But don't do this too many times, because it may be seen as an inability to understand instructions and you will lose points.

Watch people doing the Speaking exam

To help you know what you have to do, watch the below video which shows two candidates doing the CAE Speaking exam:

CAE Speaking Exam Video

How your score is evaluated

When you are speaking in the exam there are two people evaluating you. There is an interlocutor (the person who you speak to and asks the questions) and an assessor (who will be sat behind the interlocutor). They will both evaluate how you do the exam (based on your fluency, range of vocabulary, doing the tasks, pronunciation, interaction etc...) and each will give you a mark at the end of the exam. Both of these are then combined and this is your mark for the Speaking exam.

You don't receive a mark for each part of the Speaking exam, only one mark for the whole exam.

To learn what you are evaluated on in the Speaking exam and things you need to do in each part of it, read our article 'What the CAE Speaking Exam is Testing You on'.

The percentage of the final mark it gives

The Speaking exam contributes 20% to your final score for the CAE exam.

What score you need to pass

For you to pass the CAE Speaking exam, your combined score from the examiners needs to be 60% or over of the possible points they could give you.

Remember, you can still fail this part of the exam (get less than 60% (equivalent to 180 points on Cambridge's 'Cambridge English Scale Score' marking system which you'll see on your results)) and still pass the CAE exam (as long as you do well on the other parts of the exam and your average score for all of the exams is 180 points or over).