What You can Do when you have Failed your FCE Exam

Unfortunately, every year many people fail their Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) exam. If this has happened to you, there are two things/options that you have.

Below I will explain what these two options you have are, what you should do if you choose to do each and whether I recommend if you do them or not.

Option 1

Contest the decision of the result

If you think they haven't marked your exam correctly, you can within 14 days of receiving your result statement (the piece of paper which shows your result for the exam) ask Cambridge to check (and after this, remark) your exam. This is called a 'Result Enquiry' and to do this you need to contact the exam centre where you did the exam or academy/school who you booked the exam through and ask them to do it.

In a Result Enquiry, there are two stages. And for both you have to pay to have it done. However, if as a result your score goes up enough so that you pass the FCE exam (get 160 points or over) you will get this money back.

Stage 1

The first (called 'Stage 1') is where your answers sheet (for all parts) are checked to make sure they haven't missed any marks for your final score. And that is it. They do nothing else. From asking this to be done, it will take about 5 working days until you are told if your score has gone up or not.

Stage 2

If after doing 'Stage 1' you have still failed the exam, you can ask for Cambridge to then remark your full exam paper. They will manually check the answers which you gave in both the Reading/UOE and Listening parts and remark your two pieces of writing. They will not reevaluate your Speaking exam result (that score will stay the same).

It will normally take around 3 weeks before you get the result back for the remarked exam.

Of the two, Stage 2 is more expensive. It is around the same cost that you paid to do the actual exam (in Europe, that's about €200).

Should you do it?

I have to be honest, I personally know of no students who have done a 'Result Enquiry' and it has turned a fail into a pass. A few teachers I know have said they do, so it is possible.

I would probably only recommend you do it if you are really surprised with one or two of the scores you got for parts. For example, when you did the exam you didn't think that the Reading part of exam was difficult, but you got a really low score for it (e.g. 141 points). That would suggest that there was a mistake in the marking.

If you were close to passing for each of the five areas, it would suggest there wasn't any mistake and it's your real score.

In this case, I would save your money and do the following option.

Option 2

Retake the exam

The best decision to make is to just do the exam again. When you do it again depends both on how much you failed the exam by and why you think you failed.

You have to be honest with yourself about why you think you failed. Don't try to make excuses like it was a real difficult exam or I couldn't hear the Listening exam very well. This is not going to help you to pass the exam when you do it again. So think of the real reason why you failed.

The 3 main reasons why people fail:

  1. You haven't got the sufficient level of English to do the exam.

  2. You have the level, but you struggle on some parts and/or some of the topics used in the exam.

  3. You panicked when doing a main part (e.g. Listening) of the exam.

For most people who fail the FCE exam, it's going to be reasons 2 or 3, or a combination of both.

Learn from your mistakes

The reason why you need to be honest about why you failed the exam rather than making excuses (e.g. it was really difficult etc...) is that it helps you to identify the areas that caused you to fail. When you know the areas that caused you to fail, then you can focus on improving them before you next do the exam.

So think back to the parts in the exam that you struggled on and ask yourself why you struggled.

For example:

If you struggled on one of the parts which evaluates your Reading abilities, was it because you don't know the topic (and its vocabulary) used well or you don't know how to do this particular part of exam well?

If it is topic, then you need to read and improve your vocabulary on this topic. If it is the part you can't do well, then you need to understand what it is testing you on and find a method/technique that makes it easier and quicker to do.

Another example:

If you panicked in a part of the exam, then you need to ask yourself why you panicked and other people doing the exam didn't? Do you normally have this problem doing exams or not?

If you do, think about ways which you can stop this happening in the future (e.g. don't think you are going to fail if you struggle on one part, improve your ability on doing parts you know you struggle on, learn techniques to stay focused when you start to panic etc...).

To learn about the type of vocabulary used in the FCE exam, read our article called 'Vocabulary Used in FCE Exams'.

To learn what grammatical structures you need to know, read our article called 'Improve your Grammar for the FCE Exam'.

Study by yourself or get somebody to help you?

The easiest way is going to be to get somebody to help you. That could be by joining an exam class in a language academy or doing one-to-one classes (either online or in a language academy). This will help to improve your abilities in each of the four main parts of the exam, but it is especially important if you need to improve your scores in the Writing and Speaking parts of the exam (because you need feedback on how well you write or speak).

But even if you decide to do either type of class, I would still recommend that you regularly read and listen to things in English outside of class which are right for the level of the exam and are on topics which are commonly used in the exam.

If you only struggle on the Reading/UOE and/or the Listening parts of the exam, then you can study by yourself. If you choose to do this, you need to buy things (e.g. books or courses) which will help you improve the individual parts of these which you have problems with (explain what they are testing you on and give you techniques/methods to use to make them easier and quicker to do) and regularly read and listen to things in English which are right for the level of the exam and are on topics which are commonly used in the exam.

If you decide to study by yourself, I would recommend in the weeks before you retake the exam that you pay for a few one-to-one classes where you can both practise and be evaluated on doing the Speaking and the Writing parts of the exam.

To help your reading and vocabulary for the FCE exam have a look at our eBook of 50 intermediate & FCE level articles from our sister website blairenglish.com.

Wait some time before you retake

When some people fail the FCE exam, they want to retake the exam again as soon as possible. And although some people pass when they do this, many fail.

You need time to improve in the areas that you are weak in and the parts you struggle with. And the amount of time you should wait depends on both why you failed and how much you failed by.

If the reason is that you don't yet have the sufficient level of English to do the exam, then you need to wait at least 6 months until you do the exam again.

If the reason is that you panicked or have the right English level but need to improve how you do parts of the exam, I would recommend that you wait at least 2 to 3 months. I would recommend this amount of time if you only failed by one or two points (your final overall score was 158 or 159). If you failed by more, I would recommend that you wait longer before retaking it.


Failing the FCE exam is not the end of the world. Many people fail every year and it doesn't mean they are less intelligent than those that pass it. I tell my students that we learn more from failure than we did from success. And if you want to pass it the second time that you do it, this is what you must do too. Good luck!