Cambridge First Certificate

The Cambridge English: First exam, also known as the FCE exam or the Cambridge First Certificate, is designed for students with upper-intermediate English skills. It is the most popular of the Cambridge English exam suite because it is often the minimum level required by university programs in English-speaking countries.

Like all of the Cambridge English exams, the First Certificate is a pass/fail test and for those who pass, it delivers a certificate that does not expire. The FCE exam can be either a paper-based test or a computer-based test. In either case, it lasts 209 minutes in total.

Exam structure

The Cambridge First Certificate tests all four skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It is structured as follows:

Part 1 (75 minutes) – The first section of the First Certificate Exam tests reading comprehension, grammar, and vocabulary. This part has a total of 52 multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching questions. There are about 2,200 words in total to read during this part of the FCE.

Part 2 (80 minutes) – The second section of the Cambridge First Certificate tests writing ability. You will write two texts, each between 140 and 190 words. The first prompt is an essay. For the second prompt, you are given a choice between different text formats: article, letter, review, etc.

Part 3 (40 minutes) – The third section of the First Certificate is listening comprehension. You listen to short speeches, conversations, or other types of native English speech and answer questions about what you heard. Each recording is played two times. There are a total of 30 questions in this part.

Part 4 (14 minutes) – The last section of the FCE tests English speaking ability. Students take this part of the test in pairs, and may have to take this part on a different day than the other three parts of the exam, depending on the test center. The speaking test is in four short sub-sections, the first two you speak on your own and the second two you speak with the other candidate.

Scoring

From 2016, all Cambridge English Exams are reported using the same scoring scale. Lower-level tests are able to deliver scores on a lower range of the scale and more difficult tests are able to deliver scores higher on the same scale. Scores on the FCE Exam range from 140 to 190. A score of 160 or above is considered a “pass” and students with that score will receive the Cambridge First Certificate, which corresponds to a level B2 in English on the CEFR. Students scoring 180 or above on the FCE will receive a Cambridge First Certificate for level C1.

The first part of the FCE is worth 40% of the total score. The second, third, and fourth parts are each worth 20% of the total score. Each student receives his Cambridge First Certificate results broken down by the four skills as well as an overall result and the corresponding CEFR level. If the student got a passing score on the FCE, he will also receive his Cambridge First Certificate, which is valid indefinitely.

The next exam in the Cambridge English suite is the CAE. In order to determine which Cambridge exam is the right level for your skills, Cambridge offers the free placement test online that you can take in less than half an hour to get a rough assessment.