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The 25 most common mistakes in the FCE exam (and how you can avoid them)

So, here is the guide to the most common problems and mistakes students make.


1. Time management

Reading & Use of English consists of seven parts and you get 75 minutes to complete them AND transfer all your answers onto the answer sheet. If we take around five minutes to do just that, you are left with only 70 minutes for seven tasks. You see that you need to be prepared for some time pressure.

My recommendation is that you think about your strengths and weaknesses and then think about how much time you want to spend on each task.

2. Why simply going from task 1 through to 7 is a bad idea

Teachers recommend doing the Use of English portion first, which means parts 2, 3 and 4. The reason for this is that most people struggle with Use of English more than with the Reading section so you want to have more time available for the difficult parts.

Another interesting idea is to look at the different value of each correct answer. In parts 4, 5 and 6 you earn two marks for each correct answer while in the other parts your reward is only one mark.

Finally, in parts 1 and 2 we are often in the situation that we either know the answer or we don’t – it’s as simple as that. It can be a good idea to just look at these tasks first and quickly answer the questions you know without thinking too much about the ones you don’t know.

3. There are no punishments in FCE (so don’t be scared)

4. Stay focussed until the end

Towards the end of the exam many students are just happy that it is almost over and they lose focus. As a result, they forget to check their answers before transferring them to their answer sheet.

Don’t make the same mistake. At the end of every task check your answers (spelling as well, please) to make sure that you don’t get a bad surprise.


To me, writing is one of the easiest papers to pass in FCE. The different writing tasks are always structured the same way so you can prepare yourself quite easily

However, I have identified the five most common problems in the writing section:

5. Essay

Essay writing is the one task that you have to do in the writing exam.

In every essay task there are three main topic points that you have to deal with. For there is a third point which says “your own idea” and this is where the problems start. For some reason, many students simply ignore or forget to include this third topic point in their essay.

Remember the golden rule of organising your essay:

Write five paragraphs: Introduction, THREE topic paragraphs, conclusion.

6. Never forget the second writing task

It sounds obvious when you read it, but yes, there are two writing tasks in the FCE exam. Many candidates focus a lot on the essay which leaves them with little time for the second writing.

You have to make sure that you give yourself equal time for each task.

7. If you fail to plan, plan to fail

Too many students don’t make a plan before they start writing. They just start throwing sentences onto their paper, but then they are surprised that they have to make changes and corrections all the time.

Spending just 3-4 minutes at the beginning to make a plan can save you a lot more time and you will definitely need it towards the end of the writing exam.

8. Put your organisation into operation

Firstly, always organise your texts in paragraphs.

Secondly, your thoughts should be connected so the examiner can find a logical flow in your writing.

9. Use your own words

Instead of using your own words you simply take information from the task and use it in your writing in exactly the same way is a mistake!. Examiners look for your own ideas

10. Not all writing tasks are created equal

You need to be very careful and study the requirements of each type of writing task.


11. Don’t panic!

Under time pressure, the majority of candidates find it very difficult to stay calm Always remember that you can listen to each recording twice.

12. Stay positive

And just as people get stuck in difficult situations the listening exam provides you with plenty of opportunities to get stuck, especially when you just can’t hear one answer, and before you know it you missed the next one as well.

My tip to prevent is to remind yourself that you can always listen to the same recording for a second time.

During the first replay of the recording try to listen for as much information as possible, but don’t feel as if you have to find all the answers. Go with the flow and answer the ones you are certain about. Then, during the second round you have time to focus on the more difficult questions without having to worry about the whole exercise again.

13. If you assume…

…you’re normally in trouble. The same goes for the listening exam where students are very commonly surprised by the fact that they look at the questions and possible answers, but then can’t hear these exact words and expressions in the recording.

Be aware that what you see on the question paper is probably not what you’re going to get in the recording.

14. The exam is designed to distract you…

It is very important that you read the questions and underline the most important words before you start listening (you get some time before each task to do that, so don’t worry) so that you know exactly what you will have to listen for. The speaker commonly mentions all the answer options, but only one matches the requirements of the question.


Speaking, like writing, provides you with a great opportunity to get good marks. The tasks are always the same so you can practise a lot.

15. You’ll never get a second chance to make a good first impression

You have to make a good first impression if you want to be successful.

Make sure that you look interested, open and happy. Face the examiner or your partner when you are talking to them, listen carefully, nod if you agree and, most importantly, smile.

16. Don’t keep it too short (or make it too long)

As a rule, aim to speak between 20-25 seconds. This means that you answer the question and add a little bit of extra information like reasons, examples or your personal experience.

17. Speak until the examiner stops you

I need to be a little bit more exact with this statement. In the first and the fourth part of the speaking exam you have to time yourself, but in parts 2 and 3 the examiner takes the time and tells you when it is time to stop.

If you stop talking before the time is up, you can lose marks. The examiner wants you to show that you can talk about a specific topic for a set period of time.

18. There’s a question in Part 2!

In Speaking Part 2, the most common mistake I see is that students get caught up in comparing the two photos and run out of time before they can really answer the question that comes with the task.

Always remember that there are two things you have to do in this part of the speaking exam: comparing two pictures AND answering a question.

Make sure that you allocate around 20-25 seconds of your turn to comparing the pictures. Point out the biggest similarity and the biggest difference and that’s it. The rest (35-40 seconds) can now be used to answer the question.

19. Compare, don’t describe

You have to speculate, deduce and put the two situations side by side based on what you can see.

20. Useful language

There is a lot of useful language that you can and should use in the speaking exam.

If you use this kind of language it becomes clear to the examiner what exactly you are trying to express and you tick one box after another on your way to high marks.

21. Don’t forget your partner

The speaking part is usually taken in pairs and while the first two parts require you to talk by yourself, the second half includes a lot of interaction with your partner.

A lot of students feel as if they have to speak as much as possible so they take away valuable time from their partner. The problem with this is that both candidates lose marks, one for not displaying their skills and the other for not involving their partner.

Try to keep the ball in the air by involving your partner. Ask them for their opinion, invite them to share their view and respond to what they say. Be a team!

22. Less is sometimes more

In the third part of the speaking exam you have to discuss a question talking about five different ideas given to you by the examiner.

A lot of students feel that they have to discuss all five prompts so they try to talk really fast in order to get to the end quickly. What they often misunderstand is that they don’t have to talk about all five points. In fact, examiners like it more if you talk about fewer topics but do so in more detail. This gives you the chance to involve your partner more and to show your language skills better.

23. Discuss, don’t decide (yet)

Speaking part 3 is tricky because there are two halves to it. First, you have to discuss the question and the five prompts and then you have to make a decision based on the same five topic points. This seems very easy at first, but the two parts can easily be confused.

You have to be aware that, in the first part, you have to look at each single point in isolation and only in the second part can you start to compare them.

24. Be a good listener

The other part of speaking is listening to the other person. And this is where many people fail. You have to be able to respond to your partner on the spot so listen carefully to everything they say. The examiner might ask you if you agree or not, especially in the last part of the speaking exam. Make yourself, your partner and the examiner happy and be a good listener.

25. Support is everything

So, whenever you answer one of the examiner’s questions or respond to your partner make sure that you fully inform them. Support is everything!


Well, there you have the 25 most common mistakes in FCE and how to avoid them. I know there is a lot to think about, but if you start practising early and a lot, I’m sure you can avoid all of these traps and succeed.

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