How To Prepare for B2 First (FCE) Exam Successfully

Do you want know how to prepare for B2 First Cambridge exam? In this article we will tell you all you need to know about this English certification.

Which are the key preparation steps to obtain the B2 First certification?

Main points

Main points

What is B2 First (FCE)?

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) shows B2, which corresponds to B2 First for Schools and B2 First, as the mark between B1 and C1 levels. It shows that the candidates have an independent control of a foreign language. B2 First is the first and minimum level required from students and/or graduates by renowned Universities. Alongside a B2 level of English, candidates can choose to prepare themselves for a B2 exam in any other important foreign language. This means that you need an accreditation of knowledge of a foreign language like English, or any third language, like French, German or Italian, before you finish your university career. In Spain, at least, this is a fact in degree study programmes.

Depending on the age of the candidates, the University of Cambridge has tailored this examination to the young candidates’ interests and comprehension. For this reason, besides B2 First, there is B2 First for Schools exam. Although the structure of the exam remains the same, as you will see below, the topics selected throughout the questions in B2 First for Schools exam, in all the exam papers, are all aligned with the teenager’s level of understanding. The grammar checklist, though, be it B2 First or B2 First for Schools, is the same.

London Tower Bridge

What is the structure of the B2 First and B2 First for Schools exam?

The exam lasts about 3 hours and 30 minutes. It has got 4 papers. Its total score is 200 marks.

A minimum of 120 test score out of 200 total mark is required to pass B2 First. This represents 60%.

Reading and Use of English paper

  • Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Content: 7 parts. 52 questions:
    1. Reading section: Parts 1, 5, 6 and 7
    2. Use of English section: Parts 2, 3 and 4
  • Marks: 70 marks for 52 questions:
    1. Reading section: 42 possible marks for 30 questions:
      • Part 1: 8 questions, 8 marks
      • Part 5: 6 questions, 12 marks
      • Part 6: 6 questions, 12 marks
      • Part 7: 10 questions, 10 marks
    2. Use of English section: 28 possible marks for 22 questions:
      • Part 2: 8 questions, 8 marks
      • Part 3: 8 questions, 8 marks
      • Part 4: 6 questions, 12 marks

The reading and Use of English section represents 40% of the total score.

Writing paper

  • Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Content: 2 parts:
    1. Part 1: An essay
    2. Part 2: 4 questions. You must choose only one:
      • B2 First: an article, an email/a letter, a review, a report
      • B2 First for Schools: an article, an email/ a letter, a review, a story
  • How much you must write: 140-190 words
  • Marks: 40 marks

The writing section represents 20% of the total score.

Listening paper

  • Time: around 40 minutes
  • Content: 4 parts. 30 questions
  • Marks: 30 marks. Each correct answer is worth 1 mark.

The listening section represents 20% of the total score.

Speaking paper

  • Time: 14 minutes for a pair of candidates.

Note: If there is an odd number of candidates, at the end of the speaking session, the last three candidates do the speaking together. The test lasts longer, so each candidate gets the same amount of time to speak.

  • Content: 4 parts:
    1. Part 1: Conversation with the examiner
    2. Part 2: Long turn
    3. Part 3: Collaborative task
    4. Part 4: Discussion
  •  
  • Marks: 25 marks

The speaking section represents 20% of the total score.

identify your level

Which level have you got?

Before you start to prepare for the B2 First exam, first and foremost, you must see what level of English you’ve got. To find out which your level is, there are three options:

  1. Take a level test in a language school that is officially recognized as a Cambridge preparation centre. You shouldn’t worry. There is normally  no commitment with the language centre. Make sure you call beforehand and arrange a time and day convenient for both of you.
  2. Take the free online placement test  or
  3. Register and pay for an online placement test

Which of the three above-mentioned placements tests is best is a personal matter. As a teacher, I strongly recommend you sit this test either in a language school or by doing the latest of the online placement tests.

Depending on where you live, how far from an authorized Cambridge centre you are, or whether you can afford to pay for the latest or not, you will choose the best that suits you. But remember, always opt for the most effective one, the test that will clearly determine which level you are ready to study for, and that will give you a quick and detailed report of your English language proficiency.

One thing is certain, you cannot start to prepare for B2 First unless you have shown a high B1 proficiency level in English.

Language school vs prepare by yourself

What is the difference between joining a B2 course offered by a language school and preparing for B2 First all by yourself?

Let’s analyse each of the two scenarios in turn. In the end, you will make up your mind.

Attending a B2 First course

  1. With whom will you study? In groups of 4-9 students
  2. How often will you have to study? 2 days a week
  3. Which study material do you need to buy? Two course books: a Student Book and a Workbook, most with a digital version these days. These are chosen by the centre and are bought on registration.
  4. How long will the preparation last? Around 2 years. Each class lasts around 1h 30 min.
  5. How much does the course cost? Around €70 per month. It varies from country to country.
  6. When will you sit the official exam? In about two years, after having taken the mock/trial exam successfully, which is organized by the language school. “Whenever I am ready. I trust my teacher.”
  7. What learner traits are required throughout the preparation period? You need to have:
    • Interest and motivation, and
    • Learning attitude. Actively participate in class, properly do the homework assigned by the teacher, embrace mistakes and work on them by always asking your teacher for clarification and analysis.

Self-learning

  1. With whom will you study? Alone, or with a buddy who’s got the same target as you, B2 First.
  2. How often will you have to study? Every day
  3. Which study material do you need to buy? More than two. All must have the answers provided. These include the two course books, a B2 grammar book and one or two practice test(s) book(s).
  4. How long will the preparation last? From 3 to 6 months, a minimum of 1 hour 30 minutes each day.
  5. How much does the course cost? It costs nothing but your time.
  6. When will you sit the official exam? In less than half a year. “As soon as possible. Once I successfully do the practice tests.”
  7. What learner traits are required throughout the preparation period? You need to show:
    • Interest and high motivation,
    • Learning attitude ×2. You are both the teacher and the know-it-all classmate.
    • A down-to-earth attitude. Every English-language source should be a chest of knowledge for you. Write, translate, investigate and use it.
    • Curiosity and determination,
    • Personal commitment and consistency, and
    • Organization. You must stick to a well-established learning routine.

No matter which of the two ways to prepare for the B2 First examination you will go for, you will need to make time for REFLECTION. Keep track of your mistakes by noting them down in the following way:

    1. My Mistake(s)
    2. It Must Be
    3. In Use (Context)
study material

What is the study material?

There are a lot of English language learning publishing companies. The pioneering ones are the following:

Cambridge University

Macmillan Education

National Geographic Society

Pearson

The publishing companies I am most familiar with are the Cambridge University Press books, which come with an amazingly rich digital library, the National Geographic Society Close-up book and its splendid Companion Booklet where all the B2 vocabulary and grammar is very well explained, as well as the Macmillan Education Ready for First 3rd edition, book I’ve found very good for B2 learners.

The links above will take you straight to the catalogue, where you will find how much they cost. The most expensive ones, I think, are the Cambridge University Press course books. For example, the Complete First Self-study Pack 3rd Edition costs about €63. The Self-study pack includes the Student’s Book and Workbook, both with answers, and the Audio CDs. They are not cheap; however, the Cambridge University Press books are worth the price.

On Amazon, you can find the books you choose to prepare for B2 at a more affordable price.

Find below a perfect example of a study pack for anyone who wants to start preparing for B2 First. By the way, if you’re a teenage high-flyer, make sure you select a B2 First for Schools edition because its contents are adjusted to your interests and preferences.

B2 First Self-Study Pack

  1. Coursebook: Complete First Student’s Pack 3rd Edition
  2. Grammar and Vocabulary: Grammar and Vocabulary for First and First for Schools with answers and Audio
  3. Complete Practice tests: First Trainer 2. Practice tests with Answers and Audio
  4. Online Resources: flo-joe.co.uk and Cambridge Assessment English B2 First Preparation In these two websites you can download the tests in PDF format.

The following books and online learning tools will help you to get better in specific parts of the B2 First exam:

Reading and Use of English paper practice tests (books):

    • Reading First: Eight practice tests for the Cambridge B2 First, Paper 1
    • Use of English: Ten practice tests for the Cambridge B2 First
    • English Master: B2 Key Word Transformation: 20 practice tests for the Cambridge First: 200 test questions with answer keys

Listening paper practice tests (book):

    • Listening First: Ten practice tests for the Cambridge B2 First

Writing paper practice tests (online)

Speaking paper practice tests

    • Speaking First: Ten practice tests for the Cambridge B2 First (book)

    • Speak and Improve (online)
most dificult part

Which are the most difficult parts in the exam?

As a teacher, the parts of the exam that almost 90% of all learners struggle with the most when they prepare for B2 First exam are the ones from the Reading and Use of English paper. What makes it so difficult?

There are two main reasons. First, it is the limited time candidates are given, 1h 20 minutes to complete the 7 parts. This means that you must be prepared to quickly read long texts, in Parts 5, 6 and 7, and be able to identify the answers to their questions. So, you must quickly read for details, and gist, after having identified the keywords in both questions and text.

Here is how, more or less, you should manage the time. Remember, all this is personal. Do not fully stick to it. 

  1. Parts 1-3: 6-8 minutes
  2. Part 4: 10 minutes
  3. Parts 5-7: 10-12 minutes

Although there is no time limit for each task, the reading ones will take you longer. You should be aware of how long you need for different tasks. Time your answers. The time left – proofread.

Secondly, your success in parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 depends on how well you control the B2 First vocabulary and grammar. Check out these useful related articles, where you will find insights into the most difficult parts of the exam:

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What is the weekly study schedule for a self-learner?

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 45 minutes with the Coursebook (Student Book (SB) and Work Book (WB))
  2. 30 minutes with Practice tests: 2-3 use of English tasks and 1 listening task
  3. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)
  4. Reflection time

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 45 minutes with the Coursebook (SB and WB)
  2. 30 minutes with Practice tests: 2 use of English tasks and 1 reading task
  3. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)
  4. Reflection time

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 30 minutes with the Coursebook (SB and WB)
  2. 45 minutes with Practice tests: 1 writing task
  3. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)
  4. Reflection time

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 45 minutes with the Coursebook (SB and WB)
  2. 30 minutes with Practice tests: 1 use of English task, 1 listening task and 1 reading task
  3. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)
  4. Reflection time

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 45 minutes with the Coursebook (SB and WB)
  2. 30 minutes with Practice tests: 2 use of English tasks and 1 reading task 
  3. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)
  4. Reflection time

Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes

Components:

  1. 30 minutes: Watch a podcast of your interest from Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading. Write a summary using the key language from the transcript (about 140 words)
  2. 30 minutes: Extensive reading with Graded Readers (check below)
  3. 30 minutes: Watch an episode from a series in English
  4. 10 minutes: Online quiz (check below)

Watch and listen, or read in English for pleasure 

Graded Readers For English Learners To Prepare For B2

Read for pleasure! This is key if you want to scale up your reading comprehension skill in the long run. Here are some books that might be of interest to you:

B2 First Online Preparation Daily Practice

Little and often! This is paramount if you want to obtain the B2 First certificate quickly and with flying colours. To prepare for the B2 First exam, check out these learning resources:

  1. Cambridge free online activities, independent level
  2. Exam Lift app. I have written this article about it, in which I give my opinion from the point of view of an English language learner.
  3. Free listening practice

Depending on your needs, you might also look for ways to improve your general comprehension skills. Check out this article: Useful Online English Language Resources. You will find two main categories of such:

  1. Websites which provide you with exam-like tasks, and
  2. Webs which are skill-oriented, like reading or listening comprehension.

How to register for B2 First exam?

Once you see that your level of preparation reaches around 70% in the last exam tasks you’ve done, or your result in the mock/trial exam in all the 4 papers is higher than 65%, you must consider registering for the official exam. If you have been attending a language course, trust your teacher’s opinion. But remember that your confidence and how you feel about it means everything.  In the end, you are the one to take the exam. So, take all the time you need to be fully prepared. 

Once you’ve made up your mind and want to register, follow the steps and register for the B2 First exam. In case you have taken the B2 First course in a language school, they will make the registration for you.

I hope this article has provided you with answers to all your questions about how to prepare for B2 First Cambridge exam.

Stay tuned for more words of advice and handy material!

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