Monday, September 7, 2020


The speaking part in a certification exam is what students dread the most; you are there, in front of the examiners, and sitting next to another candidate you think is much better at English than you. Your legs are shaking and you haven't felt as nervous since you asked that girl out in high school. Well then, here are some useful tips to succeed in a speaking exam for the levels B1 and B2 if you are thinking about doing the Escuela Oficial de Idiomas (EOI) certification exam or the Centre d'Idiomes de la Universitat de València PACLE examinations.

First of all remember that you'll have some time to prepare beforehand; use this time efficiently to relax on the one hand, and to read the tasks and take notes about what you are going to say afterwards. You'll be allowed to bring the notes into the examination and look at them but you can't read them out.

B1 speaking task
The instructions provided could look something like this on the right. First of all a monologue with 3-4 bullet points with details about what you should include. Then a dialogue with the other candidate in which you must defend opposite points of view. Again you have 3-4 bullet points telling you the elements to be include. Remember this is between you and the other candidate so look at them, do not look at the examiners as you would do in the monologue.

In the instructions you are given three points you must include so plan your time accurately so that you don't spend too much time on one point and hardly any talking about the other two. Read these points carefully because they will tell you the kind of grammar structures you are required to use during your speech.

During this you are allowed to talk to your partner. Discuss how you are going to do the collaborative task, who will speak first and which agreement (if possible) you will make in the end. But remember you are not allowed to use mobile phones or check your notes, you will have to rely on your command of the English language.

Afterwards we will talk in depth about these two tasks but right now I want discuss one more thing you are expected to do which does not appear in the instructions. I am talking about introducing yourself. This will not count towards your overall mark since it is an introductory task to ease the nerves caused by the exam. As I said it does not count as such but it is important that you do it well because it can influence the examiners' attitude during the examination, they will be more prone to give you a better mark in the tasks.

So what should we say if we are asked to introduced ourselves? Since you have no more than one minute you should include details about you studies, work and hobbies if you can. Something like this would sound ok:
"Good morning, my name is... and I live in... although I'm originally from... I came here to study... at the University of... and I decided to stay when I found my first job. Now I'm working as a... I've been working for this company for the last... years. In my free time I love... although I don't do it as often as I would like to as I spend long hours at work; and also I'm quite keen on... which I do every now and again".
As you can see, in such a short speech you have sent the message that you can use a variety of tenses (present simple and continuous, past simple, present perfect...), connectors (although, as, since...), frequency adverbs and other structures such as keen on, spend long hours at work, every now and again...

Let's hope now you have introduced yourself confidently you feel less nervous and are ready to start your monologue. Notice you have the bullet points with information you must include, and you have to prove you know a variety of structures and vocabulary while talking with fluency making as few mistakes as possible. My advice here is find a balance between fluency and accuracy; do not try to speak very fast because you will make more mistakes but do not take one whole minute to say a couple of sentences either.

Designed by
In the first bullet point where you are asked to agree or disagree with the statement use structures such as I agree with this statement 100 percent... I couldn't agree with it more... There's no doubt that... I agree in part... (agreeing); or I totally disagree with a statement like this... To be honest, I don't think this statement is true... I'm afraid I have to disagree... I'm not sure I agree with this... (disagreeing); and then back up your argument giving reasons that support your opinion: because, since, because of, due to... 

In the second bullet point you are asked to compare your current life with that before mobile phones became an everyday object. We would all agree that the use of comparative structures is mandatory here: we may find much worse inventions than the mobile phone... I can't stand now that I'm far more available than before... when I didn't have a mobile phone I wasn't as busy as I'm now and this gadget helps me organise my working week... and we can also use the present perfect to link the past with the present: the mobile phone has seen an increase in popularity in the last 20 years... mobiles have become an object we cannot live without... since I got my first mobile phone I've had 6 or 7 other phones... 

In the third bullet point you must discuss reasons why people love mobile phones. Here it's a good idea to make generalisations as we are talking about people in general: Generally speaking... On the whole...Most people tend to... and use structures that mean like and love: mobile phones are absolutely terrific... what people love about mobile phones is... are very keen on mobile phones... the best thing about mobiles is...

In the event that you are not the first candidate speaking do not spend those extra minutes going through your notes since there is very little you can do in 3 minutes. Instead spend this time listening to your partner, analysing what they have done well so that you could use some of their expressions and paying attention to their mistakes in order to avoid making the same ones.

I'm 100 percent confident that with these tips you'll do great in the monologue section. Let's move now to the dialogue. The main difference with the monologue is that now you don't only depend on your skills but you have to take into account your partner. A very weak candidate can ruin the whole task for both of you whereas a strong candidate might try to get control over the conversation not allowing you to speak. With weak candidates always make sure you include them in the task, addressing them and asking them questions: I believe the best idea is to... what do you think?... do you agree with me?... do you have any other suggestions?... On the contrary, with candidates who want to impose themselves you will have to let them know they can't just interrupt you: can I just finish what I was saying?... if I could finish making my point... can I say something here?... you've made your point, now it's my turn to..

As it is said in the first bullet point you must defend your opinion so give reasons to convince your partner that you have a point and your idea is much better: I think we should take a... and a... because... don't bother bringing a... because... we don't have to take a... we can just buy it there... 

In the second bullet point you are asked to use discussion language so again use structures for agreeing and disagreeing. But this task in particular is also great to use conditional structures: it'd be a good idea to pack a raincoat in case it starts to rain... if we don't take our toiletries we'll have to buy them all there... bring lots of warm clothes unless you want to be freezing...

Finally, as it says the third bullet point, you should make an agreement (if possible). Here is where you can make suggestions: why don't we bring the... instead of the...? How about bringing a small suitcase and a big one? alright, we'll pack the... but not the...

One very common mistakes people make in the individual task is to mention the information in the bullet points explicitly: and finally about discuss the reasons why people love them so much, well I think... Do not mention the bullet point, just do what you are required to do; if you have to compare two elements or say whether you agree or disagree just do it, examiners know what your instructions say, there's no need to remind them.

Another common mistake is to keep silent when you don't know a word or you just go blank. Whenever this happens use hesitation fillers to give you time to think about the right word or to paraphrase what you want to say. Some hesitation fillers are you know... you see... how do you call it?... I've forgotten what it's called now... it's like... With such expressions you'll sound more natural when speaking in English.

Regarding the use of language certain mistakes are usually repeated no matter whether we talk about B1 or B2. The things you should pay attention to when speaking are present simple with since and ago (I live in Valencia since 5 years ago), here the use of the present perfect is required: I've lived in Valencia for 5 years. Using must and can followed by to: We must to bring lots of money. We use to with have to and ought to but not with can, could, may, might or must. Using the infinitive when we are talking about the past is something some students do when speaking and also saying I'm agree is something you must be careful with.

Well, if you are planning to do the EOI or PACLE exam, good luck with it, I hope you've found this article useful.

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