In most Cambridge exams, the candidates work together in pairs in at least some of the tasks. This allows the candidates to use a wider range of language than they could if they were just answering the questions they were asked by the examiner. As they work together, they use language to propose different ideas, express agreement and disagreement and negotiate to a final decision. How successfully they work together is measured in a specific mark, Interactive Communication. Interactive Communication is not only judged when the candidates speak together, it is also observed when the candidates interact with the examiner, but it is most obvious when the candidates work together. In this section, we will look at strategies to improve this mark.
The first thing to say here may seem far to obvious to include – candidates should look at each other during this phase of the test. Too many candidates seem unsure where to look when the collaborative activity begins, and many begin to address their answer to the examiner rather than their partner, requiring further support from the examiner to get them back on track.
The candidate not speaking should also look at his / her partner as they speak, or at the prompt they are talking about, giving non-verbal feedback (nodding, making agreeing noises – ‘mm-hm’, etc.). Some candidates go as far as ‘duetting’, joining in with what the other candidate is saying so that they finish a sentence in unison, or reformulating what their partner has said. All of these strategies are part of ‘active listening’, which forms part of authentic spoken interaction.
An extension of this is to make some reference to what the partner has said at the beginning of the following turn, ‘linking your contributions to those of your partner’. This comes in the marking criteria for FCE and above, but it is useful to train even PET level students to do this in a simple way. Perhaps the easiest way is a simple expression of agreement / disagreement – ‘Yes, I agree with you, but don’t you think…’, or ‘I see your point,, but…’.
Now watch this video of Part 3 of an FCE exam and observe how the candidates work together:
Finally, when interacting either with the examiner or the other candidate, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you are unsure what they have said. It is fine to ask ‘Can you repeat that, please’ if you are not sure about an instruction. The examiners are looking for contributions which are relevant, so it is important to know exactly what you are being asked to do. In parts 2 and 3, the key questions are printed at the top of the pages given to the candidates:
Please note that in the exam, the pictures are in colour (images from Cambridge University Press).
- Speaking exams: What to do… and what to avoid (davidbradshawenglish.org)
- Tips for Speaking Tests (II) (davidbradshawenglish.org)
- Tips for Speaking Tests (I) (davidbradshawenglish.org)