The B2 First exam consists of four papers each worth 25% of your overall score. The papers are Reading and Use of English, Listening, Writing and Speaking.
Reading and Use of English Format
In the Reading and Use of English paper there are seven parts that you need to complete. You will have one hour and fifteen minutes to complete all seven parts. This means you will only have around ten minutes to answer all the questions in each part.
Running out of time is a common issue, so knowing what you have to do and developing strategies you can use to help you pass the exam will save you a lot of time.
The seven parts consist of:
Part 1 – Multiple-choice cloze
You are given a long piece of text to read with eight missing gaps. For each gap, you will need to choose between four different options and decide which one is correct.
Part 2 – Open cloze
Similar to part 1 you will be given another long piece of text to read with eight missing gaps. However, in part 2 you will not be given any options to choose from and will need to decide which word goes in each gap by looking at the context of the sentence, grammatical structure and words before/after the gap.
Part 3 – Word formation
Following on from parts 1 and 2 you are again given a long piece of text to read with eight gaps. The difference with part three is you are given a stem word for each gap. You need to form an appropriate word from this stem word to correctly fit in the gap.
This part tests your knowledge of the different words that are used to form various word groups (for example: health, healthy, healthier, healthiest, unhealthy etc.) So a strong knowledge of adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs is essential if you want to get high marks.
Part 4 – Keyword Transformation
In this part, you will be given six questions to answer. Each question consists of three parts:
- A lead-in sentence
- A key word
- A second sentence with a gap in the middle.
You have to fill in the gap using between two and five words (including the key word) so that the sentence has the same meaning as the lead-in sentence.
Part 5 – Multiple Choice
Unlike the first four parts, you will now be assessed more on your reading ability. The is a long piece of text followed by six multiple-choice questions. This part tests your understanding of general context and opinion as well as specific vocabulary.
Part 6 – Gapped text
Part 6 requires you to read a piece of text where you will find six gaps which represent sentences that have been removed. Below the text, you will see a list of seven sentences in a random order (one more than you need). Your job is to put the correct sentence in its relevant gap.
This part really tests your ability to understand the structure of the text and its meaning. Although it may sound like an easy task it is actually something that many candidates struggle with.
Part 7 – Multiple matching
You will be given a long piece of text to read that has been separated into different sections (usually four). There are ten questions for you to answer and for each one your job is to decide which section of the text the answer to the question is located in.
Part 7 tests a wide range of skills including vocabulary and a candidate’s ability to locate specific information within the text.
In the listening paper there are four parts. Candidates often find the listening paper the hardest part of the exam so it is even more important to focus on this when preparing for the B2 First. You will have forty minutes to complete all four parts.
Preparing for the listening paper requires time and dedication to listening to a variety of different sources to practice your understanding of the general idea, opinion, feeling, general information and specific details. Doing practice listening exams is one of the best ways to prepare the exam.
Part 1 – Multiple choice
In this part of the exam, you will listen to eight short recordings. For each recording, there will be a question with four possible answers. You need to choose the correct option based on the information you hear in each recording.
Part 2 – Sentence completion
Part two consists of one long recording and ten questions where you are given a sentence with a missing gap. It will test your ability to extract specific information from the recording.
You need to listen to the recording and fill in the gap with the appropriate word or words. The correct answer will either be one, two or three words.
The questions always follow the order in which they appear in the recording.
Part 3 – Multiple matching
Candidates will listen to five short recordings for this part of the exam. Each recording will be related to a similar theme or topic but will have a different speaker.
You will then be given eight statements about the theme or topic and you need to choose which audio each of the statements relates to. Understanding gist, opinion and general context is important if candidates want to achieve high marks in this exam.
Part 4 – Multiple choice
Like part 1, part 4 also consists of multiple-choice questions. This time there are seven questions, each with three options to choose from. Candidates will listen to one long recording (often an interview) and will need to answer each question based on the information from the recording.
The answers always follow the order of the recording. This is important to remember when planning your strategy to pass this part of the exam.
The writing paper has two parts and candidates will have one hour and twenty minutes to complete both parts.
Monitoring the time it takes you to complete each part is a very important element when preparing for the writing exam. If it takes you one hour to complete the first part then you will only have twenty minutes to complete the second. Candidates who do not prepare properly will often run out of time and end up scoring low marks in the exam.
Part 1 – Essay
Part 1 is always an essay question where you will need to write between 140-190 words on a specific topic.
Planning is key when preparing for this part of the exam. It will not only save you time when writing your essay, but it will also allow you to produce and better piece of writing and get higher marks.
Here is an example question similar to what you will get in the exam:
Part 2 – Article, Letter, Email, Report or Review
This part of the writing exam gives you an opportunity to choose the piece of writing that you want to do. So you can choose both the type of writing and the topic that you’re more comfortable with.
You will be given three options to write about. They will either be a report, an article, a review, a letter (formal or informal) or an email.
The same as the essay question in part 1, you will be expected to write between 140-190 words.
You will do the speaking exam with one (or sometimes two) other candidates. There are four parts, and in total the exam will take around 14 minutes to complete.
If you don’t understand any question that the examiner asks you then you can always ask them to repeat the question.
Part 1 – Interview
In part 1 of the speaking exam, the examiner will ask you questions about yourself. This could be anything like talking about the town you live in or what your favourite meal is.
You don’t need to give long answers, but the examiner will expect you to say a couple of sentences.
Part 2 – Long turn
You will have to speak for one minute on your own in this part of the speaking exam. The examiner will give you two photos and a question for you to answer. The examiner will say to you “Now you have one minute to talk about…”.
The question that you need to answer will also be written above the photos. Reading and understanding what you need to talk about is a key part of preparing for this part of the exam.
Here is a sample question similar to what you can expect in the exam:
It is also very important to pay attention to what your partner’s question is because when your partner has finished talking about their photos you will also be asked a related question.
Part 3 – Collaborative task
In part 3 you will need to discuss a question with your partner/s. Although this may seem daunting to some people, it is actually a great opportunity to score extra marks in your speaking exam by demonstrating how you interact with other people where you are not judged simply by what you say. For example, your not verbal skills like making eye contact will help you get higher marks.
You will have two minutes to discuss the question with your partner/s and then a further minute to answer a decison-making question with your partner.
There are many idioms, phrases and vocabulary that you can prepare for this part of the exam in order to increase your chances of getting top marks.
Part 4 – Discussion
Part 4 follows on from part 3 where the examiner will ask you and your partner a variety of questions all related to the topic from the previous part.
Listening to your partner’s answers is extremely important as the examiner will ask you for your opinion on what your partner has said.
More information on the Exam format can be found in the B2 First Teacher Handbook from Cambridge.