How to use stress and intonation in the B2 First speaking exam

Updated on May 31st, 2024
written by Gregory
Gregory is a digital marketing entrepreneur as well as a fully qualified ESL teacher who has been helping students prepare for the Cambridge B2 First exam for over 10 years.

The speaking part of the Cambridge B2 First exam can be especially challenging because it requires not just good grammar and vocabulary but also effective communication skills. One easy way to improve your speaking score is by using stress and intonation properly.

Using stress and intonation help you sound more natural and make your speech easier to understand. They can also show your emotions and intentions, which is important in a conversation.

Many candidates find stress and intonation difficult because they focus so much on using the correct vocabulary and grammar that they forget to express themselves naturally, as they would in their native language. This can make their speech sound robotic and hard to follow. By practising stress and intonation, candidates can make their English sound more fluent and engaging, just like a native speaker.

Understanding Stress and Intonation

Stress and intonation are two important aspects of speaking that can change the meaning of your words and make your speech more engaging.

Stress is about emphasising certain syllables or words in a sentence. For example, let’s look at a sentence where word stress changes the meaning: “She didn’t finish her homework.” If you stress “She” it means it was someone else who didn’t finish their homework. Whereas if you stress “her” it suggests that someone else’s homework was finished, but not hers.

Intonation, on the other hand, is the pattern of rising and falling pitch in your voice. It helps to show whether you are asking a question, making a statement, or expressing emotions like surprise or happiness. For instance, your voice usually goes up at the end of a question and down at the end of a statement. Understanding these concepts is crucial for effective communication.

When you use stress and intonation correctly, you make it easier for your listener to follow what you are saying and understand your message. In the B2 First Speaking Exam, this can help you sound more confident and fluent, which can lead to higher marks.

The Role of Stress in the Speaking Exam

In the B2 First Speaking Exam, using stress correctly can make a big difference. Stress helps to make your speech clearer and more understandable. When you stress the right syllables in words and the right words in sentences, it makes it easier for the listener (and the examiner) to follow what you are saying.

Another example would be, if you say “I didn’t say he stole the money,” you can stress different words to change the meaning. Stressing “I” means you are emphasising that it was you who didn’t say it, not someone else. Stressing “stole” means you are emphasising the act of stealing, not some other action.

Remember, using stress correctly not only makes your speech clearer but also shows that you are confident and fluent. This can impress the examiners and help you get a better score.

The Role of Intonation in the Speaking Exam

Intonation plays a vital role in the B2 First Speaking Exam as it helps convey different meanings and emotions. Intonation patterns indicate whether you are asking a question, making a statement, or expressing emotions like surprise, doubt, or excitement.

For example, when asking a question, your pitch usually rises at the end of the sentence, like in “Are you coming?” On the other hand, when making a statement, your pitch typically falls at the end, as in “I am going to the park.”

Practising intonation can make your speech sound more natural and engaging. When candidates are speaking they should not only think about the words, but also how they feel about the topic, and express the intonation accordingly.

Proper intonation shows examiners that you can use English fluently and expressively, which can lead to higher marks in the speaking exam.

Practical Tips for Improving Stress and Intonation

Improving your stress and intonation takes practice, but it can be fun and rewarding. Here are some practical tips to help you get better. First, try recording yourself when you speak English. Listen to the recording and check if your stress and intonation sound natural. Compare your recording with native speakers and see where you can improve.

Joining speaking clubs or language exchange groups can also be very helpful. These groups give you a chance to practise speaking with others and get feedback on your stress and intonation.

Another great exercise is shadowing, where you listen to a native speaker and try to repeat exactly what they say, matching their stress and intonation.

Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with your voice. Try reading sentences with different intonation patterns and see how the meaning changes. Make it fun with a language partner where you both have to read the the same text but expressing different emotions through stress and intonation.

Practising these tips regularly will help you use stress and intonation more effectively in your speaking exam.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

One common mistake is speaking in a monotone voice, which means your voice doesn’t vary in pitch. This can make your speech sound dull and harder to understand.

Another mistake is misplacing stress. For example, if you stress the wrong syllable in a word, like saying “im-POR-tant” instead of “IM-por-tant,” it can confuse the listener.

Overemphasis is also a common mistake. This happens when you stress or use intonation too much, making your speech sound unnatural.

To avoid these mistakes, listen to native speakers and mimic their stress and intonation patterns. Record yourself and play it back to see if you are making these errors. Practising regularly and getting feedback from teachers or language partners can also help you avoid these common mistakes.

By being aware of these pitfalls and working to avoid them, you can improve your speaking skills and perform better in the exam.

Stress and Intonation in Different Parts of the Speaking Exam

In the B2 First Speaking Exam, you will encounter different parts where stress and intonation play crucial roles.

Part 1: The Interview

Here, using stress correctly can help you sound clear and confident. For example, stressing the right words can show you understand the questions and can give appropriate answers.

Part 2: The Long Turn

Intonation can help you keep the listener interested. Varying your pitch can make your speech more engaging and easier to follow.

Part 3: The Collaborative Task

Using stress and intonation can help you communicate more effectively and show that you are listening to and understanding your partner.

Part 4: The Discussion

Here, stress and intonation can help you express your opinions and arguments more clearly.

Practising these skills in each part of the exam can help you perform better and achieve a higher score.


Mastering stress and intonation is an easy way to improve your performance and score in the B2 First Speaking Exam. By practising stress and intonation you can make your speech easier to understand as well as making it more dynamic and interesting.

With regular practice and attention to these details, it will become a habit and much more natural that you will no longer even think about it. You will enhance your speaking skills and in turn increase your chances of achieving a high score in the B2 First Exam.