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This page offers advice and guidance to students preparing for the BEC Higher Speaking test

BEC Higher Speaking Test by Peter Travis

Duration: 16 minutes.
Participants: Candidates are interviewed in pairs. (Centres with an odd number of candidates will have a group of three in the final interview of the session). There are two examiners present: one examiner acts as the interviewer, asks the questions and makes a global assessment, while the second assessor makes a detailed assessment and doesn't speak during the interview.
Format: There are three parts to the test.

BEC Higher Speaking Test: Part 1 (Interview)

Part 1 of the BEC Higher Speaking test lasts approximately 3 minutes (5 minutes for a group of three). After some introductory questions, candidates are asked a personalised work-related question and a more general, work related question.

Tests ability to: use language for social purposes, e.g. make introductions, ask and answer questions, express and give reasons for personal opinions.

Example Questions

The interview will begin with the examiner saying something like:

Q: Hello. My name is ........ and this is my colleague ........
Q: And your names are?
Q: Can I have your mark sheets please? ........ Thank you.

The examiner will then ask each candidate some questions. For example:

Q: Where are you from?
Q: Could you explain why you're taking the BEC exam?
Q: Have you got a job at the moment?
Q: Are employment opportunities for graduates good in your country?

Tips!

It's important to give relevant answers to these questions.

1) Avoid short, uncommunicative answers.
Q: Where are you from?
A: I come from Spain ... from Madrid, but I've been living in Paris for the past year. (Keep going!) I had the chance to come to France to study at university and decided to stay here for a few years more to get work experience.

2) Avoid short, 'yes', 'no' answers.
Q: Could you explain why you're taking the BEC exam?
A: Yes certainly! I'm hoping to work for a large financial company in London ... as you can probably imagine it's very competitive to get a good job in this profession so. I decided to take BEC to help me with my career.
Q: Have you got a job at the moment?
A: No, not a full-time job. I work part-time in a local restaurant. It's a nice job and the people are lovely but it's not something I want to spend the rest of my life doing.

3) Think of examples to help you explain something that you've said.
Q: Are employment opportunities for graduates good in your country?
A: There are lots of opportunities for people who have experience but it can be difficult to get a good position when you come straight out of university. (Give an example!) I've got a lot of friends who are like me ... having to work in part-time jobs while they look for a better position. Obviously some degrees are more marketable than others so it depends on the person's qualification.

BEC Higher Speaking Test: Part 2 (Mini-Presentation)

Part 2 of the BEC Higher interview lasts about six minutes (eight minutes for groups of three). Each candidate is given a card listing three different topics. Each candidate chooses one of the topics on their card to talk about for 1 minute. The candidates are given one minute to prepare and may make notes. When prompted, Candidate 1 gives their talk while Candidate 2 listens but does not speak. At the end of the minute, Candidate 2 asks Candidate 1 a brief question about the talk and Candidate 1 makes a brief reply. The task is then repeated with Candidate 2 presenting and Candidate 1 listening and asking a question at the end.

Tests ability to: sustain a long turn, speak coherently, listen and respond to a talk with appropriate questions.

Example Task

The examiner will say something on the lines of:

Q: In this part of the exam I'm going to give each of you a choice of three different topics. I'd like you to select one of the topics and talk about it for about 1 minute. You'll have about one minute to prepare this and you're allowed to make notes if you want to. Now, here are your topics ... and you can make notes on the spare paper while you are preparing to talk but please don't write on your topic sheets. All right?

Q: Now, (Candidate 1), would you begin by telling us which topic you've chosen?
(Source: BEC Teachers Resource: www.cambridgeesol.org)

(Example Topic)

A: Customer relations: the importance of politeness when dealing with customers

B: Training: how to ensure training opportunities are taken up by as many staff as possible

C: Advertising: the issues to consider when drawing up an advertising budget for a new product


The choice of three questions range from a very general, business-related topic for candidates with little or no work experience to one that can be answered by someone with work experience. It's therefore a task that all candidates should be able to deal with.

Tips!

1. Use your 1 minute preparation time wisely and make notes of the points you'd like to make.

2. Structure your talk with a clear beginning, middle and end. Help the examiner and your partner to follow your talk by signposting your presentation clearly. When giving examples make this clear through expressions such as:
"For instance ..."
"Take … for example ..."
"To give you an example ..."
"A case in point is ..."
"To illustrate this ..."
"To show you what I mean ..."

3. Start your talk with a powerful, attention-grabbing introduction. Instead of beginning rather unimaginatively with: 'It is really important to be polite to customers ... '. try something like: 'In the highly-competitive world we live in the last thing we want to do is lose business through poor customer relations.'

4. If you're concerned about not having enough to talk about for 1 minute or running out of time before you've finished, the answer is to practise as often as possible. Time yourself and ask a friend for feedback.

5. Make sure you listen carefully while your partner is presenting as you will need to think of a relevant question to ask at the end.

BEC Higher Speaking Test: Part 3: (Collaborative Task & Follow-Up Questions)

In Part 3 of the BEC Speaking test, which lasts about seven minutes (nine minutes for groups of three), the examiner will give you and your partner a card that contains a business-related situation with two questions for discussion. You will have 30 seconds to read the card. The examiner will not participate in the discussion until the end when he or she will ask each candidate questions related to the topic.

Tests ability to: initiate discussion, ask for and give opinions, agree and disagree, develop comments made by others and generate new ideas, be sensitive to turn-taking.

Example Task

The examiner will say something on the lines of:

Q: 'Now this part of the test is a discussion activity. You have about thirty seconds to read this task carefully and then about three minutes to discuss and decide about it together. You're expected to give reasons for your decisions and opinions. OK? Now you don't need to write anything. Is that clear?

Q: I'll just listen and then ask you to stop after about three minutes but please speak so that we can hear you. All right?
(Source: BEC Teachers Resource: www.cambridgeesol.org)

(Example Topic)

Staff Training

In order to show its commitment to the environment and sustainability your company has decided to dedicate a training day to the importance of responsible environmental actions the company and staff can take. You have been asked to come up with some general ideas to promote on the training day.

Discuss and decide together:
- what kinds of actions the staff and company could take to be more environmentally friendly
- how you would promote the training event to encourage staff to approach the event with a positive frame of mind.



Notice that the task is in the form of a role play or simulation and you should treat this as a real-life task. Work with your partner as if you are both in this situation, sharing opinions and trying to reach a decision.

Tips!

It will help both yourself and your partner if you work together collaboratively on this task.

1. Be prepared to ask your partner for his or her opinion rather than simply stating your own.

2. Listen 'actively' to what your partner says, responding to comments he or she makes.

3. If you need time to think, use expressions such as:
"That's a good question."
"It's funny you should ask."
"Well, to cut a long story short ..."
"Well, to be honest ..."
"It's difficult to say."
"Let me think ..."

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These guides have been published by the Splendid Speaking team to help students and teachers who would like to know more about the BEC Higher Speaking test. This guide is made available for information only and should not be seen as official advice. Splendid Learning, a division of Flo-Joe, will not be held liable for any consequences arising from the use of this guide. For more information about the BEC Higher exam please visit the Cambridge ESOL website at www.cambridgeesol.org