Learn >> ICFE Speaking Test

If you're studying for the International Certificate in Financial English exam, welcome to our guide to the ICFE Speaking test. This page offers an overview of the oral paper (Paper 4) and advice to help you approach the exam with confidence. The tips supplied will be of particular interest to students at advanced level. (Council of Europe Common European Framework of Reference Level C1)

ICFE Speaking Test by Peter Travis

Duration: 16 minutes (23 minutes for groups of three at centres where there are odd numbers of candidates).
Participants: Candidates interviewed in pairs. Two examiners: one examiner asks the questions, the other acts as assessor and does not speak during the interview.
Format: The test consists of four parts.

Part 1 (Interview)

Tests ability to: respond to questions and develop responses.

Part 1 of the ICFE Speaking exam lasts about 2 minutes and gives the examiner the chance to find out a little about you and your partner. You're likely to be asked questions about your work or studies in the field of finance and accountancy.

Example Questions

Q: How long have you been studying English?
Q: Are you currently working or studying?
Q: Why did you choose to work/study in this area?
Q: What career opportunities are there?


In order to give a positive impression of your speaking skills it's important that you offer full, relevant answers to these questions.

1) Offer more than the bare minimum in your answers.
Q: How long have you been studying English?
A: For about 2 years. (Don't stop there!) Actually, we learnt English at school but it's only in the past few years that I've taken it up seriously in order to get some English qualifications.

2) Avoid short, 'yes', 'no' or one word answers.
Q: Are you currently working or studying?
A: Studying. I'm coming to the end of an MBA in my country and hope to find work in the area of sustainability.

3) Don't be afraid to be yourself - give the examiner an insight into your interests and what motivates you.
Q: Why did you choose to study in this area?
A: Well, there are always stories in the news about the impact that business has on the wider environment. Sustainability is very important and something I'm really interested in. Fortunately, there are lots of opportunities in this area for graduates like myself.
Q: What career opportunities are there?
A: Environmental issues have become more and more important these days and there are great opportunities for career development. I think eventually I'd like to become a policy advisor for a campaigning group or even for regional or national government.

Part 2 (Long Turn)

Tests ability to: speak at length coherently, use language to describe, compare and contrast, hypothesise and comment upon a topic.

Part 2 of the ICFE Speaking test lasts about 7 minutes including a 1-minute 'long turn' from each candidate. Candidate A is given a choice of two finance-related topics and has to speak about one of the topics without interruption. When Candidate A has finished Candidate B asks Candidate A a brief question about the talk. The roles are then reversed: Candidate B is given a choice of two topics and speaks for 1 minute on one of them followed by Candidate A who asks a brief question.

Example Task

At this stage of the interview the examiner will say something on the lines of:

Q: In this part of the exam I'm going to give each of you the choice of two different topics. I'd like you to choose one of the topics and talk about it on your own for about a minute.

Q: (Candidate A) it's your turn first. Here are your topics and some ideas to help you.

Q: You have a minute to choose your topic and prepare your talk. After you have finished your talk your partner will ask you a brief question about it.

Q: (After 1 minute preparation time) All right? Now (Candidate A) which topic have you chosen?

Q: (Candidate B), please listen carefully to (Candidate A's ) talk, and then ask him/her a brief question about it. (Candidate A), would you like to start?

(Source: ICFE Handbook. www.financialenglishtest.org)

Here is an example of the kind of topics you may be asked to speak about:

The role of insurance in protecting businesses
Types of insurance cover
Risk assessment and costs

Mergers and Acquisitions
in order to increase capacity
to achieve economies of scale
to access distribution networks



1. Use your 1 minute preparation time constructively. You'll be able to structure it loosely around an introduction, main body and conclusion. You aren't required to deal with all the issues listed and you shouldn't try to cover too much information in the 1 minute available. Concentrate on dealing with one or two subjects but making sure you give clear examples or explanations of the choice you've made.

2. If appropriate, make your talk memorable by introducing it with a (short) topical news story or with brief reference to an experience you've had at work. For example:
Subject A
'In the company I work for risk assessment and insurance cover are taken really seriously. For example ...'
Subject B
'It's interesting to look at some of the acquisitions that have been reported in the press lately and the reasons why they've taken place. I recently read about ...'

3. Help the examiner and your partner follow the structure of your talk through the use of clearly signposted examples and topic shifts. For instance:
'An example of how inadequate insurance cover can impact upon a company is ...'.
'Then there are/Turning to the economies of scale that can be achieved through a merger ...'
Signpost the fact that you're moving from one subject to the next with expressions such as: 'Then there's the issue of ...', or 'Turning now to ...'.

4. Make sure you listen carefully to your partner's talk as you'll have to ask him/her a question when they've finished. Refer to a point they made with expressions such as:
You mentioned ...
The point you made about ... was interesting. Could you ...
I was interested in what you had to say about ...

4. It's natural to worry that you won't have enough time to prepare your long turn or have ideas to talk about. The best way to deal with this is to practise making short 1-minute talks on various finance-related topics on your own.

Part 3: (Collaborative Task)

Tests ability to: use language to discuss and interpret, to agree, disagree or agree to disagree, negotiate and collaborate, to rank or classify, express and justify opinions, speculate etc.

In Part 3 of the ICFE Speaking test, which lasts about 4 minutes, the examiner will give you and your partner a task in the form of some written and verbal instructions. You'll be assessed on how well you can negotiate and collaborate with your partner in order to try to come to a decision. You won't be penalised if you don't reach agreement but you must at least show that you've tried to agree.

Example Task

The examiner will say something on the lines of:

Q: Now, in this part of the test I’d like you to talk to each other. I’m going to describe a situation to you. (Pause) In order to buy bigger premises a company is looking for sources of external funding. You have been asked to discuss potential sources and come up with the most appropriate solution. (Pause) There are some discussion points to help you. (Pause) You have about three minutes to discuss this. (Pause) Please start your discussion now.

Sources of Finance
In order to buy bigger premises a company is looking for sources of external funding. You have been asked to suggest the most appropriate solution.

Discussion points:
The kinds of external sources of funding available
The costs involved in these various sources
How some sources may compromise control of the business



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. Use expressions to allow yourself time to think. For example: 'That's a good question.', 'Well, let me think ...'

4. If you find that your partner says something that you don't understand, deal positively with the situation by showing your ability to ask for clarification:

A) If you didn't quite understand a word or phrase just say something on the lines of:
"Sorry but could you explain what you mean by ........" or
"I've never come across that word/expression before. What does ........ mean?"

B) If you didn't hear or didn't understand something your partner has said, ask them to repeat it:
"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Could you say that again?"
"Excuse me. Could you repeat that?"

C) Alternatively, you might want to confirm what you think your partner said so you could say something like:
"When you say ........, are you asking/do you mean ........?"
"Do you mean ........"

Part 4: (Three-Way Discussion)

Tests ability to: use language to develop topics, share information, express and justify opinions, agree or disagree etc.

In Part 4 of the ICFE Speaking test, which lasts about 3 minutes, the examiner will join the discussion and ask you and your partner questions related to the topic covered in Part 3.

Example Questions

Q: What are some of the reasons why a business may need to raise funds?
Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of using internal sources of finance?
Q: What kinds of short, medium and long term sources of finance are there?


1. Again, avoid short, 'yes', 'no' answers to the examiner's questions.

2. Use techniques to make your contributions powerful, for example by using short, personal anecdotes to help make a point.

3. When your opinion is asked for, you can (sparingly) use expressions to allow yourself time to think. For example:
''Well, let me think ...
'That's a good question.'
'It's difficult to say ...''
'Well, to cut a long story short ...'
'Well, to be honest ...'
It's funny you should ask ...'

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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 ICFE 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 ICFE exam please visit the ICFE website at www.financialenglishtest.org