Most Common mistakes at First Certificate Cambridge Exam

International Exams

Most Common Mistakes at First Certificate Cambridge Exam

Posted 26 February

If you're thinking about taking a B2 First exam preparation course in Ireland then this blog is for you. One of the things I hear most from students taking Cambridge exams is “How can I improve …”.

The teachers on our First Certificate exam preparation courses in Galway can share lots of hints and tips but another aspect to success is making sure you avoid some very common mistakes.

Taking one of our Cambridge English exam preparation courses will give you the best tools for exam success at every level. Galway Cultural Institute is an authorised Cambridge test centre, one of the largest  in Ireland, and you can take just the exam itself or one of the following exam preparation courses:

B1 Preliminary

B2 First

C1 Advanced

Watch out for the most common mistakes in Cambridge First (B2) in

Reading & Use of English 

1. Spending too long on one question

This paper has 7 parts to complete in 75 minutes. It’s very important that you practice the timing to ensure you can complete all the questions. By enrolling on an FCE exam preparation course in Galway you will get expert guidance on the best strategies to use.

It’s a good idea to start by identifying which part takes you the longest to finish and work on improving that time.

2. Not reading the full text before starting questions

 It is vital to get as much information as possible from the whole text before attempting the questions. This applies to both Reading and Use of English texts. You need to understand the overall message before you can work out the answer needed. Practice exercises during your Cambridge B2 exam preparation programme will show you the benefit of this strategy.

3. Not leaving enough time to fill in the answer sheet

So many students forget that you must complete the answer sheet within the 75 minutes allotted to this paper. They panic and make mistakes filling it in with seconds to spare.

Cambridge B2 First exam students in GCI have the fantastic opportunity of taking a ‘mock’ (practice) exam a few weeks before the ‘real’ exam. This experience ensures you remember all these important steps.

Which exam preparation course do I choose?


1. Mixing formal and informal language

Different tasks use a different style of writing for example, while Part 1 essay should be neutral or formal, a Part 2 review is more informal.

First certificate exam preparation courses will help you learn many different “chunks” of language or phrases to use in your Writing tasks.

Separate them into lists of which are for formal tasks and which are for informal tasks. Choosing the wrong style on exam day means you won’t be able to get the maximum marks for Communicative Achievement. 

Here are some examples:



I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Hope to hear from you soon.

I am writing to complain about the product I received.

I’m emailing because I’m not happy with the phone I got.

2. Sticking to simple but correct grammar structures

It's important to remember that examiners are looking for a range of grammar and vocabulary. Taking an FCE exam preparation course in Galway will show you how using the same simple phrases and grammar over and over in your writing tasks can actually be a mistake. You are not demonstrating your true range of language.

For example:

Simple: My best friend lives next door to me. We went to primary school together. (present simple and past simple tense)

Complex: My best friend, who l went to primary school with, lives next door to me. (relative clause)

Remember - you will get marks for attempting complex grammar even if it isn’t 100% correct.

Jill, Cambridge Exam Preparation Teacher & Flavia, Swiss Student

Jill, Cambridge Exam Preparation Teacher & Flavia, Swiss Student

3. Not reading the question fully

Before the exam you will probably have practiced many examples of the different writing tasks in your Cambridge First exam preparation course so you might be very eager to just start writing as soon as you open the exam paper.

Stop! Don’t write anything yet. Read the whole question and not just the first sentence or you will miss some vital information. Remember what you learned in your Cambridge B2 exam preparation course, in Part 1 you must add one idea of your own to the 2 given in the question so you need to understand exactly what the task is.

Part 1 Example (from Cambridge Assessment English B2 First Handbook for Teachers 2019):

Every country in the world has problems with pollution and damage to the environment. Do you think these problems can be solved?


Write about:

1. transport

2. rivers and seas

3. ………………………(your own idea)

For more tips on improving your writing in general why not read our blog


1. Writing too much for gap-fill questions

Part 2 of the Listening paper requires you to complete sentences using word/phrases you hear in the recording.

Use the time on your First Certificate exam preparation course to practice identifying what might be missing from the sentence e.g. an adjective + noun/an adverb + verb etc.

Remember that these answers will only be 2 or 3 words, if you write more you probably have the wrong answer.

2. Not practicing listening outside the classroom

Your Cambridge FCE preparation course will give you plenty of opportunities to do sample listening tasks with your teacher. But to really improve your listening skills you should listen to Podcasts, watch TV or movies in English or even listen to the radio in your free time.

3. Not using exam time well

Before each part in the Listening paper you are given time to read the questions. Use this time well and focus on reading through all the main headings/sentence parts/ multiple choice options etc.

FCE exam preparation classes in Galway Cultural Institute offer you lots of different sample tests so you will be able to make the most of the preparation time given in the exam. 

You might be interested in our guide to Cambridge English Examinations


1. Using a prepared answer in Part 1

Understandably the speaking exam can make you very nervous, no matter how many times you have practiced with your teacher in your B2 exam preparation lessons.  

Remember it is important to communicate as naturally as possible. For example, when you are asked the question “Where are you from?” don’t try to give a long prepared answer as it will seem rehearsed and not natural.

Don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunities as the exam progresses to show off all those great phrases you have studied during your Cambridge FCE preparation course.

2. Just describing the photo in Part 2

Taking an FCE exam preparation programme in Galway will give you lots of chances to practice what to do with the photos you are given in Part 2 tasks.

It is so important that you don’t just “say what you see”, you have to compare the photos giving your opinion about the related question.

3. Not listening to your partner

During your First Certificate exam preparation course you will be able to practice Parts 3 & 4 with a partner to experience what the ‘real’ exam will be like.

Remember that you must work together to complete the task in Part 3 so it’s important to listen to what your partner says and respond with your own ideas in a polite way.

In Part 4 you will be asked if you agree with what your partner says – listen carefully so you will be prepared.

Some useful expressions include:



That’s right.

I disagree because…

I couldn’t agree more.

I’m not sure about that.

You’re right. That’s a good point.

I see your point but…..

B2 First speaking test