In our last blog post we looked at the first part of the C1 speaking exams (the monologue). This week we’re looking at the second part, the discussion, in which you’ll respond to questions in conversation with a partner (someone also taking the exam). 

Here’s what happens in this portion of the exam:

Part 1: Collaborative task

The examiner describes a situation to you and gives you a task related to it, as well as a set of cues and ideas to help you. You and your partner will discuss these ideas and, if possible, come to an agreement on the issue. This part of this exam is assessing your ability to exchange ideas, express and justify opinions, suggest, speculate, evaluate, and work towards reaching a decision through negotiation. 

You and your partner will have two minutes to discuss the cues, then the examiner will interrupt you and ask you to reach an agreement, at which point you’ll have one minute to draw your conversation to a close and make your final points. 

Some example discussion topics might be….

  • Which industries have been most affected by new developments in technology (e.g. food, sports, media, music)?
  • What are some of the big decisions that people have to make in life (e.g. moving country, starting a family, embarking on a new career)?

Generally the conclusion you’ll come to at the end with your partner will be centred around deciding which of the factors you have discussed is the most significant. You don’t have to start a full-blown argument, but it can be productive to make points that differ slightly from the point of view your partner has offered – a more nuanced argument will also necessitate more complex language.

Part 2: Discussion

This final section builds on the topics you covered in the collaborative task. The examiner will ask you and your partner questions, and you are expected to give extended, engaged and complex answers. This section can turn into a much more abstract discussion, and allows you to get more creative with your answers. This conversation will last for five minutes.

Our advice

A lot of the most important advice for this part of the exam is relatively common-sense advice that would apply to any discussion or debate – speaking clearly, not interrupting, exploring a range of viewpoints, etc. However, the structure and marking criteria of the exercise do follow a specific format, so here are some of our top tips for achieving a high grade:

  • Make sure to really treat your partner as a partner in the conversation. You have the chance elsewhere in the exam to deliver your thoughts and opinions in an uninterrupted stream; this part is specifically focused on having a productive dialogue with your partner. 
  • Focus on incorporating complex vocabulary and grammatical structures, even if they wouldn’t necessarily be the most natural things to say while chatting with a friend. This section of the exam lets you show that you can use these language features spontaneously, to help get your point across. 
  • You won’t be rewarded for attempting to talk for longer than your partner, or for cutting them off to get to your point – this should be entirely avoided. 
  • Your answers should be of a reasonable length – you will be expressing relatively complex ideas, so your answers should be well-developed. Steer clear of simple, definitive statements and try to draw out the complexities of the issue.
  • Bounce off of your partner’s ideas; the examiners are looking for a fluid, engaged conversation, so you should make sure you are responding directly to what your partner is saying. 
  • Remember that you’re not being tested on your extensive knowledge of the topic at hand – the subject matter is only meant to challenge you to use complex, higher-level language. 
  • Keep the conversation moving at a good pace – don’t get bogged down in the fine details of the subject, as the focus should be on using a range of grammatical and linguistic structures to get your points across. 
  • During the collaborative task, don’t worry if you don’t address all the suggested examples – they are only there as a guide, and if you end up having a lot to say about a few of them it’s not a problem. 
  • Be amicable and engaging: you want to maintain the examiner’s attention and keep them engaged, as this will help them to pick up on the nuances of the language you’re using.

Above all, it’s important to try to relax and project confidence – a little bit of self-assurance will go a long way in helping you to communicate clearly and effectively. 

We hope these tips will help you feel confident and prepared for the exam – best of luck!