How is the FCE exam different from the CAE? Which English exam is better to
pass? Is their level completely different? Can you take CAE without passing FCE
first? Such questions arise from students looking for the best exam for themselves
very often. Not all of them can be clearly answered.
Both exams are organized by Cambridge ESOL, an organization from the UK known
worldwide for certifying English language skills. Both examinations have a similar
structure consisting of five components – listening, reading, writing, speaking and
structure (Use of English). So many similarities – and now what are the differences
between FCE and CAE?
FCE and CAE in the European Language Framework
Everyone who learns languages has encountered mysterious markings of courses
type B1, C2, etc. These are the symbols of the European Language Framework – a
document that defines what is required to be able to do at certain levels of foreign
language proficiency. A1 is a complete beginner, C2 is a language proficiency.
Where are the FCE and CAE exams?
FCE is level B2 – this means that the student should be independent in the use of the
language. They should understand texts, even more complex ones, control
structures and communicate in many life situations.
CAE is a C1 level exam – this means that the student should be proficient. Not only
independent, but fluent in a foreign language. What does it mean in practice?
Certainly longer texts with more difficult topics, surely the need to cope with less
predictable situations and even better control structures.
Interestingly, and you can see this in Cambridge ESOL documents, the two exams
overlap slightly. Well, the candidates who have passed FCE for the highest grade (A)
have language skills at C1 level.
How do exams differ?
CAE is longer than FCE. Reading, writing and testing structures takes longer. The
reason is simple – candidates must face more text. It is not just a question of quantity
– their content is much more demanding, both in terms of language skills and subject
matter. It will also require more effort to answer questions – they may be more tricky,
requiring logical or critical thinking rather than just finding information in the text (like
skill FCE CAE
reading 60 minutes 75 minutes
writing 80 minutes 90 minutes
structures (Use of English) 45 minutes 60 minutes
listening About 40 minutes About 40 minutes
speaking About 15 minutes About 15 minutes
Listening is more natural in terms of speaking speed or accents. This, combined with
more difficult questions and broader content, means that less proficient people may
find it difficult to follow their meaning.
The range of structures tested in the Use of English section is larger. This may not
be something completely unknown to an FCE candidate, but there are many things a
candidate may not practice for the test, and then it is more difficult to solve such
tasks. The same is true of the task for vocabulary creation – more demanding, not
In addition, writing and speaking, where precision and control over the language are
scored. The control must be so large that they can cope with different situations,
including less predictable ones, by adapting the language to them. During CAE we
have to be much more flexible and creative in our use of language than with FCE.
Can I pass CAE if I don't have FCE?
No problem. That's my story – after about three years of learning English I prepared
myself for CAE and passed it for a B grade. I consciously jumped over FCE. Anyone
can do the same, but it is worth measuring the strength for intentions. You have to
prepare yourself for each of these exams very thoroughly – it is a serious, demanding
test based on clear rules and standards. Getting used to these standards is the first
step to success.
Pass FCE or CAE?
This is a crucial question for many students. No one wants a lower certificate if a
higher one is at hand. It is best to read the guides to both exams and to go through
the sample exams. Just a little bit superficially. Choose the one you feel more
comfortable with. In the sense that you will realistically be able to pass it in six or