PAPER 3: SPEAKING
CAMBRIDGE ENGLISH: PRELIMINARY HANDBOOK FOR TEACHERS
• In the Cambridge English: Preliminary Speaking test, candidates
are examined in pairs by two examiners. One of the examiners
acts as an interlocutor and the other as an assessor. The
interlocutor directs the test, while the assessor takes no part
in the interaction. Examiners change roles during the course of
an examining session, but not during the examining of one pair.
There are a number of diﬀerent ‘packs’ of material that examiners
• The test takes between 10 and 12 minutes and consists of four
parts which are designed to elicit a wide range of speaking
skills from the candidates. Where there is an uneven number of
candidates at a centre, the ﬁnal Speaking test will be a group of
three rather than a pair. The group-of-three test is not an option
for all candidates, but is only used for the last test in a session,
• The test begins with a general conversation led by the
interlocutor, who asks the candidates questions about their
personal details, daily routines, likes and dislikes, etc. Candidates
are addressed in turn and are not expected to talk to each other
at this stage. At the beginning of the test, candidates are asked to
spell all or part of their name.
• The purpose of this conversation is to test the language of simple
social interaction, and to enable each candidate to make an initial
contribution to the test, using simple everyday language. As
they are talking about themselves using familiar language, this
conversation should help to settle the candidates, enabling them
to overcome any initial nervousness.
• Although the interlocutor’s questions are designed to elicit
short rather than extended responses, candidates should be
discouraged from giving one-word answers in this part. Especially
when asked about their daily routines or their likes and dislikes,
candidates should be encouraged to extend their answers with
reasons and examples.
• This part of the test assesses the candidates’ ability to take
part in spontaneous communication in an everyday setting.
Candidates who ﬁnd opportunities to socialise with others in an
English-speaking environment will be well prepared for this part
of the test. Where this is not possible, however, such situations
need to be recreated in the classroom through structured
speaking tasks that practise appropriate language in a similar
context. Candidates should be discouraged, however, from
preparing rehearsed speeches as these will sound unnatural and
will probably fail to answer the speciﬁc questions asked.
• This part of the test takes the form of a simulated situation where
the candidates are asked, for example, to make and respond
to suggestions, discuss alternatives, make recommendations
and negotiate agreement with their partner. It is not a role-play
activity, however, as candidates will always be giving their own
views and opinions about an imaginary situation, rather than
assuming an unfamiliar role.
• In this part of the test, the candidates speak to each other.
The interlocutor sets up the task, repeating the instructions
whilst candidates look at the prompt material. The interlocutor
then takes no further part in the interaction. In the event of a
complete breakdown in the interaction, the interlocutor may
subtly intervene to redirect the students, but will not take part in
the task itself. Candidates are expected to engage with the task
independently, negotiating turns and eliciting opinions from each
• A sheet of visual prompts is given to the candidates which
is designed to generate ideas and provide the basis for the
discussion. Candidates may, however, introduce their own ideas
if they wish. Candidates are assessed on their ability to take
part in the task, rather than on the outcome of their discussions,
and so it is not necessary for them to complete the task in the
time given. Candidates are assessed on their use of appropriate
language and interactive strategies, not on their ideas.
• All classroom discussions in pairs and groups will provide
preparation for this part of the test. Candidates should be
encouraged to make positive contributions that move the
discussion forward by picking up on each other’s ideas.
Candidates should learn to discuss the situation fully with
their partners, using the range of visual prompts to extend the
discussion, before coming to a conclusion. It is useful to point out
to candidates that if they rush to reach a conclusion too soon,
opportunities to demonstrate their language skills may be lost
– and it is these skills rather than the outcome of the discussion
which are being assessed.
• In this part of the test, each candidate is given one colour
photograph to describe. The photographs will depict everyday
situations and candidates are asked to give a simple description
of what they can see in their photograph.
• This part of the test allows candidates to demonstrate both their
range of vocabulary and their ability to organise language in a
long turn. Their descriptions are expected to be simple, however,
and candidates at this level are not expected to speculate about
the context or talk about any wider issues raised by the scenes
• Candidates should be encouraged to describe the people and
activities in the photographs as fully as possible. They should
imagine that they are describing the photograph to someone who
can’t see it, naming all the objects and including illustrative detail
such as colours, people’s clothes, time of day, weather, etc.
• Whilst the photographs will not call for diﬃcult or specialised
vocabulary, candidates will be given credit for the ability to use
paraphrase or other appropriate strategies to deal with items
of vocabulary which they do not know or cannot call to mind.
Candidates should therefore be given plenty of classroom
practice in both the language of description and strategies for
dealing with unknown vocabulary.
• The photographs will have a common theme, which candidates
will be told, but will diﬀer in terms of their detailed content.
Although this theme establishes a common starting point for