Why a preparation course?
How many of the examinees take a preparation course?
This is different from test to test. The FCE courses are sometimes held with only 3 participants, as many have already prepared for the course at the school. The courses for the CAE or CPE are usually full, with the maximum 8 students attending the course.
Why even take a preparation course?
The Cambridge exams are not easy, and if you are not well prepared there can be unpleasant surprises. And there are parts of the exam which can work out badly if you don't know what to expect:
In the speaking exam it is often not enough to be able to speak fluently - you will be tested in a dialogue situation with a second person. Communication behaviour is also evaluated, as is the ability to engage in dialogue with an interlocutor.
What if you already speak English very well?
Sure you can pass the exams without course, but a preparation course is usefl even if you have already spent or been spending extended time in the United States or England.
After all, it's like a driving test: you may drive well, but if you do not know the rules or format of a regular driving test, you may not succeed.
A friend of mine, for example, needed the CAE certificate for a master's degree at the Free University. She had been an exchange student for a year in the US and therefore did not want to take any preparatory course. She dealt with the appropriate textbooks and managed to get through the exam, albeit with a disappointingly low C score for the university.
What does that mean?
C is a pass, but just barely. There are with FCE, CAE and CPE these 3 grades: A, B, C. The note B is good, C satisfactory, and A very good. If you get an A, you are certified for the next level above you. So if you get an A on the CAE exam, you are awarded the next higher level CPE certificate.
Which level should you have for a preparatory course?
The preparation courses get your ready for your desired examination. In the courses you can expect to increase your abilities in English but you should have the language level required for each test even when the course starts because the courses are specifically tailored to the examination format
There are 2 types of preparation courses: afternoon and evening - what's the difference?
Quality-wise there is no difference, but the afternoon class has 20 lessons, the evening course 30. Since the evening course is booked primarily by professionals, the average age is between 30 and 35 years. The afternoon classes are usually attended by graduates and students.
What if you do not want to take a preparation course?
Then you should still prepare well, through self-study. Practice tests and preparation materials such as books, DVDs and CD-ROMs are in every major bookstore, partly even with GLS in a bookstore in the foyer of the school, on the Internet or with the publishers directly available at http://www.cambridge.org/de/elt/?site_locale=de_DE
Manuals with examination descriptions and sample materials can be downloaded here.
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