B2 First exam part 3 - the collaborative task
While in part 2 you're not asked to interact with your partner, in part 3 of the B2 First speaking test, you are asked to speak with your partner for two minutes by discussing five related topics which relate to a question. The examiner will then ask a question for you to discuss for one minute and for you both to make a decision.
A typical diagram that you'll be given looks like this:
In summary, the format is:
1. The examiner gives you diagram.
2. You get about 15 seconds to look at it.
3. The examiner then asks you to answer the question with your partner and speak for two minutes (three minutes for groups of three).
4. Finally, the examiner will ask you another question and for you to speak again with your partner for one minute. This last question will usually require you to make a decision about the five topics surrounding the question.
Important things to remember
Part 3 is a collaborative task, so it's really important to remember that you should be having a discussion with your partner. Try to think of it like a game of tennis. You should be polite by saying what you think and then pausing and/or asking your partner if they agree or disagree, which is what you would normally do in an everyday conversation.
It's a good idea to use some of the following phrases:
1. What do you think?
2. Do you agree?
3. What do you think about XYZ?
4. ..And what about XYZ?
Let's see some examples
Using the diagram above as an example, a bad example might be something like this:
Candidate A: I think we all need to get enough sleep
Candidate B: Yeah
Candidate A: Going to the gym can help you keep fit too
Candidate B: Yeah and it's good to get outdoors when you can
Candidate A: Probably don't need to go the doctor all the time though..
Candidate B: Mhm, yes, but I think you should try to eat regularly
Candidate A: Yeah. So that's it?
Candidate B: Yep
Why is this not a good example?
1. There's very little justification for each of the points made
2. None of the candidates ask for the opinion of the other
3. Neither candidate elaborates much on what they said
4. They get through four points in what's probably less than 30 seconds when you have a full two minutes to discuss all of the options
So what does a good example look like?
If you and your partner were given the above question, a good two minute discussion could be something like this:
Candidate A: Well, I think sleeping eight hours every night is very important because if you don't get enough sleep you're going to be tired and not able to study or work properly. And if you don't get enough rest you can get health problems. What do you think?
Candidate B: Yeah, I totally agree. I know that if I haven't slept enough I can't get anything done during the day and my sleep patterns can become irregular. I think it's true as well that if you don't sleep enough it's not good for you. And similarly, eating at regular times is important because I know that if I've skipped lunch or not had a proper dinner I feel hungry and I'm more likely to eat an unhealthy snack or buy fast food. Do you agree?
Candidate A: Definitely, I think it's a well known fact that we need to eat at least 3 meals per day at regular times as if you don't you will probably end up having a snack or something that isn't that healthy. I know that if I haven't eaten a proper dinner I feel hungry not that long after eating and I need something extra, which can sometimes be crisps or chocolate and that's not good. What do you think about going to the gym?
Candidate B: Well, I think it's important to exercise regularly and they say for at least 30 minutes every day. But, I don't think you have to exercise in the gym, I know that I find it quite boring. For example, you could spend time outdoors like going hiking in the mountains or running outside. I think it's quite good for your well-being too, I know that for me if I go walking in the woods or play football with my friends in the park I feel good. I don't think you have to go to the gym to be healthy - there are other ways to keep fit. If you don't exercise regularly you can get health problems like heart disease or diabetes and it can lead to obesity which is obviously very unhealthy..
Candidate A: Yes, I'd just like to say what I think about this. I think going to the gym is a great way to keep fit and healthy as once you've got into the routine of going regularly with a good fitness program it can feel really good. And I agree that using the gym equipment can be boring at times but going to exercise classes like spinning or yoga can be a really good way to keep fit and make friends. Like you said though, I think spending time outdoors is important as well though because I think it's good for you to get out and get some fresh air. Being indoors all the time isn't healthy and I know that if I'm inside all the time and I haven't been out it can feel a bit miserable!
Candidate B: Yes. What do you think about going to the doctor regularly?
Examiner: OK thank you. Now..
Important things to notice about the example above
There are several things to notice here:
1. Each candidate said their point and generally asked for the opinion of their partner. Candidate A makes a point and then candidate B responds, like a game of tennis. They didn't just talk at length on their own without involving their partner.
2. Not all of the points were covered in full / some were mixed together like going to the gym and spending time outdoors and this is OK. It's much better to have an in depth discussion about three or four of the topics rather than trying to cover all of them and not exploring them in enough detail.
3. Each candidate's opinion was listened to by the other and they either paraphrased, acknowledged or expanded on what the other had said. This is what you should do.
4. Candidate A politely interrupted candidate B when they felt they had spoken for too long and this is what you should do if the other candidate is taking all of the speaking time. While the other candidate should ask for your opinion (and they generally did here), you should POLITELY interrupt the other candidate and say what you want to say. Don't do it aggressively or cut the other candidate off too soon, be polite and respectful but likewise don't just sit there waiting for them to invite you into the discussion as they might not and it's up to you to do it politely. The examiners look favourably on candidates who do this.
5. The examiner stopped the task when they'd spoken for two minutes and more often than not this is a good thing. They had explored most of the options and talked at length about them. They didn't get through all five options with 30 seconds left.
Help! My partner is very shy or doesn't let me speak.
If you haven't pre-arranged to do the speaking exam with somebody you know then of course you're not going to be able to know how your partner will be on the day of the test, but this isn't something to worry about.
If your partner is shy then as you have seen in the above example, you should ask your partner for their opinion, or after speaking pause momentarily and wait for them to respond, as if it was a natural conversation. In the unlikely event that you are paired with somebody who says very little just carry on with the task and try your best to involve them.
Likewise, if your partner is trying to dominate the entire the discussion and not letting you get a word in then as we have seen, the best thing to do is politely interrupt and be friendly towards the other candidate. The examiners will be aware if one particular candidate is being difficult and you can score extra points by behaving in the right way.
Five points in two minutes?
As shown in the above example, it's difficult to cover all five points in detail in just two minutes. It's not necessary to cover all five, rather it's better to have an in depth conversation with your partner about three or four of the topics. Naturally, some people have more to say about one particular topic than others so if you do get through all five topics in the space of two minutes then that's fine. Just remember it's not a race to get through all of them.
I don't agree with anything my partner says!
This isn't a problem and you shouldn't worry about it. The examiners are assessing you on your ability to have a discussion and the quality of your spoken English with grammar, pronunciation and use of vocabulary.
In this part of the test there are no right or wrong answers, only opinions. If you disagree with your partner explain why and comment on what they've said with phrases like "that's a good point, I hadn't thought of that.
The second part
In the second part the examiner will ask you and your partner a question for you to answer together again; only this time you must try to make some kind of decision together. This often requires you to choose one option out of the five.
A typical question could be:
You now have one minute to decide which two options you think are the most important
Although it's easier to try and come to an agreement with your partner. It's OK if you don't agree with them. If you disagree explain why and say which option you think is best, again explaining why.
One of the most important things to remember about this part of the test is that you shouldn't begin by saying what you think is the best option and before you decide on your final option, explain why you're not choosing the others.
A bad example would be something like this:
Candidate A: Let's choose spending time outdoors and getting enough sleep because the others are less important
Candidate B: Yep I think the same too
Remember that you have a whole minute to decide! The examiners want to see a bit of discussion.
Let's see a good example:
Examiner: You now have about one minute to decide which two are the most important for keeping fit and healthy in the long term
Candidate B: Okay, well, I don't think going to the doctor regularly is the most important because if you exercise regularly and eat properly you should be fit and healthy.
Candidate A: Yes, I agree - if you live a healthy lifestyle you shouldn't need to go to the doctor often. And I don't think it's essential to go to the gym to be fit.
Candidate B: That's right and while it's probably best to eat at regular times, I think if you're working late for example you could have a healthy snack before dinner.
Candidate B: Yes, I know I do that sometimes. Also, I think getting enough sleep is really important too.
Candidate A: Absolutely, if you're not getting enough sleep and for at least eight hours every night then it's not healthy. Also, spending time outdoors and doing something active is probably the best way for the average person to keep fit and healthy.
Candidate B: Yes, as we said there are other ways of keeping fit like hiking or running and it's not healthy to be indoors all the time.
Candidate A: So shall we agree on sleeping for eight hours every night and spending time outdoors?
Candidiate B: Yep, I'll agree with that!
Starting the discussion
Would you like to start? / Yeah, sure.
Shall I go first? / Yeah, I don't mind.
Is it OK if I start? / Of course, go for it.
Expressing your opinion
I think that...
In my opinion..
I would say that..
In my view..
As far as I'm concerned
Well, from my experience..
The way I see it is that..
I see it that way too.
I totally agree.
I completely agree.
I was just going to say that!
I couldn't agree more.
Yeah, I see what you mean.
I was just thinking that!
Well, in my opinion..
Hm, well the way I see it is that..
I disagree because..
Yeah, but, the thing is..
Well, I'm not quite sure about that because..
Well, I don't agree, because..
I don't think that's quite right because..
Well, I think you're right there but..
Asking for your partner's opinion
What do you think about this?
What do you think
Do you agree?
Don't you agree?
What would you say about this?
Moving to the next option
OK, let's move onto this one (while pointing at another option)
What about this one?
As for + option
What do you think about this idea?
We're running out of time so let's move on.
This topic is quite closely related to this one.
Interrupting your partner
Sorry to interrupt but I'd just like to say..
Yes and I think as well that.. / but I also think..
I'd just like to say what I think.
Phrases for reaching a decision
Okay, I think we both agree that we can eliminate [option] because...
Shall we go with..[option]?
Are we both in favour of [option]?
I don't think it's this one (pointing with your finger) because..
Let's agree to disagree!
I don't think we're going to be able to agree here!
Rob Hamburg is a trained English teacher who has numerous years of experience teaching English to young learners, teenagers and adults in Spain. He completed his bachelor degree in 2010 at The University of Manchester and obtained CELTA certification in 2015. As well as an active teacher on Verbling, Rob has taught English online for Education First (EF) and gives classes via Skype and Google Hangouts.