An article by Adrian Doff about the Cambridge English B2 Business Vantage exam (formerly BEC Vantage Business English), speaking part 2 (the 'long turn' task or mini-presentation), with tips for preparing candidates and a sample task and explanation.
The task type
Candidates undertake this part of the speaking test in pairs. It is in the form of a ‘mini-presentation’ on a business theme. Each candidate speaks without interruption for one minute. Candidates have a choice of three topics (A, B or C), and they have one minute to prepare what to say, making notes if they wish. At the end of each mini-presentation, the other candidate has to ask a question about what they have heard. This part of the speaking test practises giving information, expressing and justifying opinions and lasts about six minutes in total.
The choice of topics is designed in such a way that candidates should find at least one topic that will be easy for them to speak about. At least one of the topics will be very open in nature, while others may offer the opportunity to those with specialist knowledge to make use of that knowledge. However, no specific or specialist knowledge is required for a successful performance in the test. Furthermore, candidates do not gain an advantage by knowing a lot about a certain topic because it is language level that is assessed, not technical knowledge.
The topic cards that candidates are given usually open with the same question, What is important when…?, and then identify a certain type of situation, for example, ‘planning a business trip’. A couple of points will be given, such as ‘method of transport’ in this example, which the candidate can make use of if he or she so desires.
A candidate's performance in this part of the speaking test is assessed according to four criteria. These are the same criteria that are used throughout the speaking test.
Grammatical resource and lexical resource
This category is about how much grammatical and lexical knowledge candidates demonstrate. Examiners are interested in the range of different structures they hear and the breadth of vocabulary used.
At this intermediate level a number of errors are acceptable, but examiners will expect the talk that the candidate gives for about one minute to be largely accurate. The important thing is that the grammatical and lexical resources used are appropriate.
The tools used should serve the candidate’s communicative purpose. For example, if the candidate is in the process of recommending certain actions, then credit will be given for using a range of ways to recommend. Suitable modal verbs, second conditionals, etc, will all help convey the message. Vocabulary is not just evaluated at the single-word level: rich noun-phrases will be credited too.
This category is about the way in which the candidate goes about organising what they say. It is highly relevant to this part of the test, in which candidates are heard speaking for one minute. Examiners will hope to see signs of an overall structure, rather than a simple series of repetitive utterances. A well-organised talk is easier to understand and follow than a free flow of talk. Cohesive devices (linkers, etc) help each sentence bond to its predecessor and successor. A focused approach to the task and topic will mean everything that the candidate says will be relevant and will contribute positively to the overall communication.
This category is about how clear the candidate’s speaking is. There’s no point in having a very wide vocabulary if the audience cannot understand the words used. Business Vantage is not concerned with candidates sounding like native speakers, but it assesses the extent to which the listener may understand what is said without too much effort. Examiners will be listening to word stress, and checking how intonation is delivered, as well as listening to individual sounds (such as th).
This category is about how the candidate cooperates in developing the discourse. Of course, in Parts 1 and 3 of the test where the turn-taking is more frequent, the direct relevance of this category is easy to see. However, it is also relevant in Part 2. There is a lot of difference between someone who gives a one-minute talk without any attempt to engage the audience, and someone who assists their listeners by referring back to earlier parts of their talk and generally tries to engage their attention and interest.
The crucial thing here is for candidates to take responsibility for what they say. They should use the minute’s preparation time to prepare a shape for their talk. They should not spend long trying to decide which of the three choices to speak about – rather, they should go with the one that seems like the kind of area they could say some things about.
The task card they are given provides a couple of pointers to help them along. Candidates are not obliged to use these. However, they might as well use them if this helps to get them going.
It may be helpful to think of the talk as a kind of sales pitch. The candidate is trying to sell her or his ideas to the audience (the other candidate and the two examiners). They should try to sound persuasive.
The examiners are in no way assessing business knowledge. They are assessing the way the candidate uses the English language to deliver a message. In other words, there isn’t any credit for detailed information about accountancy techniques (as knowledge), but there is credit for clear explanations about why delegating specialist business activities could be sensible (as clearly phrased recommendations).
Personal experience can be incorporated into the talk where it is relevant and effective. For example, if the topic is about business travel and the candidate regularly travels on business, then he or she can make use of this experience to inform the talk. However, an account of a recent holiday would not be relevant or effective.
The key issue here is, perhaps, confidence. Students need lots of practice so that speaking for one minute does not seem to be a daunting prospect. They also need to be accustomed to the length of one minute, so that they have a somewhat instinctive feel for how they can structure the talk.
There are two crucial aspects in forming an effective talk: fluency and structure. Students need to develop both of these skills.
Preparation work will probably benefit from mixing the very focused and business-like with the lighter and more general.
- Do activities with students where they have to speak initially for 20 seconds (then 30/40/60 seconds, and so on) on really random topics (socks, fish, traffic lights, chocolate, etc) as well as on exam-type topics (conferences/training/selling/products, etc). Play games: if one student hesitates, then another takes over the topic.
- It can also be useful to play sentence chaining – each student says the next word, so that a sentence is formed round the class – as a way of strengthening accurate continuous speaking.
- Get individual and paired students to produce mind maps on large numbers of likely topics.
- Build a fluent and accurate vocabulary resource by calling out topic words and then having students quickly write down, say, ten associated words and phrases. They should work in pairs to check and add to these lists.
- Get individual or paired students to write scripts of high-quality talks on topics. Have them perform these to the rest of the class. The other students can use the four assessment criteria above to rate their performances.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT WHEN …?
Deciding whether to apply for a promotion
Comments on the sample material
The two bullet points are designed to assist candidates. They could take ‘training’ to be a way to talk about whether they had done enough training to get the new post, or whether they would get training if they got the new job (or even that having the new job would mean that they would have to give training to others). ‘Responsibilities’ could be a positive challenge or a negative pressure.
With one minute to prepare, candidates should perhaps try to think of a couple more points to talk about, as hinted by the two blank bullet points. This would mean they needed to talk for about fifteen seconds maximum on each of the four points – much less daunting than a full sixty seconds, viewed as a block.
They should also probably use the preparation time to think about how to start off and how to ‘punctuate’ their talk. Useful language might include:
- There are several factors to take into account when considering applying for a promotion.
- One of the most important things to bear in mind is …
- Related to that is the question of …
- Of course, every job and every company is different, so …
- Much may depend on ...
And so on.
Cambridge English qualifications for business (BEC)
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B2 Business Vantage: Speaking: Part 2