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FAQs for IGCSE English - First Language (0500 & 0990)


Can students take dictionaries into the Cambridge IGCSE English – First Language examinations?

No, dictionaries are not allowed for any paper. 

Does Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (0500) count towards UK league tables?

Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (0500) is not an Ofqual accredited syllabus. 

Please note that the Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (9-1) (0990) specification is the same as the Cambridge IGCSE English - First Language (0500) specification. The only difference is that it is graded as a (9-1) syllabus.

How strict is the word count?

In component 3, we do not apply a mark penalty for writing that is above the word count. However, it may be self-penalising for the candidate to write much more than is suggested. The candidate should aim for a clear structure and concision in their expression. If they exceed the word count significantly, this may be an indication that they have not structured their writing effectively or expressed themselves as clearly as they might.

In components 1 and 2, questions 1 and 2 and in component 3, a response length is provided for guidance. Candidates will not be penalised for writing more or less than this for these questions, although it may be self-penalising if the response does not have sufficient coverage for example.

For components 1 and 2 question 3(b) a response length is described in the question and candidates should adhere to this as concision is one of the skills being assessed. Reference to the length of candidates’ responses is included in the marking criteria for 3(b).

Is there an issue in candidates using American/Australian spelling versus British English spelling?

Examiners are used to receiving answers in both British English and American/Australian English. What is important is that candidates aim at consistency. In extended writing, for example, candidates should not be using different spellings for the same word (e.g. using ‘flavor’ and ‘flavour’ in the same piece).

How does Cambridge mark component 01 (Reading) question 2d?

Examiners will be using the banded mark grid on page 7, together with the list of appropriate selections. Candidates are asked to select three examples of words or phrases (from each paragraph) that convey meaning and create effect. At each level of the Mark Scheme, reference is made to the nature of the candidate’s selection and how they respond to these words and phrases.

How should candidates write their responses to component 01 (Reading) question 2d?

Candidates should respond in continuous prose, as this encourages them to explore the language choices they have selected in greater detail. Responses in a grid or table format are often less able to explore language choices effectively.

Can candidates use a scribe for component 01 (Reading) and/or component 02 (Directed Writing and Composition)?

Centres can only apply to use a scribe if the candidate is able to dictate all complex vocabulary and homophones letter by letter and all the punctuation. We allow 100 per cent extra time for this as well as the use of a dictaphone so that the candidate may answer the questions fluently and spell the words at the end using the extra time. You may wish to allow the use of a word processor with the spell check and thesaurus turned off instead. Or, if the problem is illegible handwriting Centres may wish to allow a transcript, which must be attached to the candidate's original script when it is sent after the exam. 

What should students cover in component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

Assignment 1 : Schools should choose a piece with strong views (topical news/newspaper article etc.) for students to be able to review/discuss/argue with. Students need to comment upon, and evaluate, the ideas and opinions presented to them. They should offer their personal view, but this must not become a rant and distract from the focus on the ideas within the article.

Assignment 2 : The focus for this Assignment is writing to describe. Many centres allow a choice of topics for this assignment to reflect the interests of their learners. Questions from past examination papers should not be used for coursework.

Assignment 3 : The focus for this assignment is narrative writing. Writing may arise from an in-class activity (such as studying mystery stories). Questions from past examination papers should not be used for coursework.

Please refer to the Coursework Handbook for more information on component 3. This will support you fully in your setting and marking of the tasks.

Can candidates use a literary text for component 03 (Coursework Portfolio) assignment 1?

It is acceptable for candidates to use a literary text, but we do not normally recommend it. Candidates must be reminded that they should only refer to ideas and opinions. They will not be credited for understanding of literary or linguistic techniques.

Can we carry forward marks for internally assessed components from a previous series?

It is not possible to carry forward marks from a previous series for the following components:

Component 03, Coursework Portfolio (previously called Component 04, Coursework Portfolio)

This component has changed in terms of tasks, number of marks and mark scheme. Candidates cannot carry forward marks or resubmit work from a previous exam series. Any submitted work must be new and cannot be a reworked version of work submitted in a previous exam series.

Component 04, Speaking and Listening Test (previously called Component 05, Speaking and Listening Test)

This component has changed in terms of tasks, number of marks and mark scheme. Candidates cannot carry forward marks or resubmit work for a centre assessed speaking and listening test from a previous series.

The above also applies to syllabus 0524; we recommend reviewing the Cambridge Guide to Making Entries for further information.

Should teachers note the errors when marking component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

Only marking the positives, for example noting only the good things that candidates had done through their work, is not appropriate as it does not form a balanced and critical view of the work. Marking should note both success and error, so that a final balanced judgement can be made.

There should not be any marking of drafts, as improvement is the responsibility of the candidate.  A teacher may offer general summative advice (eg. You need to check your spelling accuracy), but they must not indicate or correct an error on the draft.  Neither should these errors be verbally communicated to the candidate.

How does Cambridge mark component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

The marking for Component 3 (Coursework Portfolio) has changed from 2019. Teachers will no longer give one holistic mark considering the three assignments as a whole; instead they will mark each assignment and add the marks together to produce the overall total mark. The overall total mark for the three assignments is 80.

How should teachers mark an incomplete coursework folder for component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

Each missing assignment is self-penalising and should be given a mark of 0. This is detailed on page 6 of the Coursework Handbook.

What do I need to submit to Cambridge for moderation for component 03 (Coursework Portfolio) and component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

The Speaking and Listening Test (component 04):

Component 4 is split into two parts. The test, which must be recorded for all candidates, will take place during a period before the main examination series.

  • For Part 1 candidates must prepare an individual task in advance of the test (for example, a presentation, a talk, a speech, a monologue) on a topic of their own choice. This will last 3-4 minutes and is worth 20 marks for Speaking.
  • In Part 2 candidates participate in a wider conversation with the teacher/examiner about the candidate's chosen topic or theme. This will last 7-8 minutes and is worth 20 marks: 10 marks for Speaking and 10 marks for Listening.

Dictionaries may be used to prepare, but not during the test. In a separate despatch, you need to send us a copy of the final or internally moderated marks.

Submission of samples to Cambridge:

You need to send us each candidate's final mark, or the internally moderated mark, where more than one teacher/examiner is used, by the dates published on the Cambridge Samples Database

You also need to submit:

  • a copy of the final or internally moderated marks
  • the completed Individual Candidate Record Card for all candidate (form available in the syllabus)
  • the Coursework Assessment Summary Form for every candidate entered (form available in the syllabus)
  • the recordings for all candidates, preferably recorded digitally and submitted as separate audio files on a CD. 

What will happen if a candidate does not attend/attempt component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test) and/or component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

If a candidate does not attend the component 04 recording then they will receive an X. However, should the candidate attend, but say nothing, they will be marked accordingly – likely to be 0. 

This situation is also true of component 03. If nothing is submitted, the candidate will receive an X and a syllabus grade of X. If they submit ‘something’ – even if it has very, very little writing – it will be marked and they will receive an appropriate syllabus grade.

Can candidates use the same topic for component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test) as they used for component 03 (Coursework Portfolio)?

Work completed for component 03 should not be used for component 04. The reason for this is that work completed for component 03 will be under the general guidance of the teacher, but in component 04 support in the preparation of materials (by the teacher) is not allowed. Using component 03 work as part of component 04 could be an example of maladministration of the test.

Are students allowed to supply teachers with pre-prepared questions that the teacher can then ask for component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

For the IGCSE First Language English 0500/04 Speaking and Listening Test candidates must not take pre-prepared questions or answers into the test.  This would qualify as collusion and maladministration.

Can candidates bring notes into component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

Candidates may bring one ‘cue card’ (about postcard size) into the examination room, to remind them of the main points they wish to make. The cue card should contain a list of key points, not continuous sentences. Candidates may write their points on one side of the cue card only. Candidates may also use a limited quantity of illustrative material, which may include maps, diagrams, statistics and pictures. Reading from, or reliance on, a script or extended notes is not allowed. Recitation of a memorised script is unlikely to be successful.

Can schools repeat the component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

As Component 4 is a Speaking and Listening test conducted under exam conditions, repeating the assessment is not permitted. One of the reasons for this is that the content of Part 2: Conversation should not be known by the candidate before the test. If it is necessary for a candidate to be assessed for Component 4 for a second time, the candidate must prepare new material for Part 1: Individual Talk and Part 2: Conversation must not repeat material from the candidate’s first attempt at the test.

Teachers may advise the candidate on the suitability of a topic, but must not be involved in the preparation of material for the Part 1: Individual Talk. It is not ethical or permissible that teachers work with a single candidate and practise an individual test. Part 2: Conversation must be a spontaneous discussion and this is best achieved if it is the first time the teacher has heard Part 1 being delivered in full. Once a test has begun, do not interrupt the recording. On no account should you stop and restart the recording during a test.

Can we conduct a mock/trial of component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

As component 04, Speaking and Listening is a terminal examination that is held within a windowed period, it must only be completed once. There should be no mock or trial at this examination.  Candidates may practice with wholly different material, but when they elect their examination topic there must only be one attempt.

Do centres need to record all candidates entered for component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

For component 4 (Speaking and Listening test), it is a requirement to record all candidates and submit recordings for the sample. 

Is component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test) compulsory?

The Speaking and Listening component for syllabus 0500 is optional and is separately endorsed on a scale of 1 (High) to 5 (Low). It is separately certificated from the main grade which is awarded on the standard Cambridge IGCSE grade scale of A* to U.

Will candidates be penalised for speaking over the recommended amount of time for component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

Although there is no penalty applied for a candidate speaking for longer than the timings stated in the syllabus, this may be self-penalising, as the candidate may not be able to sustain their performance if their response exceeds the timings, especially if this is by a significant amount.

What happens if I have not recorded component 04 (Speaking and Listening Test)?

If a Centre has not recorded any of their candidates for component 4 then they are not meeting the requirements of the syllabus and we will be unable to moderate their marks. We can therefore not accept the marks submitted by the Centre.

In some circumstances, assessed grades may be produced for this component, based on the candidates' performance in other parts of the syllabus. If the Centre have made some recordings, they should submit the recordings they have made to Cambridge, with a covering letter explaining the circumstances surrounding this sample.

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