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CAE Exam Tips

CAE Exam Tips

This page is designed to give you CAE exam tips and tricks to help you pass the Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) exam.

The CAE exam has four sections: Reading and Use of English. Listening. Writing. Speaking. I wrote this page with useful tips and good techniques to help you get higher marks in the CAE exam.

Find out more about our CAE lessons.

CAE Exam Tips

CAE Exam Tips - General Advice

Never leave a question blank, always write an answer. At the end of the exam quickly check to ensure you have answered every question.

Reading and Use of English

The 'Reading and Use of English' section has 8 parts. Parts 1-4 are 'Use of English' and parts 5-8 are 'Reading'.

This section lasts 1 hour and 30 minutes or 90 minutes.

When you practise this section before the exam, decide which parts are easier for you. You will probably complete the easier exam parts in less time. When you practise this section beforehand, time yourself to see how long each part takes. Do this several times and you should get an accurate average time. Then decide which parts of the exam to complete first based on the time it takes and how easy each part is. You may decide to do part 3 first, then part 2, then part 1 etc.

Use of English Advice

Parts 1-4 of the Reading and Use of English section are 'Use of English'.

Use of English tests your knowledge of collocations, expressions, phrases, identifying word types, word formations, sentence formations etc. I will go through each part of the Use of English section and give some tips for each part.

Part 1

In the 'Use of English' section part 1, you have to fill in 8 gaps in a text. You can choose which word fills the gap from four options (A,B,C,D).

Tips And Technique:

First, quickly read the whole text. It is very useful to know what the text is about before answering the questions. This also helps determine the answers.

Your knowledge of collocations is tested throughout many parts of this section. Collocations are a couple of words which are commonly used together. For example: 'interested in'. In English we say “I am interested in....” rather than “I am interested of...”. Find the first gap. Read the whole sentence. Identify the words before and after the gap. Look at options A,B,C and D and think which fits best with the surrounding words.

This section tests how well you understand individual words, their specific meanings and how we use them. Once you have completed points 1 and 2 above, check that the meaning of your word makes sense in the sentence. The four options often have very similar meanings. You have to decide which is best in the context and meaning of the sentence.

Part 2

In the 'Use of English' section part 2, you have to fill in 8 gaps in a text. You do not have any options to choose from, you just have to think of the word which fills the gap.

Tips And Technique:

The first thing to do is quickly read the whole text, just like for part 1.

Locate the first gap and read the whole sentence. Use the meaning of the sentence to guess what word might go in the gap.

Look at the words surrounding the gap. If you understand sentence structures in English, you should have an idea what type of word you need. Is it an adjective, a noun, a relative pronoun etc. This article will be useful as a starting point for understanding sentence structures. The ending of a word often indicates what type of word it is, for example words ending: -ment, -ion, -ance, -ence – are normally nouns. Recognising word endings and understanding sentence structures, will help you get higher marks in the exam.

You normally need to use short connecting words, prepositions, verbs and relative pronouns in this part.

Part 3

In the 'Use of English' section part 3, your knowledge of word types and word affixes is tested again. You have a text with 8 gaps and you are given a word that you need to change to fill in the gap. The word may be a verb, noun, etc. and you need to change this word. For example, they might give you the adjective relevant and you might need to change this to the noun relevance. So, you need to know what type of word you need and how to spell this word.

Tips And Technique

First, quickly read to understand the meaning of the text. Try not to spend more than 1 minute doing this.

Locate the first gap and read this whole sentence. Identify the words surrounding the gap by their form and their position in the sentence. This will help identify the type of word required. This article gives some useful information about this.

Before doing the exam, spend some time learning about word endings (see part 2 tip 3 above). Also study prefixes, if a word starts with an 'r' will the prefix be 'ir'?

In this part of the exam, you often need to add a prefix to the word to make it negative. E.g. irrelevant. After filling in all the gaps, quickly read every paragraph containing a gap. Depending on the overall meaning of the sentence or paragraph, decide if you need to use a negative word. Select the appropriate prefix for this word (-un, -dis, -im) etc.

Check your spelling! You lose marks when you do not spell words correctly. This applies for every part of the 'Use of English' section.

Part 4

In the 'Use of English' section part 4, you need to write between 3 and 6 words to complete 6 sentences. You have a sentence with some words missing and you must complete the sentence. Your sentence must have the same meaning as another sentence they give you. They also give you one word which you must use in your sentence. Use this word to decide which other words you require.

Tips And Technique

The best way to prepare for this part is by doing sample practice papers and exercises. Do as many of these exercises as you can before the exam.

They give you an example sentence with the same meaning as the sentence you need to complete. Read this first. Then look at the word they give you. Think how you can use this word in your sentence.

Do you know the word they give you from any expressions or can it be used in a phrasal verb?

When you have completed your sentence, read it again and make sure the words match each other. For example, if you use an uncountable noun, do not write 'many' before it.

You should buy at least one CAE book to practice with and see what vocabulary, grammatical structures, expressions etc. you might be tested on. Even though you don't know what the questions will be, it will still be useful.

Perhaps the most important tip to help you pass this section of the exam is to join my lessons to practise 😉

Reading Advice

Parts 5-8 of the Reading and Use of English section are 'Reading'.

Parts 5-8 test your knowledge and understanding of the meaning of various texts and how they are structured. They also test you on more specific details within the passages. I will go through each part of the Reading section and give you some tips for each part.

Part 5

Part 5 involves a passage/text from a scientific journal, article etc. There are 6 questions and you have to select the best answer for each from 4 options (a-d). You might find that more than one answer is correct...but a small detail will make one answer (more) correct. So be careful!

I advise trying different techniques when preparing for this part of the exam to see which you prefer.

Tips And Technique

In part 5, the questions tend to follow the order of the text. Some questions ask about specifics and some test your understanding of the meaning of the text. The questions often ask about opinions or why the author does something. First, quickly read to understand the meaning of the text. Try not to spend more than 1 minute doing this. This will help you with the more general questions.

One approach is to read the question and ignore the a-d options. Decide what you think the answer to the question is. Look at options a-d and see if one answer is close to what you thought. My students have found this technique very useful.

If you are stuck between two options, for example option 'c' and option 'd' there might be some extra information in 'c' which is mentioned nowhere in the text. Alternatively 'c' might answer half the question, but not the whole question. So it is very important to read the whole of options a-d carefully. Check that you can find all the details of an option in the text and that the overall meaning is correct.

Part 6

In part 6 you have 4 different passages which all relate to the same topic. These are normally opinions of experts or academic. You then have 4 questions based on these opinions and views. To answer the questions you will probably have to decide which opinions are similar and which are different. These questions could be about specific details or more general ideas.

Tips and Technique

Very quickly (1 minute maximum) skim the passage to get an overall idea of the topic. Read all of the questions.

Read the first question again and underline the relevant parts of the passage. Work through the passage from the top. Write the question number next to where you've underlined. You will probably need to underline 2 different sections as this is normally a comparison exercise.

After you've underlined two sections, check the question again. See if you have the answer. If you don't, continue reading the passage until you underline another part, then check again. Do this until you have the answer.

Read the second question and see if you can remember where the relevant information was from your reading so far. If you cannot, go through the passage from the top again.

Underline the relevant information for the second question and write the question number adjacent. After you've underlined two sections, check the question again. See if you have the answer. If you don't, keep reading until you underline another part, then check again. Do this until you have the answer. Repeat numbers 4 and 5 here for the rest of the questions.

Part 7

In part 7 (questions 41-46) you have a text with 6 paragraphs missing. You have to choose 6 paragraphs from a choice of 7 which they give you. Decide which order to place your six chosen paragraphs in the text.

Tips And Technique

Very quickly (1 minute maximum) skim the passage to get an overall idea of the topic. Read all of the questions.

Read all 7 paragraphs (a-g) given below the text. Next to each paragraph write one or two words summarising the topic or main point.

Simply reading the sentence before and after the gaps will not normally be enough. The best advice is to at least read the few sentences before and after the gap. If you have time you should read the whole passage in detail. Be aware this might take a long time!! This is why you should time yourself for each part of this exam paper.

Next to each gap, write your possible answer. You may think two paragraphs are possible next to one gap. Your decision should become easier if you write the letters next to every gap. Let's say you write 'A/E' next to question 41 and just 'A' next to gap 45. 'E' will probably be the answer for 41 and 'A' for 45, unless you've also written them next to other gaps.

Part 8

In part 8 you have 4 or 5 different reading sections (A,B,C,D/E). There are 10 questions and you decide which section (A,B,C,D/E) contains the information for each question.

Tips And Technique

Read through all the questions and underline the key words.

Read the whole text very quickly to understand what it is about. Take no more than 1 minute to do this.

Read through the first section (A) in detail. Then look back at each question. Write 'A' next to every question you think it answers and repeat this process for all the sections.

If you put more than one letter next to each question and you have time, read through the relevant sections again before making a decision.

If you run out of time or you are unsure of an answer, write anything. It is better to write something rather than nothing.

Perhaps the most important tip to help you pass this section of the exam is to join my lessons to practise 😉

Surround yourself with other English learners

In life generally and as language students, our environment is very important in what we do, how we behave and what we achieve. If you surround yourself with people who have a similar desire and motivation to you, you will achieve more than spending time with people who share no desire or motivation. We learn from the people around us. People worry that you can pick up bad language habits from other students, which can happen (rarely)…but so long as there is a teacher to control and correct students, this should not be a problem and bad language habits will be addressed and corrected.

Students can learn so much from their peers. If a student has studied a language in their own country, they will most probably have been taught in a specific style, with specific books and thus have one interpretation of a language, whilst another student from another city/country may have been taught with different books in a different style and whilst the language basics may be the same, vocabulary and other aspects of the language will often be different. This offers students the wonderful chance to learn from one another, not just from a teacher. When language teachers are trained, they are often told to instruct students to do exercises in pairs, small groups and even as a whole class and it is exactly for this reason. Teacher trainers understand and give merit to the importance of students learning from each other, not just from a teacher or a book. This is why I offer students the chance to join one of my small online CAE group classes. Click here if you would like to have a FREE 30 minute skype chat about these classes.

If students cannot remember one particular language topic from class, they also have the opportunity to ask their peers for information and advice if they cannot contact their teacher.

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