Why people fail the CAE exam

Before answering the question, "why people fail the CAE exam" perhaps we should quickly answer another question first, "what is the CAE exam?"

The CAE exam is now formally known as the C1 Advanced exam. This is a C1 or Advanced level English language exam. Passing this exam grants a certificate which can be shown to prospective employers and universities. The exam comprises 4 papers: Speaking, Listening, Reading & Use of English and Writing.

I have been teaching students CAE exam preparation lessons for the last few years. I am therefore able to locate problem areas and create techniques to help students pass the CAE. In this article I discuss the most common reasons why people fail the C1 Advanced (CAE) exam. Hopefully this will be useful as it will advise you where to pay particular attention and be more careful. I first look at how people fail the CAE through failing to prepare properly in advance of the exam. I then look at some of the exam sections which people find especially difficult and give strategy and tips to help with these.

why people fail the cae exam

No technique

This is the biggest reason why people fail the CAE exam. In fact, all of the other reasons below are all connected to this main idea. A lot of people go into the exam without having a strategy or technique for how to complete each part of the exam. Strategy is very important with these exams....do not underestimate it's importance.


Become a member of my new website and access CAE courses, live lessons and more. More information >>

I know that the techniques taught in my membership site work as you can see from the reviews of what other students have said. However, you could also try to make your own techniques for tackling each part of the exam. If you do create your own strategy make sure you practise with it a lot before doing the exam. Also, make sure the technique you use does not take you so long that you cannot complete the task in an appropriate amount of time. The more you practise a task using a technique, the quicker you will become. Whatever strategy you use, I advise you to seek advice from the 'Before The Exam' steps outlined in our CAE preparation online page. This coursebook also has some good tips for how to complete the exam tasks.

I also offer FREE techniques and tips, which you can read on the following pages: 'Reading'Use of English' 'Speaking' 'Listening' 'Writing'

Time pressure

This is another main reason why people fail the exam. They do not complete all of the tasks, or they get stuck for too long on one exercise.


Practise with time restraints. Every time you do an exam exercise you should time how long it takes you. After a few practices, you should have a good idea how long it takes you to complete each task. Work out how long you have in the exam for each task. The 'Reading and Use of English' paper is 90 minutes. You might realise it takes you 60 minutes to do the reading tasks and 45 minutes to do the Use of English tasks. In this situation, I would look at which individual parts of the exam I complete the quickest. Also look at how many marks are awarded for each part of an exam section. Take into consideration how many marks are awarded for each part and which parts you find easiest. Then decide which parts to complete first in the exam.

These are how the many marks you get for each part of the 'Use of English' section:

Part 1 - this has now moved to the 'Reading' section.

Part 2 – 8 marks

Part 3 – 8 marks

Part 4 – 12 marks

These are how many marks you get for each part of the 'Reading' section:

Part 1 – 8 marks

Part 5 – 12 marks

Part 6 – 8 marks

Part 7 – 12 marks

Part 8 – 10 marks

These are how many marks you get for each part of the 'Listening' section:

Part 1 – 6 marks

Part 2 – 8 marks

Part 3 – 6 marks

Part 4 – 10 marks

The Writing and Speaking papers are marked slightly differently, so you should check out our Writing and Speaking pages for more information on those.


Most people who do this exam will be nervous. It is natural to be nervous before any exam, but I think certain exams make people more nervous than others. The Cambridge exams I have noticed make students particularly nervous. Perhaps it is the pressure of taking the exam in another language. Perhaps it is the fact that the exam costs quite a lot of money. It could be because passing the exam means you can get into university, get a better job or some other really important reason.


Unfortunately, you never really know how nervous you will be on the exam day. You might be absolutely fine, or you might be shaking in your boots and despite some of my students' requests, I cannot do the exam for you ;). What I can do, is give you advice and (if you join my membership website) prepare you for the exam so that you are more confident and therefore more able to cope with the pressure, stress and nerves.

The most important recommendations are:

Practise every part of the exam beforehand. Stick to the time limits for each section when practising.

The following points may sound silly, but they make a difference:

If practising at home, wear the clothes you might wear in the exam.

Practise in a room similar to the one in the exam, preferably with a table and chairs.

Tell the person/people you're practising with to act like examiners, cut you off if you are speaking for too long etc.

Try as much as you can to put yourself in the same situation and frame of mind that you will have in the exam.

As mentioned above, practice with at least one coursebook and one practice test book. Again, the more resources you have the better prepared you will be. If you want the best overall method and strategy for passing the exam, check out the 'Before the Exam' section of this page.

If you want exam tips and technique for specific CAE exam papers, check out the following links: Reading 'Use of English' 'Speaking' 'Listening' 'Writing'

Bad Coursebooks

I recently wrote two books for the CAE exam:

C1 or not C1? >>
I created this book to use alongside other coursebooks and online resources. It's a small book, so you can quickly find the right technique page to have open while completing an exercise from elsewhere. Read Now >>

CAE Writing Samples >>
One of the best ways to improve your CAE writing, is to learn from other students and model answers. This book show you 21 sample CAE writings, along with their mistakes and feedback according to the examiner assessment scale. Take a look >>

Other than the two books above, I think that the best coursebooks to prepare for the CAE are those which mainly comprise exam exercises. You can find some coursebooks and grammar books on this page. The more you practise with exam exercises, the better prepared you will be. The main coursebook I use is 'Ready for Advanced' by French and Norris. When practising with a CAE coursebook you should remember that these are not made for already Advanced level students. Rather, they guide and help you to reach an advanced level. Therefore you should also be aware that the exercises in the exam will usually be more difficult than those in coursebooks. At least, in the first few units of coursebooks anyway.


For this reason, I advise to not just buy and practise for the CAE exam with my sidebook a coursebook. You should also buy and use a practice test book. I've found this test book is good and difficult!

One part of the exam is worse than the others

Often students will struggle with one section of the exam more than others. When preparing for the CAE exam, try to locate your weakest areas. Pay particular attention to these areas when preparing by yourself. If you want to seek professional help, I offer free access to my membership website when you subscribe to my newsletter. I also offer one-one and group lessons which can focus on any particular part of the exam you want. There is even a writing correction service I provide if you struggle with writing.


Make your own resources and set yourself tasks

While it is better to use official materials when preparing for the exam. If you are short of money or you cannot find any new exam related exercises, you can create your own. Here are some example exercises you can make for yourself.

Use of English task

Take one paragraph from what you are reading. Try to identify each type of word in the paragraph. Then look at the structure of each sentence. What is the word order? Try to find or create another sentence which follows the same structure and word order.

Reading task

Find a long blog/article on a website. Copy the blog article from the website to a word document. Don't read it properly. Remove 6 paragraphs. Find another blog article (preferably about a related topic) and copy one paragraph. Add this paragraph to the other 6 paragraphs. Give all the paragraphs a letter (a-g) in a random order. Look back at the article and try to replace the paragraphs back into the text.

There are more useful tips about what to do after you fail the exam on this page.

Free Products & Advice

I offer a free access to my membership website to every student who subscribes to my newsletter. I have also written specific tips and techniques on the following pages for the 'Reading', 'Use of English', 'Speaking', 'Listening' and Writing papers.

I uploaded my two books, CAE writing samples and C1 or not C1>to Kindle and in some countries you can read them for free with Kindle Unlimited!

The 'Use of English' section tests your knowledge of how the English language works. This page will be useful for this. It also tests your knowledge of expressions, collocations etc. A good way to prepare for this is to make reading various written materials a part of your everyday routine. Read novels, newspapers, news websites etc.

Paid Products & Advice

You should also consider signing up for membership. The courses you will be able to access are essential to successfully completing all the CAE exam papers.

Common Mistakes At CAE

Check out my common errors at C1 Advanced page or watch some of the videos in this playlist...