Cambridge Tips


Tips on how to excel at Cambridge Exams

Are you sitting for Cambridge Exams in November?

I believe I can help you by providing practical tips. First, I’ll share my personal experience with you. I have taken the FCE-CAE-CPE and since I passed, it’s safe to say I had the vocabulary demanded by those levels, I used to study every day (whenever possible), I have always read, or tried to read at least a book a month, still, I had no idea what I was doing.

Thus, I have developed techniques in order to be able to look at the papers mathematically, solve the questions and still have “spare time”. Well, I decided to use inverted commas here, because you’ll need all the time you have got (or can get) to do the gapped text and the multiple-choice reading parts.

Furthering, I was able to compile data and come up with these techniques after having taught many preparation lessons. What I wanted was to better help my students to see and clearly understand what they were doing or had to do.

Not only have I tried and tested these techniques myself, but my students have also told me how useful they are and how they have been working perfectly well.

I sincerely hope these tips will also help more students and teachers to see the pattern Cambridge follows and to excel at the exams.

I’ll focus on the Reading parts, which are the parts we tend to take longer. They are mostly the same: multiple-choice (PART 5); gapped text (CAE PART 7; FCE/CPE PART 6); multiple-matching (CAE PART 8; FCE/CPE PART 7). The CAE has an extra Reading part, the cross-text multiple matching.

Tip number (1) – for Reading parts in general

Always start by the title. Read it and activate all the knowledge you have on that specific matter.

If need be, you can make notes, as you would when you build a mind map or when you are brainstorming. This should take no longer than 2’.

Next, skim through the text (this means you’ll do it quickly – 30”). This is done, for you to connect the knowledge you have activated beforehand to the vocabulary (words) that are used to talk about this topic.

Tip number (2) – for the gapped text part

After you have activated your schemata, you will focus only on two paragraphs at a time.

I’m telling you this, so you don’t spend precious time reading the whole text only to forget what the first paragraph referred to.

When you turn your attention to the options, you’ll take more time. You’ll have to read all of them in order to choose the best one. Don’t be afraid of choosing two letters for only one number at this stage, because as you read further everything will fall into place. Remember to circle or underline linkers, adjectives, and nouns that might tip off the correct answer. This should take 10’ to 15’.

Tip number (3) –  multiple-choice part

As you know, this is a longer text. (FCE and CPE – part 7 & CAE – part 8). In order not to get anxious and/or frustrated, you will read the first question and focus only on the first paragraph. Then, you move on to the second question and second paragraph and so on. Everything is in order. Again, you should underline the keywords in the questions and in all the options (answers). This should take 7’ to 10’.

Tip number (4) –  word formation part

This is Part 3 (FCE – CPE). To tell you all the truth, this is my favourite one. Remember, you will never use the root word as it is displayed, you will always have to use affixes (prefixes and/or suffixes). Also, there will always be a negative word. That means, that you are going to use the following prefixes at least once, or maybe twice, in order to provide a negative meaning to the word: in- / im-/ il- / ir- ; un- , de- / dis- / a- . After you transform all the words, you start reading the text. The word you have transformed is highly likely to be the correct option. (This should take 4’ – 5’)

Tip number (5) – writing paper

Three points to be made: 1. Answer the question that is being asked, 2. Use the proper layout, 3. Have your ideas well organised. For that to be achieved, you have to read attentively what the exercise proposes and break it down into. Below there is a proposal sample (2015 CAE mock).

“There are plans to demolish an old unused building in the town where you are a student. You feel that the building should be saved. You decide to write a proposal for the town council explaining why you think the building should be preserved, suggesting what could be done to modernize it and saying how the building could benefit the local people”

You should start with “You decide to write a proposal for the town council explaining why you think the building should be preserved. Then, in your ‘development’ paragraph, you will go on about “suggesting what could be done to modernize it. Next, in your conclusion, you will finally “say how the building could benefit the local people.

Layout wise: Proposals and Reports have headings, such as “Introduction”, “Development” and “Conclusion” or more specific headings according to the topic, e.g.: “Reasons why the building should be preserved” etc.

As for the Essays, Reviews, and Articles, they carry titles. However, what is paramount is to organise your compositions into three paragraphs (if you need to have four paragraphs, prefer to have two in the development part). Remember to show off: use linkers, hedging structures, inversions, etc. (You should take 30′ – give or take – to write each composition)

Tip number (6) – for the listening paper

Remember, to underline all the keywords from the questions and the answers (options). For part 2 try to predict if the words to be used will be verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. For part 4 (CAE-CPE), you will have to do both tasks at the same time. Do not try to do them separately.

Tip number (7) – Timing and regulations

  • Do not wear clothes/shoes with words on them (especially if they are English words).
  • You may have a water bottle (transparent and without the label).
  • You cannot speak or leave the room during the Listening Paper.
  • Please, oh, please, try to arrive at least 40 minutes before your speaking paper starts.

Tip number (8) – General Tips

  • Two days before the exam relax and do things you like doing. You have already studied and practised what you had to.
  • Eat well, sleep well and really rest.
  • It will sound like a cliché, but, “trust yourself!”.