Reading and Use of English Exam Preparation Tips

This post is generally about preparing students for the Reading and Use of English sections of First, Advanced and Proficiency. For tips on how to prepare students for PET, see another of my posts here – Cambridge PET Reading Exam Guide

The challenge here is that the RUOE is a difficult section to improve in a short space of time. So students need to have a good handle on their grammar and vocabulary from the very start of the course. But for those crucial sessions in the weeks leading up to the exam date, there are still things that we teachers can do to give them the edge. Here are my top tips!

  1. If your students are like mine, they want to do as many practice exams as possible before the big day, which is a great idea! However, most of them will look at the score and not bother to read through the corrections and the mistakes. Only the most studious will take their time to look again. Make sure to tell your students that doing 10 exams this way, is not as helpful as doing 5, then going back to check the things that they got wrong. If they don’t learn from their mistakes, they will get similar scores in mock exams. Go through common mistakes in class.
  2. In the months leading up to their exam, I like to give students a short story every week, depending on the level of the class, I give stories with more difficult vocab. If there is time, have a conversation in class about the overall story line, the intention of the writer and also the finer points and details of the text. This helps for the reading sections. Find good quality short stories here – Short Story List.
  3. It can often be helpful to break your lessons down into different categories. For example, one lesson on phrasal verbs and their main verb equivalents. Another on common collocations for their level. Another on false friends, and so on. So that rather than having different notes on different topics all over the place, they have relevant vocab exactly where they need it.
  4. Cambridge English works in collaboration with a non for profit called English Profile. Which is a fantastic resource for both students and teachers. While it’s wonderful for many things, I’m speaking specifically about the vocabulary section. A quick search will give you all of the vocabulary that the student should know for each CEFR level. Look here at an example.   Screenshot_20171121-115626

A quick search of the word ‘put’, will yield many results. So I have refined it to ‘Phrasal Verbs’ and for ‘B2’. Voila! We have a list of all the phrasal verbs with ‘put’ that your students should know.

Break It Down! Section Specific Tips

Part 1

Always try to teach synonyms of regular vocabulary in class, throughout the course. Later, when they do exam practice, go through the four different options together as a group and figure out why the correct answer is the only possible option. Remind them that it could be because of the context or the placement, or the words surrounding the answer such as a dependent preposition.

Part 2

Students need to be hot on their grammar words for this. Check that they know important conjunctions, phrasal verbs, auxiliary verbs, articles and determiners and have comprehensive lists of all of these in their notebooks. Also, very important to read the entire text first, not fill the spaces as they read.

Part 3

Be sure to go over the basic word formation rules. Every so often, give them a word in class and see how many different words they can make from that root. You can make it into a competition between 2 or more groups of students. Whichever gets the most correct (and correctly spelled) words, wins! Correct spelling is imperative here!

Also, in this section there is almost always at least one negative word. So if they finish the part and have no negative, encourage them to read again to see if the words they have chosen fit with the context of the surrounding text.

Part 4

Their favourite! No? Yes okay okay, mine hate it too! But it doesn’t have to be that way! Students should always decide which part of the original sentence needs to be replaced first. Then take it one word at a time. It’s easier for them to think of each word in turn than the entire meaning of the sentence. For example;

It was a mistake to give her all of the money.


She ______should not have been given_______ all of the money.

Better for students to think first of the word ‘should’ since it expresses the same modality as the first sentence. Then remember that if a negative is present, it should go after the modal verb. After that they know that to express a past tense modal they need the present perfect, so ‘have’. As it’s a passive sentence they should have the verb ‘to be’ but in the past participle form because they are still using the present perfect. After that, they can use the given word to finish the phrase. This time, the word is in the past participle form because it’s a passive form.

Phew, take a break after that one! I will too, back in mo!

Part 5

Okay, we’re back!

For part 5 they should understand the entire gist of the text and the intention of the writer, as well as a few specific details. So, get them to read all of the text first quickly, skimming the sentences. After that, read the questions to get an idea what they are looking for and then read the paragraph again. This time, looking for specific information that will help them answer the question. Here is where my short stories come in handy!

Part 6

This part is largely about pronouns and clues! Very good candidates don’t even have to read the whole test to get full marks on this part. When they think that they have the correct answer, get them to consider the pronouns and articles that are in the missing paragraph and the original text near the answer. If they match up and it makes sense, correct! Students should however, avoid ‘word spotting’. Choosing an answer based solely on vocabulary is the sign of a weaker candidate.

Part 7

The tricky part here can be recognising and understanding the vocabulary in the question. Again, students should avoid ‘word spotting’, focusing instead on possible synonyms. In general, candidates find this the easiest part of the test, which leads me to my next point.

I always recommend that my students follow this order; Parts 1,2,3,4,5,7,6

Why 7 first? Because it’s easier. If your students runs out of time in the exam, it’s much better for them to potentially lose the difficult 12 marks in part 6 but get all of the comparatively simple marks from part 7.

Need more tips? No worries! Have a look at my Reading and Use of English for First  here! – The Ins and Outs of The FCE Reading and Use of English

Did you find this helpful? Leave me a comment and let me know! 




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