You may have seen our guide on the B2 First exam (a must-read if you’re taking the exam!) and in this next series of guides we will be looking at the reading and use of English paper.
What is the Reading and Use of English paper (2015 ed.)?
The test is designed to examine your knowledge and understanding of English grammar and vocabulary. It also tests your ability to read and understand different types of text.
At a glance
There are seven parts in total
The test lasts 75 minutes
In some parts you will have to write a word, phrase or a complete sentence
In other parts you will have to select the correct option
For a summary of each part, visit the Cambridge English B2 Exam Format section
Before 2015, the grammar type questions and reading comprehension questions were two separate papers, but since 2015, they have been combined into just one exam. So effectively, parts one to four are testing your knowledge of grammar and vocabulary and the remaining three parts test your reading ability.
A word of warning
Some websites will recommend that you don’t answer the exam paper in order and do either part four or two first because it’s more efficient. We recommend that you DON’T do this; simply because the exam is designed this way to ease you into it and not cause panic or alarm with a difficult first question. If you don’t know the answer, don’t spend too long on it and move onto the next one, then come back to it at the end if you have time.
Some general advice
- Read the title of the texts! Reading the title activates your knowledge and vocabulary of a topic
- Look at the example if you’re not sure of how to answer the question but don’t waste time trying to do the example question – it’s already done for you.
- Look at the grammatical structure of the phrase or sentence and decide what’s missing or what you need to change – it’s time to put all those countless hours of studying English grammar to the test!
- Spell words correctly! For the questions where you’re asked to write a word, make sure that you check the spelling of what you wrote.
- Leave a question blank!!!! Too many times do students do this but you have nothing to lose by guessing the word or option.
- Answer a question you’re unsure of without analysing the grammar. Too many students just look at a grammar question, particularly in parts 2, 3 and 4, and try to guess the missing word without thinking about what they already know.
What is it and what happens?
Part 1 tests your knowledge of vocabulary; including things like idioms, collocations and phrasal verbs.
How many questions are there?
Eight multiple choice questions, each with four possibilities (A, B, C or D).
How many marks is it worth?
Each question is worth one mark
Here is an example question
How to answer part one
Let’s look at the first question:
It is _________ to be the oldest leather shoe ever found
A) accepted B) regarded C) assessed D) believed
For it to be ‘accepted’ or ‘regarded’ the next word would need to be ‘as’, so it can’t be any of these two options. Assessed means something quite different to the other options, so it must be believed.
While you might think that ‘regarded’ or ‘accepted’ are correct because they refer to the archaeologist’s opinions, however, the general meaning of the paragraph is to mention a recent and exciting discovery worthy of writing about, so believed is the right word to use here. ‘Believed to be’ is a collocation which you’re expected to be familiar with.
Now the second question:
It had been _____ with grasses, either for warmth or to make sure it kept its shape.
A) stuffed B) loaded C) pushed D) blocked
Blocked doesn’t relate to what the meaning of the whole sentence is because the writer is mentioning that the grass was a benefit to keeping the shoe’s shape and so blocking something wouldn’t be a positive thing here. Pushed with grasses just doesn’t make sense, so we’re left with loaded and stuffed.
When something is stuffed it means to fill an empty space and give something shape, which is what the writer mentions in the next part of the sentence. Loaded doesn’t quite have the same meaning and would be used in a different context, so the answer is stuffed.
What’s the message here? You need to have built up a strong understanding and knowledge base of different vocabulary and collocations. This isn’t something which you can learn overnight and is acquired over many hours of exposure, studying and reading – it comes back to what methods you’re using to learn English, so only take the exam when you’re ready. I’m assuming that you’re nearly ready if you’re reading this guide, so keep reading to learn the top exam techniques.
Follow this strategy
- Read the title and the text quickly to get the gist of the text, don’t just fill in the gaps without reading the text first.
- Re-read the text and stop at each gap and try to predict what the missing word or phrase might be.
Then look at the options for each gap and see if any of them match what you guessed before.
- Remember to read before and after the gap to decide what the overall meaning is.
- Check your answers to make sure what you’ve chosen makes sense. NEVER LEAVE A QUESTION BLANK; YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BY GUESSING!
- Copy your answers to your answer sheet.
Improve your chances of passing with an English teacher!
If you’re preparing for the B2 exam then we cannot recommend enough the importance of getting help from an experienced native teacher. You’ll be able to practice each part of the exam under their supervision, where they can point out your mistakes and reinforce the techniques discussed in this article. The good news for you is that it’s now easier than ever to get the help you need with our online teachers, where you can choose a class at a time to suit you, all from the comfort of your own home! Just go here to book a free trial class.
Parts two and three
What is part two?
We saw in part one that you’re given some text with gaps and a choice of four possible answers to choose from. Now in part two of the reading and use of English test you’re given some text with gaps but only this time you aren’t given any options and must think of the word yourself, and that’s what open cloze means, in case you were wondering 😉
Note here as well that you must only write ONE word
What kind of words are tested?
For this part you are tested on grammatical type words, such as; articles, possessive adjectives, prepositions, auxiliary verbs, pronouns, linking words and phrasal verbs. There is also likely to be a few questions testing you on your knowledge of collocations.
Some general advice
- Read the title and the text quickly first, before you fill in the gaps. This gives you a general idea of what it’s about
- Look at the grammar of the sentence and note what words are before and after the gap.
- Write only ONE word on your answer sheet in CAPITAL LETTERS
- Leave any questions blank. As I have written before in other articles, if you really don’t know the answer you have nothing to lose by guessing!
- Write “don’t” or “they’ll” etc as these are two words. “Can’t” counts as one word as it’s the contraction of cannot
1. Ships travelling east brought the black pepper from the Spice Islands in South East Asia but this ………. a long time.
In the first question you’re being asked to recall a common collocation with ‘time’. As I’m sure most of you would have guessed, the correct word here is ‘took’. You’re expected to know the collocation ‘take time’.
2.Columbus didn’t succeed ………. finding the Spice Islands.
In this next example, you’re expected to know that the preposition ‘in’ collocates with succeed.
3.but he ………. manage to discover the Americas
In the third example here, which follows on from our second example, you need to use a certain auxiliary verb to add emphasis to this part of the sentence. If you know it’s an auxiliary verb, it’s quite easy to rule out ‘have’ or ‘will’, and if you think about the meaning of the sentence you should be able to comfortably work out that it’s ‘did’. This auxiliary verb can be used in the present or past to add emphasis in a positive sentence.
And that’s part two done!
What is part three (word transformation)?
Like we’ve seen with parts one and two of the use of English parts of the test, you’re given a text with gaps. Only this time you are given a word for each gap and you must transform it into either a noun, verb, adjective or adverb. You also need to consider what prefix or suffix you may need to use and don’t forget your NEGATIVE prefixes! For example, transforming ‘common’ into ‘uncommon’ or ‘agreement’ into ‘disagreement’.
Part 3 example
It’s important to note that the word at the end of each line corresponds with the gap in that particular sentence. If you look at the example question you’ll see that ‘memory’ was transformed into ‘memorable’.
How to answer this question
With this question it’s very important to look at the grammar of the words before and after the gap. This will allow you to comfortably decide if the word you need to put into the gap is either a noun, adjective, adverb or verb and what tense it should be in.
For example, in question 17 above:
The event ………. to be highly successful with over five hundred people attending.
Straight away you can see that the subject of the sentence is ‘the event’ and so immediately after we need a verb to say what the event did. If the word you’re given is ‘proof’ then ask yourself, what is the verb form of this word?
The verb form of ‘proof’ is ‘to prove’.
So if we put ‘prove’ into the gap would that be correct? No, because it needs to be put into the past tense.
So the answer is ‘proved’.
Remember your grammar!
Adjectvies describe nouns.
The woman is beautiful
The dirty dishes
The black pen
Adverbs describe verbs, adjectives or other adverbs
He read the book quickly
He read the book very quickly
As mentioned before, you need to be careful when doing this part of the exam and consider if you need to use a negative prefix. This goes back to not looking at the meaning of the sentence properly. All too often do students write the positive form when they needed to use a negative prefix. So, analyse each sentence with laser-like attention to detail!
There were also some rather ………. bikes on display. One-wheelers, five-wheelers.. Usual
Most people can probably already see that you need to write ‘unusual’, because it’s a commonly used word and it just seems right. Nevertheless, make sure you check questions like this! If you look at the words before and after the gap, as well as the sentence that comes after, we can see that when the writer mentions one-wheelers and five-wheelers, he is writing about something that isn’t the norm. The word you’re given is ‘usual’, so if you’re going to transform this word, it can’t be into the adverb form, ‘usually’, because the word after the gap is a noun (bike) and so immediately you should be thinking about the adjective form, ‘unusual’.
Hopefully now you’re able to see how to tackle this part of the test, below you will find an overall strategy to follow:
1. Read the title and the text quickly to get the gist of what the text is about.
2. Read the text again. This time stop at each gap and look at the word given for that line. Decide if the missing word is positive or negative, plural or singular, a verb, noun, adverb or adjective. Remember to look at the words before and after the gap, and perhaps the sentence after to understand the grammar and meaning.
3. Write the correct form of the word in the space.
4. After you’ve answered all the questions re-read the text again to check if your answers make sense and the words are spelled correctly.
5. Write your answers on your answer sheet.
Another worked example
Now we will go through another exam question and explain how to arrive at the answer, so keep scrolling and for each question see if you can answer it correctly before clicking the ‘show answer’ button.
We’re going to work through the sample question below:
1.China is currently the largest ………….. of garlic Product
So what have we got here? Before the gap is the superlative form of the adjective ‘large’, which should immediately tell you that the word after must to be a noun, because we know that only adjectives describe nouns.
There is another noun form of ‘product’, can you think what that is?
2. It is native to central Asia and has long had a history as a health-giving food, used both to prevent and cure ……………. ill
In this next question you’re given the adjective ‘ill’. Before the gap is the sentence ‘used both to prevent and cure’. You should be asking yourself the question, prevent and cure what? Now that you’ve established that the word is a thing, this means it is a noun, but is it just any kind of noun? No, it needs to be a plural noun.
What’s the plural noun form of the adjective ‘ill’?
3.The forefather of antibiotic medicine, Louis Pasteur, claimed garlic was as …………. as penicillin in treating infection Effect
In the third question, you should be able to see that the word needed to go into the gap is part of a comparative sentence structure. So in the gap you’re going to need either an adjective or an adverb. It can’t be an adverb because the word before ‘as’ is ‘was’, so it must be an adjective.
What is the adjective form of ‘effect’?
4.Modern-day ………… have proved that garlic can indeed kill bacteria Science
Here you are given a noun to transform. If we look at the the sentence the gap is in, it’s part of a present perfect structure and before you have an adjective, which means the word in the gap needs to be a plural noun.
What is the other noun form of ‘Science’ that you know of?
5 and 6. In …………, some doctors believe that garlic can reduce blood ………….
In number five, this requires you to rely a little more on your knowledge of preposition/noun collocations. You’re given the verb form ‘add’, which must be turned into the noun form, do you know what this is?
For number 6, again you’re given the verb form ‘press’ and you need to transform this into the noun form. Most of you can probably already guess what the answer is here without needing to look at the grammar. Did you guess it right?
7 and 8. The only …………. to this truly amazing food is the strong and rather ………. smell of garlic is not the most pleasant!
For number seven, you need to look more at the meaning of the sentence to realise what you need to do transform the word ‘advantage’. The sentence describes the negative aspect of garlic, so the word in the gap can’t be positive. You can see that we need to place a noun in gap too, but you’re already given the noun form, so what do you think you need to add to the beginning of the word? That’s right, add the negative prefix.
For the last gap, number eight, you’re given a noun form again, ‘spice’. You should be able to look at the grammar here and see that ‘smell’ is a noun, so the word in the gap has to be the adjective form. Spice is the ingredient you add to food to give a certain kind of taste, and so it’s not too difficult to recall what the adjective form is.
That’s part two and three over with!
Part four (key word transformation)
Love it or hate, part four tests your ability to express yourself in different ways. You’re given a sentence in one form and you must change it into another sentence of a similar meaning but with a different grammatical structure and using the ‘key word’ given. You CANNOT change the word you are given and must use between two and five words, including the word given.
Normally you will have to change two things and so each question carries two marks – so if you get half of it right you should get at least one mark.
The example above is a typical part four exam question of changing a sentence in the active form into a passive form. There’s usually at least question you’ll have to answer where you’re asked to change the sentence from active to passive or vice versa.
Other grammatical structures and vocabulary commonly tested:
Top tips for this part
Just like in part three, it’s imperative that you look at the grammatical form of the first sentence and compare it to the key word you’re given along with and the rest of the new sentence. You need to think about the meaning but don’t just try and make up a sentence that you think has the same meaning without analysing the grammar.
Remember that contractions count as two words. E.g. “Isn’t” would be two words.
Check the number of words you’re using – no less than two but no more than five (including the word given).
Last but not least, the best way to prepare for the FCE exam is to take exam-focused classes and on a course which adheres to the CEFR guidelines and Cambridge English exam syllabus. Your teacher will be able to work through exam questions with you and demonstrate to you how you should answer each question, so if you’re not at a very good English academy or you would like to start a good course, just go here and book a free trial class for when it suits you.
For the next part of our article we will write out a tutorial outlining how you should tackle this question.
1. Paula can’t wait to hear the band’s new album
Paula is really ………………………. the band’s new album.
In this first question, you’re being asked to change “can’t wait” to another phrase with a similar meaning.
Recall the phrase ‘to look forward to’ and think about how you might put this into the rest of the sentence.
If you can also remember how gerunds are used, you will know that gerunds can both complement the verb ‘to be’ and are also followed by prepositions. So, can you think how you must write the sentence now?
If you put:
Paula is really looking forward to the band’s new album
You would score one mark. Notice that in the sentence you’re given there is an extra verb, ‘to hear’, so you should put this into your sentence. Would it be correct, however, with just the infinitive form? As mentioned above, we must use the gerund form after prepositions.
Answer: Paula is really looking forward to hearing the band’s new album
2. Buying a daily newspaper seems pointless to me
I can’t …………………… a daily newspaper
You’re given the adjective form, ‘pointless’ in the first sentence and they want you to use the noun form, ‘point’. Hopefully this should get you thinking about phrases you’ve heard with this word. You’re being tested on your knowledge of collocations and two might come to your mind:
to get the point
to see the point
Which would would you use?
Similarly to the question before, you’ll need to correctly place the gerund in the sentence after a preposition. (Hint – the gerund form is already at the beginning of the first sentence).
Answer: I can’t see the point of/in buying a daily newspaper
3. Daniel thought the flight would be more expensive than it actually was.
The flight …………………….. as Daniel thought it would be
OK so in this question you’ve got ‘more expensive than’, i.e. a comparative and you’re given ‘not’ as the key word and ‘as’ after the space in the second sentence. Immediately you should be thinking about the different comparative forms we can make with adjectives. So, how could you make one here using ‘as’ and ‘expensive’?
Answer: The flight wasn’t as expensive as Daniel thought it would be.
4. It’s a shame i’m not able to come to your party on Saturday.
I …………………………. to your party on Saturday.
In our next example, the first sentence is about something you wish you could do. Does that give you a hint?
Answer: I wish I could come to your party on Saturday.
5. There were no trainers left in Denzel’s size anywhere on the website.
The website had …………………………. trainers in Denzel’s size.
What phrasal verb could you make with ‘sold’? Also, which preposition would you need to use after it?
Answer: The website had sold out of trainers in Denzel’s size.
6. Gwenda deleted her sister’s photographs by accident
Gwenda ………………………….. her sister’s photographs
Can you think of another similar phrase to ‘by accident’?
Answer: Gwenda didn’t mean to delete her sister’s photographs.
A word of caution for this part
Each question of the exam is designed to take you around 10 minutes and for this question, there might be some sentences you’re asked to transform where you simply haven’t got a clue and it would be a waste of time spending too long trying to work out just one of them.
So, do the ones you think you know the answer to and for the ones you can’t think of the answer for, come back to them at the end of the test if you have time. There are three other parts left after this one and they’re worth a lot more marks than what you could score here.
Perhaps more importantly, don’t allow this question let you to think that you don’t know anything about English and that you’re going to fail etc etc. Most people find this question to be one of the most difficult ones.
Hopefully now you can see the way you need to think about this question in order to maximise your score. Follow the strategy outlined in this article you should be able to score better than most.