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Getting the best results in the CAE Reading and CAE Listening papers without the pain

Getting the best results in the CAE Reading and CAE Listening papers without the pain


The Cambridge Advanced Exam (CAE) is one of the most popular exams in the Cambridge suite, and for good reason.

Not only can it unlock doors to employment, it also provides the motivation to really push your ability, particularly if you have reached a ‘plateau stage’ in your language development.

Unsurprisingly, the CAE exam tests your achievement in the four main skills areas- Reading, Listening Writing, and Speaking. But there’s also another element, “Use of English”.

 Cambridge English Exams

What is the CAE reading and use of English exam?

This used to be a separate component of the exam but in 2015 was combined with the CAE Reading paper to form (you guessed it)- “Reading and Use of English”. This tests your ability to perform grammatical and lexical (vocabulary) ‘operations’. This includes a number of tasks such as: transforming a sentence using different words so that the meaning remains the same, adding words to complete a text appropriately, choosing the best option to fill a gap from a list of four choices, and so on.

You will also need to be able to insert missing paragraphs in a text, choose multiple choice answers that reflect the writer’s intention etc. You will need to study the actual Reading and Use of English tasks in the exam so you know exactly what to expect.

While these tasks can be challenging, it does not mean that you have to be a ‘grammar nerd’ or know every colourful idiom in the English language to get through the CAE reading test. So while it might be useful for some people to know the difference between a participle clause and a relative pronoun it’s not necessary in order to do well.

Nor is it necessary to know the difference between a prepositional phrase and semi-fixed phrase. It’s a bit like driving a car- you don’t have to know how an engine works to be good at driving, though clearly it wouldn’t hurt.


Tips to help you do well in the CAE reading test

So while explicitly studying the exam, studying grammar and keeping a record of new vocabulary and collocations (words that are often found together) are useful, they are not the only way to ace this part of the test.

The other key skill in the reading exam lies in just reading. Not just reading a website occasionally, but really getting your teeth stuck into a novel, a book of short stories, poetry, a comic novel, or whatever motivates you to keep reading. And the key to being motivated to do anything is to enjoy it. So the first thing to identify is what interests you. If you are a sports obsessive, for example, there are fascinating works of non-fiction devoted to football, the Tour de France, horse racing, whatever. If you are into films, read a biography of a director or film star, or read the screenplay of a famous movie. Anything with a strong narrative is going to help you to keep reading, and this will allow you to subconsciously absorb tons of information about language, without studying it explicitly. And of course this does not rule out the internet. Following your favourite blogger can provide the same motivation as a paper book.

So this kind of extensive, enjoyable reading is really the foundation you need to add to your knowledge of the exam tasks.


Tips to help you do well in the CAE listening test

Since reading is classified as a ‘receptive skill’( i.e you don’t ‘produce’ language, but ‘decode’ it ), the same tips will work to improve your listening skills, which are also receptive. 

Luckily, things have come a long way since the arrival of the internet. Not only is the choice of listening material practically unlimited thanks to podcasts and YouTube, but the ability to approach listening in different ways has expanded – which is brilliant for people preparing for the CAE listening exam.

You can listen while you do other things around the house. You can listen to the radio round the house, or listen to a podcast while driving or going to sleep (ideally not both at the same time). You can improve your listening while watching your favourite movies or enjoying your favourite songs. These are really easy listening CAE tips.


Focus on listening to do well in the CAE listening exam

But while this ‘unfocused’ listening is definitely beneficial, the internet also allows you to focus your listening. Even a three-minute video with a spoken element contains a large number of words.

The next time you watch one ask yourself if you truly understood everything that was said. If the answer is no, then you may need to begin some focused listening.

  • One of the strategies is to rewind or replay the clip until you think you did.

  • Or you can turn on the subtitles to assist you.

  • Or you listen only to the dialogue, without the visuals, so that you are not relying on getting the meaning based mainly on what you see.


    Even a short period of focused listening can really help you to think about how well you really understand a text.

    The foundation of listening widely to things you enjoy can help you give the best performance you possibly can on exam day. Good luck!


    Getting ready for the CAE reading and listening tests

    Of course, as in the CAE Reading and use of English paper, you will need to study the CAE listening tasks in the exam to be fully prepared. Our experienced teachers are here to help you with that on the C1 Advanced Cambridge course as well as the rest of the Cambridge suite of exams. They can also provide you with tips on how to prepare for the CAE reading and listening tests, building on your work in class.

WSE Team