Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

Exam techniques by Stephen Taylor (by Christina Markoulaki)

with 5 comments

We were fortunate enough to meet Stephen Taylor, consultant of Cambridge ESOL Greece, a few weeks ago. During the discussion we had with him, he shared useful exam tips that can help students of various levels enhance their performance in the decisive time of the official examination. This is some of Stephen’s advice I would like to share with you, in turn:

Stephen Taylor with the owner of the school, Maria Markaki, and Anastasia Papadimitriou, Client Relations Manager British Council Greece.

Stephen Taylor with the owner of the school, Maria Markaki, and Anastasia Papadimitriou, Client Relations Manager British Council Greece.

1) Word Groups

Brainstorm titles for word categories that are commonly tested (e.g. technology) and write ten related words or phrases underneath (access to the Internet and mobile devices could belong to the example group mentioned above). Tell students to choose the five ones that seem easier to learn, circle them and subsequently use them in their written or oral responses, which would immediately convince an examiner to award extra marks. It goes without saying that students themselves can compile vocabulary and then exchange ideas in class about what words to add to or remove from each category and how to use them in an actual sentence. This is one of the functions of our students’ so-called phrasebooks.

2) Key Words

Alert students to detect key words in the speaking (or writing) question and use related vocabulary to that specific word group. They should also remember to answer the exact question and not questions stemming from the original one. For instance, if the examiner directly asks ‘How do you use technology every day?’, the key words certainly are ‘technology’ and ‘every day’, but also ‘you’. Therefore, the question actually targets at getting candidates to talk about the ways THEY DAILY use TECHNOLOGY, not about the general significance of the latter for our life. As stated in tip number one, words that fall into the ‘technology’ category should manifest themselves in the examinee’s answer.

3) Paraphrasing

In the reading section, the correct answer to most of the questions usually constitutes an elaborate paraphrase of a sentence in the text. Once students are able to spot phrases in the answers that are synonymous to phrases in the text, then, most of the times, they will make the right choice. This method, however, is to be dealt with caution, since a baffling exam ‘trap’ would involve a paraphrased expression in one of the choices which may give true information based on the text, without containing the answer to the specific question. Future candidates can test their reading skills as well as put some of the above theory into practice here:



My name is Christina Markoulaki and I am certified EFL teacher in Greece, where I was also born. I am fortunate enough to have been trusted with students of all ages and levels within my 5 working years, their ages ranging from 5 to 50 years old! Using modern technology in the classroom to create new learning experiences is what fascinates me. I welcome all exchange of ideas on Twitter (@christina_mark), Facebook (christina.markoulaki) and Google+ (


Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

May 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

5 Responses

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  1. Looking for Steve Taylor. From Eastbourne to a certain extent. Degree Lancaster 1981, TOEFL Nottingham. Last known Patras. I’ll bet my boots that this is he. Your site is the best match found.

    John Stannard

    September 23, 2012 at 3:23 am

    • Dear Mr. Stannard this is Stephen Taylor indeed. I will pass on your email to him so that he can get in touch with you.

      Cambridge ESOL Greece

      September 26, 2012 at 10:42 am

  2. I am so grateful to you, George, for all your positive attitude! We will be in touch concerning new ideas and texts, which will always be about the -admittedly- amazing Cambridge ESOL exams!

    Christina Markoulaki

    May 10, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    • Hi Christina. Thank you very much for all your kind words. I cannot even begin to stress enough how important your contribution to our blog has been so I am guessing that gratefulness comes from our side too. We really look forward to you next article. Good luck to your school in the exams this weekend!

      Cambridge ESOL Greece

      May 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm

      • Thank you George! For everything!


        May 10, 2012 at 2:23 pm

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