Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

Tips and FAQS for the Reading paper of the Cambridge English: Advanced exam

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Here are some tips and answers to questions we often receive on the Reading paper of the Cambridge English: Advanced exam.


  • Skim through the text for general understanding.
  • Read the instructions very carefully – they set the scene and give you initial orientation.
  • Highlight or underline important words in the questions.
  • Decide what type of question you are answering and then employ the correct reading skill, especially in the multiple-choice part.
  • Link the questions to areas or sections in the text before reading closely.
  • Remember that questions come in the same order as the answers in the text in the multiple-choice part of the paper.
  • Experiment with the order of the parts and the questions within the parts. Come back to them later, if necessary.
  • Select your answer based on meaning and then check that it fits with the language in the text. Use the coherence and cohesion in the text to help you with this.
  • Use a wide context in the text to help you find answers. Do not read narrowly or just a few lines before and after the point where you find your answer.
  • Use paraphrasing of ideas rather than individual words in the questions to help you identify the answer in the text.
  • Check that your selected answer fully answers the question and not only in part.
  • Answer all the questions – no marks are deducted for incorrect answers.
  • Decide why the three ‘distractors’ are wrong in each multiple-choice question and make sure the extra paragraph does not fit. (Part 2)
  • Reread the whole text when you have placed all the paragraphs. (Part 2)
  • Don’t use your world knowledge or personal opinions to answer the questions.
  • Don’t select an answer after reading only one section in the multiple-matching parts of the paper.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any one part of the paper.
  • Don’t forget to transfer all your answers to the answer sheet.
  • Don’t be put off by or get stuck on difficult vocabulary – it may become clear by reading on or by later rereading.
  • Don’t reread every section for every question. (Parts 1 and 4)
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How many marks is the Reading paper worth?
Each of the five papers in the exam is worth 40 marks, or 20% of the total.
See more details about the format of the exam

What kinds of texts are included?
The four texts are taken from newspapers, magazines, journals, non-literary books, leaflets, brochures, etc. They are generally authentic but some editing may take place for clarification. They may be informational, descriptive, narrative or discursive. Each text is 550–850 words long with a total of about 3,000 words across the whole paper.

What reading skills are involved?
The tasks test your ability to skim and scan the text in order to:

  • build up a general understanding
  • identify the main points
  • locate specific information
  • deduce meaning
  • recognise the writer’s attitude or opinion
  • understand text organisation.

What kinds of tasks are there?
There are two multiple-choice tasks, one gapped text and one multiple-matching task.

Are Parts 1 and 4 the same?
Both parts involve the same task type, multiple matching, but the text is usually longer in Part 4.

Which is the most difficult part?
The combination of text, tasks and reading skills in each of the parts is different so there is no simple answer to this question.

Past results show that any one of the four parts can be better answered in a session. You need to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and prepare accordingly.

How long should I spend on each part of the test?
There are no recommended timings for parts of the test. But you must transfer all your answers to the answer sheet during the 1 hour and 15 minutes of the test.

The tasks do not have to be dealt with in the same order as they appear on the paper. You may feel more confident with certain text or task types and may want to do these first and faster.

Doing some practice tests should help you with timing your answers.

Download a free pack of sample papers (zip file)

Buy the past paper pack for Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)

How can I prepare generally?
You should read widely and for interest from the same sources as the texts in the test. You should be able to distinguish different types of writing, and understand the writer’s purpose and the main ideas in the text. This will help you to predict the type of questions you will find in the Reading paper, and increase your confidence about the test itself.

Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

May 5, 2013 at 10:00 am

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