Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

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

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


  • Read the instructions, texts and questions very carefully.
  • Work through the parts of the paper in the order that suits you best.
  • Read the sources, titles and subtitles of the texts where given; they are there to help you.
  • Read each text carefully before you answer the questions to get an overall impression and understanding of it.
  • Check the words around the gap carefully in Part 1. Remember, the missing word(s) may form part of an idiom, fixed phrase or collocation.
  • Read the complete sentence which contains the gap in Part 2. Remember that the missing word(s) are more likely to have a grammatical focus than a lexical one.
  • Check that the completed sentence makes sense in the passage as a whole. Remember, the missing word(s) must fit the context of the passage. (Parts 1 and 2)
  • Think about all the changes a word may require in Part 3: suffix, prefix, internal, more than one, singular, plural or negative, change of word class.
  • Read the questions carefully and check each option against the text before rejecting it. (Parts 1, 5, 6 and 7)
  • Keep an overall idea of the development of the text in Part 6. You will need to check that the extracts chosen to fit the gaps in the base text fit the progression of the argument or narrative as a whole.
  • Decide on one answer and avoid writing alternative answers to a question.
  • Check your spelling in Parts 2, 3 and 4 as correct spelling is essential.
  • Transfer your answers accurately from the question paper to the answer sheet before the end of the test. You will not have time after the test to do this.
  • Don’t try to answer any questions without referring carefully to the text.
  • Don’t spend too much time on any one part of the paper.
  • Don’t forget to record your answers on the separate answer sheet.
  • Don’t leave any question unanswered – you don’t lose marks for incorrect answers.
  • Don’t assume that if the same word appears in the text as well as in an option, this means you have located the answer. (Parts 1, 5 and 7)
  • Don’t alter the word given. (Part 4)
  • Don’t write more than eight words, including the given word. (Part 4)
  • Don’t write out the full sentence. (Part 4)
  • Don’t leave out any information from the prompt sentence. (Part 4)
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What kind of tasks are there in the Reading and Use of English paper?
The paper includes the following task types: multiple-choice cloze, open cloze, word-formation, key word transformation, multiple choice, gapped paragraph, and matching.

What kind of texts appear in the Reading and Use of English paper?
The texts come from a range of different sources and are written for different purposes. They are mainly contemporary and include non-specialist material from fiction and non-fiction books and journalism (a wide range of newspapers, magazines and journals).

What aspects of reading are being tested in the Reading and Use of English paper?
The paper tests comprehension at word, phrase, sentence, paragraph and whole text level. Each part tests different aspects of reading, including the use of vocabulary in context, such as idioms and collocations, understanding detail, opinion and attitude, text organisation and structure, global meaning and main idea, and cohesion and coherence.

How can I best prepare myself for the Reading and Use of English paper?
It is essential for you to engage with a substantial and varied range of written English and to read extensively (preferably for pleasure, not simply for the purposes of studying) as well as intensively. This enables you to become familiar with a wide range of language and text types, and is also helpful when you are working on the longer texts in Parts 5 and 6. You should also be familiar with the technique of indicating your answers on the separate answer sheet so that you can do this quickly and accurately.

How many marks is the Reading and Use of English paper worth?
The paper is worth 80 marks (after weighting) out of a total of 200 marks for the four Cambridge English: Proficiency papers. However, your overall grade is based on the total score gained in all four papers. It is not necessary to achieve a satisfactory level in all four papers in order to pass the examination.

What if I make a mistake on the answer sheet?
If more than one lozenge has been completed for one question, the computer rejects the answer sheet, which is then dealt with on an individual basis. Checks are in place to identify incomplete answer sheets, which are also then checked.

Cases where all the answers have been entered incorrectly, e.g. by putting Answer 1 to Question 2, Answer 2 to Question 3, etc., cannot be identified. You should be careful when filling in your answer sheet.

How long is each part of the Cambridge English: Proficiency Reading and Use of English paper?
There is no fixed answer to this question. The overall time allowed for the Reading and Use of English paper is 90 minutes. Candidates in a class preparing for the exam will almost certainly find that, as each part is a different task and tests different skills, they do not all spend the same amount of time on each part. This is normal and you should practise extensively before the exam to see how you need to distribute your time. The paper has a standard structure and format so that you will know what to expect in each part of the paper. You should be aware that answers must be marked on the answer sheet within the time allowed. Some students prefer to transfer their answers at the end of each task rather than wait until they have completed the whole paper.

Are marks deducted for incorrect answers?
No, they are not. All marking is positive in the sense that you will get marks for your correct answers and nothing if the answer is incorrect.

If I write two possible answers to a question, how are they marked?
You must write one answer for each question. If you write more than one answer, you will not be given any marks.

How important is spelling in the Reading and Use of English paper?
In Parts 2, 3 and 4, all spelling must be correct.

Do contractions count as one word or two?
Contracted words count as the number of words they would be if they were not contracted. For example, isn’t, didn’t, I’m, I’ll are counted as two words (replacing is not, did not, I am, I will). Where the contraction replaces one word (e.g. can’t for cannot), it is counted as one word.

What happens if I miss a negative in the transformations, thereby giving the opposite meaning to the original?
The instructions state that the second sentence must have a similar meaning to the first. However, in the mark scheme the answer is divided into two parts (see below). The two parts of the sentence (either side of the dividing line) are always treated separately, so you will receive one mark for correctly completing one part of the sentence, even if a negative has been omitted from the other part.

E.g. I’ve never thought of asking the hotel staff for advice about restaurants.

It has …………. the hotel staff for advice about restaurants.
Answer: never occurred to me (1) | to ask (1)

Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

May 8, 2013 at 11:00 am

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