CPE Use of English Part One tips

Summary: How to do well in and study for the first part of Cambridge Proficiency Use of English

CPE Use of English Part One exam tips

Before doing Use of English Part One tasks in the exam

  • Context is not so important in this part of the exam, but you should probably quickly read through the whole text before looking at the different options. Make a mental note of any words which might go into the gap if they pop into your head, but it’s not worth underlining anything or writing anything down at this stage.

Answering Use of English Part One questions

  • Quickly look through the four options. If any of the options sounds really right in the gap, that is almost certainly the answer and you should circle it and quickly move onto the next question. If you think that you probably have the right answer, don’t waste time crossing off other options etc at this stage.

What to do if you aren’t sure about Use of English Part One answers

  • If you are fairly sure but not certain that something is the right answer, circle that answer and put a question mark next to it to remind yourself to check it later, then quickly move onto the next question.
  • If aren’t sure which answer is right but one or more options seem really wrong, cross them off. The other three options are always wrong, so theoretically you can cross off three wrong answers and then choose the one remaining option. Common reasons for the other options being wrong include not fitting in that fixed phrase/ idiom, not collocating with words before or after the gap, having (slightly) the wrong meaning or not fitting grammatically with words before and/ or after.
  • If you still aren’t sure which answer is correct, underline words before and/ or after the gap which seem to go with the word(s) in the gap, e.g. as part of fixed phrase like an idiom or other kind of collocation. If you still aren’t sure, circle whichever sounds least wrong with two question marks to show that you’d like to check again later if you have time. If the two or three remaining options seem equally (un)suitable, then just choose at random and move on.
  • Never move onto another question before at least guessing, and never spend more than 45 seconds on one question. If you don’t know the answer, you aren’t suddenly going to remember in another one or two minutes. You should therefore rush through as quickly as possible to leave more time for other tasks and to leave more time to try again and check your answers at the end of the test.

Transferring Use of English Part One answers

  • Some people prefer to transfer their answers section by section, but it might be better to see how much extra time you have at the end to check your answers first, then transfer all your answers in the last ten minutes.
  • In Part One, the most likely mistake when transferring your answers is to copy the answer next to the wrong question (e.g. writing A next to 3 when you wanted to write it next to 4), so be careful about that.
  • Don’t try to check your answers and write on the answer sheet at the same time. If you make changes later, transfer all those new answers at the same time without looking at the text again.
  • If you need to change an answer on your answer sheet, make sure that you fully erase the other answer and fully shade in the new answer (so that it is much darker than anything that is left after you have erased the original answer).

Checking Use of English Part One answers/ Using extra time at the end

  • First of all, make sure that you use your extra time on the right section of the exam. For most people extra time would be more usefully spent on other parts of Use of English or Reading, because in Use of English Part One you generally know the answer or you don’t.
  • If you do want to spend extra time on this part of the exam, read through the text again with the words that you put into each gap, to make sure that it makes sense and sounds right. Particularly concentrate on any answers which you put question marks next to.
  • If you are sure that your original answer doesn’t make sense, change it. However, if the original answer and one of the other options seem equally likely, it’s probably best to trust your original instincts and stick to the first answer.
  • Students often get confused between an answer which instinctively sounds right and an answer which they vaguely remember studying at some point. If you read a lot in English, you should usually trust your instincts more than your more conscious knowledge (and if you don’t, you really have to start reading a lot to pass CPE!)


CPE Use of English Part One preparation tips

Doing CPE Use of English Part One exam practice at home

  • This is probably the part of the test that improves least with lots of practice, so it’s only usually worth doing Part One as part of a whole timed paper.
  • If you are doing Part One on its own, you should still initially do it as timed exam practice. Make sure that you can read through the whole text, answer all the questions (guessing where necessary) and transfer your answers within seven or eight minutes (and much faster if possible).

After doing CPE Use of English Part One exam practice at home

  • After finishing timed exam practice at home, always read through the text with the words that you put in the gaps to double check that it sounds right and makes sense. It can also be worthwhile to check that you understand why all three other options are wrong and cross them all off (even if it’s only because “It doesn’t collocate with…”)
  • Double check with a dictionary and/ or google collocations (put in quotation marks) to find which collocation is most common, starting with questions that you still aren’t sure about. It’s better to do this before checking your answers, as later you will be less motivated and therefore the language will be less memorable.
  • After checking with the key, check that you understand why the other three options are wrong each time. If it isn’t clear, check with a dictionary, the internet, your teacher, etc.
  • For any questions which you got wrong or only got right through luck, write down an open cloze with just a gap and no hints. Or for more challenge or a change you could write down a sentence with the wrong word(s) in (without showing where the gap was). You should then test yourself once or twice a day on what’s missing or how the sentence should be corrected, until you can get it right four or five times in a row. Transfer any tasks to which you still don’t remember the answer to a new list, then throw the old list away.
  • Then go back and do the same exam task/ paper three or four weeks later.

Other preparation for CPE Use of English Part One

  • Studying collocations such as fixed phrases is useful for language development but there is an almost infinite number of collocations, so lots and lots of reading is much more important for getting an instinct about what sounds right (especially for Part One, even more than for the rest of the exam).
  • Although this can be bad for other skills such as quick reading and concentrating on key information (which are more important for many students), underlining interesting collocations while reading can be good preparation for this part of the exam.
  • Some study of linking phrases like “Nevertheless” is worthwhile if this is a weak point.

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Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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