CPE Use of English Part Three tips

Summary: How to do well in and prepare for Cambridge Proficiency word formation tasks

Doing Use of English Part Three in the CPE exam

How to do well in and prepare for Cambridge Proficiency word formation tasks.

Before doing Use of English Part Three tasks

  • Read through the whole text before looking at the root words at the side of the text. This is even more important in Part Three than in other parts of Reading and Use of English, as mistakes are often due to words which don’t make sense in the context. You can write answers down if they pop into your head, but don’t pause to think about the correct answer while reading through the whole text first.

Answering Use of English Part Three questions

  • If an answer pops into your head straightaway when you look at the root word it may well be the right answer, but double check that you don’t need a negative, plural, etc by re-reading the sentence with that word in it.
  • Check your spelling as you write the word in the gap. If you aren’t sure, write different possible spellings and check which seems best e.g. writing down and then choosing between “definitely”, “definitily” and “definetely”. If you aren’t sure which is right, choose the one which seems least wrong.

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

  • If you aren’t sure what the answer is, try to work out what kind of word is missing from the gap, e.g. that the answer should be an adjective because the word after the gap is a noun. It can help to underline the relevant words before or after the gap, e.g. underlining the verb that the adverb in the gap goes together with. Then try to think of a suitable word with that form.
  • Remember that you must change the word (even if the root seems to fit the gap) and the answer must be one word (not a contraction or compound noun with a gap, which count as two words). Even words which have very different meanings from the root are possible (e.g. “extraordinary” from “ordinary”, “unpleasant” from “please”, “impair” from “pair”, “environmentally” from “environs”, “consequences” from “sequence”, or “downside” from “side”).
  • If what you have written seems wrong and you have enough time, write as many variations as you can of the root word (e.g. “expectant”, “unexpected”, “expectation” etc for “expect”) and choose the one which sounds right (or least wrong) in the gap.
  • Never spend more than 45 seconds on one question. If you aren’t sure, just write anything based on the root word and move on, coming back later if you have time.
  • Write something for each gap before you move onto the next section of the test.

Transferring Use of English Part Three answers

  • Transfer all your answers after finishing this section or in the last ten minutes of the test. If you left a gap earlier, just write any other form of the root word, even if it doesn’t make sense. In the unlikely event that you don’t know any other forms of that word, add affixes like “de-” and “-tion” to make something that at least sounds like a word.
  • Double check all spellings when you transfer your answers. All spelling variations (British spelling, American spelling, etc) are okay, but a spelling mistake means no point.

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

  • More than the other parts of Use of English, in this part of the exam just trusting what sounds right often doesn’t work. This is because the word that you write might collocate with words before and after the gap and so sound right, but not make sense in context in the text or not fit grammatically. For example, candidates who write whatever sounds best often miss that a negative word (“un…”, “dis…” etc) or a plural is needed. Therefore, Part Three is one of the best parts of Use of English to go back to if you have extra time at the end of the test.
  • Re-read the whole text with your answers in to make sure that the words fit grammatically, sound right in context and (most importantly) make sense in the text.
  • If you still have time, double-check that none of the words need to be negative, especially if you have written fewer than two or three negative words.
  • Other typical mistakes include using a gerund instead of an actual noun (“on his + watching” rather than “on his + watch”), making mistakes with singular and plural (e.g. “distance” instead of “distances”), using the wrong noun (e.g. “botany” instead of “botanists”), and using the wrong form of the verb (e.g. “illustrate” instead of “illustrates”, “illustrated” or “illustrating”)


Preparing for CPE Use of English Part Three tips

Doing CPE Use of English Part Three exam practice at home

  • Always start by doing the task as timed exam-style practice, preferably as part of a whole timed Reading and Use of English paper.
  • Aim to read the whole text, write some kind of answer (even just a guess) for every question and re-read each answer in context in its sentence within seven or eight minutes. Reading through the text first should take no more than two or three minutes.

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

  • Before checking your answers read through the whole text with your answers in it to make sure that all the words make sense in context.
  • Then go back to each answer and check that other forms of the root word aren’t possible. Only one form will be correct, so if anything else sounds right, decide which one is wrong.
  • Check with a dictionary, then check with the answer key.
  • After you check your answers with the answer key, write down any words which you got wrong or only got right through luck, plus any other useful forms of the root words which you found in your dictionary.

Other preparation for CPE Use of English Part Three

  • Even more than the other parts of this paper, to prepare for Part Three you should make sure that you read a wide range of both fiction and non-fiction.
  • If you come across a new form of a word while reading, e.g. you see “speculative” and only previously knew “speculate” and “speculation”, you should at least underline it in the same way you would with new vocabulary, even if you understand the meaning.
  • To memorise new forms of words, put the root word on the left-hand side of a page or on one side of a flashcard and all the other forms of that word, including the new form(s), on the other side. Test yourself by mentally brainstorming as many forms as you can each time, then check if you missed any.
  • Another possibility is to write wrong forms such as mistakes that you made during exam practice on the left and test yourself on the correct forms.
  • You should also get into the habit of learning every form of a word when you come across new vocabulary, e.g. also learning “impairment” if you look up “impair” in the dictionary.
  • It is well worth doing self-study worksheets on word formation, especially negative prefixes, if this is a particular weak point.

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Written by Alex Case for UsingEnglish.com

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