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Useful Tips for Teaching

Cambridge English Exam Preparation

First Certificate of English [FCE] & Cambridge Advanced English [CAE]

by Luke Parker

Here are some ideas, tips and ‘heads up’ for when you teach either CAE
and/or FCE preparation classes. These are all ideas I have created and
developed from teaching these classes over the past few years, which work
well and I currently include in my workshops for ESL teachers. I hope they
prove useful to you.

Both CAE and FCE are split into 5 papers:

• Reading
• Writing
• Use of English (grammar, vocabulary, sentence structures, etc.)
• Listening
• Speaking


i. Do as many READING/LISTENING TESTS as possible – this gives the

students a variety of language to work with and builds their
ii. Prepare new lessons and mark test papers while they are doing
practice exams. CAE and FCE require a lot of extra preparation and
marking and if you keep taking a lot of work home you can burn out.
This would be no good at all for the class. It is better that you are
fresh and energized each day, thus time management is important.
iii. Don’t feel bad about marking exam papers in class with the students,
this way they will focus on their mistakes and corrections as well as
giving you more time to plan lessons and mark writing tasks.
However it is good to mark monthly tests over the weekend so they
have to wait for their results. This gets them used to doing the actual
exam and dealing with the nerves!
iv. When marking the test with the class, you need to go over each
mistake that any student doesn’t understand. This will strengthen all
the student’s English language knowledge.
v. Every now and again mark papers harshly (although not too harshly
so as to make them feel like they won’t pass!). Marking harshly can
make them study harder.
vi. Give the students plenty of home reading to do e.g. magazines,
newspapers, websites, short books and any other literature. They can
also choose their own reading material and then occasionally give
presentations in front of the class on what they have read, in order to
also practice for the SPEAKING PAPER. This can even be done in a
vii. Ask students to use new sentence structures, wording, phrases and
vocabulary learnt from READING PAPERS, and put it into a future essays.
viii. Review past Reading Tests that they have found difficult, several
weeks later.
ix. Read a book together as a class a little a day, reviewing any grammar,
sentence structures and vocabulary they find difficult. You can also
do this with play scripts, with each student taking on a character. If
some characters have more to say than others then make sure you
swap round characters each day (I found that ‘An Inspector Calls’ by
J. B. Priestley was a good one to do).


i. Group up the students and get them to check for mistakes in each
others writings (this can be done before or after the essays have been
ii. Get students to teach one another the corrections of some of their own
mistakes. You can then select one or two from each student in class
and put the subject language in a test or quiz at the end of the week.
iii. Ask students to make a note of their own mistakes (particularly ones
they repeat) and put that corrected grammar (or sentence structure)
into a piece of writing or essay later that week. And into another essay
the week after. It is important to re-use corrected language structures.
iv. Get students to write a READING TEST task for other students to answer.
This gets them practicing WRITING in another way and helps them to
get familiar with the tasks in the READING TEST also.
v. Set short writing tasks where students must edit and re-edit their work.
vi. Have some speed writing competitions in class. Make sure you set a
maximum amount of words so that they will have to edit their own
work before finishing. It’s about quality not quantity. Also, this way
you won’t have to mark pages and pages of rubbish!
vii. As a class, brainstorm WRITING PAPER questions that they could set
themselves that are similar to ones they have come across.


i. Make a competition (could be on-going with points being

awarded) out of each section of the USE OF ENGLISH PAPEr (or even a
game show), so that working on USE OF ENGLISH becomes a fun part
of the class. Building English skills while having fun is very
important, especially for exam preparation class. If the lessons are
too serious all the time the students will start switching off, even if
they seem to want class to be serious all the time! Make sure
students understand that having fun with grammar really helps to
summarize new language and help it sink in.
ii. One of the hardest sections for students in the USE OF ENGLISH PAPER
is the part where students must write a few words in a gap in order
to re-write a given sentence in another way. A really fun way to
practice this is by writing a complex sentence on the board (which
students can also do) and getting the class to come up with as
many ways as they can to re-write the sentence using a variety of
synonyms, phrases, word orders and expressions. For example: re-
write: ‘I need to find a job’. Possible answers could be:
I have to look for some work; It’s important that I search for a new
position; etc.
iii. Put the students into teams and get the students to make a USE OF
ENGLISH styled quiz of their own, using problems from past papers
or just new questions they make up. Then let the challenge
iv. There are many websites (Cambridge for one) where students can
practice exam questions to their hearts content. If the school
doesn’t have enough computers then you can pair/group up
students of course. Plus they can do these exercises in their spare
time. Get the students to make a note of their scores so as to review
their own progress.
v. Each day, or at least every other day, in turn each student can be
given the task of teaching something new to the rest of the class
that they have learnt from a USE OF ENGLISH PAPER, or any other
grammar that they have learnt recently. I call it the ‘New Point of
the Day’.


Part 1 (talking about themselves)

i. Make sure the students talk about themselves as much as possible

in class (relating to Part 1 of the SPEAKING TEST), using mixed tenses
(particularly present and past tenses).
ii. A good thing for students to do in order to prepare for talking
about themselves is to make a diagram of their life regarding their
past, present and future. Categories could be: career and education;
hobbies and interests; mind and health; important people in their
life; etc.
iii. Another good activity is for students to learn new things about
each other in pairs. Then swap pairs and tell another partner about
that person. You can take this exercise further by swapping pairs
again and students can then tell another person what they learnt
about the last person they heard about, in order to keep re-using
language needed for the SPEAKING TEST.
iv. Each student should have a several well-constructed, advanced
sentences, phrases and even paragraphs up their sleeves (not
literally) which they can produce fluently when talking about

Part 2 (talking about pictures)

v. A great way to practice talking about pictures is to have plenty of

magazines at hand and to pair up students and get them to leaf
through magazines together talking about interesting pictures they
come across (National Geographic is a good one for this) as if
they are in a coffee shop. You could even provide the coffee!
vi. Make sure the students avoid repetition when talking. A great way
to help this is by regularly learning synonyms.
vii. A lot of the Speaking Exam is talking about pictures, so make sure
students are extremely proficient when talking about
pictures/photos and things in pictures and photos. Therefore it
would be very useful to students that you cover the grammar
needed, for example:
• articles
• prepositions of placement for 2D and 3D views
• modal verbs of assumption/deduction (must be, could be, etc)
• looks/seems + like/as though/as if
• complex comparative sentences
• the correct verb tense (mostly simple)

In General

viii. SPEAKING PAPER practice can be done in pairs or in ‘pairs of pairs’

(with one pair acting as the two examiners) or as a pair in front of
the class. Also, doing the test in front of the whole class will help
students build their confidence, which is essential for the SPEAKING
PAPER. All observers should try to spot any mistakes and make a
note, then at the end of the test, give feedback. This is a great way
for students to practice listening to English intently and keep
ix. Whatever feedback they receive, they should make a note of their
weaknesses and concentrate on improving these areas on their next
two SPEAKING TEST practices. If grammatical, they can also make a
note and use their corrections in their future WRITING tasks too.
x. Students could also use WRITING PAPER tasks to practice SPEAKING.
This will help them get to know the WRITING PAPER at the same
xi. Get them to review each others speaking test practice day by day.
xii. Vary the sections of the SPEAKING PAPER without the students
knowing which papers they are about to do. This can be with a
variety of just one or two sections (i.e. 1-2 3-4 1-3 2-4 etc) or all at
once. That’ll keep them on their toes!
xiii. It is important that students do not let their mind wonder during the
SPEAKING PAPER, not even for a second. It can be hard to jump back
on the flow of the conversation. Concentration games are a great
fun way to help with this. - - Here’s a good one for you: the class
sits in a circle counting 1 to 21 one person at a time. If someone
says the next 2 numbers instead of just one e.g. 1, 2, 34! then the
direction changes. And if someone says three numbers in a row,
you skip the next person. Now when the class reaches 21, they
elect a number to be changed to a word. Plus when someone
counts too slow, or hesitates, or makes any mistake at all - then the
number that they were supposed to say becomes a word. (For
example ‘3’ becomes ‘conglomerate’ and everyone has to say
‘conglomerate’ instead of ‘3’!) Eventually you end up with lots of
numbers as words and everyone must remember which number is a
word - and what that word is!
xiv. Speed speaking games are also a great way to improve their
speaking skills. The classic game ‘Talk for one minute’ for
example. Or list lots of choice vocabulary on the board and
students must say coherent, correlating sentences and get through
all the vocabulary as quickly as possible. NB. However make sure
they do not then go into the exam talking as fast as they can!
xv. It is important that students are cool, calm and collective in their
SPEAKING PAPER. If they can, students should try to relax and enjoy
just hanging out and chatting in the Speaking Exam.
xvi. Tell students to avoid moments of silence, but don’t ramble. Just
relax and have a conversation.
xvii. Let students know that it is okay to ask the examiner to repeat what
they have said when they don’t understand the question.


i. As well as doing the whole paper, also concentrate on each type of

task from each paper, doing similar tasks over and over so that
they become very familiar with each task. This will surely build
their confidence.
ii. Do not let any student speak English at any time in the classroom,
no matter what the reason. And encourage the students not to use
their mother tongue at all during the exam preparation period.
They all need to be thinking (and dreaming) in English by the time
the test date arrives, particularly if they are sitting the CAE.
iii. Work on their timing. Another trick you can use is to give them
less and less time to do the test each week e.g. 2 hours the first
time, 1 hour 50 minutes the next, 1 hour and 40 minutes and so on.
This will make them fell that they have loads of time when they do
it for real!
iv. You are their sergeant-major and their mum! So make sure they
feel good and cared about as a lot of people find taking exams
quite daunting. Keep up the team spirit and morale. Do make them
feel worked and well-prepared though, constantly going over
problem areas and summarising what they have done (each week
particularly) making sure everything has sunk in. When their tired
of it all, play games to reinforce their exam knowledge and
repeatedly go over problem areas.

I hope this information helps you with your teaching.

If you like these ideas then please make a note of my scribd page
www.scribd.com/MrLukeParker and website www.lukeparker.net where
more lesson and workshop material will gradually become available; plus
where I’ll be releasing several books of educational games and activities
later in 2011.

I wish you the best of luck to you and your students.

Luke Parker
( teacher / workshop-leader / musician)