If you’ve ever studied English in Europe, you’ve probably heard of the Cambridge exams. Designed to put your English reading, writing, speaking, listening and grammatical skills to the test, a Cambridge certificate is ultra helpful when you’re applying to universities, masters programmes or jobs that require English. The exams are tricky and do require some serious studying, but there are a few tried and true study tips for the Cambridge exams that will have you pass the test with flying colours. Make sure to stay tuned until the end of the post for the most important tip of all for guaranteed success!
Study tips for the Cambridge Reading & Use of English exam
For this article, we’ll focus on the First Certificate (FCE), Advanced (CAE) and Proficiency (CPE) Cambridge exams exclusively, which all have the same format. (Find a full list of the Cambridge exams here and their corresponding levels.) This first portion of the test, Reading and Use of English, is dedicated to grammar and reading comprehension. So what’s the best way to study for it? Read!
Read as much as you can, whenever you can. From novels to newspapers, blogs and short stories, reading is the best way to improve your performance on this part of the test. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at the set texts for the First for Schools and the Proficiency exams. As you read, don’t stop to look up words (you can underline or highlight them and come back later), just continue until the end of the chapter and focus on the general meaning. You’ll be amazed at your progress if you try to read a book every two weeks or every month!
Study tips for the Cambridge Writing exam
This part of the exam goes hand in hand with the reading section – if you want to improve your writing, start by reading. How will this help you when you sit down to take your exam? Reading exposes you to all different types of vocabulary, sentence structures and expressions, which you’ll absorb without even realising it. What else can you do? Start a journal – by getting into the habit of writing in English daily or at least every other day, you’ll feel more comfortable as you write. This should help prevent the dreaded writer’s block when you sit down to take the real test!
Study tips for the Cambridge Listening exam
Now comes for the fun part. When you’re getting prepared for the listening portion of the test, you can get as creative as you want! Watch Netflix TV shows and movies in English, listen to the podcasts galore available for free download or check out the international news on TV or online. If you’re watching something rather than listening to a podcast, start with subtitles and work up to removing them as you advance. One tip: as these are the Cambridge exams, go for British TV shows and podcasts, which will prepare you for some of the accents you’ll hear in the normal test.
Study tips for the Cambridge Speaking exam
This is often the part students get the most nervous about and may not even remember anything about it once the exam is done! To practise for the speaking part, you’ll need to use the voice recorder on your mobile phone. Choose a topic you’d like to talk about (your favourite hobby, describing your hometown or your family, a place you’d like to visit in the future, etc.) and without preparing anything beforehand, record yourself talking about your subject for an entire minute or two. When you play your recording back, you’ll be able to hear the mistakes you made, identify any crutch words (so, um, well, etc.) and analyse your speed and volume. If you have a study buddy, it’s even better to record a conversation together, as you’ll have to speak individually and with a partner during the real test.
The best study tip for the Cambridge exams
So, without further delay, the number one best study tip for the Cambridge exams is to do as many practise tests as you possibly can, especially during the month before your test date. Finally, the Cambridge exams are exams, and you have to learn the format of the test on top of all your English skills. Doing practise tests will help you perfect your timing, know what to expect and get you used to the types of questions that usually come up.
For materials, you can download a sample test from the Cambridge website and buy practise test books from Amazon. If you’re taking a course, most all textbooks linked to the Cambridge exams have at least one practise test in the back. In the month leading up to your exam, do one practice test a week, in the same conditions you would experience on test day (a quiet room, strict timing and regulated breaks). If you follow this tip, you’re practically guaranteed to pass your Cambridge exam!