This post is based on my CAE: Reading – tips (1) post, because both reading and listening are passive skills.

What you listen to in English could be roughly divided into six categories:

  1. What you listen to at/for work
  2. What you listen to for fun
  3. What you listen to to prepare for the exam listening paper
  4. The exam listening tasks you do at home/school under exam conditions (=fast!)
  5. The exam listening tasks you do at home/school but more rewinding etc., analysing things

Now, let me explain the points above.

Some think that everything we listen to in English prepares us for the Advanced exam, but it’s not really the case.

If at work you only listen to informal conversations OR business negotiations OR very technical lectures full of specialist vocabulary – it’s not really exam preparation.

If for fun you only listen to rock songs OR sports events OR (sadly and surprisingly) series – it’s not really exam preparation.

Also, if to prepare for the exam you only do listening tasks pausing, rewinding etc. – it’s not really exam preparation.

Ideally, you should do point 5 and then, after a few weeks/months, point 4. Additionally, (if you are lucky, you do it at work or for fun) you should listen to real lectures and conversations similar to those found in the exam, but not exam tasks. Little by little, this should become part of your everyday life – in a way, Cambridge wants you to act like an educated British person and start listening to intelligent conversations on everyday basis. Same goes for reading. should be part of your everyday routine

Of course you can also follow all of the above on Facebook.

Remember to listen – and do nothing else. You can’t look up every word you don’t understand. And if you really must – use TED Talks to focus on the moments when all you hear is a grlblblwrl, then switch on the subtitles to see what was said, then listen again without the subtitles.

The biggest secret about listening in English is that is about pronunciation – so my next posts are going to be the rules of English pronunciation which you don’t have to use but you must listen for 🙂


Some tricks to check whether an expression is formal or informal (apart from looking it up in a few kinds of dictionaries or asking your teacher):

  • long Latin words (apprehension) and weird Germanic words (strength) are almost always formal (or neutral, so they are OK in a formal setting)
  • Use Enter your expression in the search box. A table with your expression should appear. Click your expression to show examples of its use. In a column to the left of the examples you shall see where the examples are from. If it’s “conv” (conversations), your expression is informal. If it’s “ac” (academic), it’s formal.
  • this blog is not written in formal English


Whenever you want to study the material from a given Use of English exercise, it’s a good idea to write down the full expressions that are being tested or take note of the grammar rules involved. By “full expressions” I mean the sort of expressions that appear in dictionaries.

You can also try to start noticing these expressions while reading for fun (you won’t have time for that if you are reading an exam Reading exercise). A word of caution though – you still need to read the types of texts that appear in the exam, i.e. mainly serious newspaper articles. A great source is The Guardian online.

First, let’s see how it is done with a normal text. At some later point, I’ll post about how to do it with Use of English exercises.

Here’s an article from The Guardian followed by my notes:

“New albums from some Universal Music artists will be available only to premium Spotify subscribers for the first two weeks of release, the two companies have announced. The deal means that for the first time ever, users of Spotify’s ad-supported free tier will not have access to the full catalogue of music on the streaming service. Instead, they will have to choose between paying up – the paid-for tier begins at £9.99 a month – or waiting another two weeks. Universal Music artists include Beck, Lorde, Katy Perry and Kanye West, as well as thousands of others. The streaming service says that artists can choose whether or not windowing applies to their work. The move, first rumoured in March, sees Spotify abandon its long-held stance that all music should be available to free subscribers, to encourage more people to sign up and then potentially convert them to a paid subscription down the line. Daniel Ek, chairman and chief executive of Spotify, said: “This partnership is built on a mutual love of music, creating value for artists and delivering for fans. We will be working together to help break new artists and connect new and established artists with a broadening universe of fans in ways that will wow them both.” Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group, said: “Today, streaming represents the majority of the business. Our challenge is transforming that upturn into sustainable growth. In a market this dynamic, one evolving more rapidly than ever before, success requires creative and continual re-evaluation of how best to bring artists’ music to fans.” Spotify’s largest competitors, including Apple Music and Tidal, do not have free tiers though both services allow time-limited free trials.”

1. release and rumour (noun = verb)

2. bla bla bla, someone have announced.

3. something happens for the first time ever

4. at £9.99 (the preposition used with prices is “at”)

5. x, y, z, as well as bla bla bla. (list-making)

6. to be able to choose whether or not + a sentence/ infinitive

7. broaden (verb), broad (adjective)

8. growth (noun), grow (verb)

9. competitor, competition, to compete

10.  though = although (but can be used at the end of sentences, too)

Now, if you have a well-organised notebook, you can copy the above expressions and structures into different sections:

word building: 1, 7, 8, 9

linking or writing: 5, 6, 10

tenses (Present Perfect): 2

time expressions: 3

prepositional phrases: 4


Part 4 in Paper 1 (Reading and Use of English) of the exam are the dreaded transformations. The best tip here is simply: practice makes perfect. Transformations are a bit like maths or puzzles, so just knowing English is not enough – many English people would also have problems with them! But that’s actually good news because, once you know what forms are expected, you will do it almost automatically.

  • remember that you can’t change the word given or put more than six words in the gap
  • do as many transformation exercises as you can
  • write down the full expressions that are being tested or take note of the grammar rules involved
  • put those expressions and rules into different groups such as “phrasal verbs” or “modals”
  • with time, you will notice how they keep reappearing in various books
  • do old transformations again and again using self-made paper cards or


Some examples from Quizlet. com (if necessary, change the options of the flashcards to see the sentences first, not the answer):


In Vince you will find transformations sorted according to their grammatical theme:


The second task in Reading and Use of English is a text with 8 gaps in it – but no options to choose from. The words needed for the gaps are usually relatively short: they are auxiliaries (do, have), pronouns (them, myself), prepositions (of, about) or linking words (but, still). The focus is rather on grammar than vocabulary.

The best way to strategy here is to become aware of what types of words get chosen and pay attention to all those little words in grammar structures. To practice this, you can use Quizlet, a website where people can make their own online flashcards or use online flashcards made by others. Here’s a selection. Just remember to switch the options so that you see the sentence first and not the gap!



Let’s have a look at the exam itself. Here are its parts:

A very important detail is how much time you’ve actually got. Reading and Use of English takes 1 hour 30 minutes. That’s 90 minutes for reading four long, advanced texts and doing the exercises that accompany them, as well as for further four long grammar&vocab exercises. That’s why it’s essential that you know the exam format very well not to waste any of that time on reading the instructions. You need a clear strategy for each task type. The same goes for Writing – after the break you get another 1 hour 30 minutes to write (and possibly copy) two pieces of writing. here you not only need to know how to create texts quickly – you also need to be able to write quickly in pen, which is something many people are not good at these days!


The Internet overwhelms with English resources. Here are some of them:

Exam specific exercises and tips:

An English-English dictionary:

A bilingual dictionary:

General advanced exercises:…


Vocabulary revision:

Learning through filling in songs lyrics:

For more grammar and vocabulary exercises, google
Vince Advanced Language Practice.