What the CAE Reading and Use of English Exam is Testing You on

It's obvious that each of the four exams you will do when you take the Cambridge Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) exam has been designed to test a different area of your English abilities. For example, the Listening exam is testing your listening abilities, the Speaking exam is testing your speaking abilities and the Writing exam is testing your writing abilities.

But what about the Reading and Use of English (UOE) exam? Is that just testing your ability to read in English and your ability to use English?

Although it is testing your reading abilities in English (because each part of the exam has a short or long text), it isn't really testing your ability to use the language (the Writing and Speaking parts of the exam are the ones that really do that).

Instead, the Reading/UOE exam has been specially designed to mainly test your:

  • Knowledge of English vocabulary
  • Knowledge of grammatical structures in English
  • Ability to understand a written text

But the parts of the exam tests your knowledge of and abilities to do different things

There are eight parts of the Reading/UOE exam, and each is different in some way. There is not only a difference in the format/structure of the exercise you have to do in each part (the type of questions and what you have to do), but also in the area(s) of English it is testing/evaluating you on.

Each part of the exam is testing your knowledge of a specific thing or things in English (e.g. knowledge of synonyms, knowledge of word/phrases structures (e.g. what prepositions are used with words or phrases) etc...) and/or your ability to do specific things (e.g. identify what the grammatical type is of words/phrases (e.g. a preposition, a verb etc...), use the context of a text to predict the meaning of words/phrases etc...).

The reason why this is important to know

In my experience, students find some parts of this exam more difficult to do than others. And the parts which students struggle (have problems) with is different for each student.

By knowing what areas of English a part (or parts) of the Reading/UOE exam you have difficulties with is specifically testing you on, will firstly help you know what area(s) of English that you need to focus on improving. And secondly, it will help you to do the different parts of exam better (what you have to look for and think about when doing each part of the exam) and quicker. And both of these will help you to get a higher score in the exam.

Differences to the FCE Reading/UOE exam

If you haven't done or studied for the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) exam before, you can ignore this part and start reading the next one. But if you have, I recommend that you read it.

In general, most of the parts of the CAE Reading/UOE exam are testing you on the same areas of English knowledge and abilities as in the FCE exam. Even the new exercise in the exam (part 6) is mostly testing you on areas of your English knowledge and abilities that you will have been tested on in other parts of the FCE Reading/UOE exam (e.g. knowledge of synonyms).

Even so, to do well in this CAE Reading/UOE exam you need to have a greater knowledge of all areas (more extensive and advanced vocabulary on a variety of topics, a good understanding of complex grammatical structures etc...) than was necessary in the FCE one.

However, there are some things that you will be tested more on in the CAE exam than in the FCE one. One of these is your knowledge of commonly used expressions and idioms (e.g. 'out of time', 'behind my back' etc...). And connected to this, you will have more questions (especially in the reading parts of the exam) where you have to identify what a person's opinion is on something or how they feel about something. Which is not particularly easy to do.

What the 8 parts are testing you

Below I will explain what the specific areas of English (both knowledge and ability to do things) which each part of Reading/UOE exam is testing you on:

Part 1

  • Knowledge of word/phrase structures (e.g. what prepositions go with words etc...).
  • Ability to use the context of a sentence to identify what a missing word should be.
  • Knowledge of phrasal verbs (e.g. break up).
  • Knowledge of common expressions/phrases (e.g. 'under the weather', 'a white lie' etc...).

Part 2

  • Ability to identify what the grammatical type of a missing word is (e.g. a preposition, an article etc...).
  • Knowledge of word/phrase structures (e.g. what prepositions go with words etc...).
  • Ability to use the context of a sentence to identify what a missing word should be.
  • Knowledge of phrasal verbs (e.g. break up).
  • Knowledge of common expressions/phrases (e.g. 'under the weather', 'a white lie' etc...).

Part 3

  • Ability to identify what the grammatical type of a missing word is (e.g. a verb, an adjective, a noun or an adverb).
  • Knowledge of word/phrase structures (e.g. what prepositions go with words, etc...).
  • Ability to use the context of a sentence to identify what a missing word should be.
  • Knowledge of prefixes (e.g. impolite) and suffixes (e.g. useless) of words.

Part 4

  • Ability to correctly structure sentences.
  • Knowledge of word/phrase structures (e.g. what prepositions go with words etc...).
  • Knowledge of synonyms (e.g. 'go to' means the same as 'attend') especially for verbs.
  • Knowledge of phrasal verbs (e.g. break up).
  • Knowledge of common expressions/phrases (e.g. 'under the weather', 'a white lie' etc...).
  • Ability to identify what the grammatical type of a word is (e.g. a verb, an adjective, a noun or an adverb).

Part 5

  • Knowledge of synonyms of words and phrases (e.g. 'dull' means the same as 'boring').
  • Knowledge of examples of vocabulary (e.g. 'the World Cup' is an example of a 'sporting event').
  • Ability to use the context of a text to predict the meaning of words and phrases.
  • Ability to identify what a person's opinion and/or feeling is about something.

Part 6

  • Ability to identify the differences and similarities in opinions (i.e. know when people are agreeing and disagreeing with each other on topics).
  • Knowledge of synonyms of words and phrases (e.g. 'dull' means the same as 'boring').
  • Knowledge of examples of vocabulary (e.g. 'the World Cup' is an example of a 'sporting event').
  • Ability to use the context of a text to predict the meaning of words and phrases.

Part 7

  • Knowledge of how to structure a good piece of writing (i.e. what makes a piece of writing flow well and makes it easy to read and understand).
  • Ability to identify from the context, what the topic of a paragraph and a sentence is.
  • Knowledge of words/phrases used to link two paragraphs together (e.g. besides, however etc...).
  • Knowledge of pronouns used (e.g. she, him, ours) to refer to things said in previous paragraphs/sentences.
  • Knowledge of examples of vocabulary (e.g. 'the World Cup' is an example of a 'sporting event').

Part 8

  • Knowledge of synonyms of words and phrases (e.g. 'dull' means the same as 'boring').
  • Knowledge of examples of vocabulary (e.g. 'the World Cup' is an example of a 'sporting event').
  • Ability to use the context of a text to predict the meaning of words and phrases.
  • Ability to identify what a person's opinion and/or feeling is about something.

What else you need to do

As I said before, knowing what each part of the Reading/UOE exam is testing you on is important for helping you to improve your score in this part of exam. But it is not the only thing you need to do to do well.

One of the big problems that people have when doing the CAE Reading/UOE is time. It is not unusual for people to not complete every part of the exam in the time they are given to do it.

To both do the CAE Reading/UOE exam well and quickly, you need to have a method for doing the different parts of it. A method for each which stops you rereading the same parts of the exam too many times, getting confused and that helps you to identify the correct answers easier and reduces the number of mistakes you make.

I encourage you to look at each part of the exam and using what I have told you it is testing you on think of ways of doing it quicker. Think of what is necessary and not necessary to do (e.g. should you read the full text first before answering the questions or can you answer the questions while you read the text the first time?). Also think about the reasons why you are making mistakes in each part and what things can help you to stop making them.

In the next couple of months, I am planning to write an eBook on different methods that I recommend you use for doing the different parts of the CAE Reading/UOE exam. As soon as it is ready, I will link to it from both this web page and this website.