Top Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge Advanced Reading Exam Questions

By the time you get to an advanced level, you should be able to understand the main ideas of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics. However, in the Cambridge Advanced exam you will be asked to understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts and recognise their implicit meaning.

In order to get good scores in your Advanced exam, there are two things you will most certainly need to get focus on – 1) having a C1 level of language and 2) being able to choose and employ the best techniques when completing each task. Here at Atlas, we not only push our students to keep on expanding the range of language you can use confidently and accurately, but we also teach you the techniques needed to get the exam scores you want.

1. Using graded readers

To make sure that you are prepared to read texts in the Cambridge Advanced, you’ll have to have the ability to read texts at that level. Reading original novels can often prove a little difficult, especially if they are full of unknown vocabulary and complex structures. So one way to improve your reading skills is to choose what is known as a graded reader.

What is a graded reader? Well, they are books based on the original novel and the language is adapted to different levels. What’s more, they also often include activities at the back of the book related to each chapter to help you understand the context and language of the text a little better.

While studying for the Cambridge Advanced exam, we recommend that you get a graded reader for your level. That would be a C1 reader. It might also be an idea to choose one that at some point has been made into a film. After reading the book you could then also watch the movie and compare the stories. Was the movie true to the story? English-language graded readers can truly make reading more enjoyable, so taking advantage of them will really help you with your reading.

graded C1 readers

Picture taken by “Hana Ticha”, eltpics

Of course, if you do choose to read a novel in its original format, make sure you choose one that isn’t too complicated as you have to make sure that you enjoy reading the book to get the most out of it. Another tip is to underline the unknown words and continue until the end of the chapter. Then you can go back through the chapter and study and take note of the underlined words that you didn’t understand.

2. How to guess the meaning of words you don’t know?

So, when you read a text in English, it’s unlikely that you’ll know and completely understand all of the vocabulary. It’s essential that you have the techniques to deal with this. Here are some of the best tips we give our students at Atlas.

What part of speech is it?

Let’s look at the sentences below:

  1. When he saw his colleague with his new car, he was green with envy.
  2. He looked at his car enviously.
  3. He envied everything the other man had.

What part of speech does each one contain?

envy = a noun

enviously = an adverb

envied = a verb.

We can see that ‘envy’ forms part of a collocation and suggests how he was feeling. ‘Enviously’ could be the way he looked at the car, and ‘envied’ expresses how he thought about the man and may have expressed his envy to someone else. As you can see, realising what part of speech is being said can help you find a correct answer.

Use the picture clues

Sometimes a Cambridge First text can come with pictures so see if they provide any clues.

Break down the word

Let’s have a look at the following sentence:

The book was unputdownable. I loved it.

It contains a word that you might not have seen before, ‘unputdownable”. So let’s break it down to see if we can understand it better.

prefix: un = not

phrasal Verb: put down = to leave something down

suffix: -able = not able to be

So, if we put it all together we can see that she was not able to put down the book because she loved it.

Relate it to a word you know

When you don’t recognise try to think of a word that looks similar. For example, consider the sentence: The movie was absolutely disastrous.

Can you think of another word that has a similar word form to disastrous? If you got ‘disaster’ then you’d be on your way to understanding the word ‘disastrous’. 

Keep reading or re-read the sentence

Make sure you read the whole sentence to get the meaning of the word, or even the following sentence to see if it contains any information about what the word is about. For example, look at this sentence: John never really hit it off with Jane. They were always fighting and arguing about stupid things.

We can see that the people probably weren’t very friendly with each other, so ‘hit it off’ could mean that they didn’t like each other, which it does. 

Has it got a positive or negative connotation?

Let’s look at two the sentences below:

  1. He was always a very thrifty man and managed his money well.
  2. He was always a very stingy man and managed his money well.

Which one has got a positive meaning and which one has got a negative meaning?

‘Thrifty’ means that he’s quite economical with his money, but doesn’t mean that he’s not generous with his money. ‘Stingy’, on the other hand means that he’s probably economical with his money, but also connotes that he doesn’t like to give his money away.

When you encounter an unknown word, you should really ask yourself a few of these questions to try and get as close to what you think the meaning is. But, of course, don’t stress if you only get the general idea.

3. Differentiating between fact, opinion and attitude

One of the challenges that you will have to face in the Cambridge Advanced Reading paper is to differentiate between attitude, opinion and fact. It will be some of the subtleties of the language that you will have to be able to differentiate between and they can come in many forms.

When you see words like: reveal, demonstrate, to be, know, realise, and aware in a sentence, these are all used to represent facts.

Let’s look at the following sentences:

  1. The boy was happy.
  2. He demonstrated how it worked.
  3. She finally revealed the truth about what happened.

There is nothing in these sentences to suggest that it was someone’s opinion or that it didn’t happen.

However, if we change or add words like: suggest, say, think, possibly etc., these can change the language from a fact to an opinion or to something that didn’t happen.

For example, consider the following sentences:

  1. His father thought the boy was happy.
  2. He said he knew what happened.
  3. She possibly told him about what happened.

All of these sentences above suggest that it was someone’s opinion or that the situation may not have happened.

You will certainly be tested on language that suggests a fact or an opinion so make sure you are ready to differentiate between the two.

4. How to improve your multiple matching task

The one part that students tend to have most difficulty with in the Advanced Reading paper is the the multiple matching task. The reason for this can be because, students simply don’t know what they are looking for and do it without really knowing the techniques needed to find the correct answer.

What this part of the exam is usually testing you on is the use of pronouns (e.g., this, these, it, he, him, their etc), and also contrasting language (e.g., however, but, although etc.). It will also test you on the general contexts, so you’ll need to pay attention to the language too.

If we look at the example and answer above, we can clearly see that the pre- and post- paragraphs are describing the animal. The word ‘image’ in the answer is the key to it being the right one. Furthermore, the word ‘however’ in the post-paragraph can also help you see the contrast in the context of the themes in the text.

CAE Reading Preparation.jpg

Example taken from page 17 of the Cambridge English Advanced Handbook for Teachers.

These tips and suggestions will hopefully put you on the right track for preparing for the Cambridge Advanced Reading paper. Remember, though, above all, you will learn to read better by reading more. So, choose a range of different types of texts, read widely and talk about your texts with others. As you know, you can find these texts everywhere so get out there and start reading. This will help you make reading fun.

If you found the above tips useful make sure to also take advantage of our top tips on how to prepare for the Cambridge Adavcned (CAE) Writing and Speaking exams or the Use of English exam questions.