Top Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge First Reading Exam Questions

Reading is a skill that can be very difficult to improve without proper practice. One reason for this could be that as a student you simply don’t read enough in your own language. Another reason might be that you don’t know what techniques to use when doing each task in the exam.

There are many little tricks that you should think about when preparing for and doing each of the reading questions in Paper 1. At Atlas, we provide our students with the tools to get better scores in the reading.

Here are a few of the best.

1. Using graded readers

One reason that some students don’t like to read in English is because they find English novels too complicated with too much unknown vocabulary. They just don’t enjoy reading such books in English as they are still learning the language. However, there is a solution to this… choose to read 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 can include activities at the back of the book related to each chapter to help you understand the context and language of the text better.

While studying for the Cambridge First exam, we recommend that you get one for your level. That would be a B2 graded 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 readers

Picture taken by “Hana Ticha”, eltpics

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

So what happens when you don’t understand a word and you can’t use your dictionary to look it up? First, we recommend that you don’t worry, before, second, moving on to try to work out the meaning for yourself.

Here are a few tricks that can help you to do this:

A. Use the picture clues

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

B. 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 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.

C. Relate it to a word you know

When you don’t recognise try to think of a word that looks similar.

For example: 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 are correct.

D. Keep reading or re-read the sentence

Make sure to 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:

John never really got on 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 “get on” could mean that they didn’t have a good relationship, which it does.

Remember, though, guessing meaning of words from their context is generally difficult. Don’t forget, also, at best it will be an educated guess so you need to stay open-minded to the actual meaning.


Picture taken by “Ian James” eltpics

3. Use the process of elimination for multiple choice tasks

When you have too many options, a little trick to help you get to the answer is to use the process of elimination.

We recommend that you make sure which answer it is not first, and cross it out so you are left with fewer options. You can use this technique even in the listening and Use of English parts of the First exam.

4. How to improve your multiple matching task

Is this the task you have most difficulty with? Well, for a lot of students it is. One reason is usually that the students don’t know what to look for in order to answer it better. 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.).

If we look at the gap in the example below, we can see that they are talking about how a logo was designed. After the gap we can see “The three arrows in it look like strips of folded-over paper. What is the ‘it’? Well if we look at our options we can see that ‘it’ refers to the image in answer B.

Cambridge First preparationadviceFCE exam preparation

Example taken from;

Page 25.
for our FCE Preparation Course

These tips and suggestions will hopefully put you on the right track for preparing for the reading parts of the Cambridge First exam. Remember, though, above all, you will learn to read better by reading more. So, choose your texts, read widely and talk about your texts with others. This will help you make reading fun.

Check out our full blog series on how to prepare for the Cambridge First (FCE) papers: