The CAE exam is coming in two days, but of course you know that there are more dates, around two or three exams a month, so don’t worry. After a year preparing for the CAE, here are some tips I’d like to share with all the students, especially if you are considering taking the exam in one to three months from now. These are, in my opinion, some key points you should review in order to improve your English for the exam:
1) Linkers (Writing). For example, take this list and use two or three different addition and contrast linkers in your first essay, then try others, see the ones you get more familiar with. It is as important knowing when to use the linkers as HOW to use them i.e. if you need to add a comma after it or if you need to add a clause, for example “due to the fact that the wedding was cancelled…” Be careful with that.
2) Collocations (Reading parts 2 & 4). You should review what prepositions go after different adjectives or verbs. There are websites to practise exercises (example), but you can also make lists and create sentences using different prepositions or adjectives e.g. take 5 adjectives that are followed by “of” and create five sentences using them.
3) Vocabulary synonyms and the differences in meaning: useful for Reading part 1 and for the writing and speaking parts. You may think that “observe”, “watch”, “see” and “look” are all similar but you know there is a difference. Take the dictionary to do some research. There are tons of other words with similar but different meaning, for example, “break” is not the same as “chip” and “look” is not the same as “gaze”. Did you know that “art” or “chicken” have a different meaning if used as countable or uncountable nouns?
You should also be looking into all of these “scientific” Latin-rooted words which are most commonly used in formal contexts, because in the report and proposals especially you should be able to know the formal register pretty well, and that usually includes complex long words that are similar to Spanish and other Roman languages. And don’t be afraid to use hyphens and a long list of adjectives before the noun, but review carefully the structure and the order or adjectives.
4) Idioms. Ok, this may be an extra, you are not going to need to know all the common idioms in the world for the exam, it’s true. But there’s no harm in reviewing a couple common idioms every day in their context… I think it’s fun! And some idioms have similar meaning and translation in different languages, such as “to kill two birds with one stone”, “to find a needle in a haystack”, “the cat ate your tongue”, “to be in 7th Heaven”… and then it’s fun to learn other very particular English idioms such as “it’s raining cats and dogs” or “don’t judge a book by its cover” or even colloquial expressions such as “hit the sack”… It’s all part of the culture and, as such, I find that deeply interesting.
5) Phrasal verbs. Besides collocations, I’m afraid it’s equally important to know most Phrasal verbs at this point. Verbs such as “like”, “take”, “get”, “put”, “give”, “break”, “come” or “keep” have about a dozen different meanings depending on the preposition by which they are followed. Again, this can be studied like the collocations: “today it’s time to review the verb ‘take'” so I’ll write sentences with the phrasal verbs that go with them… It would be interesting to write verb+adjective collocation sentences and phrasal verbs of the same verb together to see the difference. Here you can find a list of 150 verbs with examples.
6) Suffixes and prefixes (reading part 3). Unless you are a fan of etymology -like I am- you may find reviewing suffixes and prefixes pretty boring, but it’s actually quite interesting. The trick to learn them is organizing them in bubbles: which suffixes typically make adjectives and what meaning do they add? Which ones transform nouns into verbs? What is the most common suffix for adverbs? And the most common suffixes for nouns? What are the most common prefixes to make a word negative? And what other prefixes are there and what meaning do they add to the word? Finally, in order to practise this exercise, you also have to be really careful with spelling, especially concerning tricky words such as “business” or “environment”… And remember this tip: find the root of the word, and keep it that way because it rarely changes, with the only exceptions being related to Latin -of course!
7) Complex structures such as “not only was it… but also (it was)…”, “the more… the better….”, “having said that…”, “while it is true that…” and others are very useful for reading part 4 and for the writing and speaking parts, because it is what proves that your knowledge of the language is advanced and not average.
In relation with the vocabulary, review structures to speak objectively in English i.e. to show distance, for example the passive voice “it is said that” or “the victim is told to have been murdered by his neighbour”… Or linkers such as “According to scientists…”, “regarding/concerning the case…”. Be also careful with formal language, for example, did you know that it is more formal to write the preposition before the relative pronoun than at the end? Example: “the way in which the process has been carried out is simply fantastic”. Actually, the thing is that you should avoid finishing a sentence in the formal register with a preposition… at all costs. So, if you are considering finishing with a phrasal verb, think twice and try to use a synonym. Finally, even if you are supposed to be able to write longer complex sentences -and you should-, sometimes too many linkers and commas in one paragraph can make it undecipherable, so be careful: it may be better to put a dot and a linker with a comma rather than writing an extremely long sentence. I’d say the average long sentence in English is 2.5 lines long tops.
8) Listening to BBC podcasts and other news podcasts online. Why BBC? Because they are British and usually speak very fast, so that’s a great practice for the listening.
9) Learn the difference between British and American English: when should you use “z” or “s”? Americans use “o” when British use “ou”. There are a couple other tips like that, but take into account the different vocabulary in order to be coherent in the writing exam.
10) Make English friends and speak with them, but don’t focus on practising for the exam, just have normal spontaneous conversations. Don’t be afraid to interact, and don’t get too upset if you are lost in translation. It’s normal that that happens but with time you’ll be able to understand more, little by little. This works to improve both the Listening and Speaking skills and it will also provide you with tons of new vocabulary -especially informal- and cultural tips that may be important. It will teach you, most of all, culture and common behaviour, especially concerning “polite manners” and different ways to say things and act depending on the context. This is particularly useful for the Speaking exam, especially if you are Spanish and are used to interrupt other people abruptly or speak too straightforwardly. Believe it or not, learning these manners can be as important as practising the exam format.
So, that’s all the tips I can give you today. If you need more advice, don’t hesitate to ask me.