Updated CAE beginning in 2015

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 in Uncategorized |

A new exam? What’s changed? Starting in January 2015, there will be a new version of the Cambridge English: Advanced exam (previously known as the CAE). This post will explain the major changes in the new exam so you know what to expect. Big changes to Reading and Use of English papers First the good news: starting in January the exam will be 45 minutes shorter! There will be 4 papers instead of 5, which means there will be one fewer break as well—saving you even more time. The new exam combines the Reading and Use of English papers and here is where the time is saved. Previously there were 84 questions in these 2 sections, now there will be 56. Two sections from the old exam have been removed and one new section has been created. The details can be seen in the table below, the colours indicate where the sections of the old exam have moved in the 2015 exam. With the help of this table, you can use materials from the old exams to prepare for the new ones. Click on the image for a larger version. First of all, you can see that Reading part 1 and Use of English part 4 have been discontinued in 2015. The combined section begins with the Use of English tasks followed by the Reading tasks. Part 6 of the 2015 Reading and Use of English paper is a new task type. In this new part 6, you will have 4 paragraphs on the same topic by different authors and you will have to answer questions which ask you to compare the texts with each other: “Which author shares the opinion of author C?” “Which writer expresses an opinion different from the others?” Small changes to Writing and Speaking papers There are minor changes to the Writing paper and I think they are all good. First of all, you are allowed to write more! You may now write between 220 and 260 words for each piece of writing. Part 1 is now always an essay. This will make it easier to prepare as you will know what to expect. In part 2, there is a choice of three tasks, which will be either a review, a letter/email, a report or a proposal. There will not be any more questions about set texts (in the current exam there are questions about Lord of the Flies or The Lighthouse which you may or may not have read). There are no changes to the Listening paper. There are some small changes to the timing of the Speaking paper. Part 1 is one minute shorter and part 4 is one minute longer. In part 3,...

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CAE Use of English Part 5 detailed tips

Posted by on Oct 20, 2013 in CAE Use of English | 2 comments

Now that you have a strategy for time management during the Use of English section of the exam, let’s look at exactly how to approach part 5.  Remember, this is the only section of the exam where you can get one point even if your answer is not 100% correct (in that case you will get two points).  This means that you can try and get at least one point even if you don’t think you can get both of them.  Typically, each correct answer has a grammar component and a vocabulary component.  If you think of it this way, you might be able to find some extra points more easily. The instructions (which you should memorise… how many words are you allowed to write?) tell you that the sentences should have “a similar meaning”.  Really, in my experience, similar is not going to be good enough.  The correct answer will be almost exactly the same meaning as the original, so you will need to be very careful.  In order to see what you need to change, it will help to see all of the things that have stayed the same.  You can underline or circle text when you take the exam, I’ve just used colours to highlight the text so it will be easy to see. Here is the example from the official CAE practice test: You can see that almost everything is the same, but let’s highlight them anyway.  For me, this just helps me be more confident that I’ve seen everything. So let’s imagine that we just don’t have any idea how to answer this particular question.  We can still use what we know about English to get at least one point.  After we highlight the parts of the sentences that are the same, we can clearly see that we need to find the words to express “would only speak”, and that we need to use the word “on”.  We can see that in the second sentence, there is no verb, so we can assume that ”speak” will somehow be part of our answer.  If we think about “on”, it would be strange to make a phrase like “speak on… to the head of the department”, so we can probably assume that “on” will come before some form of “speak”.  What form of the verb follows prepositions?  Always the –ing form: here is the grammar component of the answer.  So if we just write “on speaking” on the answer sheet, we would get one point!  If we understand the use of “would” in the first sentence (as a way of stating demands or refusals, for example, “I wouldn’t eat broccoli when I was a child.”), we...

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CAE Use of English time management

Posted by on Oct 20, 2013 in CAE Use of English |

The Use of English is a tricky part of the exam and you can improve your score by using good time management.  You have 60 minutes to complete the five parts of this section of the exam.  First, let’s look at how many points are available in each part of this paper: Part 1: 12 questions, 12 points Part 2: 15 questions, 15 points Part 3: 10 questions, 10 points Part 4: 5 questions, 10 points (2 points per correct answer) Part 5: 8 questions, 16 points (answers can receive 0, 1 or 2 points)   Here is how I would organize my 60 minutes, I will give an explanation below. Part 4 for me is a little bit like a game or a puzzle.  If you give yourself time to “play” with this section (just write down all of the words that you can think of that might fill the gaps), you are using a different type of thinking than if you just concentrate really hard on finding the answer.  Do you know the feeling when you are trying to think of the name of a book or movie or actor, but you just can’t remember it until later?  We can try and get that magical “later moment” if we look at part 4 quickly, and then come back to it later. Part 1 is hard.  And the hardest part is looking at the choices for the answers!  With some of these questions, you could look at them for 10 minutes each and you wouldn’t be any more confident in your answer.  That’s why it’s so important to limit your time in this section: more time in part 1 will not help you!  Use this time in other sections. In parts 2 and 3, you can take a little more time to read the texts carefully.  Noticing things like prepositions or the tenses of other verbs in the paragraph will keep you from making simple mistakes that might cost you points. Part 5 is worth the most points and requires the most concentration: this is the section of the exam where more time gives you the biggest advantage (or to say it another way, this is the part of the exam where you will lose the most points if you have to rush).  Use a watch (no phones in the exam room!) to make sure you have enough time for this section.  I’ve written an extra strategy guide for part 5 which you can read here. Make sure to take a practice test and practice this time management before the day of the exam.  Maybe my strategy doesn’t work for you and you prefer a different method—that’s fine!...

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The speech accent archive

Posted by on May 14, 2013 in Speaking |

The speech accent archive is a project run by Stephen H. Weinberger at the George Mason University Program of Linguistics.  He and his colleagues and students have collected and phonetically transcribed hundreds of speech samples from English native speakers and learners from around the world.  Everyone reads the same short script so you can really hear the differences in accent!  It’s a fun way to travel around the world, linguistically!  Below you can see the map of speakers in Europe, click the image to go to the...

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Bad grammar: to how people boring angry make!

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Grammar |

There really is nothing quite so tedious and boring as a prescriptive grammarian.  And I’m a native speaker, and an English teacher with a section about grammar on his blog!  I really have a lot of sympathy for people who are learning English.  Let me explain what I mean by “prescriptive grammar.” To paraphrase the linguist David Brazil, a grammarian must begin from one of the following assumptions: We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, their motivation is the production of what we call “sentences.” We can discover the rules of grammar by assuming that when people speak or write, they do so with some communicative purpose.  By analysing their purpose and the structures they use, we can find patterns. So if you want to make correct sentences, the prescriptive grammarian can tell you the rules of sentence-making.  The second position is called descriptive grammar: we assume that communication is generally successful and we look at how that communication was achieved.  Unfortunately, a great number of people still assume that what we all want to do when we open our mouths or sit down at the keyboard is make a bunch of correct sentences.  And oh, how they complain when we don’t! I found an example of this in yesterday’s Guardian: Grammar rules everyone should follow.  By the time I read the article, about 16 hours after it had been posted, there were more than 600 comments by people who were mostly complaining about grammar mistakes in the newspaper or other comments.  People have a special sort of passion for some of the rules in the list (especially the two items in the list–numbers 3 and 5–which the writer explains aren’t actually rules of grammar!), regardless of whether they are accurate or not.  If your friend is enjoying some music, would you ask them, “Hey!  To what are you listening?” The Guardian’s article was written as a result of the Bad Grammar Award which was ironically given to a group of educators who wrote a letter to a politician.  The “critique” of the letter is a perfect example of assuming that everyone sets out primarily to write correct sentences.  The authors seem to have never heard the expression “too much too young” and to deliberately have difficulty understanding other straightforward sentences based on the perceived parts of speech of the words.  All of this prescriptive grammar is not just boring, it’s harmful.  In another article criticising the writer of the Bad Grammar Award: “I suspect [he] will have immense amounts of fun and satisfaction telling people what is “right”. People attending his classes will feel immensely pleased that they have been...

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