FCE reading strategies

In this post, I would like to share some advice and strategies I give my FCE students regarding Reading part 7 from the Reading and Use of English exam paper.

My students often worry about the reading part of the exam mostly because they think:

  • there is too little time
  • there is too much unknown vocabulary
  • they won’t see the link between the questions and the text

Their worries are often compounded by the following mistakes they make while dealing with the tasks:

  • reading the text without knowing why they are supposed to read it
  • not underlining key information
  • reading the questions section carelessly

Here are some strategies I share with my students (Part 7 but works similarly for part 5):

  • read the questions/statements first
  • don’t ever expect the words/phrases from the questions/statements to appear in the text
  • try to imagine how keywords/concepts from the question/statement might be formulated in the text

This last part has become a separate exercise in my classes. It enables students to think of synonyms, to paraphrase and to stop holding on to vocabulary from the instructions. I introduced it after I noticed that underlining keywords or key expressions was not really working as my students could not draw the connection between what they underlined and what they read.

This is Reading part 7. Different people talk about their universities. Students need to match speakers with texts. Before they start reading the texts, I encourage them to imagine what these statements might look like in the text. I tell them not to expect the same words/phrases in the text.


  • underline the keywords or expressions in the instructions
  • come up with 2 or 3 sentences that mean the same but use different words/grammar
  • scan the texts looking for the meaning and not keywords

Source: First Trainer, Cambridge University Press

Once they do the task, they see that the sentences from the text corresponding to the statements 43-45 look as follows:

43. I am actually quite relieved my application was rejected by the top university on my list.

44. I’d wondered whether I might feel lonely with all my family so far away, but I needn’t have worried.

45. I can’t do half the things I’d like to because I’m a medical student and I’m just too busy studying to join any more societies or clubs.

It lets them see how precise their predictions were.

In this activity:

  • learners actively try to predict what they might encounter in the text
  • learners are able to establish a connection between the content of the task (statements 43-45) and the content of the exam reading
  • learners know why they are reading the text ( to spot the sentences they themselves created)
  • learners understand what to expect from the task (focus shifts from singular keywords e.g. first choice for 43 that carry little importance to the key meaning or concept they need to locate in the text)

I try to demonstrate the activity in class and then assign another reading task like that for homework. We do another task in our next class. The third time we deal with this particular activity, we do only first 3-4 statements in class together. After such a cycle, students start approaching this assignment differently, with more understanding of the process they are about to engage in and not just hunting for single words they randomly underlined while reading the instructions.

See my posts about some effective use of English practice here, here, and here.

Are there any reading strategies you share with your students in exam classes?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *