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?



  1. Hello Gosia and thank you for your excellent blog. I’ve been involved with TEFL for many years and I always appreciate people searching for innovation in teaching approaches which can be applied practically.

    It’s an interesting idea you suggest here for these reading tasks to have students create mini-paraphrases of the statements, and I will definitely encourage teachers to try it with their exam prep classes.

    This also raises an issue which has been on my mind for years. Most of us in the field are in favour of encouraging top-down strategies for learners to deal with exam tasks. The reality though, for the B2 exams and above, is that exam candidates at this level are actually being more assessed on their comprehension and production of bottom-up elements – or their ability to ‘decode’, if you like. The time restrictions of each part of the exam demand this.

    That’s why I think like your approach to address this conflict is very valid, practising the technique repeatedly but with each time a lessening dependence on it. This raises learner awareness in order to develop good habits, but also with a longer term goal of weaning them off depending totally on a top-down approach to these exam tasks.

    Well done and stay inspired!

    • Hi Damien,
      thank you very much for your insightful comment. As much as there is some space for top-down processing during exam preparation (especially in case of listening tasks) I agree that the complexity of language and time limit might encourage the bottom-up approach more. In Polish we call it “from detailed to general” and I think it fits well the idea of how students might deal with e.g. Use of English tasks. Thank you for making me think about it!

  2. “Are there any reading strategies you share with your students in exam classes?”

    With B2 levels and above, we encourage learners as they initially read a text, in particular the multiple choice and gapped text ones (First Part 5 & 6), to write a few words next to each paragraph as a mini-summary of it. The aim is to help the learner comprehend the coherence of the text as a whole.

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