- Overview and general tips
- Specific tips for part 1

FCE Reading and Use of English Tips

1. Introduction

The Reading and Use of English paper is about grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. There are 7 sections to do in 75 minutes - basically 10 minutes per section.

2. Changes in 2015

If you find an old FCE coursebook or testbook, be aware that Cambridge changed the exam in 2015. The old books are still useful - they will help you learn the grammar and vocabulary you need - but they have some parts that aren’t in the post-2015 exam.

Key Changes

  • Overall, the exam is 30 minutes shorter and about 20 questions fewer.
  • The Reading section and the Use of English (grammar) sections have been merged

3. What these pages will teach you

  • Why you shouldn't start with section 1
  • How to prepare
  • How to improve your time management
  • The importance of spelling
  • Some tips and tricks

4. The order

Most students start with part 1 and finish with part 7. That’s fine, of course, but isn’t really the most efficient way. And many students leave part 4 to the end because they hate it. I think that’s a mistake. If you look at an FCE answer sheet you’ll see that some of the answers are multiple choice and some require you to write words. 

My advice is to start with the sections that ask you to write words and leave the multiple choice till later. That’s because if you run out of time at the end of the exam you can quickly choose some multiple choice answers and maybe get a lucky point. But you can’t just write words at random - you have no chance of getting it right.

So, do the tasks in this order:

4, 3, 2, 1, 5 ,6, 7


2, 3, 4, 5 ,6, 7, 1

Or you might start with part 1 because it’s one you can do very quickly (see section 5) but DO NOT leave parts 2-4 to the end.

5. Time management

Some of the sections in Reading and Use of English have answers that you can work out if you spend enough time thinking about them. But some of the answers are ones where you either know the answer or you don’t.

The trick is to whizz through questions where you know/don’t know the answer - that will give you more time to spend on other parts of the exam. (Whizz means go quickly.)

  1. Start with part 4. Do it quickly. You either know the answer or you don't. Don't waste time here.
  2. Go to part 3. Spend a bit more time here because you can lose 'easy' points by being careless. It’s worth spending a minute checking your answers before you move on.
  3. Part 2 has a lot of 'you know it or you don't' kind of questions, so do it quickly.
  4. Next is part 1. It's also one with 'I know this' or 'I have no idea' type questions. This should be the fastest section of them all.
  5. If you follow these tips and practice a few times, you should find that you have lots of time left to do sections 5, 6, and 7. That’s important because there’s a lot of text to read and you don’t want to have time stress when you’re trying to understand a long piece of writing.

6. Read the titles

Some of the sections have titles, and my students often ignore them. But the headings give you quite a lot of information. Imagine a text with the heading 'Why You Should Never Eat Ice-Cream' - now I know the theme and it will make reading easier.

7. Read the examples, but don't do them

Some parts of the Reading and Use of English test have example answers. This is for students who don't know what to expect in the exam. Don't waste time trying to find the answers. The answer is right there at the top of the page!

8. What about spelling?

In this part of the exam spelling is super important. All the words you have to write are FCE level words - you won't be asked to spell 'serendipitous' or 'commensurate'. Cambridge do expect you to be able to spell words like 'variety', 'objective', 'fashionable'. (Those are actual answers to recent FCE exam questions.)

FCE Reading and Use of English Part 1 Tips

1. Introduction

In part 1 you have a short text with 8 words missing. You must choose from 4 options the best word for each space. I think part 1 is a nice, easy start. I mean, it's easy in the sense that it doesn't take much brain energy. You either know the answers or you don't.

2. What it looks like

Here's the start of a text. The example answer (0) is 'branch' - genealogy is a branch of history.

And the first 2 sets of options.

You know what? Let's go through the process of answering these questions and see what that tells us about this part of the exam.


The answer can't be instead because it would have to say 'instead of'. 'Rather than' is good grammar. 'Except than' is wrong - should be 'except for'.

Lesson: You need to know which prepositions go with which words!

What about 'sooner'? There is an advanced phrase with 'sooner than', but it doesn't fit the meaning of the sentence. The writer wants to say that genealogy is about family history and not the type of 'big history' that people normally think of. So 'rather than' is the only choice that fits grammatically and logically.

It took me a couple of minutes to write the explanation, but actually choosing the answer took me five seconds. If I didn't know all the prepositions I would have just taken a guess and moved on.


This is another one where prepositions are important. See where it says 'in' after gap 2? Circle it! Underline it! That's the most important word in the sentence. Only one of the choices goes with 'in'. I'm not going to tell you which one. Go and study those words!

Summary - we're looking for grammar clues like prepositions, and we're looking for words that fit the meaning of the sentence.

To do well here you should brush up on phrasal verbs, collocations, and the kinds of synonyms you'd find in a 'common mistakes at FCE' book. Get some extra practice in the following article:

3. Should you read the whole text first?

Good question! Thanks for asking! It depends how much you read English in your daily life. If you read a lot, you will probably be able to just look at the sentences and find the best answer.

But most students should read the whole text quickly to get an idea of what the writer really wants to say about the topic. That will make it easier to choose the answers. The key word is quickly.

4. Tips

  • The best way to prepare for the Reading test is to READ. Read a lot.
  • If you know that two of the options have the same meaning, neither can be the answer. 
  • Remember to read the title. It's there to help you.
  • Never lose time trying to think of the answer to the example.
  • Prepositions!