December 28


7 Top Tips to Help You Prepare for Use of English in the C1 Advanced Exam



In this podcast episode we discuss the Use of English tasks in the Cambridge C1 Exam. 

You can download a Cambridge C1 Advanced exam sample here.


Kristian de Groot: Hi everyone and welcome to Cambridge Exam Coach Podcast. My name is Kristian. 

Alexandra: And I’m Alexandra. 

Kristian: And together with the team behind 

If you want to improve your English and learn more about exam preparation – this podcast is for you. We use vocabulary and grammar in a way that is engaging, authentic and non-trivial. And if you are a visual learner, you can find transcripts of our episodes on our website as well. In the previous episode, we talked about how to write an essay, which is one of the tasks in the Cambridge C1 exam. Today we are going to be talking about another part of the C1 one exam – Use of English. First, we will briefly remind you about type of tasks in this part of the exam. Next, we will give you recommendations about how to prepare for these tasks. 

Unfortunately, still no jingle. So, without further ado let’s jump in the episode. 

Hey, Alexandra, how are things? 

Alexandra: Hey Hey. Hello from the other side of your screen. Thanks for asking, I’m good, I’m good -looking forward to the New Year holidays. How are things for you? 

Kristian: Celebrated Christmas, which was amazing. Now in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, preparing this podcast. Feeling good. Did my usual routine in the morning, running and all that stuff. So the endorphins are still there so I’m ready to go. 

Alexandra: Yeah, you know they have a song Lost between the Moon and New York City and you’re lost between Christmas and New Year. 

Kristian: In limbo. 

Alexandra: In limbo, yeah. Okay then. Now let’s talk about part two three and four of the reading a use of English paper. Alexandra, before I start talking or continue talking for the whole podcast. No spoilers at this point. 

Kristian: Okay. Can you briefly tell our listeners which task they will have to do in this part of the exam? 

Alexandra: Yes, I will do that. Thanks, thanks for this opportunity. 

Okay, so the Use of English section consists of three parts and in the exam, they go on under the numbers 2, 3 and 4. Some people think that number 1 is also the Use of English, but it’s reading so we’re not going to talk about this one today. 

Well, so the first Use of English task, task 2, which is called Open Cloze and in this task candidates have to read the text and fill in the gaps. And unfortunately or maybe fortunately there is no set of words given so candidates have to identify which one word fist each gap. Normally, the gap words are articles, prepositions, pronouns, verb tenses and forms. 

In part three, which is Word Transformation, there is one more text with gaps. For each gap you have one stem word that you need to change to fit this particular gap. For example, your stem word is profession and you need to change it into professional. 

And the final part, part 4, which is said to be the most challenging of the three and I agree, is called Key Word Transformation. As you get from the name itself, you have to change something in this task- to transform it. Specifically, you have one sentence and a key words and the key word gives you a clue about what structure or phrase you need to make. To put it short, let’s take this example: 

Okay so the original sentence is – James would speak to the head of the department alone. The key word is the preposition ‘on’. 

So and you have the second sentence you need to fill the gap using this proposition ‘on’ and you need to have the same kind of meaning – you need to keep the meaning. So and this is how you transform it – James insisted on speaking to the head of the department alone. So the second sentence is similar to the previous one so that’s how it works. 

So I should say here that if you want to have a clearer picture of what we’re talking about in the podcast, in this particular podcast, you can download a free C1 advanced sample paper and refer to it while we’re talking because you may want to have some examples in front of you. 

Well, Kris, that’s what you asked me to do I hope it has been brief. Thanks for this, for delegating this to me. Do you have anything else to say here? 

Kristian: You hear listeners were working on equal basis, there’s no boss in charge here. 

Alexandra: You said so at the very beginning of my talking, so. 

Kristian: No worries no worries, just just one more thing. We will put a link to that particular sample paper in the description of this podcast and also on the website, so don’t worry about that you can just check the description and then click on that link and there you see the sample paper that we’re talking about. Anyway, that’s a great introduction thank you very much and as usual, listeners are always looking out for tips and advice and where I say it shortcuts. Well, I am not going to give you any shortcuts but I’m gonna say something about the two different ways that you can do to prepare for this particular part of the exam. Because I want to make one thing abundantly clear here. 

There are two ways how to prepare and if part one or let’s say the first manner in how to prepare is not your thing, you have to do the second way. 

Okay so the first way is that basically you’ve already done it. You’ve been reading literature, magazines, news articles, opinion papers, opinion pieces in newspapers for a few years and in this case the Use of English parts of the exam will be easy. And Alexandra’s looking at me – easy? Yes that’s right I said easy because if you’ve already been reading for a few years, you have a great deal of passive vocabulary and grammar knowledge which will help you to answer the questions in the Use of English part of the exam correctly. Naturally, you need to take several practice tests and mock exams to train yourself for the real exam but you don’t have to spend hours and hours and hours learning and revising grammar. 

And that is the thing you need to do when you haven’t been reading literature for years and years and years. Then there’s only one way to prepare for this exam. Let’s imagine that you are going to take it in three months from now or six months from now. In this case, you have to spend hours, hours, hours learning, and revising grammar. 

If you want to pasta came but she one exam you need to understand advanced English grammar. So I’m talking about you know passives, reported speech, inversion, conditionals, cleft sentences and so on and so on. And listeners now I can hear you thinking: wait a minute Kristian I want to enjoy listening to your podcast but now you’re just giving me a headache. It’s terror with all this jargon and you’re absolutely right but no worries next year and luckily for you that’s already in a few days at the time that we’re recording this in 2022 Alexandra and I are going to help you learn all the grammar you need to know in a fun and engaging way and for that we’ll be using the podcast, you can do exercises in the Facebook group and hopefully, probably, maybe we might launch our own Tik Tok channel in 2022 and there we will also help you to understand things like inversions, conditionals, reported speech and so on and so on. Alexandra, have I forgotten anything? 

Alexandra: No, you haven’t. I had just one idea when you started talking you said we’re not going to give any shortcuts. I think that if I were one of a listeners, I would stop here I would quit, just think that. So but anyway nothing comes easy, nothing comes easy. But I think that I relate one hundred percent to what you said that if you have experience of let’s call it experience like reading experience it will come easy. Like in comparison with the second point but it doesn’t mean that it’s not achievable. It’s always achievable, so. 

Kristian: You, you have to put in the work. But to come back I’m gonna, I will elaborate on what you just mentioned about the shortcut because this ties in with the first a point of advice that I want to give our listeners. 

The thing is that my first recommendation, advice or should I say warning is that please please please don’t underestimate this part of the exam. The thing is if you look at the marking scheme, you see that you can only score twenty-six points in this part of the exam but don’t forget that twenty percent of your overall grade is going to be your Use of English score. Is that right Alexandra? 

Alexandra: That’s correct right. 

Kristian: So I’ll give you one clear example of a friend of mine. He surprised me a couple of months ago he contacted me after a few months I hadn’t spoken with him for three four months and then he told me yeah I took the C1 exam. And I also asked him how did it go. And he said yeah I’m really sad because I didn’t pass and then he showed me the statement of results and there was Writing – a pass, speaking – a pass, Listening – borderline, Reading – borderline, the Use of English – he completely messed up. So he got 178 points and he needed one hundred and eighty points to pass the exam. And he completely messed up his Use of English. To be honest, I asked him so why, how, why do you think that happened and the thing is that he just didn’t practice enough you know he didn’t practice enough he didn’t take it probably didn’t take it seriously enough. And then there you go right so listeners please, please don’t underestimate this part of the exam even if it’s already three parts of the Reading and Use of English paper and that every teacher tells you to spend as little time as possible on this part because you need all your time for the five reading parts I would say okay that might be fair point but please practice practice practice before exam day. Okay that’s my first point. 

My second point ties in with the first point and they just do not waste time in this part of the exam. Because as I said the Reading & Use of English part. Eight different tasks. Three tasks are only the Use of English. You don’t have to read a lot in those type of tasks. In the reading task of the paper you need to read a lot so be careful there I know from experience because I took C2 exam myself. If you can’t come up with a word, for example, in the second part. In part 2 where you have an open cloze 

and you think what’s the word and there’s no there’s no hint on the paper and no options that you can choose from that you’re going to think what is what is what is it and then you might you know waste precious time, but don’t do that don’t do that. Does it make sense what I’m saying to you? 

Alexandra: Yeah, I’m listening to you and thinking it – so I’m so stressed now as if I’m going to take this exam. 

Kristian: That’s why I’m asking. Is it okay because you’re, you’re looking very seriously at me right now.

Alexandra: Yeah. That’s okay. That’s, that’s okay.

Kristian: All right. The third tip that I want to give you is, if you look for advice on the internet, right now, YouTube, podcasts, blog articles, yeah, about how to nail the Use of English part or any part of the exam, then there are always different strategies. Yeah, this is the best strategy, that is the best strategy. My top recommendation is: try different strategies, because I’ve heard so many times from my students that what works for Student A, doesn’t work for Student B. Right? So if people say, I’ll give you a clear example, Reading and Use of English paper, eight different parts. All the advice out there says, it might be clever to start with the Use of English parts, because you can do them quickly. And you’ve got lots of, loads of times, time, sorry, for the reading part. But other students have told me: That doesn’t work for me, I get confused. I just want to go, you know, the normal sequence, I want to use the normal sequence, that make me feel comfortable when I do the exam. So my point here is: try different strategies, while training to discover what works for you. Does that make sense?

Yeah, now I’m thinking about that as well. So for example, for us as teachers it is essential to give as many tools as we can and equip our students with with it all, but we should not insist on one particular approach. I never do that. And I know that you don’t do that. So, and I think that yeah, we’ll listen to teachers, we’ll listen to our mates and people who say, “give us advice”, but we need to devise some special scheme for us and how to approach this or that task because we’re all different.

Absolutely, and like Alexandria said, there are different approaches, and we’re going to talk about these approaches in future podcast episodes, and maybe on other social media channels. But anyway, that is my third tip: try different strategies. Alright? Then, the fourth tip that I want to give you is regarding the open close exercise that is part two of the exam. So the thing here is that, you have to ask yourself one question, and that is, what is the function of the word in the gap? What does it need to do? Is it, do you need a preposition? Because it needs to collocate? Or you need to complete a phrasal verb? Do you need a modal verb? And if so, which one? Yeah, is it negative/ positive? Do you need an article? And again, maybe it’s a no article? I don’t know. That doesn’t make sense what I’m saying right now, because then the gap is still empty. But, the point here is that you have to think about what kind of word you need, or what is the function of the word in the gap. Yeah, so determiners, conjunctions, like even though yeah despite determiners, like mine, their, all that stuff, you know, you et cetera, et cetera. So that is part or tip number four. Tip number 5 then. And that is for the word formation exercise. Here, it is important, in my opinion, that you read through the text first In all the other parts, I know that there are quite a few students who just start doing the task and fill in the gaps. But for this one, there’s always at least one gap where you need a negative prefix. And that could confuse you. And I will give you a very simple example. Let’s imagine that you have the sentence: No, you have the word, the stem word “Fortune”. Yeah. And then the sentence is, “It was raining all day.” Now, usually, we don’t like rain. So we say, unfortunately, but maybe the context is about maybe the text is about a drought. You know, it’s about that you haven’t had water from the sky for months and months and you need rain, then you need to say the opposite, right? So in that particular case, you say, fortunately, it was raining all day. Does it make sense? This example?

Yeah. Good example. Good example. Simple one, but good. But, but? But good.

Okay. And then that was tip number five. So read through the text first. Okay? And then for the last one, which is for most people, like Alexandra said, the hardest part of the Use of English, that’s the key word transformation. This is where you should really know your grammar. This is where you need to know how to use passives, reported speech, conditionals, inversions. And also, there can be idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs. And those are a bit harder to know, I have to admit that, because you can’t learn every phrasal verb or idiomatic expression, it’s impossible. But you can learn and study the grammar structures that you need to understand for this exercise. So, I’ll give you one example here. There, there are different strategies to tackle this particular task. And one of the things that many teachers say is that you have to cross out the words. So there’s one sentence, there’s the given word, and then there’s the second sentence with the gap. And then you have to cross out the similar words in the first sentence, and in the sentence that you need to restructure, because then you will see what kind of structure you need to use in the gap. However, while that, let’s say, might give you an idea of what you don’t need to do, because you’re crossing words out, it still doesn’t give you, let’s say, the answer to what’s needed in the gap. And I will give you a clear example. Let’s imagine that the original sentence contains the phrase, let me come up with something “we don’t mind at all. We don’t mind at all.” And then the word given is “difference”. Right? So you can cross out any part in the original sentence and in the given second sentence, but it doesn’t help you to figure out that you need to use the fixed phrase here. No different, “makes no difference”. Right? If you don’t know that expression, then all the tactics to help you solve this riddle don’t work. Does it make sense what I’m saying here?

Yeah, I’ve never heard you know about this technique, or we call it this strategy of crossing our words, you know, is particular…

I’m going to go into that in another episode. And probably also on TikTok. But anyway, for now, I just want to say that for this part, if you’re going to learn or use strategies on how to solve the riddle, please, please, please don’t think that it is like the panacea like the magic pill or something, you know, you need to know your grammar, your advanced grammar here. Is that something that you also experienced with your students, that this is the hardest part for them?

Yeah, I think that there is a magic pill. And that I will, you know, provide them with a list of expressions commonly used and commonly – that are common for this particular part. But, you know, it’s impossible to do. Of course, they can be couple of things. But generally speaking, it’s about the language itself. And you need to know it just goes without saying.

There you go. And that brings me to my final point. And that’s a simple one. You just need to practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, the seven Ps. right? Every day, every single day. That’s what I’m saying in the Facebook group, always, you have to do something every single day. And if you do that, you will know your grammar, you will know that, let’s say jargon, you will understand what is reported speech, how to use it, conditionals. And last but not least, mind you, not only do you need this knowledge in the use of English part, it’s also extremely useful in the writing part of your exam. Because if you can use conditionals, passives, cleft sentences, and all that kind of stuff in your writing tasks, you’ll definitely be on your way to a high score in your Cambridge exam. Also for the writing part. Do you agree with me there?

Yeah. And listen to Kris when he is speaking, because he gives you the real idea, like say, “not not only do you need this knowledge? So this is the grammar. So what do we call it? Inversion? Kris? Inversion. Yes. So listen to Kris. Joking.

Got it? Got it. Any questions Alexandra, maybe you, something wasn’t clear? Or maybe I’ve forgotten something for our listeners?

No. But at some point, I was like thinking you got me thinking about the exam. And like my whole experience with it. And the strategies that people use, they’re also different. And one thing that I want our listeners to take away from this podcast is not just that we want to discourage them. But by saying that if you haven’t read enough, you will fail. Or if you just cave, there is no one to help you will fail or so on. No, it should motivate you because it’s, it’s so first of all, you learn something new, it’s always so good. It’s great to get a new piece of knowledge every day. So that’s I think our goal.

Absolutely. And, you know, these were general tips. In this particular part, in this episode, and in the future episodes, you know, we’ll go into all that stuff. And you can definitely do it. So I highly recommend everyone to, you know, keep an eye on what we’re doing in 2022. And that brings me to the last part of this podcast, I think Alexandria, which is completely yours. So I’m shutting up now.

Who is the boss now? Okay, yes. Much has been said. Before we finish this broadcast today, we want to share with you one good a good piece of news or let’s say educational news. We’ve recently launched our own C1 essay writing guides. And in this guide, we explain what is required of you in the essay writing task. We’ll also teach you how to organise your essays and give yourself phrases that you might want to use if you want to get a high score, and there is also one special bonus in this guide, so no reason to wait. You can download this guide for free from our website We’ll leave a link in the notes of this episode as usual. Well, Kris, anything to add here, about the guides.

Nope. That was brilliant. I love the guide.

Yeah, me too. I love it too. So finally, if you like this episode, you can share it with someone else who is also preparing for the C1 Advanced exam. And you know, it’s always much fun to prepare with someone who is in the same boat with you. You can hear it by the C1 exam. So why not sail in this direction together? Well, that’s all thank you for listening. Have a learning everyone. Cheers.

Take care of yourself. Bye bye.


Episode Notes

Hi everyone! Welcome to Cambridge Exam Coach Podcast! 

My name is Kristian – and I am Alexandra – and together we’re the team behind the brand new Cambridge Exam Coach podcast.

If you want to improve your English and learn more about exam preparation and beyond – this podcast is for you!

We’ll use vocabulary and grammar in a way that’s engaging, authentic, and non-trivial. And if you are a visual learner you can find the transcripts of our episodes on the website as well. 

If you’ve got an idea for an episode, then do get in touch with us! 

Or you can join our Facebook Group, where we share exercises and articles every single day. 

And finally, you can also follow us on Instagram

But no matter what you choose, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast! 🙂 

For more information, visit our website:

About the author 


Kristian is from The Netherlands and until the end of 2021 he's living in the beautiful city of Rotterdam. He is a CELTA qualified teacher who passed the Cambridge C2 Proficiency exam at grade A. When he's not working, he likes to chill out with music, a book, podcasts or an audiobook.


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