English exams

We can help you prepare for any English exam you may need. We offer preparation classes for the Cambridge International exams (KET, PET, FCE, CAE, CPE) and we can can also help you prepare for IELTS, PTE Pearson, Trinity College and the Citizenship test.



In any Speaking exam, your main enemy is not your grammar or vocabulary problems. It’s not even your fluency or pronunciation. All these things are important and the examiner is marking you on them but, the biggest problem you face is overcoming nerves. It’s easy to say “relax” but, for Cambridge exams in particular, what many students don’t realize is that the Speaking exam is actually one of the easiest to pass. For a start, the Speaking exam is shorter than any of the other papers (between 8 and 19 minutes). And PET, KET, First, Advanced and Proficiency are marked on a scale of 1-5, where 3 or over is a pass. Getting a 4 or a 5 and being “perfect” isn’t necessary to show you can speak at the minimum level to pass the paper. However, this piece of information might not be enough to stop the panic as you enter the room. So what else can you do?

Tricks to help you feel confident

  1. While you’re waiting to go in, speak English to the people waiting with you. That way you’re not going in “cold” – suddenly having to switch from your own language to English. Think of it like doing warm up stretches before going for a run
  2. Forget about grammar and vocabulary today. Concentrate on answering the questions, listening to the instructions and your partner (for tasks where you have to interact with another student). If you’ve been studying for the exam for months beforehand, you know all the grammar and vocabulary you’re going to know. So, there’s no point worrying about that on the day of the exam!
  3. If you make a mistake, correct it and move on. Don’t let it interfere with your fluency. You get marked down for hesitation and long pauses. But, correcting your mistakes, or even, asking the examiner or the other candidate to repeat or clarify something can gain you marks. It’s called a ‘repair strategy’ and it’s a sign of good communication skills.

Tricks for success in the exam

  1. Be interesting! Remember the examiner has been going through the same routine all day and he or she is bored. There are standard questions at the beginning of the exam about where you live, your free time and school subjects, for example. The examiner has probably heard the same answers all morning. If you’re taking the exam in your own country, this is especially true as most candidates live in the same city. Before the exam, think of some interesting fact about the place you live, or a hobby you have that is a bit different, or give an opinion about your school subject. Just one or two sentences are enough to get the exam off to a good start.
  2. Interact with the other candidate. Not everyone can get top marks for grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation, but there’s no reason not to get a 5 for ‘interactive communication’. This mark is for initiating Conversation, responding to what your partner has said, and trying to move the discussion towards an outcome. Acknowledge something the other candidate has said and develop it – just like a Conversation in the real world. Try to avoid just giving stock phrases like “I agree with you” and then moving onto a different topic. Say why you agree (or disagree) and discuss the point. For example ‘That’s what I think too because…’. You can ask the other candidate why they have that opinion too.
  3. Be yourself! It’s OK to make jokes or use humour. Just because it’s an exam doesn’t mean everything you say has to be super serious. If your personality comes across, then it means the examiner is more likely to think of you as someone who expresses themselves well in English.

So, take a deep breath and remember – in under twenty minutes, it’s all going to be over!




The writing paper consists of two parts: There is a compulsory question in Part 1
and one question from a choice of 5 in Part 2. Each question carries equal marks.
You have 1 hour 20 minutes to complete the task.
The aim of the exam is to establish that you are able to write in different styles and that you understand the concept of “register”. (If you don’t know what this is – see below.)
You should start to practice the different tasks as soon as you have decided to take the exam and it is a good idea to create a writing  file.
In the writing file you should keep all the writing work you have done yourself as well as examples of good English, such as model letters or reports. You could also add magazine articles or a short stories.

What is “register”?
Register is the correct style of writing  (and speaking) for the situation. You don’t speak to your boss or your bank manager in the same way as you speak to your friend, do you? You use different words for different people: “I apologise” to your boss, and “I’m sorry” to your friend.
We do the same thing when we are writing . You write an e-mail to a friend in a very different way to writing  a covering letter for a job.
So the “register” is the choice of vocabulary plus the style of writing  (formal or informal).

When you are writing  your letter or report, you should think about the person who is READING it. The exam question will tell you to write to a friend, or to your teacher or for a school magazine (so the readers will be students in this case).
The examiner will consider himself as the reader (your friend, your colleague, a magazine reader or the Director who asked for the report.)
So, don’t think, “Oh, I’ve got to write 120 – 180 words for an exam.”
Think: “I have to write a 120 – 180 word report for my boss.” Or, “I’m writing  a magazine article for teenagers.”
Imagine that the situation is REAL.
Before writing  you should brainstorm your ideas & organize your answer. When you are satisfied with your ideas write your answer as clearly as possible. You will get zero points if the examiner can’t read your writing .

The exam:
Part 1: This compulsory question asks you to write a letter or an e-mail. You will be given information (from an advert, a letter, an e-mail, a schedule etc) and other notes which you need to read carefully before you start to answer the question.
Use all the information you are given but do not simply recopy it. Add some ideas of your own.
Don’t write any addresses for letters & e-mails.

Formal letter: Do not use contractions. Use a formal register : Dear Mr & Mrs Smith (not “Mister” & “Missus”)
I am writing  for further information about…
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,

Informal letter, for example to a friend: use contractions and a bit of chit-chat to make the letter seem real (Hi, how are you? How’s your family? I haven’t seen them for ages!) but get to the point of the letter quickly.
Be natural : Just thought I’d drop you a line to tell you that…/ to ask if you could…../ to see what you think about…./
Finish with an expression such as: Hope to hear from you soon/ I’ll be in touch/ Can you let me know as soon as possible? Then: Love, (if you are a girl or VERY good friends) or Best regards, (men)
Don’t write “kisses”. If you want to express a kiss, do it like this: Love from Jenny, XXX

E-mails are semi-formal, somewhere between the two, even if it is about business. Start with Dear — & finish with Best regards or Kind regards. You can use contractions, but don’t use “text” language. For example, don’t write “C U L8TER” (see you later).

Part 2 The options may include: an article, a story, a report, a review, an essay or another letter.
Letter: If you choose this option, read the instructions carefully. It will tell you to write “in the appropriate style”. If the compulsory letter was informal, this one will probably be formal & vice-versa. Make sure you get the style & register right.

Story: You are often given a sentence to start or finish your story. Eg: “It was midnight and I was all alone in the house. Suddenly someone knocked loudly on the door.”
Or “Without saying a word, John got up and walked out of the room.”
If you enjoy telling stories, then this is a good choice for you. If you have no imagination and you have never practised writing  a story before, choose another option.
You should be able to use the story telling tenses: simple past; past continuous; past perfect; past perfect continuous.
There should also be plenty of descriptive adjectives .Use absolute adjectives where possible. For example, don’t say “big”, say “enormous”; don’t say “dirty” say “absolutely filthy”.
You should also use adverbs: suddenly, amazingly, unbelievably…

Essay: This is the classic piece of writing  demanded by schools everywhere. It should have an introduction, a clear development or discussion of the subject and a conclusion which gives your opinion. The essay should include your reasons for your opinion and you should give examples which can be from your own experience, from historical or scientific facts, from current affairs etc. Use a formal style, good linking words, make sure there is a logical progression and don’t repeat yourself.

If you do not know what linking words are, ask me for a list of them.

Article: If you enjoy reading magazines & newspapers and you have noticed the journalistic style of writing , then this could be a good choice, but it is quite difficult to do well. Magazine articles use journalistic headlines and sub-headings. They often use rhetorical questions. You must get the reader’s full attention and give some opinion or comment.

Review: This is to describe and give a personal opinion of a book, a film, a restaurant, a holiday, a website… Use your own experience and conclude with your recommendation. There are examples of book, film & restaurant reviews on this blog which I suggest you have a look at. Keep the register formal or semi formal.

Report: This option usually demands factual information which you should present in a clear, logical way. Use subheadings, don’t use contractions and make sure you control your tenses. Is the report about something which happened in the past or which is going to happen at some future date? You can invent some data or statistics to make the report seem real (eg: the vast majority of students (85%) were in favour of ….). Your personal recommendation can be given throughout the report or in conclusion at the end of the report.

Finally, there is a question about a set text (a book). Do not answer this question unless you have studied the book with your English teacher. English Connection students should never choose this option as we do NOT study for it.

Marking system:
When you understand how the exam is marked, you can get a better result.

There are 5 bands. I have written a simplified version of what the examiners are looking for. The University of Cambridge examiners have a much more detailed list which is too long to publish here.

Band 1:Lack of organization, lack of vocabulary, lack of control of grammar, irrelevant answer, question not understood, no understanding of register.
Band 2: Although the task is attempted, communication is limited, many errors make it difficult to understand, poorly organized, register inconsistent.
Band 3: All content points are included, ideas are properly organized, linking words used, correct register is attempted, errors will be present but will not stop the reader from understanding.
Band 4: Ideas are clearly organized & linked together. All points are included, shows good range of vocabulary & structure, an understanding of the appropriate register is demonstrated and is consistent. Grammatical or spelling mistakes do not stop the reader from understanding.
Band 5: The candidate’s writing  full achieves the task. All points are included and expanded. Synonyms are used showing a wide range of structures and a rich vocabulary. Errors are few, do not stop understanding & are probably due to ambitious attempts at difficult structures. The register is consistent and appropriate to task.

One more thing. Have you noticed that throughout this article on FCE writing  (which is about 1,500 words, by the way) I have only used an exclamation mark once and I have not found it necessary to use the word “indeed” at all.
Would all lycée students please note that we do not want to see “indeed” used four times in 180 words and we don’t want to see more than two exclamation marks in your text either.

I hope this information will help you to achieve a Band 4 or Band 5 result.

There will soon be examples of reports, stories, essays and articles at FCE (B2) level on this blog, as well as a writing  competition, so come and visit it often




Cambridge English: Advanced is an advanced level exam and the fourth level of the University of Cambridge exams in general English. This exam is set at Level C1 of the Council of Europe’s Common European Framework for modern languages.


The CAE exam is suitable for learners who have reached an advanced level of English and are able to use English effectively and confidently in social, educational and professional situations.
CAE is useful preparation for anyone who wishes to take CPE at a later stage, and valuable for anyone who is looking to work or study abroad.
A CAE certificate has no expiration date. However, some institutions have their own language requirements or policies on how recent they require exam results to be. They may ask you for evidence that you have maintained or improved your level of English since you took your exam. Speak to the institution you are applying to and confirm their individual requirements.
CAE is a truly international certificate, recognised around the world for business and study purposes. Thousands of employers, universities and government departments officially recognise CAE as an Advanced qualification in English.


CAE has 5 papers:

Reading: 1 hour, 15 minutes
You will need to be able to understand texts from publications such as fiction and non-fiction books, journals, newspapers and magazines.

Writing: 1 hour, 30 minutes
You will have to show you can produce two different pieces of writing such as an article, a report, a proposal and a review.

Use of English Paper: 1 hour
Your use of English will be tested by tasks which show how well you can control your grammar and vocabulary.

Listening: 40 minutes
You need to show you can understand the meaning of a range of spoken material, including lectures, radio broadcasts, speeches and talks.

Speaking: 15 minutes
You will take the Speaking test with another candidate or in a group of three, and you will be tested on your ability to take part in different types of interaction: with the examiner, with the other candidate and by yourself.


Each component of the exam carries 20% of the total marks.
Candidates can access their results through the Cambridge ESOL Results website. For paper-based exams, these will be available after 4 weeks. For computer-based exams, they will be available after 2 weeks.
There are three Pass grades – A, B, C – and two Fail grades – Council of Europe Level B2 and Below Level B2.
There is no minimum pass mark for individual papers. The grade is based on the total score of all 5 papers.
Certificates are awarded to candidates who score 45% and above and are despatched approximately 4 weeks after the results are issued.




Cambridge English: First, also known as the First Certificate in English (FCE), is an English language examination provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations). It is an upper-intermediate, international English language qualification that focuses on Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The exam is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: First for adult learners and Cambridge English: First for Schools. Both versions assess at the same level, have the same exam format (five papers) and lead to the same qualification – the First Certificate in English. The only difference between the two versions is that the topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school-aged learners.

Cambridge English: First was first developed as the Lower Certificate in English (LCE) during the 1930s and was intended to meet a demand for certification of English below that of the Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) exam. Cambridge English: First is one of the most widely taken of all the exams provided by Cambridge English Language Assessment and is accepted in commerce, industry, universities and higher education institutions as proof of everyday written and spoken English for work and study purposes



Cambridge English: Preliminary, also known as the Preliminary English Test (PET), is an English language examination provided by  Cambridge English Language Assessment (previously known as University of Cambridge ESOL). Cambridge English: Preliminary is an intermediate level qualification which demonstrates the ability to communicate using English for everyday purposes.

Launched in 1980, Cambridge English: Preliminary is designed to show that a learner can use their English language skills in everyday situations when working, studying and travelling. It is focused on Level B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

Cambridge English: Preliminary is offered in two variations: Cambridge English: Preliminary for adult learners and Cambridge English: Preliminary for Schools, for school-aged learners. Both versions of the exam lead to the same qualification, the Preliminary English Test. Both versions have the same exam format (three exam papers) – the only difference is that the topics in the ‘for Schools’ version have been targeted at the interests and experiences of school-aged learners.



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