Taking the FCE

Paper 1: Use of English

This paper consists of five parts, each very different, but all with the aim of testing your knowledge of English grammar, vocabulary and word formation.

Part 1

This is a multiple choice gap-fill exercise which involves knowing not only the meaning of words but also collocations and grammatical patterns. The extract below is the first paragraph of a typical part 1 text.

The London Tea Trade

The London Tea Trade Centre is on the north (0) ..... of the River Thames. It is the centre of an industry of (1) ..... importance in the (2) ..... lives of the British. Tea is without (3) ..... the British national drink: every man, woman and child over ten years of age has (4) ..... average over four cups a day or some 1,500 cups annually. Some thirty per cent of the world's exports of tea makes its (5)..... to London.

0 A bank B border C shore D coast

1 A high B wide C great D large

2 A common B typical C everyday D usual

3 A doubt B dispute C disbelief D uncertainty

4 A for B by C at D on

5 A route B way C direction D journey

In common with all the text-based parts of this paper the piece has a title. This should not be ignored because it may give a clue as to what the text is about and so help you to understand it.

Before you even look at the answers read the whole text. You need to understand what the piece is about in order to make reasonable choices. Also, quite often something later in the text will give you hints or information that will help you choose the correct answer.

The example (0) is an example of a straight vocabulary question. Here you need to know that rivers have "banks". However, even if you didn't know that you could still narrow the possibilities. Most people know that the "coast" is at the seaside and that a "border" is usually between two countries. So by a process of elimination we have narrowed the choice down to two. This is a useful strategy to use in situations where you are not sure of the answer.

Gaps 1, 2, 3 and 4 demand a knowledge of the words that collocate (go with) "importance", "lives", "without" and "average". To prepare for this kind of question it is necessary - and this is true for the rest of the exam as well - to have read extensively outside the classroom. Only by doing this do you come across a variety of collocations. However, even if you don't read a lot you can still help yourself by:

l learning words in phrases rather than individually;

l writing down a sentence with a new word in it;

l noticing which words go with the one you look up in the dictionary;

l and very importantly, making sure you have a good dictionary - one that gives example phrases or sentences.

Here "great" goes with "importance" and "everyday" with "lives"; "doubt" goes with "without", and "on" is the preposition that collocates with "average".

Sometimes common expressions are tested and these may include verbal phrases like the one in gap 5. Again collocation is of prime importance. You may know what all the words mean individually but which one completes the phrase "to make one's....."?. The answer is "way".

Some General Tips

l Read everything before you attempt the question.

l Read the instructions very carefully.

l Check your spelling.

l Read as much in English as you can before the exam.

Richard Baker