Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 4 of the Reading paper of the Cambridge Preliminary Exam, with a worksheet taken from Lucrecia Luque-Mortimer’s PET Testbuilder.
Candidates have to read a text which is not purely factual; it includes some attitude and opinion by the author. The text's purpose is to test the candidate's ability in understanding the detail of a text. They will be expected to understand the general meaning of the text (the 'gist' or 'global meaning') and the purpose of the writer in writing the text. Five marks are available, one for each correct answer.
The task type
The task in Part 4 of the Reading paper takes the form of an extended text with five questions. Students' understanding of the text is tested through five multiple-choice questions, each with four options (A, B, C and D) – one which is correct (the key) and three which are incorrect (the ‘distractors’).
Preparing candidates for the task
It is important to raise awareness of the structure and difficulties of this task. Students are often overconfident when it comes to multiple-choice tasks. They think that the correct answer will stand out from the rest, or that they will be lucky and pick the correct option. Teachers need to make students aware that this task is, in fact, very challenging. One way of doing this is to demonstrate to students how these questions are constructed. In a well-written multiple-choice question, all the options are plausible (i.e. they do not look so wrong that you can immediately discount them), but only one is the correct answer.
The following awareness-raising task is based on a text and task taken from PET Testbuilder (see the worksheet attached at the foot of the page). You may wish to project the text on the board, or cut up the worksheet so that students do not read the questions in the task before you want them to.
a) Ask your students to read the text, ‘The Australian Outback Post Plane’ and then, in pairs, write five questions about it. (They don't need to give multiple-choice options.) All should begin with question words, so they cannot be answered simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
b) Now you are going to compare the students’ questions to the five questions in this task. Your students may have targeted some of the same information, but possibly asked more factual questions. First give students Question 2, without the options (it may be easiest to simply write it on the board). Students might have asked, for example, ‘How much does it cost to deliver a letter to a neighbouring town?' Show them how the question in the test is similar, in that it is about the cost, but it tests their understanding of the whole of that paragraph. Repeat the process with Question 3. The students might have asked, ‘What items are there in the post?' However, the question in the task targets the writer’s attitude towards the items in the post.
c) Now give students all five questions but without the multiple-choice answers. Ask them to discuss what the answers might be. When there is agreement, give them the correct answers (without the wrong options) and ask them to underline the part of the text that gives them the answer.
d) Ask students to work in groups and produce one wrong option for each question. Remind them it should not be ridiculously wrong! It should relate to something in the text. This is an opportunity to show students that some of the options they suggest might be too easy because you do not have to read the text to know it is wrong.
e) Give students all four options for each question in the task. Ask them to refer back to the text and give a reason why the wrong options are wrong.
Understanding attitude and opinion: the ‘distractors’
Give your students an example of an opinion expressed in a very clear manner, e.g. ‘I think tennis is a boring sport’. If the question is, ‘What does X think about tennis?', the answer would be very straightforward. How can you create some ‘distraction’ in the text so that the reader is forced to read very carefully? You may introduce some distraction by adding the following, e.g. ‘My friends think it’s a great sport’, or ‘I used to love it when I was younger, though’, or ‘I play it every weekend just because my best friend loves it’.
Now look at Question 3 from 'The Australian Outback Post Plane' again, and analyse the ‘distraction’ with them.
- Option A: The text mentions some unusual items (hats and cowboy boots). If the reader reads quickly and spots those words (distractors!), he/she may go for option A.
- Option C: The text mentions ‘some of the names and addresses’. If the reader reads quickly and spots those words (distractors!), he/she may go for option C.
- Option D: The text mentions ‘a pile of post’, but you have to go on reading to realise that the writer doesn't mention it being disorganised.
Frequently asked questions
What should I advise students to do first: read the text, or read the questions?
One good way of approaching this task is to read the text quickly in order to find out the topic and general meaning. Then look at the questions (but not the options in detail) because the questions will give you a purpose for reading. Next read the text again, this time more carefully. Then look at each question and the corresponding part of the text very, very carefully. When you think you have got the answer, check each of the wrong options against the text to make sure they are wrong.
Does this part of the test take longer than the other parts?
Multiple-choice tasks require careful and detailed reading of the text. Students have to go back and read parts of the text several times. Generally speaking, this task cannot be finished quickly.
How do I teach them to deal with the ‘writer’s purpose’ and the ‘global meaning’ questions?
Some students may prefer to deal with the first and last questions at the end, when they have really understood the whole text clearly. If they prefer to answer them in the order they come, they should be advised to return to the first question at the end and revise their answer in the light of their final understanding of the text. Use the first and last questions in ‘The Australian Outback Post Plane’ to show how they might relate to each other.
You can give students a list of verbs that can be used in the ‘writer’s purpose’ question and encourage them to decide the writer’s purpose of every text you give them (not just when they are practising for Part 4):
- To encourage/persuade somebody to do something
- To warn somebody about something
- To describe something
- To ask somebody’s opinion
- To complain about something
- To show how difficult/easy something is
- To suggest how something can be done
- To explain something
What if students do not understand some of the vocabulary in the text?
Students do not need to understand every word in the text to get the correct answers. They may find words they do not know, but either their meaning will be clear from the context or they will not be necessary to answer the questions. Use two examples from 'The Australian Outback Post Plane’ text: the outback and dusk.
You can play a game to prove to your students that it is possible to infer the meaning of completely unknown words from the context. Give them a text where you have replaced a number of words with nonsense words and get them to guess what the real word might be. Here is an example (text taken from ‘Sarah Radford, international athlete’, PET Testbuilder p.42):
‘For the moment, syndering has to fit around everything else in my life. I usually run into work, nearly eight miles along a main road, in my running shoes and tracksuit. Then I quickly change into my limscrags – my employers are used to that! They are also understanding about the demands of life as an athlete, which means I do not glate weekends because of races.’
KEY: syndering: training / running; limscrags: work uniform / clothes; glate: work
For more ideas and tasks, information and tips, see Macmillan Education's Testbuilder series, available to purchase here:www.macmillanenglish.com/courses/testbuilders
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