Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 2 of the Reading and Use of English paper of the Cambridge Proficiency Exam, with a worksheet taken from Mark Harrison's New Proficiency Testbuilder.
The task type
This is what is known as an open cloze, which means a short text with gaps in it, each of which must be filled by a single word. In an open cloze, no choices are offered – the candidate has to supply the missing words.
One of the main focuses of the task in this paper is grammar. In order to fill a number of the gaps, students will have to complete grammatical structures, for example with relative pronouns, articles or parts of comparative structures. Such questions focusing on what could be called ‘pure grammar’ will normally involve very advanced grammar, rather than the more straightforward kind found in exams at the lower levels.
Another main focus is what the exams board refers to as ‘lexico-grammatical’ areas. These are areas which could be considered part-grammar and part-vocabulary. Examples of lexico-grammatical areas are linking words and phrases, verb, adjective and noun complementation (eg prepositions used after these) and parts of phrasal verbs.
The other main focus is lexical, at phrase level rather than at single word level. Candidates will not be expected to think of a single word that fits into a gap purely for lexical reasons – this would be very difficult to do and it would also be highly likely to lead to an unacceptably high number of potentially correct answers. Instead, lexical questions will involve the completion of phrases, perhaps with a preposition or verb. Collocations, fixed phrases and idioms may have to be completed.
Texts are likely to be extracts from articles and reports and to be mostly factual or informational in content, although they may well also contain opinions. They are very likely to be dense and complex, with long sentences containing a number of clauses and with very high-level use of grammatical structures. Though short, they are likely to contain complex information and ideas, presented in a sophisticated style.
Preparing candidates for the task
If you have looked at examples of CPE open cloze tests, you will have noticed that it is likely to be impossible for anyone to rush through them, filling in each gap correctly with only a cursory look at the text. This is true both of native speakers and non-native speakers, and may be even more true of native speakers – for a native speaker of any language, an open cloze test is a very unnatural thing to do, as it is not the way the brain works linguistically. Native speakers often struggle unsuccessfully to fill gaps in these tests. So, whether you are a native or non-native speaker, you need to prepare before going through one of these with candidates.
It is very important that candidates realize that the actual words they must supply are often fairly simple, high-frequency ones. It is the context in which they have to be placed that is complex. For example, at least one gap, and probably more than one, will require a preposition, itself a simple word, but it will need to be placed within a complex grammatical structure, or form part of complementation, or complete a phrasal verb or lexical phrase, rather than being used with a basic meaning. However, candidates need to be aware that the word they are looking for may itself be a relatively simple one – they should not spend time trying to think of a ‘hard’ word.
In terms of what could be called ‘pure grammar’, candidates need to be familiar with and able to use genuinely advanced grammatical structures. These structures might well prove useful in other parts of the Use of English paper, particularly the transformation questions in Part 4, and of course they may help candidates to get high marks in the Writing and Speaking papers.
One way of covering advanced grammar is, of course, to use an advanced grammar book or a comprehensive grammar reference book and cover parts of it from time to time in lessons. Course books may include a certain amount of genuinely advanced grammar too. Another idea is to go through a number of tests, for example, the tests in New Proficiency Testbuilder, and make a note of all the advanced grammatical structures in the cloze tests and the transformations, and then spend some lesson time dealing with and practising those. This will enable you to cover quite a lot of the kind of structures that may be tested.
Here are some examples of structures that can be considered genuinely advanced grammar of a kind that may be tested at CPE level:
- relative clauses with prepositions, e.g. the extent to which; half of which
- inversions, e.g. not only did he arrive late; never has there been
- complex comparative structures, e.g. not so big a problem; with such force as to; the more you exercise, the better you feel
- ellipsis, e.g. just as others do, as keen as other people are
There are many other examples of these, and the vast majority of the kind of advanced grammatical structures that may be tested will not appear in most grammar books, which tend to be at Intermediate level. To prepare candidates properly, you need to familiarize yourself what can be considered genuinely advanced grammar and cover it with students.
Candidates need to be familiar with and able to use a wide range of linking words and phrases beyond the standard ones they learn at Intermediate level. Examples of such linking words and phrases are regardless of, let alone and far from. There are many linking words and phrases that could be tested at this level.
Again, using an advanced grammar book or a comprehensive grammar reference book from time to time is one way of covering these words and phrases with students. Some may be included in coursebooks. And the idea of noting the linking words and phrases that are tested in a set of practice tests, such as those in New Proficiency Testbuilder, is again a good one. Furthermore, you can draw attention to linking devices used in any text being dealt with in class and get students to note them.
It is important to realize too that what could be regarded as more simple linking words and phrases of the kind taught at lower levels may also be tested in this part of the exam. It is quite possible that a gap will have to be filled with and or if or because. If this is the case, the question concerned will be difficult and a genuinely CPE-level gap because of the complexity of the surrounding text and the complexity of the sentence structure that it appears in.
The other two main lexico-grammatical areas, complementation and phrasal verbs, are very big areas indeed. They are also areas that are tested in Part 1 of the Reading paper, as well as being important in other parts of the Use of English paper and for Writing and Speaking. Whenever a phrase involving complementation, for example, one where a particular preposition is used after an adjective (e.g. be acquainted with), comes up in a text, you should draw attention to it and get students to note it, so that over the course of time they build up a large bank of these phrases. If there are useful complementation phrases that are related in meaning, you should teach them at the same time (e.g. keen on, fond of, crazy about). A similar approach to phrasal verbs can be taken, getting students to note them when they come up and drawing attention to ones that are linked in meaning, rather than simply producing long lists of unrelated ones.
Candidates need to have as wide a knowledge as possible of lexis at phrase level, including collocations, fixed phrases and idioms. It isn’t possible to identify common lexical phrases that are likely to be tested – this is a very big area of language indeed and anything might come up that is at CPE level rather than the commonly known vocabulary tested at the lower levels. Many of the phrases tested both here and in other parts of the paper may involve prepositions, and it is a good idea to draw students’ attention to prepositional phrases whenever these come up, so that they can build up a bank of knowledge of these. Similarly, as many as possible verb + noun collocations should be covered, as well as fixed phrases and idioms.
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Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)
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Cambridge English Proficiency: Reading and Use of English Part 2