Guidance for teachers preparing candidates for Part 3 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 a word formation task, which means that candidates have to fill gaps in a text by creating words from the words they are given. They have to convert the word they are given into a different part of speech (i.e. a verb, a noun, an adjective or an adverb) or a different form but the same part of speech.

Most questions involve changing the word given into a different part of speech, for example from the verb they are given into the noun form of that verb. However, questions also involve creating a different word that is the same part of speech, for example changing an adjective into a negative adjective. Some questions may involve producing a compound form, for example, a compound noun.

For many questions, affixes (prefixes such as dis- or suffixes such as -ment) have to be used to form the word required. In other cases, the word given has to be changed in ways that do not involve the addition of affixes, for example changing the noun thief to the verb thieve or the noun theft. Most questions involve producing a word that is longer than the word given, as is the case when adding affixes, but some questions, such as the example just given, do not involve producing a longer word, and in some cases it may even be that a shorter word has to be produced, for example changing the adjective greedy to the noun greed.

Text types

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 likely to be quite complex and of a high level in general, meaning that close reading may be required in order to establish what kind of word is required in a particular gap.

The changes that need to be made to the given words

• different parts of speech

The following are the most common changes that may need to be made:

verb - noun                    e.g.  endure - endurance
verb - adjective              e.g.  love - lovable
verb - adverb                 e.g.  know - knowledgeably
adjective - noun             e.g.  lazy - laziness
adjective - adverb          e.g.  long - lengthily
adjective - verb              e.g.  furious - infuriate
noun - verb                    e.g.  grief - grieve
noun - adverb                e.g.  controversy - controversially
noun - adjective             e.g. envy - envious

• affixes

prefixes:  these may be used to create a different part of speech
e.g. pleased? displease
or to produce a different word that is the same part of speech
e.g. ordinary? extraordinary

suffixes: these may be used to create a different part of speech
e.g. complete? completion
or to produce a different word that is the same part of speech
e.g. lucky? luckless

prefixes and suffixes: it is very common for both a prefix and a suffix to be required to form the required word
e.g.  satisfy? dissatisfaction
predict? unpredictable
lively? enliven

• compounds

Some questions require candidates to form compound words, which are words consisting of two or more separate words that have a particular meaning when put together to form a single word, for example, turntable or handbag.

In the test, candidates may have to form a compound word by:

  • adding a word to the word given, e.g. spread? widespread
  • adding to and changing the word given, e.g. light? highlighted 

Preparing candidates for the task (1)

When doing practice test material for this task, students need to realize that they have to read the text very carefully, for two reasons. Firstly, they have to work out from the context what part of speech they have to form from the word given. Secondly, they need to work out what that word must mean in the context. For example, they need to work out not only that they have to produce an adjective but also that this adjective must have a negative meaning. It is quite common for prefixes that give a word a negative meaning to be required. Look at this example:

I found the whole thing _________ and left as quickly as I could.  IMPRESS

From the context, it is clear that an adjective must be produced but it is also clear that this adjective must have a negative meaning (unimpressive).

Preparing candidates for the task (2): further practice in class

In addition to doing practice test material and covering any word formation materials in course books, the best way of increasing your students’ chances of getting the right answers in this task is to focus on word formation issues as they come up when you are covering other material in class.

You can do this as a short phase in a lesson that has another focus. For example, if you are doing a reading text, you can draw students’ attention to any word formation possibilities you can see in that text. Choose words in the text that lead to words that are above intermediate vocabulary level and run through the word formation possibilities. For example, the text may contain the word ‘predict’. From this, you can teach the adjectives predictable and unpredictable, the adverbs predictably and unpredictably, the noun prediction and the nouns predictability and unpredictability.

You could do this with texts from other tasks in a set of practice test materials, such as New Proficiency Testbuilder, where you could, for example, look for word formation possibilities in the Part 1 open cloze text. When you do this you could approach it from two angles: you could get students to form derivatives from a base word, as in the predict example above, or you could take a derivative and get students to form the base word as well as other derivatives (for example, you could work backwards from poverty so that students realize that it comes from poor)



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