An article by Russell Whitehead about the Cambridge English B2 Business Vantage exam reading component part 1 (the matching reading task) with tips for preparing candidates, a sample task and explanation.
The task type
This is usually referred to as a matching task. The candidates are presented with either four short texts on a related topic or one text divided into four sections and a series of seven statements. They have to match each statement to the text or question where they can find the information.
Obviously, each text is likely to be matched by more than one sentence.
What is meant by ‘matching’ here is really paraphrasing. It is unlikely that candidates will be able to get a correct answer simply by spotting a word in a sentence and then finding the same one in a text. In fact, if there does seem to be a word that is the same in one of the texts, it is quite likely that this word also appears in other texts.
In order to perform successfully in this task, candidates need to match the meaning of the sentence to the meaning of a part of one of the texts. They need to do this carefully and precisely, because the texts are quite similar to each other, and so are the sentences. Each sentence will appear at first to be match-able to more than one text.
This task tests close reading skills and language knowledge. The topic of the texts may be fairly specifically rooted in a certain area of business, but actual knowledge of business is not tested. Candidates with or without direct experience of the topic will not be advantaged or disadvantaged.
A wide variety of text types are used in the exam for this task. A basic distinction is between, on the one hand, sets of four separate but related texts and, on the other hand, four sections of a larger text.
Examples of the separate-but-related texts could include advertisements for jobs or business opportunities, or announcements about companies’ recent results or appointments.
Examples of sections of texts could include paragraphs taken from articles in the business press about different aspects of the world of work, for example about recruitment or selling, etc.
There is also a middle ground, in which, for example, four consultants/experts/managers, etc offer their opinions on or reactions to something.
The information in all these types of text is likely to be essentially factual. However, these facts will be compared and contrasted to each other, or commented on or judged in some way. In other words, some interpretation will be required in order to understand them fully.
Whatever text type is used, the length (a total of between 250 and 350 words) will be the same, and the difficulty will average at the same level.
The Business English Certificate Vantage assesses English used in the context of business at Level B2 of the CEFR (Common European Framework). Three pass levels are available for this exam:
- Grade A (CEFR Level C1): 180–190 marks
- Grade B (CEFR Level B2): 173–179 marks
- Grade C (also CEFR Level B2): 160–172 marks
Candidates receive a separate score for each skill area (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and their overall score and grade is the average of these individual scores.
Candidates who gain 140-159 marks receive a certificate stating that they have demonstrated ability at CEFR Level B1.
Candidates whose scores are below 139 do not receive a result, CEFR level or certificate.
These usually consist of sentences to match to the texts, although they can also be statements consisting of noun phrases. If the texts are, for example, about four different companies, then the sentences are likely to begin This company ... or something similar. In other cases, the sentences could be self-contained, and the candidates need to find that information or idea expressed in one of the texts. It is also possible for them to be presented in structures such as the difficulty caused by … or training being too expensive for …, etc.
Candidates should not waste their time looking for the same words in the sentences and the texts. The job is to match the meanings, content, information or ideas from the sentences to the texts.
In testing, answers that are designed to appear possible but which are in fact wrong are called distractors. Each question – sentence or statement – will function not only as an answer to one text but also as a distractor for one or more other texts.
It is important to recognise the role of grammar in this reading task. One basis of distraction is often to do with time, or the sequencing of events. Candidates need to have a good grasp of the meaning implications of the different verb tenses in English, for example.
There are several aspects to successful performance at this task, and candidates’ preparation needs to reflect this. Candidates need to be effective at all the following:
- having a methodical system for proceeding
- understanding paraphrasing
- knowing lexical and grammatical possibilities
There is, of course, no right or wrong way to tackle the task, and each candidate will have their own preferred learning and task-completion style. However, it is important that whatever approach is taken is taken systematically. Each question needs to be given the same amount of effort.
Since the sentences consist of less reading than the texts, it is probably sensible to read the first text, and then all the sentences, noting the ones that seem to match. It is also probably a good idea at this point to underline the parts of the text that seem to match and note the number of the sentence that seems to fit. This method should be continued with the next three texts.
Just because a candidate thinks, for example, that sentence number 2 matches text A, it doesn’t mean this should be the end of it. The candidate should keep looking at all the sentences in relation to each text. This is because of the issue of distraction (see above).
Dealing with paraphrasing:
It is essential that candidates are accustomed to dealing with paraphrasing. If a sentence says, for example, This person was recently promoted, then candidates should not spend their valuable time trying to find mention of promoted or recently. Instead, they should expect to find something like The company moved X into a senior management role last month.
Students need as much practice as possible in this area.
Processing different structures:
A sentence might say: If you do not plan your business start-up, then you won’t succeed. A text to match it might include: New businesses will fail unless they have carefully formulated aims and targets.
This is a relatively simple example, but it shows the importance of being able to process different structures. Moving between if and unless, the active and passive, distinguishing different modal verbs, etc. – these are all necessary aspects of grammatical knowledge and ability for this task.
Understanding different tenses and sequences of events:
A sentence might say, Fidel Romano used to work for TR Ltd. A text might say, Before Fidel Romano took up his current position at TR Ltd, he had worked for three years at GoTech Ltd. These sentences, of course, do not match each other – but mistakes could be made by candidates who were doing the task too quickly or who didn’t know enough about verb tenses and sequences of events.
Read these sentences and two descriptions of companies’ activities. Which company does each sentence refer to?
Everybody in our company is doing something valuable. We have four or five people whose only job is to stay in our competitors’ hotels. They study everything and write it all up in great detail – everything positive and everything negative – and we are able to build on that knowledge to drive our own innovation. We are a happy place to be: we haven’t had an employee leave to go to the opposition in over three years.
We are a people-driven organisation. Our employees participate actively in raising the bar for customer satisfaction and performance. They establish the areas in which their achievements are assessed, such as, How quickly do you answer calls? or How effectively do you resolve complaints? We circulate a monthly report to all staff that gives an update about the competition and what they’re up to. It helps to keep us all in the picture.
- This company provides staff with information about the activities of competitors.
- This company uses staff’s reports about competitors in order to develop new ideas.
- This company involves staff in setting the standards that their performance will be measured by.
- This company seeks to employ staff who have worked for its competitors.
1. Staywell. The sentence matches We circulate a monthly report to all staff that gives an update about the competition and what they’re up to in the text. It should not be confused with Graces, where the situation is the other way round.
2. Graces. The sentence matches They study everything and write it all up in great detail, everything positive and everything negative, and we’re able to build on that knowledge to drive our own innovation in the text. It should not be confused with 1.
3. Staywell. The sentence matches They establish the areas in which their achievements are assessed in the text.
4. No matches here. It should not be confused with we haven’t had an employee leave to go to the opposition in over three years in Graces, which it does not match.
Cambridge English qualifications for business (BEC)
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B2 Business Vantage: Reading: Part 1