How To Teach FCE Use Of English Part One

By Alex Case
Exam tips and stimulating classroom activities for the Cambridge First Certificate multiple choice cloze task.

Exam Tips

Students are given a short text with twelve gaps and four options for words or expressions that could go into each gap, i.e. a multiple-choice cloze. They have to choose the only correct one from the four options each time, or they could of course cross out the ones they are sure are wrong and guess from the ones that are left.

Most students find it is useful to read through the whole text quickly before they look at the options, as understanding the text will often be necessary for choosing the correct answer. When they first look at the options it is very useful for students to think about, and probably underline, which words around the gap can help them guess which option it should be, e.g. underlining “doing” to show them what grammatical pattern the word they choose should go together with or underlining “pleasure” to show them which word(s) the correct option should form a common collocation with. In a similar way, it can also help students if they think about what they are being tested on in each question. The most common possibilities are:

  • Words with similar meanings, e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and prepositions with similar meanings
  • Word plus word collocations, e.g. (non-phrasal) verb plus preposition, verb plus noun, adjective plus noun, preposition plus noun, noun plus preposition, adjective plus preposition, and adverb plus adjective
  • Fixed phrases/idioms
  • Phrasal verbs
  • Verb patterns
  • Linkers

(Given in approximate order of frequency according to my analysis of four past papers issued by Cambridge.)

After they have chosen one of the four options, they should read through the whole sentences with the word(s) in to check if it makes sense and sounds right. In fact, some students who use English more than study it should be able to get the majority of the answers just from the correct option feeling right.

If they have time at the end of the test, they could also double check by seeing if the other three options are actually wrong. However, it has been show that most last-minute changes of mind in multiple choice tasks involve choosing a worse option, so they should only change their mind if they are absolutely certain that the original answer is incorrect.

Exam Preparation Tips

Any of the things on the list of language points mentioned above can of course be studied, often with the help of a specific grammar and/or vocabulary book for FCE. This could potentially make for years of study, however, especially given that there is no list of phrasal verbs that might be in the exam! A much better general approach is to just read a lot of English, including a mix of high-level graded readers and fairly easy authentic texts, to get a feel for the language.

Exam practice tasks are also of course a great help. When checking their answers, they should make sure they know why the option they chose is correct and why the other three are wrong. Some exam practice books provide this information in the answer key.

Classroom Activities

An easy start

One option is to give the task with the correct answers already circled, and ask the students to discuss why the circled option is correct and the others are wrong. Alternatively, you can give them a text with answers circled but with a small number (e.g. two) of those answers being incorrect.

It also makes it easier if they have fewer options to choose from, something that can be easily prepared by taking an exam task and crossing off one or two of the options for each space. This can also be turned into a game, e.g. having “Ask The Audience” and “50/50” options like the quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or having four jokers they can use to cut down the options at any time.

Another option is to give them just the correct answers mixed up at the bottom rather than the multiple choice questions.

It is also possible to create texts that test only a single language point such as verb patterns, someone/anyone/no-one/everyone or collocations with do/make/take/have. Alternatively, you could make the task easier while keeping the text the same by rewriting the three wrong options to make them more obviously incorrect.

More challenging activities

One option is to give students the text with just the wrong options, telling them they should discuss why those options are wrong and then try to guess the right answer. They could also just read the whole text without the options and guess as much as they can about words that should go in each gap before being given them.

The opposite is just to give them the options to discuss first. Students talk about the (grammatical, meaning and collocation) differences between all the options before being able to see the text, then do the task (obviously without looking at any notes they made during the discussion).

You could also give all the options for all the questions mixed up at the bottom of the text and get students to choose the right ones, maybe also guessing what the wrong options were for each question.

Finally, you could give them the text with the right answers in and ask them to predict the trick options that were given.

Testing each other

One way of getting students to test each other is to give them the four options and ask them to make sentences that match one of the answers (either the original right answer or any of the four that they choose). They can then test other people with their questions.

Alternatively, you can give them the text with the correct answer and tell them to make false options to try to fool other people/groups. This can mean them writing all three false options, or just adding one or two to the ones you have left in. You could also give them all four options and get them to write a fifth.

A third option is to just give them the three wrong options. They choose a fourth one that should be the answer and then write a sentence that matches that.

Written by Alex Case for Teflnet September 2011
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic and the Teaching...: Interactive Classroom Activities series of business and exam skills e-books for teachers
© Teflnet

One Comment

  • Stephanie says:

    I have been teaching English for many years but am teaching the First Certificate for the first time this year. I found your article really helpful, thank you.

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