A Student's Perspective on the CAE Exam

I received this charming letter from a student who I will call JOMG and thought it was worth sharing with the world (I asked his permission, of course, because I'm an English gentleman. Ask any of my ex-girlfriends. Well, maybe not any.) My comments will be in [bold].

Dear Mr. Andrew,

I have recently taken the CAE exam and I am very pleased with the results: I got an A, with an overall score of 204 points. I am sending this email to thank you, and to share my thoughts on a few tips and study methods presented in your website - essential to achieving my desired grade. 

Firstly, here is my score in each skill/category:
- Reading: 199
- Use of English: 210
- Writing: 206
- Listening: 201
- Speaking: 205

[Awesome! High five!]

A tip I valued very much was the one on how to do the Reading and Use of English paper. I went through the parts as you recommended and - surprisingly, really - I got everything correctly!  

[Grammar time! 'Got everything correct', or 'answered everything correctly'.]

When it came to Reading, however, I did not do so well - I guess it is an extremely tiring exam and one must be prepared to face it.

[Yes! It IS tiring. How often do you really have to concentrate for three or four hours? Students really underestimate this.]

The writing paper was somehow easy: the essay was about how to make History lessons more interesting for students. Since I am a teacher myself, that was not very hard. I mentioned multimedia lessons, trips to museums and historical sites, reenactions of important events and dates by the students themselves and historical movies or series.

For part 2, I chose a letter to a magazine, in which I had to tell a motivational story about a person who had overcome great problems. I talked about myself - I've had many orthopedic surgeries to correct a congenital problem in my legs. I guess you can only write well when you make the story yours; when the examiner feels your story is honest and you have actually been through what you described. And having an accurate vocabulary and choosing the correct grammar usage, you are sure to do well. 

[There's a commonly repeated phrase about writing - write what you know. Writing on topics you're familiar with will be more interesting for you and you will already know quite a lot of vocabulary. For example, if one of the options in the exam was 'which European country produces the craziest women?' I would consider myself an expert on the topic and choose it without hesitation. You'll notice that JOMG wrote about things he's very familiar with in parts 1 AND 2. Reminder - he scored 206 in Writing...]

If only Cambridge would show us their corrections! I would really like to know what my mistakes were - so I could improve even more.

[Yep! But never going to happen.]

The listening part was rather difficult, I'd say. To begin with, there were not the greatest in the room and part 4 is the one I always have trouble with - especially when one of the speakers has a Sean Connery accent. I was totally lost sometimes - but I was able to get back on my feet. I dodged a few distractors and took a lot of notes while I listened. I cannot say that note-taking is actually a good strategy. Sometimes I would pay more attention to my writing down the expressions rather than to the audio track itself. So, looking back, I shouldn't have done it. And this is something I will not do for CPE.

[Good tips about notes. Meanwhile: Practice accents! You will certainly get a range of British accents in the exam, plus some American and Australian voices. There are videos on YouTube called 'ASMR' videos - they are intended to be relaxing. You might find them weird but they are quite good for practicing accents. Here's a Scottish one:]



Finally, the speaking part. I was paired with a 17-year-old girl who arrived almost too late to take the exam. [Kids these days!] She was not very confident about her skills but we talked for a while and I tried to calm her down. It is a good idea to talk to your partners before going into the examination room - even if you do not know them at all. 

I would have a few things to say about the exam itself: it is very tiring and consuming. I wish Cambridge would do the writing and speaking parts in one day, and then the reading, use of English and listening. The chairs at the language centre were of incredible discomfort, and the desks were too small for an entire A4 paper to be on top of - and I haven't even mentioned that there weren't any desks for left-handed candidates! It is not only a mind challenge but a physical one as well. 

[This is why I train all my students to be ambidextrous.]

All your tips have helped me immensely, and for that, you have my gratitude.

[You're welcome and I'm legitimately happy I could help you.]

I wondered, now, if you have tips, study methods or ideas for CPE. I plan on preparing myself for a year or so. If the same tips can be applied, then I know I am on the right track!

[I get asked this quite a lot - I plan to write a little guide but it will be quite short... my priority at the mo is building FCE Exam Tips.]

Please, if you would like to, feel free to use these comments on your blog or website. I hope more students can receive their certificates and find the study of English as enjoyable as I did - especially after your tips and recommendations.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

JOMG, Brazil

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