Hey there!

There's a new article on my other website which explains the grammar of when to use the present simple and when to use the present continuous.

On this page I’ll be talking about using that grammar in the context of the Cambridge Advanced exam. I’ll call present simple ‘PS’ and present continuous ‘PC’ so I don’t have to type them a billion times.

But first read that article, or at least watch the video.

So how are these grammar rules relevant to you in your Cambridge C1 Advanced exam?

The Speaking Test

Part 1

Use the same grammar as the question in your answer. There’s almost never any reason to change it.

What do you enjoy most about learning English? (PS)
The thing I enjoy most (PS) is how tall and handsome my English teacher is.

Are you planning to do any courses in the near future? (PC)
I’m not planning any (PC) in the next few weeks or months because I’m quite burned out from preparing for this exam. But next year I’m sort of thinking about learning to drive trucks.

Do you like to give yourself aims or targets? (PS)
Yes, I do. (PS) When I go to a bar I always give myself a target of how many phone numbers I should get.

Do you use social networking sites a lot? (PS)
Yes, I do, absolutely. (PS). I love letting Mark Zuckerberg read all my private messages to my friends. I love being made to feel unhappy by the impossibly happy photos I see. I love feeling depressed after reading the hateful things our politicians have done.

Part 2

When you talk about what might be happening in a photograph you normally use the present continuous. She's crying. He's juggling. They're using a 3D printer to make an Iron Man helmet.

When you talk about what the people do, or who they are, you normally use the present simple. She looks like her pet hedgehog just died. He seems like an irritating guy. They look really creative.

Remember, don't just describe the photos! You should compare them. Here’s a good mixture of present simple and continuous:

In this picture, everyone is texting in the cinema, while in this picture, there’s only one guy and he’s using his phone to take a selfie. Whereas the moviegoers have no respect for other people, the tourist has no respect for himself.

Parts 3/4

These parts of the exam are about expressing your opinions and reaching an agreement with your partner.

Opinions can use the present simple:

  • I think people who fail basic intelligence tests shouldn’t be allowed to have children.

  • It is important that we find strategies to deal with informational overload.

Or the continuous:

  • We're spending too much time on social media these days, and we’re collectively losing our god damn minds.

  • While things seem to be getting worse, in many cases they are actually getting better. More people in the world are getting healthcare and more people are escaping poverty.


The main thing to remember is that the present simple is used to describe facts or states.

So if you're asked to write an essay about stopping climate change, you might write things like:

  • Global warming is undeniably the main issue of our time.

  • The fact is that almost all climate scientists say that global warming is really happening.

  • People who choose not to believe in science are complete idiots.

It’s super easy to use the present continuous in your writing test:

  • Our political systems are becoming more extreme and the centre is losing its identity.

  • Corporations are becoming more powerful than governments, and soon we will all be owned by evil entities like Nestle.

  • Facial recognition software is improving and that means policing is getting easier.

Of course, because it’s easy you won’t be getting ‘advanced’ points. But you won’t lose points for getting it wrong, either.

Sentence Transformations

Change this sentence:

The unemployment rate is improving.

Use the word BETTER

The unemployment rate _____________________ .

Answer: The unemployment rate is changing for the better.

These all mean the same thing:

  • [Something] is improving.

  • [Something] is changing for the better.

  • [Something] is making an improvement.

  • [Something] is getting better.

  • [Something] is looking up.

Common Mistakes

The main problems I’ve found with my own students are with emphasis and the ‘annoying behaviour’ rule.

1. Emphasis

This is perfect English:

  • Oh my god! You didn’t buy any wine!

  • I did buy wine. It’s in that bag.

  • Oh, thank God.

This is not:

  • I did go shopping yesterday.

This is fine:

  • I don’t like pineapple but I do like things that taste good and belong on pizzas.

Basically it’s a mistake to add some form of ‘do’ before a verb UNLESS you are emphasizing something. Saying ‘I did go shopping yesterday’ is weird because no-one said you DIDN’T.

2. Annoying Behaviour

I always play football on Sundays. I always give my teacher an apple after class. I always do my homework.

You’ve learned that always always goes with the present simple. And that’s a good place to start.

But it isn’t exactly always - if you’re talking about how someone often does something that annoys you then you use the PC.

  • She’s always leaving her bedroom light on!

  • He’s always talking about his favourite Youtubers! They aren’t real celebrities! It drives me crazy!

This rule can also be used for things that you find charming.

  • My new boyfriend is so great! He’s always forgetting to bring a t-shirt and he has to walk around topless!

  • My new girlfriend is amazing! She’s always leaving little notes for me.

If you’d like more exam-focused grammar articles like this one, please let me know!