- Jump to part 4


This is a Word Formation task which will be familiar to students who did the First Certificate. Word Formation activities test your ability to change one type of word into another, your ability to use prefixes and suffixes, your spelling, and your reading comprehension.

You are given a text with 8 words missing and you must fill in the correct word. It's different from part 2 because in part 3 you are given a base word that you have to change (whereas in part 2 you are given no help).

It looks like this:

* You must put the ___________ word into the gap. MISS

Answer = missing (change MISS into an adjective because it describes 'word', which is a noun)

Step 1 - Understand how to do the task

* It's not one of those tasks where you have to match the left column to the right column:

At the end of every line with a word missing you'll see a word in bold, capital letters. That is the word you must transform to be used in that line. Do not use that word to fill in an answer elsewhere on the page!

* You need to read the whole text to get the writer's opinion on the topic. That's because you'll have to change some of the words into negative forms, and you can't do that if you only read the sentences containing the missing words.

* To do it well you need to understand how sentences are built in English - that means understanding the function of verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. That sounds hard, but it's really not so bad when you get the hang of it.

* Then you need to learn all the different forms of words. This is the hard part!

2 - Nounspotting

This quick guide is no substitute for getting a proper grammar book, but here are a few quick tips. These things are nouns - names (Captain Jack Sparrow); concepts (time, information); names of jobs or types of people (skiiers, doctors, scientists); things (cheesecake, flowers).

- Sometimes you can't spot a noun based on its ending, but sometimes you can. Look out for: -eer; -tion; -ment, -age, -al, ance, -hood, -iety, -ness, and so on.

- If you have a word which can be made plural or into a possessive form, it's a noun. (Two solutions/ the solution's result = solution is a noun.) Read the part 3 text carefully to check if you need to make your noun plural!

- If you have a determiner in a sentence, look for a noun. If you can't find one that goes with the determiner, the missing word is a noun. Determiners include the, my/your/their (etc), whose, another, other, a/an.

Their ___________ was very clever.  SOLVE

The ____________ was more dangerous than they had expected.  PURSUE

An incredible number of ___________ failed to understand the significance of the study.  SCIENCE

(Answers: solution/pursuit/scientists.)

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3 - Adjectives describe nouns

Adjectives are the most common answers in part 3, slightly ahead of nouns. Look at this:

adjectives for CAE

Red/old/fast are adjectives - they tell us about the noun 'car'. (Notice that adjectives sometimes follow 'to be' - that might be good to remember.)

In the Cambridge exam you won't have such easy words, of course, and it might not always be so clear which noun the adjective refers to.

These collocations are typical of the English used in part 3: 

low temperatures and changeable weather

artificial oxygen and local guides

great benefit

personal point of view

They are all adjective-noun combinations. The best tip to check if a word is an adjective is to quickly transform the sentence so that the word follows 'is'. Example:

The great is benefit. (Ugh! No!)

The benefit is great. (Yes, sounds good. Great is an adjective.)


The artificial is oxygen. (Please don't! It hurts my ears!)

The oxygen is artificial. (Ah, that's better... artificial is an adjective.)

Common endings for adjectives:

-able; -ible; -al (careful! this works with nouns too); -ial; -ant; -ate; -ative; -ive; -ing; -ed; -ous; -ly (not always an adverb!); -y; -ful; -ness; -ic; -ary; -ory.

4 - How to use an adverb

Your grammar book will deal with advanced usage, but this guide will cover a lot of situations. Adverbs describe verbs, other adverbs and adjectives.

Adverbs used frequently by Cambridge are increasinglyprogressively, dramatically and others which describe the rate of change. Also, they're fond of adverbs that start sentences, such as alternatively,  surprisingly, etc.

5 - Essential verbs

Do you know how to change words into verbs using 'en', 'under', and 'out'?

how to use verbs

My sleeves are too short - I need to lengthen them.

The thrilling music heightened the tension of the final scene. 

The Prime Minister undertook to find a solution to the crisis.

The actress underwent surgery on her nose.

The new album outsold the old album by two to one.

Red crabs outnumber blue crabs.

(After you've learned those, you can start work on verbs formed with over-, down- and up-. !!!)

6 - Positive or Negative

When you've decided if you need a verb/adjective/etc in a space, and you've got an answer, always read the paragraph again to make sure the meaning is correct. A few words on every test will be negative.

CAE word formation

Here's an example from a Cambridge text about climbing Mount Everest:

"During the month of May, ............................. weather presents a number of safe opportunities to make the climb." FAVOUR

Because the text was about Everest, students will quickly fill in 'UNFAVOURABLE'. On careful reading of the sentence, better students realise the word 'safe' is key. The answer therefore should be FAVOURABLE.

The next sentence is:

"As a result, the sheer number of climbers has brought an ............................. problem - overcrowded conditions." EXPECT

An EXPECTED problem? But the last bit of the sentence - overcrowded conditions - is the last thing you'd expect on Mount Everest. So here we need the negative form, UNEXPECTED.

Common negative prefixes:

dis-; in-; im-; il-; un-; il-; de-; mis-

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7 - Further help - CAE Exam Tips videos



Alarm! Alarm! Some students think this is the hardest part of the whole exam. And they might be right! It tests a wide range of grammar, vocabulary, and you need to be able to change informal language into formal, active into passive, and more! Can you do this one?

1. Basic Tips

  • The instructions say 'you must use the word given.' It doesn't mean the actual word 'given', it means the word provided! 
  • Use between 3-6 words. Most contractions are 2 words (won't, don't = will not, do not). It might be possible to complete the sentence in a grammatically correct way with 2 words, or with 22 words, but you won't get any points for that!
  • Don't change the word. If the word given is 'TO' you can't use 'INTO'. If the word is 'GO' you can't use 'WENT'.
  • As I said, this section is very hard because there's so much you need to know. But each question is worth 2 points. You might not know the whole answer but sometimes one correct word will give you a point. 
  • Try to keep the same meaning - If the first sentence says 'Tom said...' then don't write 'He said...' in the second sentence.
  • Check your tenses - if the first sentence is in the past tense, the second should be, too!

2. Time Management Flowchart

In the introduction to the Reading and Use of English test we suggested you START the exam by doing part 4, and don't spend too long on it.

Use this flowchart to help you determine how much time to spend on each question:

cae exam tips

3. A Case Study - Thought Process Example

Remember the example question from the intro? It's from the Cambridge CAE handbook. Let's go through it step by step.

If you've studied the word 'spite' before you probably know it comes in the phrase 'in spite of'. So the temptation with this answer is to put 'in spite' before 'of experience'. Something like:

Anna got the job in spite of experience in public relations.

No! That doesn't make any sense. If she had experience in public relations we wouldn't need to use the phrase 'in spite of'. So 'in spite of' has to go at the start. Yes, we have 'of' twice, and it looks weird, but it's the only way.

Anna got the job in spite of .......................... of experience in public relations.

We've used 3 words and can use a maximum of 3 more. But the good news is that we've already got 1 of the 2 points available.

The next part of our answer has to mean 'she didn't have much experience'. How about: 

Anna got the job in spite of not having a lot of experience in public relations.

Sounds good! But it's 7 words. Too many! So we try again. By now I'm anxious to move on to the next question so I'll just think for 15 seconds or so. Fortunately the answer pops into my head right away because I studied really hard:

Anna got the job in spite of her lack of experience in public relations.


As you can see, there's a lot involved in this part of the exam. You'll need to study all kinds of grammar, phrasal verbs, set phrases etc etc etc.

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