If you’re planning on taking the B2 First test from Cambridge English (formerly known as Cambridge English: First), it’s important to know the necessary techniques to pass each section. In total, there are four sections: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Today’s article will be focusing on the first section: Reading and Use of English. Keep reading to learn the techniques and information that will help you pass the Reading section of the B2 First Certificate.
General Information on the Reading Section of the Cambridge B2 First Certificate
- Length: 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- Test: 7 parts.
- Number of questions: 52.
- Grade percentage: 40%.
- Purpose: To demonstrate your ability to read different types of texts such as novels, newspapers, and magazines. In each question, you will have to demonstrate that you understood the text and are able to use proper grammar and vocabulary.
How to Prepare for the Reading Section of the Cambridge B2 First
There are several ways you can successfully prepare for the Reading Section of the Cambridge B2. Start by going to the B2 First exam format page and downloading a sample exam. You can use this to follow along as we go over each section below. Further down the page on the Cambridge website, you’ll also find a table with more information about the test. This will let you know more about each section, including the section format (multiple-choice, for example), the number of questions, the grade weight (number of marks), and, most importantly, what you should practice: vocabulary, reading for detail, etc. Use this information, along with the techniques and tips below, and you’ll be well on your way to passing the test.
Additionally, you’ll want to brush up on your reading skills. MosaLingua has a ton of great content for learning how to improve and make the most of your reading skills. In the video below, Luca talks about different kinds of books you can read to help improve your language skills.
He recorded it in English, but feel free to turn on the subtitles (6 languages available) or slow it down. Click the gear icon to do both of those things. Watch it below, or on our YouTube channel.
Some other useful articles you may want to check out include:
- 7 Benefits of Reading in a Foreign Language, to help keep you motivated while you read.
- How to Read in a Foreign Language, to get the most out of your time.
- And these great English Books for Learners
Finally, you can filter our blog for articles on reading to find more useful content.
The day before the test
There are a few things you can do physically and mentally to prepare yourself for the test. First of all, eat well the day before, and make sure you have a good breakfast the morning before the test. Studies have shown that hunger is very distracting, so make sure you’ve eaten properly. Drink plenty of water the day and night before, and make sure you go to the bathroom before the test.
Don’t stay up all night studying (or partying or anything else!). Instead, make sure you get a good night’s rest of about 8 hours. Go to bed nice and early, and wake up early for some light revision. That being said, don’t spend all morning cramming for the test. Instead, go over some of your material, read through this guide again, and take your time.
If you’d like, engage in an activity that will help to passively prepare you for the test, like reading the newspaper, a book, or a blog. Anything that will help get you in the reading mindset for your test later on. Ask yourself questions as you read, like the kinds you’ve seen in the sample tests.
That’s all there is to it! The best way to approach the exam is: comfortable, well-rested, and relaxed.
How to Succeed on the Reading Section of the Cambridge B2 First Exam
Here is some general advice on how to succeed on the Reading section of the Cambridge B2 First Exam.
Understand the context
Except for Part 4, each section refers to a text. In each case, you’ll want to take a moment to better understand the context of the text: who or what is it about, and what kind of text is it: newspapers and magazines, journals, books (fiction and non-fiction), or promotional or informational material. This will make it easier to answer the questions.
Start by reading the title of the text. Take a moment to think about the title and what it means. For example, “What is genealogy?” or “An Incredible Vegetable.” Each of these gives you a general idea of the text you’re about to read, and what kinds of terms you might encounter. The genealogy text will probably talk about families, and the vegetable text will talk about the properties of vegetables. Getting in the right mindset will make it easier for you to understand the rest of the text.
Listen to your instincts
If you’ve done a fair amount of reading to prepare for the test, you’ll start to get a good feeling for which words “sound right” in a given context. The first 4 parts deal with filling in the blank, so you may have to “try out” a few different words in the sentence to find the right one that fits.
If you’re unsure, it’s OK to leave the question and come back to it later (in fact, this is an important timing technique), but if one of the answers “feels” right, go with your instincts. Oftentimes, and especially as second-language speakers, it’s normal to know that something fits properly, even if we don’t know the exact grammatical rule for it.
Use your time wisely
You have 1 hour and 15 minutes for 7 sections, and just over 50 questions. This is plenty of time if you are methodical and keep moving forward, but time can disappear quickly if you spend too much time stuck on just one question.
If you are having trouble with a particular question or blank, don’t panic, just move on to the next one. Even if you have to skip two or three, it’s better to keep going with the test and come back to them later. The best situation is to have all the answers that you’re sure about filled in, and a few left over at the end that you’re not sure about.
In the fill-in-the-blank sections, you can also save time by skimming, rather than reading the entire passage. In fact, you may find that simply reading one or two words before and after the blank is enough to find the right answer. If not, read the whole sentence, and if you’re still unsure after half a minute, it’s time to move on. Mark the question and come back to it later.
Techniques to Pass the Reading Section of the Cambridge B2 First Exam
Now, we’ll look at each part of the reading section of the Cambridge B2 First exam and go over some useful techniques that will help you succeed.
Part 1: Multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank
In this section, you’ll be given a text with certain words removed. Your job is to fill in the blanks with one of the four suggested words. For example:
Genealogy is a (1) ………. of history.
(a) brand (b) set (c) branch (d) series
Here are some useful tips for helping you to get through this section:
- Take a quick look at the answer section, and read the options for the first question. Then go back to the text, and read the words around the blank. This may be enough to find the answer, but if not, read the whole sentence.
- If the answer doesn’t jump out at you, try saying each possibility in your head: “Genealogy is a brand of history.” Nope. “Genealogy is a set of history.” This is closer, but not exact. “Genealogy is a branch of history.” This sounds right (and it is!)
- If you finish quickly, read over the whole text once more with your answers. This may help you spot any mistakes — but skip this step if you’ve already used 10 minutes, and come back to it at the end if you still have time.
Part 2: Fill-in-the-blank
Part 2 is similar to Part 1, except that this time, you can enter any word that fits properly. In most cases, there will be just one word that corresponds.
I work ………. a motorbike stunt rider.
Keep these tips in mind:
- In the majority of cases, the missing words are prepositions: as, in, of, for, with, and from. The next most common words are adjectives: very, hardly, any. This isn’t the rule, but if you look at the sample test you downloaded, you’ll see that very often, prepositions and adjectives are correct. In fact, if the right word doesn’t come to mind, try cycling through prepositions and adjectives to see if it works: “I work in a motorbike stunt rider” — no. “I work as a motorbike stunt rider.” Got it!
- The size of the blank is the same for all the words, so don’t ignore a long or short word just because of the size of the blank. Again, in the above example, the correct word is ‘as’. “I work as a motorbike stunt rider.”
- Like Part I, you may not need to read the whole text. Start by reading just the words before and after the blank, and see if you can find the answer. If not, read the whole sentence. If after 30 seconds or so, you’re still not sure, move on to the next blank. Mark the question and come back to it if you have time.
Part 3: Fill-in-the-blank, modify the word
In Part 3, you must fill in the blanks in the text by modifying a given word. For example:
Garlic, a member of the Liliaceae family which also includes onions, is …….. used in cooking all around the world.
Here’s what you should remember:
- Most words can be modified by adding something to the beginning (a prefix) or the end (a suffix). Common prefixes in English include: recreate, deselect, disappear, and untie. Common suffixes, or endings, include: captivity, illness, realise, duplicate, classify and awaken.
- Remember that all adverbs in English end with ly. In the above example, “Garlic is commonly used in cooking all around the world.”
- Think as well about the jobs that people can have in relation to a word. Another example from the same sample test is: “Modern-day ……. have proved that garlic can indeed kill bacteria.”, and the given word is science. The answer is: scientist, somebody who studies science.
- As in Parts I and II, consider first the words around the sentence, this may be enough. If not, read the whole sentence, adding in the given word: “Garlic … is common used in cooking.” The right answer may jump out at you: Oh, commonly! If you get stuck, mark the question and come back to it later.
In Part Four, you fill in the blank with a series of two to five words, including one keyword that’s given to you. Your job is to make the new sentence have the same meaning as the given sentence. For example:
Joan was in favour of visiting the museum.
Joan though it would be ……………………………………………. to the museum.
Keep in mind:
- You are allowed to write on the test paper, so feel free to use it as scratch paper to find the correct words. You only have one chance to enter your answer into the answer sheet, so do it first on the exam sheet.
- It’s very important not to change the meaning of the phrase, so when you’ve filled in the blank, read both sentences and make sure the meaning is similar. In the above example, “Joan thought it would be a good idea to go to the museum.” Remember that different adjectives can help you achieve the correct meaning, regardless of the given word.
- Look at the given sentence for any words you can reuse to keep the same meaning. For example:
Arthur has the talent to become a concert pianist.
Arthur is so ……………………………………………. could become a concert pianist.
Arthur is so talented that he could become a concert pianist. You can use the same words as in the sentence if it helps you to create the same meaning.
- Think about synonyms for keywords in the sentence. For example: “I knocked for ages at Ruth’s door” –> “I spent a long time knocking at Ruth’s door.”
First of all, don’t panic! Part five looks a bit scary because of the length of the text, but in some ways, it’s actually easier than the previous sections. That’s because, as long as you understand the gist (or general sense) of the text, you can still answer the questions. Grammar is less important here, so if that’s not your strong suit (something you’re good at), you may have an easier time with this Part.
Here are some techniques to help you out:
- Read through the questions and answers first, and identify any keywords in both. This will help you look for the answers to the questions as you read the text.
- The questions often appear in the same order as the text, but not always.
- Look for synonyms or similar ideas to the keywords as well. For example: The answer, “It is only completely cut off at certain times”, appears in the text as: “But when there’s a high tide and the water rises half a meter or so above the road and nothing can pass until the tide goes out again a few hours later.”
- Think about persons, places, and things in the questions and keywords. Often, a question will be about how somebody feels about something, or a particular quality or state of something.
- If you get stuck on a question, go back to the text and underline any keywords that you find with your pen or pencil on the exam sheet. If you get stuck, you can find them more easily and come back to them later.
In Part 6, you must insert an entire sentence into a paragraph. You have a list of sentences to choose from, with one extra sentence that you won’t use. This section relies more heavily on understanding than grammar or vocabulary, so take the time to really think about what each sentence and paragraph is trying to say. In other words, this section requires you to think about the meaning of the text.
Here are some tips:
- You probably won’t need to read the entire text, so don’t let the length scare you. If a paragraph doesn’t have a blank space for a sentence, skip it.
- Start by reading each of the possible sentences, and finding any keywords that will help you place them in the text. Try to match those keywords with others in each paragraph. Think of synonyms and similar ideas.
- Remember that a paragraph contains one whole thought, and your job is to find the sentence that completes this thought. For example:
These classes serve two distinct purposes: they are the way we warm our bodies and the mechanism by which we improve basic technique. In class after class, we prove the old saying that ‘practice makes perfect’. [BLANK]. And it is also this daily repetition which enables us to strengthen the muscles required in jumping, spinning or lifting our legs to angles impossible to the average person.
The above example is from a sample test which we downloaded off the Cambridge C2 website. The answer is as follows, and can be found by matching ideas and completing the thought. “The principle is identical in the gym — pushing yourself to the limit, but not beyond, will eventually bring the desired result.” In both cases, the text is talking about exercise and getting better.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final section of the test! You should have about 10 to 20 minutes remaining. If you only have a few minutes, don’t panic, just do your best. If you have longer, work your way through the last section, and use any time at the end to return to questions you missed or were unsure of.
In Part 7, you will read another one-page text and must determine which paragraph matches which description. For example:
states how surprised the writer was at Duncan’s early difficulties?
says that Duncan sometimes seems much more mature than he really is?
describes the frustration felt by Duncan’s father?
For many people, this may be one of the easier exercises, as you only need to understand the general sense of the paragraph to know where to place it. Keep in mind that different paragraphs may (and probably will) appear more than once. In our sample test, there were 10 questions and 4 paragraphs, so each was used a few times.
Part 7 strategy
Here is how to approach this section:
- Read through each of the paragraph descriptions, identifying keywords, and thinking about synonyms for them that may appear in the text. For example: “frustration” from the example above appears in the text as: “But I was still upset and surprised that no team seemed to want him.”
- For each paragraph description, determine whether you should be looking for an action, a feeling, or a fact. Think about the different ways you could describe an action, feeling, or fact. Actions, like “Which paragraph gives an example of how Gavin reassured his son?” will have a synonym of this action. The same goes for feelings: “Which paragraph states how surprised the writer was at Duncan’s early difficulties?“, you should look for feeling or emotion words that convey surprise: shock, unexpected, or, in this case: disbelief.
Hopefully, these techniques and tips will help you prepare for and succeed on the exam. Use this article alongside the example tests from the Cambridge B2 website, to better understand what kinds of questions you’ll receive, and how you can apply the techniques you’ve learned. MosaLingua has tons of great materials to help prepare you for the Reading and Use of Language section of the Cambridge B2 First exam, so be sure to check out the articles I mentioned above.
We’d love to hear your comments on this article! If it was helpful, great! Let us know what were the best parts. If you thought of a technique or tip that you think would be useful for our readers, let us know—we update our articles regularly with the most useful information. Once you’ve taken the test and got your results, we’d love to hear about it. And of course, if you have any questions, drop us a line, and we’ll be happy to get back to you.
Happy studying, and break a leg!