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FCE and CAE English exams tips

12th March 2018 Posted by: Mike Robertson

THERE is a great deal of language tested in the Reading & Use of English section of the FCE and CAE (Cambridge Advanced Exam), but there are certainly some common trends that make an appearance.

By beginning to understand keyword formations (as used in Part 3 of the test) a student can enter the exam with a foundation of learning that will bolster quality and efficiency within their responses. This article will focus on the basics of noun, adjective, verb and adverb formation. It is intended to be the first of a series of articles that will deal with further word formations in this section and their relationship with one another.

Word formations for CAE

Before rigorously learning noun and adjective endings it is essential that we understand the contextual cues surrounding this type of language. The following information can be applied when reading questions in this part of the Reading & Use of English section of the exam.


Determiners (my, your, his, her, their, our), articles (a, an, the) and demonstratives (this, that, these, those) will be followed by a noun (unless part of an adjective + noun combination).

  • “For those looking to make a profit on their creations, these days an audience for products can range from local to the truly global.”

Adjectives can also precede nouns, so remember not to limit your focus. These can appear with popular, gerund and +ed endings.

  • “However, do not forget the degree of personal satisfaction as well.”

Nouns can also be disguised as compound nouns (the first word consisting of the type or purpose, and the second indicating what or who.) For example: boyfriend, policeman, water tank. They can appear in a variety of grammatical combinations that include nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs.

  • “However, these developments in the use of factory farming and drug treatment have led to a widespread feeling that animals are being caused a lot of distress and that the quality of the food itself suffers as a consequence.”


As indicated above, determiners precede adjectives if they are included in an adjective + noun construction and nouns also succeed adjectives.

  • “His success was solely due to his dazzling smile when dealing with customers.”
  • “In the not-too-distant past farm animals were able to live natural lives in what we would now term ‘free-range’ conditions.”

Verbs and adverbs:

If you are attempting the CAE exam there is a high chance you will already be confident completing a verb construction and recognizing it within the text; adverbs, on the other hand, can often cause students quite a bit of trouble.

As a general rule, adverbs can be used to modify verbs (1), adjectives (2), and other adverbs (3).

  • “John was waiting impatiently before you arrived.”
  • “The holiday was terribly expensive.”
  • “David ran unbelievably quickly to his job interview.”

Their intention is to ‘add meaning’ to the words they precede or succeed. They are constructed by adding +ly to the end of an adjective, but can also include words like ‘fast’ or ‘well’. (Adjectives that already end in +ly cannot be turned into adverbs). In cases when they are added to adjectives and other adverbs, they will be placed before the word in question; when coupled with a verb they can often be placed both before or after. It often depends on which word you wish to emphasise.

  • “He walked aimlessly for hours everyday.”
  • “Elaine desperately wanted to have a new car for her birthday.”

Types of adverbs:

Adverbs of manner: How an event occurs

  • Mitchell dangerously chopped firewood with a broken axe.

Adverbs of time: When an event occurs

  • Sandra left yesterday for her holiday.

Adverbs of place: Where an event occurs

  • I swear I left my book here yesterday.

Adverbs of frequency: How often an action of event occurs

  • She has fortnightly tennis lessons.

Adverbs of degree: The degree or extent of an action

  • Jon realised he was highly allergic to peanuts.

Adverbs of strength/weakness: Adjusting the meaning of an adjective, verb or adverb

  • Jackie speaks more loudly than her mother.

Spotting adverbs in text:

It can often be difficult to detect adverbs in text as their function can change depending on the sentence. It is therefore essential that we understand their use and can distinguish them from nouns, adjectives etc.

  • “The boy played well all afternoon.”
  • “The old well was beginning to fill up with water.”

In the first case, the word in question is presented as an adverb as it gives meaning to the verb ‘to play’. In the second case it is used as a noun (with the adjective ‘old’ giving it extra meaning).

The easiest adverbs to spot are often at the beginning of a sentence as they will establish a frequency, manner or degree of action. These include, but are not limited to, words like ‘normally’, ‘usually’, and ‘sometimes.’  

We can also begin to spot adverbs by looking at the grading that surrounds it - that is, words like ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ that are used to strengthen or weaken the word in question. These words can also adverbs (of degree) because they indicate the degree to which an adjective or another adverb affects another. Some other examples include ‘barely’, ‘almost’, ‘entirely’, ‘highly’, ‘slightly’ and ‘totally’.


Now that an understanding of these linguistic clues has been established, a student can then begin to learn and practice the various noun and adjective suffixes. These are the grammatical changes in question when completing this section of the exam.


Noun suffixes:

  • States or qualities:

-acy: intimacy, legacy, legitimacy 

-ance/ence: appearance, reliance, insistence

-dom: freedom, kingdom, fandom

-ty: cruelty, safety

-ity: creativity, flexibility

-sion/tion: tension, elevation, information

-ment: contentment, department

-hood: childhood, neighbourhood

-ness: sadness, kindness

-ship: friendship, kinship, partnership


  • Acts/processes/studies of:

-al: refusal, arrival, burial

-ing: drawing, playing

-ism: racism, sexism, nationalism

-logy: psychology, technology 


  • A group:

-or: doctor, director

-er: teacher, worker

-ist: racist, sexist, ageist


Adjective suffixes:

  • Nature of/quality:

-ic: athletic, basic, historic

-al: accidental, brutal, universal

-ary: momentary, customary, complimentary

-ical: practical, logical

-ish: childish, selfish

-ous: dangerous, poisonous

-less: homeless, selfless

-ful: beautiful, mindful, careful

-ly: friendly, costly, monthly

-y: funny, cheeky, dirty



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