How to successfully pass the Cambridge exam C1 Advanced

C1 Advanced: Introduction to the Exam

C1 Advanced: Introduction to the Exam


  • Cambridge English
  • Tips & Strategies

If you’re looking for a way to confirm your English level with an international language certificate, it is no secret that one of the most popular options are Cambridge exams. C1 Advanced (CAE) is one of them. As it can be clear from its name, the exam is meant to prove your advanced level of English. Yet, if you pass it with flying colours and get a higher score, you will be granted the C2 level, while even scoring less than required for C1 may result in level B2. 

This certificate has no expiry date (unlike IELTS and TOEFL, for example), and it is acknowledged in a number of schools, universities, and other organisations in the whole world. It comes as no surprise that it is a great choice of ESL teachers who aspire to confirm their knowledge of English and to reassure their employers, students, and even themselves.

This is your quick guide to the exam, which will give you an insight into the skills tested, structure, and some tips.

Paper 1

Reading and Use of English

Time: 90 mins

Paper 1 consists of 8 tasks, five of each test reading skills: 

  • Part 1 (Multiple-choice cloze), 
  • Part 5 (Multiple choice),
  • Part 6 (Cross-text multiple matching),
  • Part 7 (Gapped text), 
  • Part 8 (Multiple matching), 

and Use of English

  • Part 2 (Open cloze), 
  • Part 3 (Word formation), 
  • and Part 4 (Sentence transformation). 

Even though they’re all included in one paper, they are assessed separately, so there will be two scores on your certificate.

This paper is mainly aimed at the candidate’s reading comprehension, their ability to derive the meaning from the text, understanding of a text structure, cohesion and coherence, as well as grammar and vocabulary in context.


  • to prepare for these tasks, it would be useful to practise reading large pieces of texts (such as reviews, articles, etc.), analyse the linking devices, purpose and main idea. 

As for Use of English, remember that just being aware of grammar and lexis isn’t enough: you should be flexible and attentive to the context, so practise paraphrasing, using synonyms, collocations and idioms;

  • make sure you don’t get stuck with some tasks which are not worth it. Parts 4, 5, 6 and 7 are considered more challenging, but they will bring you 2 points for each correct answer, so it is important to allocate more time on them.

Paper 2


Time: 90 mins

This paper consists of 2 parts. The first one is a compulsory essayYou will need to present your ideas on the task topic, cover two points out of three and give a conclusion. There are also some notes with arguments that you may use if you want, but it’s optional – you can always stick to your own ideas.

The second part will provide you with three tasks to choose from. 

Remember: you only need to choose one! It can be a letter (formal or informal), report, proposal, or review. Although the whole paper lasts 90 minutes, both parts carry an equal amount of scores, so it is strongly recommended to spend 45 minutes on each task.

Assessing students’ writing

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  • plan your writing thoroughly: read the tasks, underline the key words and make sure you understand your target reader. It’s usually advised to spend 5-10 minutes planning;
  • read and practise all types of writing. Despite the fact that you won’t need all of them at the exam, you never know which topics they will have. It’s good to be prepared and learn about all the genre conventions before the exam;
  • before the exam, try to get feedback on your writing from other people;
  • it is mentioned in the task instructions that you should write 220-260 words. Counting words is a common mistake, but it’s not worth doing it: the word count is recommended, not compulsory, and you will waste your time doing it. Focus more on the content, covering task points and using advanced language. 

Note: if you’re taking a computer-based exam, your word count will be visible to you, which is a significant advantage!

Paper 3


Time: 40 minutes

Paper 3 consists of 4 parts: 

  • Part 1 (multiple choice), 
  • Part 2 (Sentence completion), 
  • Part 3 (Multiple choice), 
  • Part 4 (Multiple matching). 

The recordings are played twice. Mostly, the tasks test the skill of listening for gist, detail, focus on feeling, attitude, opinion, function, interpreting context, etc.


  • before the exam, listen to as many various texts as you can: interviews, podcasts, radio programmes, etc. Try to focus on the meaning, not separate words;
  • before the recording is played, you will have time to read the tasks. Use it wisely and underline the key words whenever you can; 
  • check your spelling in part 2.

Paper 4


Time: 15 minutes

The final paper is done with two (sometimes three) candidates and two examiners, one of which is the interlocutor. There are 4 parts

  • In the first one (Interview), the interlocutor asks each candidate personal questions on general topics (up to 2 mins)
  • In the second one (Long Turn), each candidate is presented with three pictures and two questions. 

They have one minute to answer both questions by comparing and speculating about two pictures of their choice as well as answer a brief question about their partner’s picture.

  • In Part 3 (Collaborative task), the candidates are given a spidergram with a question and 5 prompts. 

They have 2 minutes (3 minutes for a group of 3) to discuss the question and then 1 minute (2 minutes for three candidates) to come to an agreement.

  • Finally, part 4 is a Discussion led by the interlocutor, who can ask each candidate a question or ask them to discuss some questions together.

The final part lasts 5 minutes (8 minutes for a group) and involves more abstract and thought-provoking questions unlike part 1, so the candidates are expected to demonstrate their ability to discuss topics in more depth.

Paper 4 tests candidates’ ability to talk on familiar and unfamiliar topics, listen and react to their partners, pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar.


  • before the exam, get as much speaking practice as you can;
  • listen carefully to what the interlocutor and your partner(s) say(s);
  • be aware of the time limit and give succinct and relevant answers when possible; stick to the point
  • don’t forget to react and respond to your partner(s) in a meaningful way.

By the way, if you want to do the exam with a friend or just someone you know, you can ask some exam centres about such an option during the registration.

Planning a writing lesson

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Naturally, it is advised to prepare for the exam by practising with past papers and exam trainers. The Cambridge website provides a free sample (paper-based and computer-based format), a very helpful and informative handbook and lesson plans with materials, where you will find much more details about each paper and recommended strategies.

We also recommend you take the "Hacking CAE/CPE writing" course on our platform. This course is designed to equip you with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively teach exam writing for the CAE/CPE. 

Throughout the course, you will cover a wide range of writing types, from opinion essays to letters and emails, and you will develop a better understanding of the assessment criteria used in the CAE/CPE exams. Get equipped with the tools and strategies needed to plan and teach writing lessons, provide feedback, and utilise self- and peer-assessment effectively. 

Take your writing instruction to the next level

Additionally, the course addresses the challenges of teaching exam writing and includes a CAE/CPE assessment checklist and tips for preparing learners. A toolkit is also provided for teaching exam writing at various stages of exam preparation, making this course a comprehensive resource for anyone interested in teaching exam writing for the CAE/CPE.

Article authors & editors
  • Olha Lavrentieva

    Olha Lavrentieva


    CELTA certified teacher of General English, Teenagers



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