In the FCE exam, you are tested on both Reading and Use of English in the same section of the test, but you will receive a separate mark for each. The Reading section of the test is Reading and Use of English parts 5, 6 and 7.

The total time given for the Reading and Use of English test is 1 hour and 15 minutes. Therefore, you will need to do lots of practice to a time limit. Find out which part of the test is the most difficult for you, the Use of English (grammar) or the Reading and give yourself more time for these sections. As a guide, many students allow 30 minutes for the grammar and 45 minutes for reading.

Reading Skills.

Before we learn just what is in each part of the test and how to study for it, let’s look at 2 universal reading skills that you will need to practise in order to do well in this (or any) exam.

When we read different texts for different purposes, we use different reading skills. For example, we generally don’t read a bus time table in the same way that we read a novel. To read a bus time table, we want to get a specific piece of information as quickly as possible, while reading a novel usually involves reading each word and taking our time with something that we enjoy. Because we read different texts in different ways, it is important to learn the following 2 reading skills:

Reading Skill 1- Scanning.

Take a look at the bus timetable below. What time does the bus reach Babinda, if it leaves at 10am?

Airport Bus Timetable.xlsx

Obviously, the correct answer is 11:40 am, but I’m more interested in HOW you found out. Did you begin from the first line and read every place name and every time, from left to right and top to bottom?


Good! When we want to find a specific piece of information like this, it is far easier to let our eyes travel over the page looking for a word, number or phrase (in this case Babinda, and 10am as reference points). This is known as Scanning.

Reading skill 2 – Skimming.

Have you ever picked up a small, flat stone and made it jump along the surface of the water?

skimming stones

This is called skimming, but how does it relate to reading skills?

Let’s say that you need to read a lot of information, as quickly as possible, as you do in an exam like FCE. It isn’t practical to read the entire text slowly and carefully; you’ll just run out of time. This is where skimming comes in. Take a look at the sentence below, which we will use as an example.

After you have completed your experiment, it is vitally important that you clean your equipment thoroughly. Dirty equipment can contaminate future experiments and therefore make them inaccurate.

The sentences in this example are quite long and wordy, just like the texts you will be required to read in the FCE exam. To read in a more efficient way, we need to practise the skill of skim reading. Skimming is all about moving your eyes across the page, left to right and top to bottom, letting the words jump out at you, rather than reading each word carefully and sounding them out in your head. If I were to skim read the above sentences, it would look something like this (the important words are in bold)

After you have completed your experiment, it is vitally important that you clean your equipment thoroughly. Dirty equipment can contaminate future experiments and therefore make them inaccurate.

If we take out just the words in bold, we are left with After completed experiment important clean equipment. Dirty equipment contaminate experiments make inaccurate.

Hopefully, even without all the small details, this group of words is enough to give you the main idea of the sentences. This is why skimming is so important; it lets you get a good idea of what the text, or a part of the text, is all about. 

Putting it together

Now that you know what skimming and scanning are, you can use them to read more effectively. Often, you will use both of these skills, along with slowing down and reading carefully, to answer questions in the exam. For example, you may skim read one section of the text to see what the general topic is, before scanning the appropriate section to find synonyms for key words in the question you want to answer, before slowing down to read carefully, once you think you have found the answer.

From here, check back each week in the blog section for more information about each part of the reading test, along with tips and techniques to help you maximise your points in each section.