┃Reading time: 7 minutes


Part 5 of Advanced Reading and Use of English is the first of the longer reading tasks on this paper. You need to read a text, which is approximately 800 words long and could come from a range of sources, for example an article or an extract from a novel. You’re given six multiple choice questions to answer, based on the text.

These questions test your detailed understanding of the text, including things like the writer’s attitude and things he or she might only hint at. Because of the work involved in reading and analysing a text of this length, each correct answer is worth two marks.



So, how should you go about dealing with part 5 of the exam? Firstly, as always, look at the title if there is one because this will give you vital information about what you’re about to read. Next, read the text quickly for gist – for general understanding, both of the subject and how the text is structured – before you look at the questions.

And when I say quickly, I mean quickly! You should only spend about a minute on this first read through. All you’re doing is getting a very general understanding of what it’s about, and finding out where in the text information about different things can be found. You simply don’t have time to read everything carefully. When you come to read the questions, then you’ll know which parts of the text you need to go back to and look at in detail.

Talking about the questions, the next step is to have a look at the first question. Read it carefully and underline any key words in it. But don’t read the 4 multiple-choice options yet! Instead, it’s better to try and find the relevant section of the text and re-read it carefully. Try and understand what the text says on this topic, without being influenced by the multiple-choice options.

Finally, when you think you understand what this part of the text is saying, then look at the 4 possible answers and see which you think is right. Even if you think you know the answer, go through each of the other options and make sure you can rule them out.

Two other things to bear in mind. Firstly, make sure that you always choose answers based on the text, rather than your own knowledge of the topic or what you think is a logical answer. Secondly, the answers appear in the text in the same order as the questions. So, if you’re struggling to find the answer to question 3, for example, then you can be sure that it is somewhere between the answers to questions 2 and 4. The only possible exception to this is question 6, which often requires a more general understanding of the whole text.



Part 5 texts are generally pretty complicated and there’ll almost certainly be words and sections you struggle to understand. Sometimes the questions you’re asked will require you to work out, or deduce, the meaning of something: for example identifying the main point of a particular paragraph. Other times, you’ll need to work out the meaning of a particular word or expression.

Let’s look at an example from a text about the use of technology in exams.

The question is:

What does the writer mean by ‘old hands’?

A. retired examiners

B. experienced examiners

C. examiners who have reached a certain age

D. mature students

The text is:

Using technology to mark exams is quicker, cheaper and more efficient. The really dull components, such as multiple choice questions, can be marked automatically or by less experienced markers, whereas questions requiring a more nuanced, longer answer can be left to the old hands. Your best markers don’t have to be wasted on the straightforward stuff.


 Do I really need to be doing this?!


Even if you’ve never come across this expression before, you can work out from the presence of ‘whereas’, that the writer is contrasting these ‘old hands’ with ‘less experienced markers’, meaning that the phrase probably refers to more experienced exam markers (B).

Time for you to have a go. Look at the three sentences below and try to work out the meaning of the words in bold from the context. (Answers at the end of the post).

1. Instead of divvying up the scripts between the thousands of markers, they are now scanned into a central computer and the markers then access them online.

2. Council coffers are swelling not simply through parking tickets and bus-lane fines, but also from meter feeds and the sale of permits.

3. Chimps, especially, not only look like us, they also share with us some human-like behaviours. They make and use tools and teach those skills to their offspring.


Take away: No matter how well-read you are or how wide your vocabulary is, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to understand all the words in a part 5 text. Don’t worry. In many cases you can work out the approximate meaning just by paying close attention to the rest of the sentence and/or paragraph.



When you’re searching the text for the answer to one of the questions, bear in mind that it’s very unlikely the wording will be the same as that used in the correct answer – if only that were the case then the task would be much easier! Instead, be on the look out for synonyms and paraphrases of the language that features in the multiple choice options. Let’s look at an example.


The question is:

How did the writer feel about receiving the letter from the University of Kent?

A. She had been expecting to receive something like that.

B. She was quite arrogant about it.

C. She wasn’t quite sure what it entailed.

D. It came out of the blue.


The text is:

One letter I received was from the University of Kent, inviting me to accept an honorary PhD, to be made a Doctor of Letters this summer. I was really chuffed and quite taken aback.


 They’re chuffed! 


Being ‘taken aback’ is a paraphrase of something coming ‘out of the blue’. They both mean she was surprised, so the answer must be D.


Ok, time for you to test your knowledge, Take a look at the fourteen words below. Can you match the seven pairs of synonyms together? (Answers at the end of the post).

virtuous       humungous       certain       prestigious     moral    menacing     urgent

colossal       pressing       dishonest     dodgy     perilous     top-notch       adamant


Take away: Unfortunately you can’t use a dictionary during the exam itself, but get into the habit of looking up new words you come across during the lead up to your exam. Anything you can do to widen your vocabulary will help you with the Reading paper in general and part 5 in particular.


Now, it’s over to you!


What do you find most difficult in part 5 – unknown words? completing the task within a reasonable amount of time?  Do you have any tips and advice for your fellow test-takers?

Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below! 🙂



‘Working out meaning’ answers: 1.dividing, 2.funds (money), 3.children/’young’

‘Synonym’ answers: adamant & certain; dodgy & dishonest; prestigious & top-notch; moral & virtuous; perilous & menacing; colossal & humungous; pressing & urgent