You have survived the Use of English section of your Cambridge English C2 Proficiency exam, but now you are faced with a long text full of strange language, an unfamiliar theme, a list of ambiguous questions, and a ticking clock.

But don’t worry! We are here to get you through this section of the exam and give you the confidence you need to do well.

In this post of our new Passing C2 Proficiency series, we will be talking about Reading Part 5.

Beginning with an introduction to the exam’s content, we will show you how to evaluate the questions, and work out the answers. In addition, we’ll give you some tips on how to study for it, along with some useful resources.


What’s in Part 5?

Once you’ve completed the Use of English parts 1 to 4, it’s important to dedicate the right amount of time to part 5. There are 2 marks on offer for each correct answer, so we recommend spending about 15 to 18 minutes on it.

You will be asked 6 questions in total, all with multiple choice answers A, B, C or D. All of the questions are in order in the texts, so you won’t find the answer to question 5 above question 2. However, the final question may be about the text as a whole, so watch out for that one!

The texts’ topics include a range of fictional or non-fictional sources, such as newspapers, books and magazines. They may also have an academic or professional angle.


What types of questions will I be asked?

You will typically be asked to identify detail, opinion, attitude, tone or purpose in a particular section of the text. However, you may also be required to source the main idea, or evaluate how a text is organised as a whole.

For example, which of the above options (in italics) do you think this question is asking you to decide on?

36. The impression given of the editor is that he is:

A. anxious to please his colleagues

B. unable to make up his mind

C. prone to act on impulse

D. quick to take offence

(Source: Cambridge English Proficiency sample paper – Cambridge Assessment website)

If you said it’s asking you to identify attitude (of the editor), we agree!

It’s important to look at the wording of the questions in detail, because subtle use of language can catch you out.

In this case “The impression given…” suggests that you are not looking for a specific piece of language in the text. Instead, you need to evaluate the section as a whole. Then you can make a judgement about the editor’s personality and answer the question confidently.

It’s this ability to understand texts much more completely which really sets the Proficiency C2 exam apart from the others.


What’s the best way to answer these questions?

First, we recommend that you read the complete text (including the title and subheadings too). This will help you get to grips with the tone and overall meaning of the content. Then you can begin to look at the questions.

A good strategy is:

1. Read the question carefully, checking exactly what it’s asking you to do.

2. Find and underline where you think the answer is in the text, before you look at the multiple choice options. This will make it easier to find the word, phrase, sentence or paragraph which contains the information you need.

3. Now review the options A, B, C and D one by one, eliminating the wrong ones until you are confident you’ve found the one which fits the best.

4. Read the paragraph again to understand it in a wider context and check you’re right. If you have time, you can read the text again as a whole.

5. Finally, you don’t lose marks for an incorrect answer, so don’t leave any question unanswered!

Passing C2 Proficiency: A Guide to Reading Part 5 | Tips for studying and resources | Oxford House Barcelona

Tips for studying and resources

It’s crucial to remember that if you find a word in the text which matches the question, it doesn’t always mean you have found the answer. The exam tests your knowledge of vocabulary in context, as well as synonyms, idioms, collocations, and understanding of detail in complex sentences.

Which do you think is the correct option in the example question below?

“In this trade, she [Lucy] saw, you needed not so much to be abreast of things as ahead of them, lying in wait for circumstance, ready to pounce.”

32. Lucy thinks the secret of success as a freelance journalist is to

A. keep yourself informed about current affairs

B. adopt a controversial style of writing

C. identify future newsworthy situations

D. make as many contacts as possible

(Source: Cambridge English Proficiency sample paper – Cambridge Assessment website)

If you said the answer is C, well done!

This is a complex structure “not so much *something* as *something else*” combined with advanced vocabulary and collocations such as abreast (adjective), to lie in wait (verb + adverbial phrase) and to pounce (verb).

How would you prepare for a question like this?

To become used to this level of language, it’s crucial to engage with as much written English as possible. This can be done in two different ways:

1. Extensive Reading – This is reading for pleasure, rather than just for the sake of the exam. Start by picking up a book or magazine that already matches your interests, or browse some different blogs and news sites online such as The Guardian. Reading just one article a day can be a great start.

This will give you good exposure to a wide variety of complex language – and by focusing on texts you enjoy you are more likely to stay motivated. Have a look at our guide to kick-starting your reading in different ways for more ideas of where to begin.

2. Intensive Reading – Using short, exam length texts and answering questions on it. By doing this, you can become familiar with different text types and with practising within a time limit. The Cambridge English C2 Proficiency website has a few practice tests for you to do, and they also publish books such as Objective Proficiency which is full of good advice and practice exams.

It’s also important to note down any language you are unfamiliar with in an organised notebook – and try to practise using it. This is true from A1 level all the way up to C2! Our Good Language Learner guide can give you more advice on different ways to do this.


How can Oxford House help you with CPE preparation?

It’s a great idea to register for an exam preparation course. You can learn a lot by working with other students, sharing your existing knowledge, stay motivated, and really learn from a teacher who has experience in preparing students for these exams.

Oxford House offers short Exam Preparation Intensive courses every semester, or longer Extensive courses from October to June. Check out the Cambridge Exam Preparation section of our website for more details.

We hope this has helped you prepare a little better for C2 Proficiency Reading Part 5, and keep an eye out for our Guide to Reading Part 6, coming soon!

In addition, check out our guide to the Cambridge English Computer-Based Exams in this blog post.

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

To get (you) through (pv): to help you complete a task.

To catch (you) out (pv): to deliberately make you do something wrong or make a mistake.

To set apart (pv): to distinguish something from the rest.

Get to grips with (exp): to understand or get used to something.

Abreast (adj): to be up to date with the latest information.

To lie in wait (v + adv): to wait for something for a long time and with a lot of focus.

To pounce (v): to jump (at an opportunity).

For the sake of (exp): to do something only in order to achieve a result.

To keep an eye out (id): to watch carefully until something happens.


pv = phrasal verb

exp = expression

adj = adjective

adv = adverb

id = idiom

n = noun

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