Okay, take a deep breath. We’re about to enter the danger zone of the Cambridge C1 Advanced exam – Reading and Use of English Part 4. That’s right, this is the most feared part of the written test. Students groan when they hear it mentioned. And they’ll often say it’s their worst part.

It may be difficult, but it’s definitely worth giving it your best shot. There are two marks up for grabs for each question. And with the right technique and lots of practice, you’ll soon get the hang of it. Believe it or not, It can actually be quite fun.

How do I get to that stage? Well, we’re here to help. We’ll take you step by step through Part 4. We’ll teach you what to expect in the exam, and how to answer the question. Then, we’ll finish off with some tips and resources for success. Sound good? Okay, let’s go!


What’s in Part 4?


Also known as Key Word Transformations, in this part you are given 6 pairs of sentences to complete. Bear in mind, students often find Part 4 one of the most challenging, so we recommend you dedicate about ten minutes to this section. Remember, you are given 90 minutes in total for the whole Reading and Use of English paper.

Each pair of sentences in Part 4 has a lead-in sentence, and a second one which contains a gap. You must complete the gapped sentence with between three to six words, so that it has a similar meaning to the first.

Here’s an example from the C1 Advanced sample paper on the Cambridge Assessment English website.

There’s also a key word in bold that you have to use. That’s why it’s called a key word transformation. Note, the keyword must not be changed. So if you take the word ‘nearly’, you cannot then change it to ‘near’. It must stay exactly the same.

As we’ve already mentioned, each question is worth two marks. It’s always worth trying to answer because you can still get one point, even if you only get part of the sentence correct.

Take a look at how the above question would be marked. You get one mark for DOES NOT EARN and then a second mark for NEARLY SO/AS. You’ll also notice that sometimes there are two correct answers NEARLY SO or NEARLY AS.


What are they testing me on in this part of the exam?


Part 4 may seem like random sentences designed to make your head explode. But there’s actually a lot of logic behind them. Here’s what Cambridge Assessment English are looking for:


They are testing you on your ability to paraphrase. In other words, can you say the same thing in a different way using synonyms? Or can you accurately change the grammatical structure from active to passive?


Luckily for you, Part 4 tests you on some set grammar points. This makes it easier to prepare for. They could test your knowledge of gerund and infinitives, reported speech, active and passive constructions, conditionals, wishes, perfect tenses or causative have. You can expect to see any C1 level grammar.


Part 4 also examines you on a wide range of vocabulary. This includes your knowledge of phrasal verbs, collocations, dependent prepositions, fixed expressions and idioms. Again, they’re seeing how advanced your English really is. So make sure you’ve got a lot of vocabulary under your belt.

Take a look at this example from the C1 Advanced sample paper on the Cambridge Assessment English website.

The clue here is the keyword ‘on’. This is a dependent preposition which needs a specific verb to come before it. The only verb which fits that means ‘would only’ is ‘insisted’.

They also expect you to know that prepositions are followed by the gerund.

So in this case, the answer would be:


How should I answer the question?


It’s easy to rush through the questions if you don’t think you can answer them. But if you follow these five simple steps, you can easily break them down into manageable chunks.

  • 1. Read the first sentence carefully, then compare it with the second.

    Look at what’s missing. Many students like to cross out the text that appears in both. That way you’re left with just the information you’re looking for.

  • 2. Take a look at the keyword.

    Does it form part of a phrasal verb, collocation or idiom that could be used to make the missing information? Is it a synonym for one of the words in the lead-in sentence?

  • 3. Think about the grammar.

    Do I need to use modal verbs? If the keyword is ‘have’, could it be followed by a participle or used in the structure – have + something + participle? What are the verb patterns? Should any of the verbs be negative? Is there a conjunction needed?

  • 4. Write your sentence.

    Once you’ve thought about your answer analytically, have a go at writing it. Make sure it’s between three and six words.

    Warning! Contractions are also counted separately. So ‘don’t’ for example, would be worth two words – ‘do’ and ‘not’.

    Remember, if you get stuck on a question you can always leave it and come back to it at the end.

  • 5. Check it.

    Probably the most important thing to check is if the sentences match. Make sure they have the same meaning and are also in the same tense. For example, if the first sentence is in the past, is the second one in the past too?

    Don’t forget to check the usual punctuation and spelling. (But you already know that!)


Tips for studying and resources


  • First thing’s first, ensure sure you’ve covered all the necessary grammar and vocabulary at C1 level. It helps to write a list of grammatical structures as you’re learning them. And keep a record of any new phrasal verbs, collocations and idioms.
  • Do lots of sample practice papers under timed conditions. There are a few exam practice books out there, such as the Cambridge English Advanced Student’s Book. Cambridge Assessment English also has two printable exam papers on their website.
  • The internet is a treasure trove for Reading and Use English style questions! Check out our blog post for more free online resources for preparing for Cambridge English exams. These are great mini exercises to try on your mobile or on your lunch break.
  • Register for the Cambridge Exam Preparation Course: C1 Advanced at Oxford House. We have both intensive and extensive courses for maximum flexibility. And you can choose from either online or in-person classes.

Want to learn more?


Don’t forget our earlier guides for the other parts of the C1 Advanced Reading and Use of English paper:

Passing C1 Advanced: A guide to Reading and Use of English Part 1

Passing C1 Advanced: A guide to Reading and Use of English Part 2

Passing C1 Advanced: A guide to Reading and Use of English Part 3

And keep an eye out for the remaining blog posts in our C1 Advanced guide.

You’re now ready to face Part 4 without feeling the fear! Good luck!

Glossary for language learners:


groan (n): a deep noise that shows your displeasure or dissatisfaction.

best shot (n): best attempt.

get the hang of something (exp): to learn how to do something.

bear in mind (exp): to remember something while you are making a decision or considering something.

under your belt (exp): as part of your experience.

rush through (pv): to hurry through something in a reckless manner.

chunks (n): sections.

get stuck (exp): to be unable to progress in any direction.

treasure trove (n): a place that is full of something good.


n = noun

exp = expression

pv = phrasal verb

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