So, you’ve moved onto Part 3, and after completing Part 2 it’s probably a welcome relief to be given some help with the missing words in the text!

It’s true that many students feel this to be the easiest part of the Reading and Use of English paper. However, it’s very important to stay focused on what they’re testing you on here and make sure you don’t rush through the answers.

In this part of our Passing Cambridge C2 Proficiency series, we’ll look in detail at Part 3: what you can expect, the technical challenges, and some useful tips.


What’s in Part 3?

Like Part 2, you are given a short text with 8 gaps (plus one example) . To the right of the text, and on the same lines as the gaps, are 8 stem words which relate to the missing words.

You need to adapt the words you are given on the right to complete the text. These words must be changed. Don’t simply put them in the spaces as they are. Also, don’t try to move the words around to use them in different gaps – they are already on the correct lines!


What are they testing me on in Part 3?

We can break down what they’re testing you on in Part 3 into three main themes, so let’s take a look at them one by one:

Firstly, the primary focus of Part 3 is to test students on their knowledge of vocabulary. It’s designed to see if you know all the variations of a particular stem word. This typically takes place by adding to the beginning or end of the word (affixation), changing the middle of the word, or combining the one your are given with another (compounding). For example:

  • Honest can change to Honesty (adding to the end of the word), Dishonest (adding to the beginning of the word) or Dishonesty (adding to the beginning and end of the word!)
  • Strong can change to Strength – where the internal structure of the word changes completely.
  • Rain can change to Raindrop – where another word (drop) is combined to make a new one.

Secondly, it’s checking whether or not you understand the mechanics of the English language. For example, do you know how and when we use adverbs? Or can you identify the need for an adjective with its noun?

Let’s have a look at an example from an exam paper. What part of speech do you think we need here?

Part 3 Reading and Use of English - Cambridge Proficiency | Oxford House Barcelona

We have a noun (habit) and a verb (is) before the gap, and an adjective (easy) and infinitive verb (to acquire) after the gap. The sentence actually makes sense without adding a new word, so therefore we need a word which modifies the adjective to add more information – an adverb.

Most adverbs commonly end with an -ly, but we cannot simply add this to the stem word, we need to make some internal changes as well.

So, if you said the answer was COMPARATIVELY, well done! It’s a big change from COMPARE, but this is the typical level of adaptation required in a C2 Proficiency exam.

Thirdly, Part 3 is testing your understanding of the meaning of the text as a whole. Quite often we need to change the stem word with the negative prefix to give the sentence a particular meaning, and fit the context of the paragraph. Have a look at this example:

Part 3 Reading and Use of English II - Cambridge Proficiency | Oxford House Barcelona

Here we can see that we probably need a negative meaning to the word, to prevent something bad from happening. What part of speech do you think we need? And do you know the prefix?

If you said we need a noun, great! A noun will follow the verb (to prevent) in the context. So, if you’re able to change Orientate to its noun Orientation, you can choose one of the common negative noun prefixes, such as mis-, dis-, re-, non-, pre-. The answer is therefore DISORIENTATION.


How should I answer the questions?

As with the whole Reading and Use of English paper, sticking to a time limit is crucial. You should be able to complete this section in about 7 minutes. This may sound difficult, but it’s definitely doable if you follow these steps:

  • Read the whole text first, and ignore the stem words on the right. If you just try to look at each sentence individually then you won’t be able to follow the global meaning of the text. This is the easiest way to miss some of the negative prefixes you’ll need!
  • Make a note next to each space on what type of word you need. Is it an adjective, adverb, verb, or noun? And if it’s a noun, is it plural? Where do you think the negative prefixes are? There’s bound to be some!
  • Start to put the words into the gaps. If you’re unsure about what you need exactly, make some notes on all of the variations of the stem word you know – for example effective, ineffective, effectively, ineffectively, effect, effectiveness… Hopefully it’ll help to jog your memory and the word you need will come to mind!
  • Read back through the text with all of the answers you’ve put in. Does it sound ok? Does it make sense? Are all of the negative and positive meanings correct in there? Don’t be afraid to change your mind at the last minute if you feel you have to, and always guess if you’re not sure!
  • Remember spelling is really important here. American and British spellings are both accepted (but be consistent), and make sure your answers are really clearly written on your answer sheet.

Tips for Studying and Resources

Reading authentic texts in English, such as newspapers or blogs, is a great way to start expanding your vocabulary. It’ll help you with all parts of the C2 Proficiency Reading and Use of English paper, and introduce you to language you may not find in coursebooks.

However, Part 3 is quite technical, and requires you to go above and beyond just reading for fun.

  • When learning new words make sure you get curious and explore the options which stem from them. How can you change a word into other parts of speech? What are all the prefixes and suffixes? Make a note of these options as you discover new vocabulary.
  • There are some common prefix and suffix options in English. The more you read, the more you’ll start to notice the patterns. Again, make a note of these as you go.
  • If it’s been a while since you’ve studied English in this depth, how about checking out our 5 ways to become a better learner for some motivational tips and advice!
  • The Cambridge English website has some C2 Proficiency sample exam papers for you to practice with. Have a go in the 7 minute time limit and let us know how you do in the comments!

Oxford House offers Intensive and Extensive Cambridge exam preparation courses which can help you with your exam technique, vocabulary, and motivation. Take a look at our Cambridge Exam Courses here, or come and speak to one of our team in the school.


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Glossary for Language Learners


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

Welcome relief (exp):: a break which is nice to experience.

To rush through (v + prep): to pass quickly through a part of the exam.

Stem (n): the main part of a word.

To break down (pv): to separate into different parts.

To modify (v): to change or alter.

Prefix (n): what you can add to the beginning of a word to change its meaning.

Doable (adj): achievable, able to be done.

Bound to be (v + v) : surely, definitely.

Jog your memory (exp) : to help remind you of something.

To go above and beyond (exp): to do something extra, more than you would usually do.


exp = expression

v = verb

n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

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