So you have reached a university-level of English and undoubtedly you’ve spent the better part of 2 decades studying grammar and spelling to get here.  Well, I have some good news and bad news for you. The good is that there really isn’t that much more grammar you need to learn in order to grasp 98% of what is being said or written in English.  The bad is that there is an enormous amount of vocabulary which you have barely scraped the surface of.  Contrary to the belief of some, English, or any language in my opinion, cannot be mastered in 1000 words.  So how can you improve?


Follow these simple guidelines to maintain a positive learning curve:


  1. Read non-fiction.


Although there is certainly a lot of amazing literature in English, the vast majority of what is sold to the English language learners’ market is watered-down “beach” novels.  While these are great for the beach or disconnecting a bit, I am not convinced they are the best to push the envelope and force you to improve.  They often regurgitate vocabulary and remove the more colourful parts of a novel (which often includes the new vocabulary you are looking for).


However, non-fiction is factual and can also be written with flair and colour.  I am not suggesting the newspaper rather biographies, historical accounts, psychology, philosophy, sociology, sports, engineering, politics, the story of inventions or industries (automotive, aerial, space, naval, fabrics, plastics, architecture, or pyrotechnics).  There really is a virtually unlimited array of topics to be explored.  Starting at the beginning you get introduced the jargon of the topic and little by little you can increase the difficulty by digging deeper and deeper into the topic.


  1. Watch documentaries.

I think that my reasoning for non-fiction reading over fiction applies as well to movies and TV series.  The latter are great for tuning out and consuming easy to digest material but they don’t really go beyond that.  In order to get new vocabulary and jargon, I find that documentaries are an excellent resource.  They don’t tend to use slang which very often goes over the learner’s head but they do use jargon and academic vocabulary to dive into some very interesting and complex issues.


  1. Get a hobby you only do in English.

Everyone needs a hobby.  I am a firm believer in this and not only for people who want to learn another language. Challenging yourself and learning about the world and life is essential to a healthy and strong mind.  Learning English can be an extremely useful vehicle to a lot of information on almost any topic in the world.


Let’s make one thing very clear about hobbies.  Pastimes are not necessarily hobbies.  Going to the cinema isn’t a hobby.  Listening to music isn’t a hobby.  Going to the beach isn’t a hobby.  However, “the cinema” is indeed a hobby if you love the history, art, movements, and development of the motion picture industry.  “Music” is a hobby if you dive into and learn about artists, history, movements, implications, and immerse yourself in the culture of music.  A hobby of music is NOT sitting on your bed and simply listening to songs.  If you travel the world exploring beaches and loving beaches for their diversity and differences, then you have a hobby.  If you go to the beach in your hometown to get a tan on Saturdays, this is not a hobby.


Hobbies are an active activity in which the participant goes out of their way to explore and learn more.  Pastimes are passive and help us to switch our brains off and relax.  Reading a trashy novel, laying on the beach, enjoying a Vin Diesel movie are all great pastimes.  Improving your photography skills, learning to make wine, or immersing yourself in train culture and building model trains are all great hobbies.


Now, I know not everyone will agree with me but I think that if you follow these three small guidelines, you will certainly see your vocabulary and general knowledge increase.  Putting your English to use is why, after all, you learned the language in the first place.  So after you finish the latest Dan Brown novel, get your teeth into something a bit more meaty and challenge yourself with non-fiction



Este año hay más alumnos que necesiten demostrar su nivel de inglés, bien para la universidad, para estudiar en el extranjero, trabajar en una empresa internacional o buscar trabajo en el extranjero.  Hoy en día no se puede negar que el inglés es una necesidad para todo aquel que pretenda ser un ciudadano del mundo.

Por eso educamos a nuestros alumnos en que el inglés no sea un idioma sino una manera de acceder al mundo.  Ayuda cuando una está estudiando, investigando cosas por internet, viajando en cualquier país del mundo o simplemente haciendo amigos internacionales.

Actualmente, ofrecemos preparación para los exámenes de Cambridge para ayudar a los alumno a satisfacer los requisitos universitarios.

Sin embargo, hay otra posibilidad: Los exámenes TOEFL y TOEIC.  Tienen muchas ventajas, pero vamos a ver a sólo 3 de ellas:

  1. Estos exámenes no son de sólo un nivel, ni se pueden “suspender”

Todo el mundo hace un esfuerzo tremendo para preparar los exámenes de inglés y no deberían ser “castigados” si no aprueban.  Hemos visto alumnos que no han obtenido un título de B2 por un solo punto y se han quedado sin nada que les pueda ayudar, ni justificar el esfuerzo hecho.  Eso no ocurre con el TOEFL ni el TOEIC.  Cuando haces estos exámenes estás demostrando el nivel que tienes en una escala y esa escala refleja tu nivel de inglés.  Hay sólo UN examen para todo el mundo con preguntas que se van complicando a lo largo de la prueba.  Cuando llegas a las preguntas demasiadas difíciles o te cuesta demasiado tiempo completar una parte, significa que has encontrado tu nivel y eso se refleja en la puntuación.

Siempre tendrás una cualificación después de hacer el examen.

  1. El precio

 Los precios de TOEFL y TOEIC son inferiores a otros exámenes.  Esto permite poder hacer más exámenes si uno quiere para ver su progreso, ya que no hay que esperar hasta que se consolide un nivel en concreto.  No hay miedo a “suspender” y perder el dinero.  Se puede ver el progreso real sin gastar demasiado.

  1. Más fechas para examinarse

Hay pruebas todos los meses incluso dos al mes.  Esto permite que el alumno pueda hacer el examen cuando quiera o necesita.  No hace falta esperar meses hasta que hay una convocatoria y luego meses para recibir los resultados.  De hecho, se puede recibir los resultados en una semana si hace falta.

Los exámenes de Cambridge tienen sus ventajas para quien los necesite, obviamente, pero seamos claros, no son los únicos en el mundo que van a satisfacer las necesidades de la gente que necesita una cualificación en inglés.  Ven a visitarnos o llámanos y te aconsejaremos sobre el mejor examen para ti y tus necesidades.

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As an examiner for Cambridge I have seen candidates make the same mistakes over and over again on the First Certificate Exam (FCE).  I’d like to talk a little about the most common mistakes so that when you sit down to your exam you get the best mark possible without making silly logistical mistakes.  Let take a look at each paper one at a time:

Young Woman Taking School TestPaper 1 – Use of English and Reading.

This FCE paper is without a doubt the most difficult one to manage.  The changes to the exam (2015) have made the paper shorter both in the number of questions and in the time given to finish it and this has caused a lot of time management problems.  Basically, candidates sometimes run out of time before they can finish.   This leads to lower marks but NOT because of a lack of knowledge.  So some tips:


  1. Start with the reading parts of the paper (parts 5, 6 and 7).  They take longer and are more difficult to answer because you have to find the answer, it doesn’t just come from your head.  This will help you control the clock later.
  2. Control the time for each reading part.  Each reading part should take 12-13 minutes to finish.  15 minutes maximum.  If you take longer, you might run out of time later.  HINT: If you are taking longer, it means you are reading for too much detail.  You aren’t supposed to understand every word.  JUST ANSWER THE QUESTION.Test Taking
  3. Move on to Use of English parts 1-4.  Each one should take about 7-8 minutes.  Some will be quicker and others longer so a total of 28-32 minutes for the Use of English is good.
  4. If you finish early, you have the opportunity to leave early.  DON’T.  Check your answers.  Read things again.  99% of the candidates haven’t answered everything correctly so recheck and maybe you will find a silly mistake.
  5. Don’t leave any answers blank on the answer sheet.  No answer is a wrong answer.  If you’re not sure, guess.  And that’s why doing the Use of English after the Reading is better.  You can guess faster and better on UofE questions than going through a long text.
  6. When you hear the 5 minute warning, start writing your answers on the answer sheet.  I have seen candidates with all of the answers done but who didn’t have time to put them on the answer sheet.  These are all wrong!  That’s a shame.

Paper 2 – Writing

This paper has changed as well in 2015 and your teacher should inform you about it.  But let’s look at a few tips to help you:

  1. The most important thing to remember in part 1 (Essay) is to make sure you have included all of the information.  That means the two ideas they gave you and one of your own ideas.
  2. Structure is very important.  You should be writing 4-5 short paragraphs to keep it simple: 1-Intro, 2- point 1, 3- point 2, 4- point 3 (your point), 5- conclusion
  3. Try to keep each paragraph to 30-40 words or 5-7 sentences.  REMEMBER: Put a blank line between paragraphs or use indents to make the beginning of the paragraphs clear to the reader.
  4. Use linkers and connectors to help the writing flow.
  5. Control your time.  You have 40 minutes for each writing assignment.  This gives you a lot of time to get your ideas on paper, write a first draft, then your final draft on your answer sheet.  You shouldn’t cross out or make changes on your answer sheet.  You cannot use pencil or correction fluid on the answer sheet.  DO A FIRST DRAFT.

Paper 3 – Listening

This paper is the least complicated on the FCE because it starts and finishes in a controlled time.  You have 5 minutes to write your answers on the answer sheet after hearing everything and that is more than enough time.  But there are few tips I can give you:

  1. You will hear everything twice.  So get a GENERAL IDEA the first time and your FINAL ANSWER the second time.
  2. After you have written your final answer FORGET ABOUT IT.  You will NEVER hear that question again in your life so now it’s important to concentrate on the next question.
  3. Make sure you have an answer for everything.  No answer is a wrong answer.

Paper 4 – Speaking

I will write another blog entry about speaking exam tips soon.


I hope these tips will help you on exam day and at least stop you from losing points for logistical reasons.  It’s not good to lose points that don’t reflect your knowledge of English.  Do some mock First Certificate exams with a watch next to you to get a better idea of the timing.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

If you have questions or would like help preparing the First Certificate Exam, please send us an email or call us.

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