Tips and strategies for A2 Key and B1 Preliminary

More and more teenagers now start their Cambridge exam journey early. They don’t opt for FCE to be their first language exam ever, instead they move step by step. A2 Key might seem too easy, B1 Preliminary — not that necessary, but, in fact, they do not just check the language knowledge of your students. They prepare students for acing their high-level exams in future and provide them with tons of useful experience. No matter how ‘unchallenging’ these exams could look to your students, they have their own pitfalls. Today’s article will share some tips and strategies for passing A2 Key and B1 Preliminary with flying colours.


  1. Run mock-tests. Make sure your students try their hand at writing a full-format exam at least twice a year. Ideally, it should be done 3-4 months after you’ve started thorough preparation and then 1-2 month before a real exam. Not only will it show the progress, but also identify the areas to work on. What’s more, it will significantly reduce stress as your students will know what to expect.
  2. Tell teens about the marking system. They should have an idea of what is assessed and how the scores are calculated. In our previous article on writing tips for Key and Preliminary, we suggested exploiting assessment scales for students to try grading the writings themselves. The more they know about the marking, the more focused they will be.
  3. Break it into pieces. It’s sometimes hard to incorporate exam preparation into your lessons, especially if you must follow a coursebook and stick to a certain pace. However, your students will benefit much more if you break the preparation into smaller steps and build it into your year plan. Well, ideally. Continuous preparation is considered to be more effective than last-month exhausting exam studies.


  1. Highlight the key points. When teenagers take their first ‘adult’ exams, they don’t usually have developed strategies of working with tasks. The most basic one is underlining the keywords. Teach your students to highlight keywords or ideas in questions when they work with the Reading. Underlining will make it easier for them to follow the task or check their guesses, and they will never feel lost if they have to get back to some task after a while. This strategy can also be useful in the Listening part.
  2. Teach students to read for gist and for detail. They often lose time and are stressed out because they want to understand every single word, even if it’s not necessary. 
  3. Devote some time to vocabulary work. While YL exams are pretty straightforward, A2 and B1 require some elaborate vocabulary. Here the knowledge of synonyms and antonyms is often tested. Make sure your students are ready for that. Ask them to keep track of most common synonyms they meet during exam prep, highlight the pairs in exam papers. If you are teaching a group for an exam, run synonym races when you ask two teams to come up with as many synonyms for the word ‘say’ or ‘good’ as they can in a couple of minutes. This one, as well, is necessary for the Listening too.


  1. Teach multitasking. What can be challenging for teenagers is reading, underlining, listening, and processing information at the same time. Pay attention to that while preparing. You might recommend students to use every spare moment for reading the task and underlining the keywords, for instance, instead of listening to instructions. It will only work in case they are 100% aware of what to do and know all the instructions beforehand, though. 
  2. Predict. A2 Key and B1 Preliminary sometimes drop in some quite predictable questions or general knowledge ones. Teach teens to use common sense and try to guess some of the answers before actually listening. Also, remind students to never leave any of the answer boxes empty. Any guess is better than nothing.
  3. Practise spelling. Surprisingly, spelling comes as a real trouble for A2 and B1 candidates. Make sure your potential exam takers know about the word lists for both Key and Preliminary exams. Run spelling dictations at times. However, advise students not to stress out about spelling while they are listening and jotting down the answers. It’s better to think about that later when they transfer answers to the answer sheets or just have a spare moment. 


  1. It’s OK to lie. However weird it might sound, but your students should be ready to make up a story if they don’t know an answer or it takes time to remember. Sometimes teens want to give a more elaborate answer but cannot because of some lack of language or stress. In this case, it’s better to come up with an easier answer which nobody is going to check for being true anyway. 
  2. Speaking is assessed individually. By the time of taking a lower-level exam some teens haven’t built enough self-confidence yet. If they meet a speaking partner who is more talkative and seems to dominate, they lose their train of thought and get really discouraged. Tell them that each candidate is assessed for their own performance, so it’s important to do their best. Practise the Speaking part with the roles allocated. They might be of a ‘shy partner’, ‘really loud partner’, ‘interrupting partner’, ‘silent partner’ and so on. After practising several times in class, teens will feel more comfortable at a real exam. 
  3. Practise interaction. Some parts of the Speaking, especially those in B1 Preliminary,  require interaction. It means the ability to ask questions, demonstrate interest and practise active listening. Your students will definitely get an extra point for a couple of ‘Oh really?’, ‘Wow, me too!’ and ‘What do you think?’.


To get an idea about the Writing part of both exams, you can check our previous article.

All in all, exam preparation involves a lot of components, from actual language learning to stress-relieving techniques and building up teens’ confidence. However, it’s quite rewarding to know that with your help a student has stepped it up a notch, isn’t it?

What are your exam prep lifehacks? Feel free to share!

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