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5 key mistakes to avoid in Cambridge exams

Language does not need to be perfect but if you are doing a Cambridge exam such as the First, Advanced or Proficiency, it's a good idea to try to get things right. Here are a few mistakes I often hear from my students and some tips to help you avoid them.

Don't say

Do say

  1. I am learning English for five years.

1. I have been learning English for five years.

2. If I would win the lottery, I would buy a grand piano.

2. If I won the lottery, I would buy a grand piano.

3. Can you give me the informations by Friday?

3. Can you give me the information by Friday?

4. She recommended to take the medicine.

4. She recommended taking the medicine.

5. We see us later.

5. See you later.


Do you know why these mistakes were made? Choose from the following options:


A. Mixing up countable and uncountable nouns

B. Translating set phrases word for word

C. Copying grammar from another language to form the second conditional

D. Copying grammar from another language instead of using the present perfect continuous

E. Using the wrong verb pattern


Now check the answers and read the explanations below.


Answers: 1. D 2. C 3. A 4. E 5. B


1. Present perfect continuous


You started learning English five years ago and you’re still learning it now. This is best expressed by using the present perfect continuous. In the sentence I have been learning English for five years, the auxiliary verb have shows a connection to the present, the past participle been shows a connection to the past and the ‘ing form learning shows the action is in progress.


2. Second conditional


This is one of the structures that learners often struggle with. They have probably heard the ‘wrong’ version with two ‘woulds’ so many times that it sounds right. However would should not be used in the if clause. It is possible to get this right as long as you practise it correctly.


3. Uncountable nouns


Languages categorise nouns as countable or uncountable. Words that are countable in German are often countable in English. However, there are some which are not. Words that are countable in German but uncountable in English include information, advice and furniture.


4. Verb patterns


Verbs can be combined with other verbs. Often the second verb takes the to + infinitive form but some verbs are followed by the ‘ing form. These include recommend, suggest, imagine and avoid.


5. Set phrases


A German speaker will often say ‘wir sehen uns’ at the end of a conversation. Translating this into English word for word doesn’t work. Pay attention to the set phrases that English speakers use and copy them.



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