If you are getting ready for the B2 First (FCE), you are quite familiar with the Key word transformations. It is Part 4 of the Use of English and Reading Paper of the exam. If you are just starting, let me explain what it is about.
What am I asked to do?
You are given a key word that you MUSTN’T change and you have to express the meaning of the first sentence with a synonymous structure. You can use between two and five words, including the word given.
‘Do you know when the film starts, Sam?’ asked Molly.
Molly asked Sam IF HE KNEW WHAT time the film started.
Easy, right? However, it is one of the parts that candidates find difficult. Why is that?
1. Brush up your grammar
It could be because you need to work a bit more on your grammar knowledge. I said the forbidden word GRAMMAR. I thought you were grammar geeks and weren’t scared of grammar. Just to mention a few areas that you need to have a good control of are reported speech, conditionals and passives. You can download a checklist of grammar topics and an example for each below. It is a good idea to prioritize and start by studying the areas that you don’t know well.
2. Have a strategy
Another reason might be that you need to revise your strategy. First of all, read the whole second sentence. You need to identify if you need to make any change to the verb you have to use.
So if there is a different preposition, that is your cue.
‘Why don’t we visit the Natural History Museum?’ Jane said.
Jane SUGGESTED GOING to the Natural History Museum.
Because we had TO in the second sentence we had to change the verb from VISIT to GO TO.
If there is a noun instead of a verb, then you need to know that you need to use a verb phrase.
‘I find it difficult to study Maths.’ John told me.
John told me that HE HAD DIFFICULTY STUDYING Maths.
3. Be aware of common structures
A third reason might be that you haven’t trained your brain to look for those pairs of phrases yet. Learning a language is one thing but getting ready for an exam is somewhat different. You need to deepen your knowledge of how language works and to open your mind to the variety of ways and structures that exist to say the same thing. The best would be to keep a journal and write down interesting synonymous pairs. So once you have done an exam, spend some time to analyse the assignments and soon you will start to discover the common phrases.
If you need practice, here are some worksheets I have created on Key word transformations. Enjoy!