B2 First (FCE)- Key word transformations

key word transformations
B2 First – Use of English part 4


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!

Booklet (all 12 worksheets)
B2 First Key word transformations
The Passive
B2 First Key word transformations
Have something done B2 First Key word transformations
B2 First Key word transformations
Verb patterns
B2 First Key word transformations
Phrasal verbs
B2 First Key word transformations
Reporting verbs
B2 First Key word transformations
Unreal past
B2 First Key word transformations
B2 First Key word transformations
Reported speech
B2 First Key word transformations
Linking words
B2 First Key word transformations
The comparative
B2 First Key word transformations
Modal verbs
B2 First Key word transformations

How to write an essay using a template



It can help you improve quickly

Using an essay template might sound like cheating but it can give a sense of order and clear rules to follow if you are not used to writing longer pieces. It can be a quick method to help you get familiar with the structure and give you an idea of the number of sentences to use in each part. 

What to do

In the beginning, choose certain phrases to build a sort of a skeleton of your essay to help you deal with time constraints and word limit.

Later on, you could try and substitute those phrases with others. Remember, it is something to help you start and keep your ideas organised but it doesn’t mean it should stop you from experimenting with language.

By repeating certain phrases, they start to sound more natural to you and you are more inclined to use them under pressure during the exam.

By no means, learn by heart whole paragraphs and try to force them into your essay.

Train with the checklist until you know what is expected of you. If you haven’t included all the points, come back to edit your essay only if you have time and after you have written both tasks. 

Let’s recap

  • Choose appropriate phrases to start each part of your essay – introduction, body, conclusion. 
  • Use them in at least a few essays so that you can remember them. 
  • Choose different phrases and write some more. 
  • Pay close attention to how many sentences you need to write in each part in order to be within the word limit. 
  • Check for silly mistakes and repetition. 
  • If you have time check for the other items on the checklist and edit in order to include more complex structures. 

After writing at least 10 essays, you shouldn’t need a template anymore. 

What is a template?

Where do I get a template?

You can download one for free right here.

B2 First – essay template and checklist

C1 Advanced – essay template and checklist

For a step by step guide on essay writing for B2 First check out my other post – How to write a B2 First essay.

How to write a B2 First essay


Here are some tips on how to write your B2 First essay, which is an obligatory task in Part 1 of the Writing Paper. 

A typical task looks like this:

Write your essay using all the notes and giving reasons for your points of view. Write your essay in 140–190 words in an appropriate style.

Schools are responsible for teaching young people all the skills they need to stay fit and healthy. Do you agree? Notes: exercise, food and (your idea)

Brainstorm and plan

Before you even start writing, brainstorm quickly some arguments for each point. Make sure you add your own idea, too.

A possible idea: stress management or regular medical check-ups.

Decide if you agree or disagree.

After that, come up with some ‘more complex’ vocabulary on the topic and try to include some of it later in your essay.

In this case a possible list could be: equipment, calories, diet, regime, exercise, gym, work out, endurance, cardio, proteins, stress, meditation, etc.

Writer’s block

If you feel stuck, try starting with any of those phrases: 


Many people claim that…

We live in a world where…

The topic of… seems to worry/interest many people…

It is often said that…

These are just ideas to get you started! It is not obligatory to use them to write a successful essay.

Writing the introduction

Introduction. Start from general to specific. Paraphrase the question in the task and state your thesis. Mention all the task points in order to support your thesis.

Think of something general to introduce the topic of the essay.

Once you have started, don’t forget to state your thesis i.e. your answer to the task question. 

Include all points mentioned in the task, try to use your own words.

Creating the body

 If you have taken some minutes to brainstorm in the beginning, it is time to use some of those ideas in the body of your essay.

Start with a linking word.

First, … First of all…

Then, organize every following idea with another linking word.

Secondly,… In addition,… Furthermore,…

How to organize your paragraphs

Body. Each paragraph should include a topic sentence, an argument and some examples.

Ideally, you would start your paragraph with a topic sentence i.e. a sentence stating your main idea on the topic.

Afterwards, you should support it with your argument or your reason for believing so.

Finally, you can provide an example to illustrate your idea.

Repeat the same process for the next paragraph.

A well-structured body usually has two or three paragraphs. In this case we will need to write one paragraph per note.

Time to wrap up

If your ideas were clear through the whole essay, the conclusion shouldn’t be a problem.

Start with your favourite discourse marker:

In a nutshell,…

To sum up,…

In conclusion,…

Conclusion. Paraphrase the ideas from the body and give your opinion. Don't introduce new information!

After that, simply retell the main points that you made in the body. Use synonyms or find ways to express the same meaning with different words as you don’t want to repeat yourself.

Synonyms of the task notes: exercise = sport, food = nutrition. Let’s say our own idea was stress management. We can say relaxation techniques instead of stress management.

Now is also time to give your opinion and remember don’t write any new information. If you feel that something is missing add it in the body, never in the conclusion.

So this is how to write a B2 First essay! Now all you have to do is practise again and again.

Need more practice? Try this short exercise – Discourse markers.

There is a great free resource that you can use for self-preparation at Cambridge English Write and Improve.

For a review on discourse markers and linking words, check out my B2 language skills course.

Download my free template and checklist to help you practise writing.


discourse marker – a word or phrase that is used for organizing discourse (= spoken or written communication ), for example well, so, or in fact

linking word – a word which shows a connection between clauses or sentences, for example however or so.

thesis – the main idea, opinion, or theory of a piece of writing

C1 Advanced (CAE) essay example


C1 Advanced Writing Part 1: Essay (220-260 words, 45 min approx.)

TASK: Your class has watched a panel discussion on the areas which have benefited from the internet. You have made the following notes:

  • Education
  • Entertainment
  • Social relationships

Write an essay for your tutor discussing two of the areas in your notes. You should identify which area has benefited more from the internet, giving reasons for your choice.

Write your answer in 220 – 260 words in an appropriate style.

Task taken from Cambridge Write and Improve website. Link below. 


Let’s analyse the task

The first thing when reading the task is to identify what two areas from the notes you are going to write about and choose the one that (in this case) has benefited more. Then, brainstorm some arguments.

While writing

For the introduction, try to rephrase the task and be as general on the topic as you can. Make sure to mention the two areas you have chosen to write about.

When writing the paragraphs don’t forget to include a Topic sentence. This sentence serves as an introduction of the paragraph. Then follow it by your arguments and reasons. Here is a video explaining the whole process.

For the conclusion, repeat what you said before using other words and express your opinion clearly on which one area has benefited more from technology.

Here is my take on the task

C1 Advanced (CAE) essay example


There is no doubt that the new technologies have changed our lives. Education and entertainment can be identified as two main areas that have experienced a positive impact. 


First of all, schools have changed a lot since the Internet was introduced. They cater more to different learning styles using a wide range of media and tools such as interactive boards, tablets and Kahoot. Moreover, using technology in the classroom has proven to be more engaging than the old-fashioned blackboard. For instance, it results that students would readily write a text for a blog or a website rather than an essay. Last but not least, learners tend to do their homework more diligently if the task has to do with social media.


Another area that has changed for the better is entertainment. Streaming platforms such as Netflix have brought TV to our fingertips and made it incredibly cheap and easy to access. No more saving to go to the cinema or buy the latest DVD. Now you can Google almost anything and have it delivered or play it right away. What’s more, you can create your own content and monetise it as any aspiring You-tuber will tell you. 


In conclusion, the Internet and new inventions such as smartphones and tablets are shaping the way we consume information whether it is for work, studies or just fun. However, as far as I am concerned the field which has benefited the most is entertainment. It has become even more widespread than before and more and more people are spending their time and attention watching such content. 

Don’t memorise examples!

You can use example essays to get a feel of the style. Compare your ideas and organisation. Learn some phrases to use in your own writing. But don’t forget that we all have different writing styles and there isn’t one correct way of doing it. 

Still not confident about your writing?

Check out my other articles:

How to write an essay using a template

How to write a B2 First essay

How to prepare for the C1 Advanced Speaking exam?


Here are some tips to help you prepare for your Speaking exam. At C1 Advanced level you are expected to have a good command of your language both lexically and grammatically. What’s more, you will need to provide opinions on diverse topics and give reasons for them.

1. Remember to keep it short but give full answers

Length: about 30-40 seconds

Full answer: State your opinion and support it with reasons.

2. Express your opinion clearly

Use phrases to introduce your opinion like the following.

Opinion: I personally believe / prefer / think 

Emphasis: I do think/consider; the most enjoyable/ the best… 

3. Structure your answer logically

It might seem difficult to stay organised when you are under stress during the exam. However, remember that linking words help the listener to follow your story easily.

Sequence: first, next, finally 

Reason: because, due to, as a result of

Addition: moreover, also, and, or 

Contrast: but, on the other hand, whereas

Summary: so, in a nutshell, basically

4. Use on topic vocabulary

Identify the topic and use as many words and expressions as you can. Appropriate collocations show your proficiency and mastery of the language. Throw in a phrasal verb for extra points.

5. Show a range of grammatical structures

Preference: I would do something, I love doing, I prefer to do


Question: When travelling do you visit all the famous sights and take the typical picture or do you go off the beaten track?


I personally prefer to do a free walking tour first to get my bearings and make sure I have covered the most important sights. The next days are to get lost and feel the atmosphere. For example, I would have breakfast at a cafe with the locals or follow a recommendation. When it comes to souvenirs, I love buying some food to take home instead of yet another magnet! So we can say that I try to shy away from the beaten path.

Linking words and grammatical structures in bold

Vocabulary about Travel and holidays in italics

Listen to the example:

Work smarter, not harder


That is a concept that applies to all the areas of our lives and language learning isn’t any different.

There are a lot of ways of working smarter when learning.

Memorising vocabulary is one of them.

First of all, you don’t want to be looking up every single word in the dictionary. And you definitely don’t want to try and memorise all the new words you have come across. You have to go smarter about it. Choose only the words that you would use in your mother tongue. If you come across a word that you would never say or use in your personal discourse, don’t even bother to learn it. Focus only on the words that you find useful for you. If you already know a synonym don’t be overly ambitious, you will be fine without this new word. Save your mental energy for other expressions that might be more useful and practical for your specific situation.

Another tip

When you are offered a list of different ways to say the same thing choose one way and learn it well. One well said phrase is more valuable than three not quite well learned expressions.

Don’t forget pronunciation

Focus on meaning but also pay special attention to pronunciation. Learning the right pronunciation the first time will save you from a lot of misunderstandings later and will help your listening too. You can’t expect to hear and understand the right word if you think it is pronounced differently.

Some examples

Let’s take work, word and walk, for example. (Click on the words for the right pronunciation). Master saying those very basic words and you will notice a real difference in your understanding and communication. If you want to sound more natural, make sure you pronounce well these too: interesting, vegetable and chocolate.

Turning to grammar

In terms of grammar, try to master the form as soon as possible. Learn the rule and apply it as children do. They could sometimes say ‘I seed a film’ when using the past simple, for example. This means they have mastered the general rule and apply it actively. With time they will remember the exceptions but without knowing this basic rule they couldn’t even make a sentence.  

Speaking and writing

When speaking or writing, don’t try to translate the overly complicated phrases you tend to use in your mother tongue. Use what you know, what you are sure of and you will notice how your mistakes will magically vanish into thin air. Your communication will be clearer and you will get better results.

So what are you waiting for to start working smarter and not harder?


Look up – to search for, as an item of information, in a reference book

Come across – to find or encounter, especially by chance

Vanish into thin air – disappear without a trace

Mindful vocab journalling


The idea is simple. All you have to do is engage in a more mindful way with the word while learning it.

First contact

Be curious about its particular letter combination. Explore the letter sequence by writing it a few times with different type of letters or handwriting. Why not using your non-dominant hand to do it?

Say it out loud

Take a moment to savour the sounds. Is it difficult or quite melodic?

Associate it

Now take a moment to think of a similar word as a synonym or a rhyming word, an antonym is also possible.

Mind map it

Research or look in the text where you took it from with what other words it collocates, pay special attention to prepositions or verbs.

Another way of mapping it might be to write more words from its family or from the same vocabulary topic.

Put it in use

The final step is to use it in a sentence. Make the phrases as personal as you can. Think how you would normally use this word in your discourse.

Another way of doing it might be to come up with some funny or absurd sentence so as to retain the word in your memory with the help of humour.

Review, revise, revisit

After a few days, take a moment to flip through your journal and admire your progress. Soak in the beautifully written pages and all your mindful occurrences and review at the same time.

Final thoughts

As the process might get quicker and quicker with repetition, try to maintain its mindful nature and stop if you catch yourself drifting into doing it mechanically.

All you have to do is enjoy and truly connect to the words. Be present and you might get an extra benefit of increased patience and fulfillment of being engrossed in an entertaining activity.

If you like the idea and need a template, go ahead and download it below. Enjoy!

Download “Journal”

mindfulvocabjournal.pdf – Downloaded 1041 times – 110.75 KB

Think on your feet


Teaching without material could be a dreadful idea in the beginning.

Let’s play a game

That’s a phrase that everyone loves to hear. It is a magical formula that works both with adults and children. No need for props apart from your imagination, a pen and some paper.  Here are some ideas to have on your mental list when in need of improvisation.

A teacher writing on a board. Think on your feet, no material activities for teaching

20 questions always a favourite

Apart from the classical version where you have to guess a famous person by asking 20 yes/no questions, you can modify it to guessing practically anything. Great for practising vocabulary. A fruit, a piece of furniture, a phrasal verb, you name it, it could be used in plenty of ways.

If you feel like students are always using the present simple, change the situation. Ask for a person from the past to practise questions in the past tenses or a person from a picture to review present continuous or present perfect tenses.

More question games

Ask students to draw some circles and set a topic such as childhood, school, hobby, win something, present. Ask them to write something in the circles connected with a memory on those topics and use it as conversational practice of the narrative tenses.

Expand by asking additional questions to guide the conversation or put them in pairs and make them ask each other.

Memory games

Make a ball out of paper or grab any other easy to throw object. Set pairs of association first. Let’s say  bed – sleep, desk – write, book – read. Then check how well your students remember. Throw the ball and say the first word of the pair eliciting the second word.

If you have higher levels you can try it with adjectives and preposition pairs, phrasal verbs, verbs and prepositions, compound nouns, idioms, etc.

Games are great for revision too.

Word games

Ask your students to pick some words from previous lessons and play giving definitions as the rest try to guess what the word is. If you have lower levels that don’t know how to define the words yet, mime them or draw them instead.

If you have more time, students can write the words on pieces of paper and divide them in three piles, then practise in all three ways – defining, drawing and miming.

Chain stories

I love doing those with the conditionals. One says one phrase and the next picks up their line and continues the story.

Ex. If I went to a party tonight, I would wear my black dress. If I wore my black dress, everyone would like to talk to me… and so on…

Obstacle courses

You can draw an obstacle course on the board or each student can draw one on a piece of paper and then describe the way from point A to point B to another student. While one student is explaining the other has to draw or show what is the correct way.

Another option is to make an obstacle course around the room by putting some chairs, bags or books, whatever you have at hand. Tie one student’s eyes and have the rest of the class guide them around the obstacles. Great for practising giving directions and prepositions of movement.

Draw what your partner says

This one is great for practising house vocabulary and prepositions of place. One student describes as much as he can in detail one room or the plan of their whole house or flat and the other tries to draw it as accurately as possible.

It also works with parts of the body as one student can describe an invented monster to the other. If the students have drawn the monster or the room in advance, afterwards they can compare to see if the two pictures are alike.

Everyday practice ideas

Enhance your listening skills through BBC’s 6 minute English page

Probably most of you, language learners, have come across and used any BBC materials. Their website is very complete and has tons of resources. I would like to concentrate on one of them in particular the 6 minute English page.

For learners

A lot of learners struggle with listening and the dialogues the website provides on diverse topics with vocabulary explanations and transcript are ideal in size and level for quick everyday practice. Something that you should be doing ideally if you would like to reach your English learning goals quickly.

If you are not practising a bit every day, then what are you waiting for?

For teachers

Self study is great and that is one way you can approach this wonderful resource. However, I have found an alternative way to use it and that is in phone or skype classes. As the topics are quite catchy and inspire conversation, I assign a specific dialogue to my student, they prepare it in advance and then during our phone sessions they retell what that article was about and then discuss further adding any personal opinions or experiences.

You could perfectly do this with any article on the web and I have tried BBC news and CNN, but having an audio and also introducing new vocabulary in a reasonable number is much more practical and simpler than having to read and resume a full blown article.

So this is my little time saver tip for teachers and a great self study resource for learners out there.

Quizlet a new way to study vocabulary


Paper is out, applications are in

Quizlet is one of my favorite applications to use when it comes to memorising vocabulary.

So here are my tips on how to use it with your students.

Instead of a vocabulary notebook

For example, your student has 15 new words per lesson so every time after class he or she introduces these words as a new unit. And as  homework he or she can play with these words in order to memorise them.

Search for a specific vocabulary topic

that other people have created and then just study from there. For instance, there are a lot of irregular verbs lists, adjectives and prepositions, phrasal verbs that other students or teachers have already created.

Mini dictations

The writing exercise that’s inside the application could be a perfect practice for mini dictations. You introduce some phrases studied over the last lessons mixing grammar and vocabulary and the students practise writing them down.

FCE sentence transformations

Another use I’ve seen is to practice the transformations on the first certificate. There are a lot of precreated units so just type in the key words and you are ready to go.  

Play in class

Everyone enjoys a good competition so why not use the matching activity and play a game.  Students can compete who is the fastest at matching vocabulary they have learnt.

Personalise your cards

Using pictures can help remember vocabulary that’s not abstract easily. That’s a paid feature though.

More options on the website

Don’t forget that on the website you have two or three more expanded activities than the five that you have on the application to be used on your mobile.

Easy list sharing

Lists could be shared so as long as one student creates a list for that class all the other students can use it if you got bigger groups. You yourself as a teacher could prepare lists and then share them with your students to either help them organize vocabulary or test them.

So as you can see it’s a very versatile application that gives a lot of play and younger students who use their mobile all the time seem to love it. Suitable for busy adults too.