Phrasal Verbs

How to master phrasal verbs for Cambridge exams and life alike?

This time we are going to look into different ways to learn phrasal verbs.

To start with, let’s see in which parts of the Cambridge exams, B1 Preliminary, B2 First, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency, we must show good control and command of such verbs.

Reading Paper

The texts from the Reading tasks have got plenty of phrasal verbs. We find them in the answers provided, as well, I mean in parts like 1, 5 and 7 of B2 First, C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency exams, or in Part 5 of B1 Preliminary exam.

To understand the ones from the texts, the context is just the ticket, since it helps us to grasp their meaning. Besides, considering the fact that quite a lot of them are not fully used in everyday situations, we should attentively read the text surrounding the verb to finally understand its meaning.

In B1 Preliminary reading paper, you find them all through the tasks, mainly in Parts 2, 3, 5 and 6. At this level, the list of phrasal verbs is not that vast. With practice and patience, you will definitely manage to master them.

The phrasal verbs from the options provided in tasks like Reading Part 5 and 7 (B2, C1, C2), as well as Part 8 (C1) are pretty common. For example, “put in excessive hours” (C1), “depend on teenagers” (B2).  

In Reading part 1 (B2, C1 and C2), we find either the verb or the preposition in the text, and the other one being given among the four options provided for each question. Again, these phrasal verbs aren’t far too “sophisticated”.

Use of English Paper

Part 2 Open cloze and Part 4 Key word transformations in B2, C1 and C2 are simply the phrasal verbs catwalk 😉. Try them out:

Part 2 C1 Advanced:

“So when she recently … out in a painful rash down one side of her body, she emailed her symptoms.”

A came  B passed C worked D ran

Part 4 C1 Advanced:

“In the end, the holiday was better than I thought it would be.”


“The holiday … be better than I thought it would be!”

Listening Paper

While listening to the recordings (monologues, interviews and dialogues), be prepared to understand the speakers, as they will also use plenty of phrasal verbs. Once again, the context will help you out to determine their meaning.

Writing Paper

It is considered that phrasal verbs are mainly used in speaking rather than formal writing types, where single-word equivalents are more appropriate than phrasal verbs, for example “put up with” instead of “tolerate”. This is partly true since there are many situations in formal texts, such as REPORTS, ESSAYS, PROPOSALS or FORMAL LETTERS and EMAILS, in which the use of a right phrasal verb is much more natural, and besides, the idea is conveyed a lot better and straightforward. So, I do suggest you use phrasal verbs whenever appropriate.

Speaking Paper

Regarding the Speaking Paper, phrasal verbs are welcome in all the four parts, no matter the level, unless your speaking partner is the president 😉. Besides, they are great when it comes to avoiding repetition of ideas, aren’t they?

Phrasal verbs are everywhere!

How can we tame them 😉? Let’s look at some useful tips.


Classify the phrasal verbs in groups, I mean verbs with the same preposition, or one verb and its various prepositions.  Look at this B2 First group of phrasal verbs:

Back out – decide not to do sth
Carry out – perform an experiment
Drop out – leave school before you have finished a course
Find out – discover information
Look out – be careful
Look after – take care of
Look down on – think that you are better than someone
Look up – try to find information


Use phrasal verbs in context by writing down a sentence of your own. What really helps is using it in a personal life anecdote or something that defines you, like “My mother is someone who I will always look up to!”


Have you tried to depict the phrasal verb when there is no way you can remember it? Pictionary is an amazing technique! My learners are simply loving it! Don’t worry about your drawing skill, you shouldn’t go as far as Martin Shovel in his spectacular book Making Sense Of Phrasal Verbs, which I highly recommend. A simple stick man picture works a million 😉.


Create your own collection of Topic Phrasal Verbs. Every time you come across a phrasal verb that would go with any of your topic clouds, add it to the list. Here is a B2 First one, whose theme is Travelling and Holidays:

Sleep in – get up late
Check in/out – register in / sign out from a hotel
Drop sb off – let sb out of a vehicle
Get away – escape
Set out/off – start a journey
See sb off – say farewell to sb

Whichever technique you use, ’cause it works for you, be constant. When you do an exam task from any of your exam preparation materials, it is paramount to get the most out of the given text. What I mean is the following: once you have done the task, corrected it and counted how many points you got, don’t just turn the page! Read it through, add any phrasal verbs to your personal dictionary, or any catchy expressions that you could use to stand out in exam papers like writing or speaking. Besides, believe me, you might need them in the Use of English paper. So, let’s roll up our sleeves if we want to master the phrasal verbs. It will definitely pay off in the long run.

Once again, I hope you have found my tips useful.

Stay tuned for more words of advice and handy material!

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