How to prepare for CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams – reading comprehension

In How to prepare for CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams – listening, I gave you some tips to pass the listening section of CILS, CELI and PLIDA Reading comprehensionexams. Today, I want to focus on reading comprehension.

Let’s start from the differences between CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams that are summed up in the table below – for this article I took as a reference the materials prepared for levels B1.

To know where to find free samples of CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams, please refer to Certifications of Italian L2 (part 1 – CILS and CELI), and to Certifications of Italian L2 (Part 2 – PLIDA and CIC). If you’re interested in buying specific books to prepare yourself to CILS, CELI, and PLIDA exams have a look at Exam preparation: CILS, CELI, PLIDA and CIC.

CILS – B1 45 min 1- multiple choice.
2- choosing answers from a list.
3- reordering.
CELI – B1 1 hour 1- multiple choice.
2- choosing answers from a list.
3- multiple choice completing sentences.
4- multiple choice completing sentences.
5- completing sentences.
PLIDA – B1 30 min 1- multiple choice.
2- true or false.

As you can see from the table above, to pass reading comprehension you have to read and understand complicated texts in a very short amount of time and answering a good number of questions.

To prepare yourself you can try these exercises:


Before starting to read a text, it’s important that you get some clues about the topic of the text. In this way, you can make predictions about what you’re going to read. To do so, read the title, the subtitle and the questions you will have to answer.

For example, the title of the first text of the CILS reading comprehension is: Spesa elettronica a 102 anni. After reading it, you can make some predictions. For example, you can predict that the text is probably about an old woman who prefers to do her shopping using an electronic card instead of using cash. Moreover, since she is 102 years old, and very old people are usually bounded to tradition – the use of cash – you can say that this is something out of the ordinary.


Highlight topic sentences. Each paragraph has a topic sentence that tells you what a paragraph is about. Understanding the general idea of a paragraph allows you to improve your predictions. Moreover, if you ask yourself who, what, where, how, when, why, you can also grab specific information more easily.

For example, the topic sentence of the last paragraph of CILS exam “Ha fatto di tutto per mantenersi” (she made every kind of job to support herself) makes us think at the question: what kind of jobs? And so, we expect that this paragraph will give us specific information about all the jobs the old woman made during her life.


Keywords allow you to understand both the main idea of a paragraph and specific information about it. So, skim unimportant passages or words and just focus on keywords. For example, the keywords of the third paragraph of the first text of CILS exam are:

“Qualche volta mi faccio accompagnare, ma poi faccio tutto da sola perché sono incontentabile”, racconta Anita. “Mangio di tutto, perfino la panna con i cialdoni, l’adoro”. Anita è una grande cuoca perché ha imparato da suo padre che era cuoco a Ponte San Giovanni, dove gestiva una trattoria di prima categoria.

What have you learnt from these keywords?

  1. Anita does her shopping alone because she’s a demanding person.
  2. Anita loves eating cream with wafers.
  3. Anita is a great cook.
  4. Anita’s father was a cook in a trattoria.

Knowing this, you can easily answer questions 3, 4, and 5.



Vocabulary is an essential part of every reading comprehension. Although knowing each single word is not essential, knowing a good number of words can be very helpful. Indeed, it allows you to grab the sense of a paragraph immediately, so as you can avoid re-reading the passage and lose time.

To improve your vocabulary, you can listen to the radio, watch some movies, or reading some passages and underline and/or list words you don’t know.

Be sure to know and master pivotal conjunctions. A word like however is telling you: be careful, I’m introducing another idea that is in contrast with the one I’ve told you before. Instead, a word like consequently, is telling you the reason why a certain thing happened.

Some examples of pivotal conjunctions are listed below:

  • Additive words: e, inoltre, in aggiunta, in più, oltre a ciò.
  • Time words: prima, dopo, nel frattempo, adesso, ultimamente, successivamente, in questo momento.
  • Amplification words: per esempio, cioè, come.
  • Contrast and change words: ma, nonostante, malgrado, sebbene, al contrario, invece di, anche se, eppure, tuttavia.
  • Equivalent words: come, allo stesso modo, sia, similmente, ugualmente.
  • Qualifying words: se, quando, purché, qualora, a patto che, a condizione che.
  • Alternative words: o…o, né…né, sia…sia.
  • Repetitive words: ancora, in altre parole.
  • Cause and effects words: perché, allora, perciò, di conseguenza, per questa ragione, pertanto, quindi.
  • Order words: infine, per finire, primo, secondo, terzo, poi.
  • Summarizing words: Per questa ragione, riassumendo, in breve, in conclusione, concludendo.


It seems banal but practicing is essential to become familiar both with the types of exercises, time-constraints, and the stress the exam may involve. Finally, read as many texts as you can and answer the questions in a specific time. If you come across a word you don’t know when practicing for CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams, re-read the passage and try to grab its sense from the context. If you still do not understand it, just move on, you can always come back to it later.

I hope this article may help you prepare for the reading section of CILS, CELI and PLIDA exams.
In the next articles I’m going to talk about speaking and writing sections.


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