In this episode of PASS FCE, an overview of the writing paper. What do you have to write? How much time do you have? How many words do you have to write?
How can you prepare for the writing?
We’ll answer all these questions, and more, in this episode of PassFCE.
Welcome to PASS FCE, a Mansion Ingles podcast specifically created to help you pass the Cambridge First Certificate in English Exam.
I’m Craig, I’m a teacher at the British Council in Valencia, Spain, a Cambridge Oral examiner with over 20 years of teaching experience.
Learn English free at mansioningles.com and take your English to the next level with our audio podcasts at inglespodcast.com
So, here’s a question for you. How many parts are there in the writing? and how long do you have, how much time? (actually, that’s two questions!) Do you know?
There are two parts to the writing. Part 1 and part 2, and you have 1 hour and 20 minutes to answer both questions.
Part 1 of the writing is compulsory. You must write an essay and the focus is on agreeing or disagreeing with a statement, giving information, giving opinion, giving reasons, comparing and contrasting ideas and opinions, drawing a conclusion. There is only one question in part 1 and you must do it. You should write between 140 and 190 words.
Here’s an example of a part 1 question:
In your English class, you have been talking about work and your teacher has asked you to write an essay.
Write an essay on the subject of work and use ALL the following notes. Give reasons for your point of view.
“Is it better to earn a lot of money or enjoy your job?” (this is the title of your essay)
1. How much time is spent at work
2. the type of work which is done
3. …..(your own idea)
1. How much time is spent at work (the more you enjoy your job, the quicker time passes / many people only work so that they can earn money to enjoy themselves in their free time, or support their family)
2. the type of work which is done (Some jobs are more enjoyable than others. Should we choose a job for the salary or for job satisfaction?
3. …..(your own idea) Does money bring happiness? If we enjoy what we do, will the money come anyway? If you have a family to support, can you really look for enjoyment? If we’re not happy should we change jobs?
Make notes, write ideas and questions for 4 or 5 minutes BEFORE you start writing your essay. Brainstorm ideas.
We will be focusng on the essay, and the other writing choices in future episodes of PassFCE. And we’ll be helping you prepare this part of the exam.
Now let’s look at Part 2 You have a choice of three questions in part 2. You must answer only one question. The choices could be:-
An informal or formal email or letter
In part two you should write between 140 and 190 words. So, that’s easy to remember, you need to write the same amount of words for each part; between 140 and 190 words.
When you practise writing at home, count the number of words and see what 140 – 190 words looks like on the page for you. How long is it for your style of handwriting’ Is it a page? A page and a half? three quarters of a page?
Obviously, it depends on the size of your handwriting, but if you know what 140 – 190 words looks like, you won’t need to waste time counting words during the exam.
If you write 130 words or 200 words, it’s Ok, but don’t make your writing too short or too long!
Another thing to remember, is not to write your essay, email, article, report etc twice. Don’t re-write it. It’s a huge waste of time!
If you make notes at the beginning, you have a good idea of the content of your writing.
If you make mistakes, just put a line through the mistake, cross it out, and write it again. If you finish early and have extra time, use the time to check your grammar, punctuation, spelling etc and
try to find any common errors that you typically make when you write and correct them. This is much more useful than writing everything out again.
You should write in an appropriate style. The style of a report is not the same as an article. The style of a formal letter is not the same as an informal one.
We’ll be looking at the different styles you need to know in future episodes of PassFCE. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes and read the shownotes at inglespodcast.com
Read the question carefully and underline or highlight important instructions. I read so many writings from my students in which they just haven’t answered the question!
If you highlight important, key words and write a few notes before you start, you are much more likely to focus on answering the question.
Decide what to include in each paragraph and write some quick notes so that you don’t forget.
In Part 1 expand the notes in the question. Use the two prompts that are given in the question and think of one more idea of your own.
Don’t misspell words that are on the question paper! Really, there’s no excuse for making spelling mistakes with words that are already written on the question paper!
Remember that dictionaries, mobile phones, electronic devices etc are not allowed in the exam. Practise writing before the exam without checking words and spellings in a dictionary.
Write clearly and leave a line between paragraphs. Look, I know it’s 2015 and we all write with a keyboard and most things now are digital, but in the exam you’ll have to use a pen.
If you know that your handwriting is bad, you must work on it and try to make it as clear and as easy to read as possible.
The examiner who reads your writing will not waste time thinking “Hmmm, what’s this word? I wonder what this candidate is trying to say here.” No, he or she will just give you zero if your writing is difficult or impossible to read.
Leave an empty line between paragraphs, This makes your writing look more attractive on the page and easier for the examiner to read.
Use a variety of vocabulary (and grammar), even if you are unsure of the correct spelling. It’s ok to try some difficult grammar, even if you make a small mistake.
At FCE level, the examiner is looking for FCE grammar and vocabulary. If you write something like, “The film is good. I like the film. We saw the film Monday. It is a good film.”
This is not FCE level grammar and you will lose marks. Use a variety of linking words to connect your ideas so that your writing is logical and easy to understand.
So, let’s look at the different task types that you can expect in the writing part of the FCE exam.
AN ESSAY. An essay is always written for the teacher. When you write your essay, answer the question given by writing about both content points in the notes and providing a new content point (idea) of your own.
The essay should be well organised, with an introduction and an appropriate conclusion and should be written in a suitable register and tone.
AN ARTICLE is usually written for an English-language magazine or newsletter, and the reader is assumed to have similar interests to the writer.
The main purpose is to interest and engage the reader, so you should include some opinion or comment. Just think of articles you have read in magazines and blogs that you’re interested in.
An article has an interesting heading and a strong introduction/first paragraph to keep the reader engaged.
AN EMAIL/A LETTER is written in response to the situation outlined in the question.
Letters and emails in the writing paper will require a response which is consistently appropriate in register and tone for the specified target reader.
You can expect to be asked to write letters or emails to, for example, an English-speaking friend or colleague, a potential employer, a college principal or a magazine editor.
A REPORT is usually written for a superior (e.g. a teacher or a boss) or a peer group (e.g. members of an English club). Candidates are expected to give some factual information and make suggestions or recommendations. A report should be clearly organised and may include headings.
A REVIEW is usually written for an English-language magazine, newspaper or website. The main purpose is to describe and express a personal opinion about something which you have experienced (e.g. a film, a holiday, a product, a website etc.) and to give the reader a clear impression of what the item discussed is like.
Description and explanation are key functions for this task, and a review will normally include a recommendation to the reader at the end.
As I said before this episode is an overview and is intended to give you a general idea of the writing paper. In future episodes we will be looking very closely at each part of the writing and studying the different styles and question types. You can find detailed explanations and practice exercises of the writing and the other parts of the FCE exam in our FCE course MANSION FIRST. Click here for more information.
Next episode: Speaking practice with Aida and Marta
If you have any questions about this part, or any part of the FCE exam, send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or record a voice message on our website at inglespodcast.com.
Thanks for listening and we’ll be back very soon with another episode of PassFCE.
Our CD New MansionFirst is full of practice material, useful advice and realistic exam practice tests that will prepare you for taking the Cambidge FCE exam. This course is now available as a digital download direct to your PC.
Find out more details of our FCE course here.
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