Many CAE teachers would agree with the assertion that the writing part of the exam proves to be the most challenging for students. Why is it that students – both teenagers and adults alike – seem to have such a strong aversion to the wonderful writing part of the CAE? To begin with, the accent on essay writing does appear to be somewhat in decline; as educational methods are understandably becoming less and less traditional and more emphasis is being placed on social media jargon and anything related to a screen, kids these days are simply not writing as much. When it comes to adult learners, this apparent lack of writing practise is probably linked to the fact that writing at work is simply not as necessary as it used to be and so most find their writing skills are stunted after compulsory education. Secondly, as is often overstated in my CAE classes, these Cambridge exams are heavily technical which could be exactly what throws students when faced with the challenge of writing in the ‘appropriate’ style, tone or register.
Whatever the reason(s), my point here is that CAE students do tend to struggle with the Writing part. So, in light of this, I have thought up some useful tips for you to feel confident in securing that 60 (or 70!) %:
- Remain consistent in your tone and style.
This is applicable to both parts 1 & 2 of the Writing paper. When it comes to the essay, it is absolutely essential that you adhere to a formal style and tone throughout. This means incorporating more formal and elaborate language, showcasing more complex grammatical constructions, using the Latinate equivalent of phrasal verbs where necessary (though not exclusively) and absolutely avoiding beginning a sentence with And or But. When writing a review, you want your language to be highly descriptive, punchy and exciting enough to engage the reader, but you can ease off the formal tone a little. To sum up, be sure to get to grips with the ins and outs of each writing task to ensure the outcome of a consistent and appropriately styled piece of writing.
- Answer the question.
This is an interesting one as it seems obvious to the point of almost being patronising, yet I have personally marked countless essays that simply do not answer the question which is being posed. The first thing you should do upon reading the question is underline any key words so as to avoid being led astray in your writing process. What are the main themes and what exactly is the question asking me to do? If the question asks you to back up your opinions, be sure to do so. Focusing on the question word (what, how, why…) will help stay on track. When provided with opinions and ideas to support your own argument, don’t ignore them! If I were sitting the exam, I would be sure to read the question a good few times before I begin my essay plan. Talking of planning…
- Planning is the key to effective essay writing.
I remember my university lecturers banging on about the importance of planning a piece of writing time and time again. Being the haughty (or lazy…) first-year student I was back then, I took no notice of this actually very good advice whilst handing in distinctly average and often sloppily written essays. It turns out that, as a rule of thumb, you can tell how much effort and time has gone into planning when reading an essay. Of course, there can be exceptions to this rule, but it is always best to be on the safe side here.
Do set some time aside to plan – perhaps 10-15 minutes per part –and you will increase your chances of presenting a coherent, well-structured and fluid essay with a sound argument. There is nothing more frustrating for an examiner than reading frantically scribbled lines of incoherent and unconnected ideas; you can embellish your writing with some lavish lexicon as much as you like but there must be an easy-to-follow thread running through your ideas.
- Familiarise yourself with the marking scheme.
The four separate assessment categories should be outlined for you before you begin any writing practice. I often give my students a physical copy of the assessment scale so as to encourage working with it whilst writing essays and any of the tasks in part 2.
So, how does the scale work?
- Language is unsurprisingly the least difficult section to explain to students; it accounts for how complex and accurate your grammatical constructions are, how appropriate your vocabulary is and how idiomatic your English comes off in your writing.
- As for the content part, this is where you are assessed on how effectively you are handling the chosen task, both thematically and stylistically. Be careful not to go off on a tangent (an easy trap to fall into, especially without an essay plan…) and remember to stick within the parameters of the writing task.
- Communicative Achievement is about how appropriate your writing is for the given task. This is why you need to get in as much practice as possible on various writing tasks so as to become better informed on tone, register and style.
- Within the organisation rubric, we’re not just talking about the quality of the structure of the writing itself. The way you have composed your sentences and the general fluidity are also important here.
*Teacher tip*: CAE writing classroom activity
Find a model essay, either a good or bad example, and correct it together, placing emphasis on the assessment criteria. Showing them how you approach grading the writing can be immensely useful and insightful from a student’s perspective.
Below is a great website which aptly outlines the differences between English words which often get mixed up. We all know how difficult it can be to master the English language; with so many words it can be easy to confuse yourself with these mind-bogglingly similar words. Below is a great website which aptly outlines the differences between easily confused words. Some of the pairs more advanced but generally this website could be of use:
By Ellie Ballam