Tips on How to Improve your Cambridge English First (FCE) Writing Score
Although you may be able to write very accurately, and use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures, this is not the only thing you need to consider when planning and writing Cambridge English First Exam (FCE) tasks.
It is important to know the marking criteria the examiners will use, as this will help you to improve on your overall writing score:
- Have you answered all parts of the question? – If you have included everything that the task has asked you to, it is quite easy to get a maximum score of 5 for this part.
- If your writing is too long or short, then you will lose marks. To make a good guess of how many words you write, count the number you have written on one line then multiply by the number of lines you have, rather than trying to count them all – it takes too much time!
- For writing part 1, make sure you add one of your own ideas. If you only include the two points you have been given you cannot get full marks.
- When writing an essay in task 1, make sure that you include your own opinion on the topic, don’t sit on the fence!
- This category is about the effect your writing has on the reader. Think about who your target reader is – a friend, a teacher, an employer, someone your own age or someone older?
- Are you using the right register? If you are writing to a friend, use informal language e.g. contractions, phrasal verbs. If you are writing a letter of application you need to use formal language – no contractions, passive forms and frequently-used fixed expressions such as ‘Yours Sincerely’ or ‘Yours Faithfully’, depending on if we know the name of the person we are writing to. Make sure that you know what register of language you need for each of the different tasks, and very importantly DON’T mix these up!
- Examiners will look at the layout of your writing too. For example, when writing a report, we divide into sections with headings/titles. We usually start with an introduction, and finish with recommendations. With an article, you should write a title – if there isn’t one given, make up your own.
- In your part 1 essay, a good recommendation is to include a rhetorical question in your introduction, e.g. ‘Is it really a good idea to protect endangered species by keeping them in zoos?’
- This category refers to how your ideas are organised. Paragraphs make it easier to read your text. Have you divided your work into paragraphs? Are these paragraphs logical?
- Punctuation is also important. Are your sentences too long? Have you included commas, full stops and capital letters? Check that you use capital letters for words that you maybe don’t in your own language, for example days of the week and the pronoun ‘I’.
- Make sure that you use a range of linking words and expressions to join your ideas together. You may need these to add to ideas, such as furthermore, in addition; to contrast different opinions such as however, on the other hand; or to structure your ideas e.g. firstly, secondly, finally, to sum up. Try to learn how to use four or five of these correctly.
- Language refers to your use of grammar and vocabulary. Try to use a mix of simple and more complex grammatical forms, such as conditionals, passives, gerunds, relative clauses, inversion and reported speech where appropriate. Examiners will give you points for more complicated language even if it isn’t completely correct.
- Try to use a mix of tenses if you can. Think about perfect and continuous forms, don’t just write in present and past simple.
- You will gain points for using less common vocabulary, so try to learn synonyms and different expressions for common words. Look at your writing texts and identify words you use and repeat often and find alternatives.
- Spelling is marked under language. Make sure that you have time in the exam to read what you have written and correct any mistakes you have made. While you are preparing for the exam, identify words you have spelt wrongly and make sure you correct them and log them in your vocabulary book.
- Make sure you write a plan before you start. Examiners will look at your plan if you haven’t finished the task, and may be able to give you points for content and language based on this. It also shows you are organised.
- Write in pen, NOT PENCIL as it is extremely difficult to read. Write clearly. If the examiner cannot read your handwriting they will mark it 0.