FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 2)

After writing the initial blog post on Part 1 of the FCE Exam, I was requested to write another blog post offering advice for students and offer some insight for teachers to answer Part 2 of the FCE Examination.  As detailed in my previous blog post, the written element of the FCE Examination is split into two parts.  Part 1 is aimed at getting students to write a letter or email using a variety of prompts, whilst the second part is aimed for more individual and autonomous written work in the exam.  There are normally four questions in the examination, with the final question split between two sub-questions (only one sub-question need answering).  Nevertheless, students are expected to write between 120-180 words for this part.  Below, there is sample of the questions expected in the FCE Examination.

FCE June 2010 – Part 2

When looking at the questions from the sample examination questions above, it requires the student to write on particular topics (either with the style of an essay or report).  Question 2 & 3 are recommended for students to answer as, although no prompts are necessarily provided, it provides the student some foundation of topic to follow.  For example, when students answer Question 2, they could brainstorm areas of importance and prepare their written answers.  Areas that could be included in the essay could be:

  • Languages that the student speaks
  • Why people learn languages
  • Reason/motivation for learning languages
  • Importance with languages

Students could think about areas that they might talk about if they were discussing this topic in class.  However, the student should organise their ideas effectively.  When writing an essay, effective organisation should include a beginning, middle and an end (or in more English friendly terms; an introduction, a conclusion and some important points to add in the middle of the essay).  For example, a good essay could start with the following:

  • Introduction – I have been studying languages since I was young, and started learning French when I was at school at the age of 12.
  • Middle – Nonetheless, many people learn languages for many different reasons; to get a new job, to communicate with friends, to get a promotion.  However, if people are not that motivated in learning a language, they will not succeed in that chosen new language that they are going to study.  I was not that keen on learning French at secondary school and consequently did not become very good at French.  These days I am still not keen on learning French.  Yet when I moved to South Korea, I had a very good reason to learn Korean and mastered this new language to some proficient degree.  It is important for learners of languages to see some reason to learn a language, otherwise the learning of the language will become stale and boring.
  • Conclusion – These days, learning languages could be considered important if it is related to your job and has some reason to a student on a personal level.  I guess people should try to learn any number of languages, as this will open up new ideas, ways of thinking, improve understanding of cultures, etc.  Nevertheless, it is up to personal preference whether a student decides on learning one foriegn language or several.  What is important is that the learner enjoys their experience and journey along the way.

As noted above, the essay is split up into several parts and the ideas suggested above are included.  Within the conclusion of the essay, the question is then answered but is linked to the other sections of the essay.  With this type of question, it is important for the student to plan their answer and use the following to improve the readability of the answer:

  • Linking one sentence to another – Unmotivation of language learning related to a real life experience (French language learning).
  • Usage of discourse markers – It is important for students to learn how to use discourse markers (however, nevertheless, nonetheless, also, in addition, etc) effectively in written English.  Discourse markers are important as they are to illustrate logical relationships and sequence within writing.
  • Number of words – Don’t write too much.  It is simple and expected, but students do make this mistake by writing too much.  Remember, the KISS statement from my previous blog post – Keep It Simple Silly.

The third question offers students to write about their home country.  It is simple enough and most students (given the chance), would be more than happy to talk/write about their own country – I know I would.  Students should follow a similar style to Question 2 when writing this question and they should also try to keep the report on topic.  What topics would you write about if you were given the opportunity to write about your country?  The topics that you may have thought up of could have included places to visit as well as where to eat.  For students, it makes sense for them to make a quick note of famous places to visit as well as places to eat.  Once there are some ideas noted down, students should try to put things into order (as illustrated with the above example), and then write in a suitable and effective manner.

The fourth question is based upon a story for students to write.  The only prompt in the example examination, only provides students with a sentence to continue.  This sentence provides students the opportunity to write creatively.  Students should only attempt to answer this question, should they feel confident about answering it.  Normally, from a marking perspective, most students attempt question two and three.  Question four is only attempted in rare occassions.  When attempted, it is either very good or the candidate has made a pig’s ear of it.  As with Question 4, Question 5 should only be attempted if the student is feeling confident about answering it.  This question is aimed at the book and movie of two popular titles, in this case Jurassic Park and The Woman in White.  Students should feel comfortable when answering these questions and confident when using comparitive/superlative language.  Again, as a marker, not many students attempt this question.

I hope the advice offered in this post is useful to some and that some teachers are able to learn more about Part 2 of the written element of the FCE Examination.

FCE Examination – Writing Tips (Part 1)

I have been an examiner for Cambridge ESOL for around four years.  Initially, I started examining the BULATS in South Korea as an oral examiner.  This opened up the world of examining for me and I have enjoyed every bit of examining each time.  The busiest period for examining, particularly the FCE, is during the summer and winter months.

The First Certificate Examination Writing component is split into two parts.  The first part of the writing test is based around an email or letter that you receive.  Please see the below example of the type of writing set:

FCE Writing – Part 1
As you can see, the first question provides areas for the student to write about.  On the question paper, there are four points; “Thank Mrs Smith”, “Tell her”, “Say which and why”, and “Ask Mrs Smith about”.  The student must cover each point that is suggested and write in an appropriate and accurate format.  For example, the following answer could be used as a template to assist students:

FCE Writing – Part 1 Answer

As you can see with this sample answer, all points are covered.  The examiner will be checking that all the points are answered in a logical and accurate manner.  Marks are awarded between 0-5.  Zero being the lowest mark and five being the highest mark in the FCE.  Examiners will be checking for the range of vocabulary used, accuracy of grammar/lexis, as well as the suitability of language used.  Students should be aware how to write in a semi-formal way for the first part of the FCE Examination.  For example, lexical and grammatical areas that should be understood by the student could include the following:

  1. Writing a letter or email: provide students with sample letters or emails (with mistakes) and have a grammar auction or self-correction lesson.  It is important for students to learn how to start a letter/email as well as how to finish it.  I came across many scripts from students who were unable to correctly start and finish the email.
  2. Topical areas: students should be aware of the lexical connections for explaining their hobbies, interests and leisure activities at a confident level.  Teachers should try to provide lessons based around these areas.  Further topics are suggested below.
  3. Usage of polite questions: students should be able to transpose direct questions to polite indirect questions when writing for the first part of the test.  For example; “How long is the factory visit” to “I would like to know how long the factory visit will take?” and “Is parking available for the school coach?” to “Could you (also) please let me know if there is parking available for our school coach?”
  4. Typical errors: the most typical error (particularly from one geographical area) was the use of idiomatic language, such as; “One the one hand ….”/”On the other hand ….”, “It’s high time that ….” (one unsuitable method of starting a sentence in an email/letter).  I would urge students to start sentences in a simple and natural manner.  If students try too hard to use language/sentence forms that have been memorised, it looks out of place and completely unnatural.

Areas of topics that teachers could cover, for both Part 1 and Part 2 of the FCE Examination, could include the following:

  • Personal information
  • The family
  • Daily activities
  • Home
  • Town and country
  • Travel and tourism
  • Food and drink
  • Describing people
  • Describing things
  • Friends and relationships
  • Health and fitness
  • Leisure time
  • Education
  • The world of work
  • Money
  • Past experience and stories
  • Science and technology
  • Social and environmental issues

I hope the above helps teachers advising students, as well as those studying for the FCE.  Remember the acronym; KISS (Keep It Simple Silly).  If students keep their answers simple, they should find the test easier.  Finally, best of luck for the examination.  I shall be blogging on Part 2 of the FCE Writing element soon so please keep an eye out.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment or contact me.