Experiences of an English Language Teacher

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.


  1. Lindsay

    Hi there!
    Thanks for directing my attention to this post, which looks like a very clear and useful “first things first” guide for learners. The list you provide at the end is helpful in terms of selecting items for a syllabus.
    I notice you mention about the marking scheme of 0 to 5. Might it be helpful for readers to know the different areas? When I was oral examining the FCE some five or six years ago there were several different areas we needed to look at. Have things changed for the written exam?

  2. Martin,

    Glad to hear this from an actual factual examiner! KISS is exactly what we tell our students here – brainstorm it, plan it, format it, then scribble neatly!

    I tell my candidates that selecting the correct format/style & degree of politeness is half the points in the bag already. If they have great answers but incorrectly set out > never going to get more than 3.

    T/F ?!

    The OE's band descriptors have changed in the last couple of years to better reflect CEFR “can do” across lower & upper main suite. They are simpler, too, and 'nest' easily. The main aspects that OEs focus on are by & large unchanged.

    Look forward to Part 2!


  3. @Lindsey; Thank you for your comment. It is much appreciated. I have mentioned briefly in the post about what examiners are looking for in the script; “Examiners will be checking for the range of vocabulary used, accuracy of grammar/lexis, as well as the suitability of language used.” I could breakdown the marking criteria for each level but what I have at the moment is considered confidential by Cambridge ESOL, so I didn't wish to disclose too much at the moment. I shall try to update where possible if further information is available in the public domain.

    @Jim; Thank you as well for your feedback. That's great. I must agree with your point with regards to marking and incorrectly set out. However, if the points are covered in the answer but in a different order (eg. 1,3,4&2), students would not be penalised as long as the text is following a logical manner.

  4. Mariel

    Thank you, Martin, for coverage of the writing paper in FCe, probably the one we teachers have more doubts about.

    Readers of this post may find it useful to refer to https://www.teachers.cambridgeesol.org/ts/digitalAssets/109701_fce_hb_dec08.pdf where they will find descriptors for each band of writing (p. 29) and the criteria for assessment of speaking (p. 86)

    More detailed comments on each administration can be found in the reports, eg https://www.teachers.cambridgeesol.org/ts/digitalAssets/114217_FCE_Exam_report_-_Dec_09.pdf

  5. Mariel. Thank you for your comment about the band descriptors. I am glad they are available to view.

    The comments available for students/teachers on the FCE Examination via Cambridge ESOL are invaluable and I would definitely recommend any teacher to read and print this.

  6. Thanks a lot for sharing this nice and informative post, This posts shows your efforts that how do you cover any topic research. I really like your blog because your blog has updated posts on different current issues. I would request you to keep sharing your thoughts.

    Essay Writing

  7. Thank you Karen. You can rest assured that I will continue to post various thoughts and reflections every month and hope that it is useful.

Don't forget to comment on this blog post!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2024 ELT Experiences

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑