What will you write?
In the FCE exam you will be required to write two pieces. Each of them must be between 140 – 190 words. You will have a total of 80 minutes to do this. In part 1, you must write an essay (I will show you how to write 2 kinds of essay) and in part 2 you will have a choice of 3 options from any of the following:
- Formal letter or email
- Informal letter or email
How will you be marked?
The examiner will mark you based on 4 criteria:
- Content. Did you answer the question fully? Did you include the necessary information, or did you add unimportant information?
- Communicative Achievement. Did you use the correct level of language? Did you use the correct format?
- Organisation. Did you use what you learned in the grammar section to link your sentences? Do your paragraphs flow nicely from start to finish?
- Language. Did you use a lot of high level vocabulary? Did you make mistakes with your grammar, spelling and punctuation?
Planning and Time Management
- Although you will have a total of 80 minutes to write both parts of the test, most students find part one more difficult. Therefore, I would suggest spending more time on part 1 than part 2. I recommend around 45 minutes for the essay and 35 minutes for part 2.
- Even though you will probably want to start writing straight away, I would strongly recommend that you write a plan for your essay. You should leave at least 5 minutes for this, and a few minutes at least to check your writing once you have finished.
Writing Part 1
- Essays are a FORMAL piece of writing. Therefore you should use a good range of academic vocabulary and lots of complex sentences (see the Grammar section for lessons on Simple, Compound and Complex sentences)
- Try not to use too many phrasal verbs if there is a more academic word available. For example, instead of wake up you could use the more academic word awaken, or instead of look up to you could use admire etc. Of course, if you cannot think of an alternative, phrasal verbs are okay
- No contractions in an essay. Write do not instead of don’t and I will instead of I’ll etc.
- The FCE essay questions will always give you 2 topics to write about, but you must choose a third topic yourself.
Example Essay Questions and Answers
- Let’s look at 2 example essay questions and plan how we can answer each one by following the links below.
- EXAMPLE 1.
- This question can best be answered by choosing a side – Yes we can, or no we cannot.
- For this kind of question, I recommend writing a 5 paragraph Opinion Essay
- Follow this link for the structure of a 5 paragraph Opinion Essay
- Follow this link to see a guide to answering the above question
- Click on the link below to see the completed essay, which follows the above guide
- EXAMPLE 2
Is it better to take public or private transport?
3. ……….(your own idea) (convenience)
- This question is best answered by looking at BOTH options and their advantages (and disadvantages).
- For this kind of question with 2 options, I recommend writing a 4 paragraph balanced essay.
- Follow this link for the structure of a 4 paragraph balanced essay
- Click on the link below to see the completed essay, which follows the above guide
Writing Part 2
As mentioned above, in part 2 of the FCE writing exam, you have 5 possible options, 3 of which will be available on the test. The good news here is that if you do not enjoy formal writing (and most students don’t), there will always be at least 1 informal option (informal email, article or review). Therefore, I will start with these 3 options first.
An article is an informal piece of writing. Generally speaking, I find that most of my students choose to write an article if it is available in part 2 of the writing test. This is because an article is written as though you were using spoken English, and it is likely that you have written something similar before (in your own language if not English).
- Articles are not formal like an essay and as such, you can use a lot of phrasal verbs. You can also use contractions (such as can’t, I’ll, I’ve etc.) and even some commonly understood slang or idioms.
- It is okay to express your own opinion and give your own examples.
- You can ask the reader a question (e.g. Do you enjoy adrenaline and water sports? If so, you should try surfing!)
- ! is acceptable in an article.
- Despite being informal, articles must have paragraphs.
- An article has an interesting, catchy title. (e.g. For an article about your favourite hobby, you could use Surfing – the Hawaiian sport of Kings )
- Look at the question to see who your (imaginary) readers are and then write in an interesting way, using lots of descriptive language (adjectives), that will keep your readers interested.
Example Article Questions
Common types of questions in the FCE exam start in a similar way – “You see this announcement in an English language newspaper/ school/ university magazine” etc.
The topic of the article is usually something to do with free time activities, like a sport or hobby. They could also ask you to write about ways to keep fit and healthy. They may even ask you about something you have learned, or something surprising that has happened to you. The main thing is to make your article as interesting as possible. That means no boring words like good or nice!
Here is an example article question from an online Cambridge FCE exam.
The most useful thing I have ever learned.
What is the most useful thing you have learned? Who did you learn it from? Why is it useful?
Write us an article answering these questions. We will publish the best articles on our website.
How to do it.
Looking at the above question, you must always make sure that you deal with every part of the task. The question above has 3 parts:
- What was it?
- Who did you learn from?
- Why is it useful?
You could add an introduction and conclusion and write 5 paragraphs, or combine the first point (what was it?) with an introduction and write 4 paragraphs. There is no set number of paragraphs to write, so either would be fine. Here’s an example answer to the question above.
A review is very similar to an article, but with a specific purpose – to recommend something (or not to recommend it). You may be asked to write a review of a movie, a book, a restaurant or café, or even a place (such as a hotel, or local attraction).
A review is a great opportunity to show off your range of vocabulary, particularly good descriptive language with lots of adjectives. Like an article, a review needs a title, which will usually be the name of the book/movie/restaurant/place you are reviewing. As with all of your writing for FCE, it needs paragraphs too.
A typical review question might look something like this:
You see this announcement in your local English – language newspaper/ college magazine.
Have you read a book or seen a movie recently that you think others would enjoy? If so, we would like to hear from you! Write a review of the film or book and say why others might like it.
write your review.
For a review like this, you will need to use some topic specific vocabulary, such as the setting, the plot (story), the characters/actors, the performance (for a movie), soundtrack and visual effects (for a film).
If your review were for a restaurant or café, you would need to use lots of adjectives to describe the food, atmosphere, location, interior, service and staff. You would also comment on the quality and price of the food.
In both cases, your review would finish with some kind of recommendation.
Take a look at this power point presentation for more hints about review writing, and an excellent (A+) example of a film review (Yours doesn’t have to be this complex to pass the FCE exam; this example would be a high mark in even the CAE exam)
3. Informal Letters and Emails
The last of the more informal pieces of writing that you may be asked to do, is an informal letter or email. Much like the article, you can use a lot more informal language here. When writing an informal email or letter, use a friendly tone and start with a phrase like….
Dear _______. It’s good to hear from you,
Dear ______. Thanks for your email/letter; I’m so happy to hear that you’re thinking of visiting etc.
You should finish your email/ letter with something friendly like…
I hope you have a great time.
Looking forward to seeing/ hearing from you soon.
Now, let’s look at an example question.
You have received an email from your Australian friend Mick. Read this part of his letter.
I’m thinking of visiting your country later this year, in summer. I am really interested in seeing some native wildlife, and beautiful scenery. Could you advise me on where I should go, what I should see and the best way of getting around while I’m there?
All the best.
- When answering the above question, you should show Mick that you have read his email, by saying something like
Dear Mick. I am really excited to hear that you are thinking of visiting my country this year!
- You should also make sure that you highlight the points you need to cover in your response, and answer them all. In this case you need to tell Mick
Where to go, what to see, and how to get around – and remember that he wants to see native animals and nice scenery.
- You will be giving Mick some advice, so you should think about ways of doing this in English. For example….
- If I were you, I would….
- I would advise you to (go/see/do something)
- You should…..
- Make sure you….
- A good idea would be to…..
- You should also give reasons for your advice.
Take a look at the example email below and try to find all of the suggestions above in the letter.