Why can it be so difficult for students to improve their writing and get better results in the Cambridge First Writing paper? One of the obvious reasons is that we don’t get to practise writing enough! But there are also other reasons. So, what can we do to achieve better marks in the Cambridge First exam? Well, here are 5 tips that we at ESOLmadrid think will help you improve your writing skills and put you on track to pass your exam with higher marks.
1. Learn what each writing task type requires you to do.
So, what do you actually know about the Cambridge First exam? It is essential that you go into the exam prepared and know what you need to do in each paper.
There are five types of writing question on the Writing paper:
You must do two of the writing questions. Everyone has to write an essay, but you then have a choice of a letter (formal or informal), a report, an article or a review.
Each type of writing is unique and has its own style, tone and language. It’s really important that you get these right! For example, a review should have a more relaxed conversational tone, while a letter of complaint should be very formal. It’s very important to understand the differences between each type of writing.
You get marked on Content, Communicative Achievement (using the correct writing features and getting your point across correctly, Organisation (correct paragraphing and use of linkers) and Language (vocabulary and grammar).
If you do not differentiate between the tasks correctly, you will lose points on Communicative Achievement which are the easiest points to get in the writing if it is done correctly.
2. Learn chunks of language.
What are chunks of language, you say?
Chunks are words that commonly go together i.e., ‘I look forward to meeting you’. ‘Kind regards’, ‘a convincing argument’.
Learning chunks of language for each type of writing can really prepare you with a bank of vocabulary that you will need for the exam.
3. Record your errors and rewrite your answers!
Why do some students fear the Writing paper so much? One reason can be because they have a visible record of their errors! But making errors and learning from them is an important part of the language learning process.
A good way to take advantage of this is to keep a written record of your mistakes, especially mistakes that you are constantly repeating, and learn from them. If you are having difficulty with gerunds, for example, then record the error that you made, what the correction was, and make a note of the reason behind it. You can then revise this later and test yourself on your own mistakes.
With essays and articles that you hand in, another great suggestion is to look at your teacher’s feedback, think about how you could change the organisation and language you use to make it better, and then rewrite your answer from scratch taking on board your teacher’s feedback.
4. Learn your synonyms.
So why is it that some students who write with no mistakes still get low marks in their writings? It could be that they get deducted marks for repeating the same vocabulary and not paraphrasing the instructions!
Learning to say the same thing in different ways will not only help you sound more articulate when you speak, but it will also get you more marks in your exam as you will be tested on your range of vocabulary.
You will need to make sure that you are well-equipped with a bank of synonyms relating to different topics and be able to do certain things using different expressions. For example, learn how to ask someone for information in different ways – e.g., ‘I was wondering if you could tell me…’, ‘Could you let me know if…’, ‘do you have any information about….’.
This will make your language richer and will certainly gain you extra marks.