Students take language certifications like the Cambridge B2 First qualification for lots of different reasons. You might do it to motivate yourself to improve your language abilities, to prove your level of English to an employer, or even to achieve an ambition like travelling around the world and going to live in an English-speaking country.
The Cambridge B2 First exam includes a two-part writing section, which can be daunting for some people. So if you’re thinking about taking an exam like this, we have some top tips to help you write an excellent exam essay.
Most of the advice in this article can also be applied to any exam where you have to write an essay, such as the C1 Advanced, C2 Proficiency or IELTS.
Before we get into the details, let’s take a look at the structure of the writing paper. You have 80 minutes to write two texts – and it will go quickly!
The first part is the essay; the second part is an article, email, letter, report, or review.
You will be given the essay title and two ideas or prompts. It’s essential that you include both of these ideas in your essay, as well as another relevant idea that you have to come up with yourself.
You have to write 140-190 words in each part and it shouldn’t take you more than 40 minutes per answer.
Take a look at this example from a sample paper and then think about how you would answer it in an exam:
Some parents teach their children at home rather than sending them to school. Is this a good or a bad thing for the children?
Question taken from http://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-tests/first/exam-format/ (Cambridge Assessment English, Feb 2018).
What could the third idea be? Stop reading, grab a pen and write down some ideas! Keep them general, but relevant. When you’ve finished, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see some of our ideas*.
That’s what my old history teacher used to tell me. I hate to admit it, but he was right! If you don’t usually plan before you start writing, you really need to get into the habit. Ten minutes may seem a lot, but the more time you spend planning, the clearer your ideas will be and the quicker the writing process will be.
A good place to start is to brainstorm keywords and phrases related to the topic.
Next, you should think about how you’re going to begin (the introduction), how you’re going to connect the three main ideas (the body) and how you’re going to finish (the conclusion). If you know where you’re headed, you’re much less likely to get lost along the way!
OK, you’ve got our plan – you’re good to go! It’s important to know what the examiners are looking for. The mark you get for the essay is based on the following four aspects:
Content: Have you included all three ideas? Remember, all content should be 100% relevant to the topic, so don’t go off on a tangent!
Communicative achievement: Is the style or tone of your essay appropriate? It should be neutral and quite formal, so avoid contractions (e.g. it’s, don’t, they’ll) and first person pronouns (e.g. I, me, my, we, us, our).
Organisation: Does your essay follow a logical order? To help your writing flow, try to include linking words. Here’s a website with some examples.
Language: Have you used a variety of vocabulary and grammatical structures? Don’t always write the first word that comes to mind – look for synonyms. Using some complex structures (e.g. different verb tenses, passives, inversion) will boost your marks, but be sure to use them correctly!
This final step is essential. It’s your chance to read (and re-read) your essay to identify any mistakes. No matter how careful you’ve been, there are probably a few things that you can improve. Check for spellings. Check for plurals. Check for verb agreement. Basically, check everything!
There are many benefits of earning an English certification, but before you decide to do so, it’s very important to check your English level. This will help you select the right exam course and make sure you don’t waste time completing one that’s too hard or too easy for you.
If you decide to do an exam preparation course with us, one of our trained level testers will work with you to assess your level. But, if you can’t wait until then, here’s a multiple-choice test for you to complete to give you some idea.
This article also outlines the differences between the Cambridge and IELTS exams to help you decide which exam is for you.
Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.
Daunting (adj): something that worries you because it might seem difficult to do.
Prompts (n): something serving to suggest or remind.
To come up with (pv): to think of something such as an idea or a plan.
To get into the habit (exp): to begin to do something regularly or often.
Headed (adj): destined for.
You’re good to go! (exp): you’re ready!
To go off on a tangent (exp): to start doing, discussing, or thinking about something completely different.
To flow (v): to proceed smoothly and continuously.
n = noun
adj = adjective
pv = phrasal verb
exp = expression
v = verb
*Example ideas: ‘group work’, ‘bullying’, ‘class sizes’, ‘working parents’, ‘free curriculum’