Dear reader… We sincerely hope you enjoyed our previous blog posts about the Writing section of the B2 First. As promised, here’s the latest instalment in the series. That’s right, today we’ll be teaching you how to write a formal letter or email for the B2 First (FCE) exam. One that’s good enough to write home about!

Don’t forget to take a look at our previous blog posts where we teach you about the other writing options:



What’s a formal letter?

A formal letter is an orderly or professional form of communication. It follows a number of conventions related to layout, language and tone, which we’re going to teach you today.

There are two types of formal email or letter you may be asked to write in the B2 First exam – a letter of application and a letter of complaint.

Writing a letter of application

The first example is a letter of application. In this type of task you’ll have to talk about why you’re applying for the position and justify your skills. It could be an application for a part-time job, study or scholarship programme. Here’s a look at the type of question you may see in the exam:


You see this advert on a newspaper website:

Writing a Letter of Application| How to write a B2 First formal email/letter | Oxford House Barcelona

Write your letter of application. (You should write between 140 and 190 words)


Writing a letter of complaint

The other B2 First formal letter you may be required to write is a letter of complaint. This could be a letter to a hotel manager, a shop assistant or organisation. You may be complaining about the quality of a service, product or the organisation of an event. Sometimes you’ll have to request some kind of action or resolution, at other times, you may have to correct a misunderstanding. Here’s an example of a complaint letter question:


Wrting a Letter of complaint | How to write a B2 First formal email/letter| Oxford House Barcelona

Write a letter to the hotel manager. (You should write between 140 and 190 words)


Three steps to writing a formal B2 First email/letter

Before you start scribbling away, it’s important to make a plan! Think about what you need to include in your answer and plan out how it will look on the page. Consider the following things:

Step One: Make a plan

Often the question will require you to do two or three things. It’s important to identify exactly what these are as you can receive five marks for simply answering the question. Let’s take a look back at those initial two questions and underline the key information.

Three steps to writing a formal B2 First email_letter | How to write a B2 First formal email/letter | Oxford House Barcelona


Once you’ve identified exactly what they’re asking you to do, use these details to help craft the perfect structure. Take question A – you want to include all of this information in a logical way:

A) Letter of application

  • Greeting
  • Paragraph 1 – State why you’re writing
  • Paragraph 2 – Relevant experience
  • Paragraph 3 – Creative and athletic hobbies and interests
  • Paragraph 4 – Action you want them to take
  • Closing
Here’s a potential structure for question B, based on what they’re asking you to do in the question:

B) Letter of complaint

  • Greeting
  • Paragraph 1 – State why you’re writing
  • Paragraph 2 – Details of the problem
  • Paragraph 3 – Action you want them to take
  • Closing


Next step is to brainstorm good vocabulary. Pick out some key words from the brief and try to find synonyms to use in your email/letter. You also want to consider any topic-related words that will help you answer the question. For example:

A) Letter of application

  • friendly = warm / outgoing / a people-person
  • enthusiastic = lively / keen / energetic
  • work with young people = babysitting experience / passion for working with kids
  • languages = Spanish, Italian, English, German, French
  • creative hobbies = arts & crafts, sewing, pottery, model making
  • athletic hobbies = volleyball, basketball, cricket, skateboarding, sporty, active

B) Letter of complaint

  • disappointing = unappetising / unappealing / awful
  • not enough = insufficient / inadequate
  • good = fine, satisfactory, excellent, adequate
  • vegetarian options = salad, veggie lasagna, fruit, soups
  • compensation = payment, reimbursement, voucher, solution
  • problem = issue / mix-up / trouble


Remember, this is a formal piece of writing. This means you should keep the tone and language polite at all times. That’s right! At all times – even when you’re complaining. You may be angry, but you’re more likely to resolve the issue if you stay respectful and offer constructive advice whilst being persuasive.


Step Two: Write it

Take it from us, the next stage will be easy if you’ve done your super-duper plan. All you need to do is learn some fixed formal expressions to tie-together your B2 First formal email/letter.


There are several ways to begin a formal email/letter. For example:

  • Dear Sir / Madam, (if you don’t know the name)
  • Dear Mr or Mrs X (if you do know the name)
  • To whom it may concern

Don’t forget to write a comma after the name, and then include a space before starting a new line.

Opening paragraph

When beginning your formal email/letter, it’s essential that you explain to your reader your reasons for writing. Here are some ways to do that:

  • I am writing to apply for the position / role of summer camp leader.
  • I am writing in reference to your recent advertisement.
  • I am writing to complain about…
  • I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with…

Main body

This is where you want to give the details of your application or your complaint. Keep referring back to the question, and remember to keep it formal:

Speaking about your experience and skills (Letter of application)

  • I think I am suitable for the role because…
  • I have X years experience working as a X.
  • My qualifications include…
  • I am currently working as a X
  • In my spare time I enjoy…
  • I am an avid basketball player/cricketer/volleyball player…

Explaining a problem and requesting action (Letter of complaint)

  • Firstly/Secondly,…
  • Unfortunately,…
  • I am very dissatisfied with…
  • As you can appreciate…
  • I’m afraid that…
  • Furthermore,…

Final Paragraph

Here is where you want to create a lasting impression on your reader. You also want to highlight some form of action you want them to take. Take a look at these different ways to do that:

  • I very much hope you will…
  • I look forward to hearing from you soon.
  • I would appreciate it/ be grateful if…
  • I trust you will…


Don’t forget to finish your B2 First formal email/letter with a friendly, but courteous closing phrase. Here are some examples:

  • Yours sincerely, (if you know the name of the recipient)
  • Yours faithfully, (if you don’t know the name of the recipient)
  • Thank you for your consideration, (for a letter of application)
  • I trust you will…

You should then write your full name beneath your sign-off.


Step Three: Check it

Make sure you leave five minutes at the end of the exam to proofread your email/letter and think about the following things:

  • Have you answered all parts of the question?
  • Is the tone formal and polite?
  • Is your spelling, grammar and punctuation correct?
  • Does it have paragraphs?
  • Have you signed off appropriately

So, that’s it for how to write a B2 First formal email/letter. Don’t forget to check out our other B2 First articles on our blog. And we look forward to seeing you in one of Cambridge English summer preparation courses soon!

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

Something to write home about (exp): something exciting or special (often used in negative ‘nothing to write home about’).

Scholarship (n) : an amount of money given to a person by a government or organization to help pay for their education.

Resolution (n): the act of solving a problem or difficulty.

Scribble away (pv): to write intensely.

Craft (v): to make something in a skilled way.

Super-duper (adj): extremely good.

Lasting (adj)): continuing to last for a long time.

Courteous (adj): polite and showing respect.

Proofread (v)): to check a piece of writing for spelling and grammatical errors.


exp = expression

n = noun

pv = phrasal verb

v = verb

adj = adjective

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