How to write a review for the Cambridge FCE Exam
So, you’re thinking of taking the First Certificate exam? Welcome to this series of posts about the Cambridge B2 First exam, sometimes known as the FCE exam. The whole exam is divided into four different ‘papers’ – Reading & Use of English, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. This page offers a guide to the first part of the Writing exam in the Cambridge B2 First Exam, in which you have to write a Review, what it tests, how to approach it and how to revise for it. Don’t be afraid, Writing part 2 – let’s go!
General Information about the Writing Exam
The Writing exam lasts for an hour and twenty minutes (80 minutes). There are two parts to the Writing exam – in Part 1 you have to write an Essay, and in Part 2 you will be given three options from four (or five, depending on how you count them!) possibilities, and you choose one of them to do. The four (or five) possibilities for Writing part 2 are an Email, a Letter (which is exactly the same as an email, really, so you may as well consider them together), a Report, a Review, or an Article. You have to write the same number of words for each piece of writing: 140-190 words, so you can divide the exam time equally between them – 40 minutes on Part 1, and 40 minutes on Part 2. However, time keeping is up to you – you could spend more time on one of the tasks and less on the other, but that’s not recommended.
What the test involves
As mentioned above, in Part 2 of the Writing exam you will be given three choices from four/five possibilities: an Email/Letter, a Report, a Review, or an Article. In this blog post we’re going to focus on how to write a Review.
In the exam you will be given a short input text which will explain the context that you need to write in, and this will also include at least two points that you must include in your writing.
40 minutes approx. (of the total 80 minutes for the exam)
What's being tested
Your ability to write a review in an interesting way. To be able to provide relevant details and use the correct vocabulary related to the type of review you’re writing. Reviews want to be persuasive, you want the reader to want to read/watch/listen to the thing you’re reviewing.
How to do Writing part 2 - Review
Read the task
The first thing to do is to study the task carefully. What do you need to write the review about? There are lots of different possibilities, but the most common topics are books, TV shows, or films/movies; but it’s also possible that you might have to write a review of a restaurant, hotel, language school, device/gadget, music album, live music performance etc… In fact, anything you can think of that you may have read a review about in the past could appear in the exam. But as I mentioned earlier – the most common are Books, TV shows, or Films/movies – so definitely focus on these.
Make a plan
The plan doesn’t need to be very detailed – just some short notes on what you want to include in each paragraph. You will usually need four paragraphs, but you could write three if you feel there are some ideas that can be grouped together, but four would be ideal.
You will want to begin by giving some factual details about the item you’re reviewing – for example: the author/writer, the main actors involved, the publication/release date etc…
Next you will want to give some brief details about the content of the item. So, if you’re writing about a book you should give a short summary of what happens in the story (but do try to avoid Spoilers!), and you could also explain who the main characters are and what their goals or motivations are within the story.
Your third paragraph should cover the specific things the task has asked you to include, and focus on the most positive aspects of the item. (Reviews are always Positive, in all my years’ experience I don’t recall ever seeing a Negative Review in the exam).
And finally, in your conclusion you’ll give your final opinion on the item and make your recommendations to the reader.
Formal or Informal English?
Reviews can be written mainly in Informal English, so contractions and phrasal verbs are perfectly fine to use – but you can throw in a sentence or two of more Formal English for emphasis. When you have a sentence using a formal grammar structure in the middle of a piece of informal writing, it really stands out and provides a strong emphasis, so this would be appropriate in a review. The most important language thing to consider in a review is topic specific vocabulary – so for example if you’re writing about a film/movie, you’ll want to include words like: actor, cast, crew, script, special effects, director, cinematography, soundtrack etc…
How to organise your time
You should spend about 40 minutes on Part 2 of the exam (and 40 minutes on Part 1). It is up to you exactly how you arrange your time, but I would suggest something like this:
5-10 minutes – Plan and think of ideas
20-25 minutes – Write
5-10 minutes – Check for spelling/grammar mistakes
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I don’t write enough words?
You will lose points for the Content of your essay as you obviously haven’t developed the ideas sufficiently.
What happens if I write too many words?
The examiners will find word 190, and then stop counting, so any words from the one hundred and ninety-first to the end of your essay will be ignored. This could mean that a whole section of your review (likely the final sentences or final paragraph) will not be considered. You’ll then lose points for the Content; and lose points for Organisation.
What if I have never read/watched/listen to an item the task asks me to write about?
Well, you do have the option to choose one of the other Writing part 2 tasks – remember you don’t have to do a review if you don’t want to. However, even having said that, you could invent something – there is no requirement for the book/movie/TV show to be a real book/movie/TV show – (but naturally it is much, much better if it is).
Reviews are a good piece to do because most people have had previous experience of writing reviews – you most probably will have written reviews when you were at school. But a good way to practise is to find reviews in newspapers/magazines or on the internet and to read them to see what kind of information is included and how the review is structured.
Now have a go at this example task.
Thank you for reading our post. For more information about the Cambridge B2 First Exam (FCE) you can check out the official site here.