How to write an essay 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 an Essay, what it tests, how to approach it and how to revise for it. Don’t be afraid, Writing part 1 – 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
The essay always follows the same format. You are given a sentence which explains the context in which you’ll be writing – and this context is always the same – you are a ‘student’ and your ‘class/group’ has just studied something and your teacher asks you to write an essay on that subject.
There is then a box containing the Essay Question and two topics to consider related to this, and a gap for your own idea. (You don’t need to write anything in this gap – it’s only there to show you that you need to create an idea of your own). Following this you’ll find the main task instructions, which are always the same – “Write an essay using all the notes and give reasons for your answer”.
40 minutes approx. (of the total 80 minutes for the exam)
What's being tested
Your ability to present an argument and to organise and develop your ideas in a logical and well-constructed way.
How to do Writing part 1 - Essay
Read the task
The first thing to do is to study the task input. You need to identify what the subject of the essay is and think how the two topics given in the notes relate to the subject. Next you will need to think of your own idea to add to the two you’ve been given. Remember, you must add your own idea of them – you will lose points if you only write about the two topics that you’re given.
Make a plan
The plan doesn’t need to be particularly detailed – just some brief notes on what you want to include in each paragraph.
The essay should always be written using four paragraphs. The first paragraph will be an introduction in which you’ll explain the essay question.
The next paragraph should focus on the topics from the notes. Think about how the notes are connected to the main topic and also don’t forget to explain why!
The third paragraph will be the same as the second, but this time you will write about your own idea.
The final paragraph will be the conclusion, and this is where you will want to compare the notes and answer the essay question with your opinion and reasons to support your view.
How to organise your time
You should spend about 40 minutes on Part 1 of the exam (and 40 minutes on Part 2). 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 enough.
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 essay (likely the conclusion) will not be considered. You’ll then lose points for the Content (no conclusion and probably no decision as to which topic is best); and lose points for Organisation.
Do I need to give my essay a title?
You can, you can use the Essay Question as the title if you want.
I hate writing essays; do I have to write one?
The essay will always need to be written using Formal English. You should avoid using slang words and simple language – try using the Passive as much as you can. Phrasal words can be used if you absolutely cannot think of anything else to write BUT you should try to avoid them as much as possible. Avoid using personal pronouns (words like I, me, my etc…) until the final paragraph/conclusion. You should try to show off your English language skills and abilities, so try to include a variety of different grammar points and a wide range of vocabulary. If you can include Passives, Conditionals, Inversions, Complex tenses, Past Modal Verbs etc… your essay will get a high mark for its Language. You can find more information about these grammar points here.
Now have a go at this example task.
When you have finished you can send your essay to the school in an email and we will correct it and sent it back to you! Just write Exam Guide Essay B2 in the Subject line of the email.
Thank you for reading our post. For more information about the Cambridge B2 First Certificate Exam (FCE) you can check out the official site here.