On the day of taking your CAE exam, you write the Reading and Use of English Paper first and then, after a short break, it’s time for the Writing paper: an essay and another piece of writing (a report, a proposal, a review or some kind of letter – you get three options to choose from) in 90 minutes.
90 minutes! When many of you need something like two hours to prepare, write and correct ONE piece of writing at home! Fortunately, there are a lot of strategies to help you. Frankly, writing is the easiest, most controllable part of the exam – if you prepare well – and if you know HOW to prepare.
My strategies for how to prepare in general are as follows:
- Study a lot (see my future posts) remembering that this is the only paper for which you can actually learn (almost) EVERYTHING.
- Not only write, but also read CAE writings.
- Ask your teacher to correct only the most difficult mistakes in your writing. The rest he or she should just underline and say whether it’s a grammar/ register/ punctuation/ etc. mistake. Your teacher should teach you how to correct your mistake, where to look for the answers – not just to write something wrong and then throw it away without even trying to understand his/her corrections.
- Study the vocabulary you need for CAE writing, collecting words and expressions from various examples of CAE writing.
- Once you’ve written a few examples of each genre, start writing with a time limit.
- If you don’t usually write in hand, start doing it on everyday basis to get faster and avoid muscle pain in your hand.
- Don’t try to be creative – it’s better to stick to fixed expressions and it’s OBLIGATORY to stick to the expected form of each genre. CAE writing is about practice, not talent.
In the exam:
- As I said, don’t try to be creative – just follow the form of each genre using the expressions and adverbs you have learned (more on those in my future posts).
- Don’t write a draft to be copied at the end of the exam – you might run out of time! It’s better to write clearly and in relatively small letters, so that, when you cross things out, you have space to insert your corrections. Don’t use erasable pens – they are forbidden. Also, don’t write on the margins – all writings get scanned and the margins might not be visible on the scan.
My rules for the content of your writing are (I’m going to explain them in detail in future posts):
- Follow the form expected of each writing genre (like the number and content of the paragraphs).
- Use linking words (but only one or two per sentence – English formal sentences are not as long as, say, Spanish ones).
- Use fixed expressions, adequate for a given genre.
- Use adverbs (but not too many, usually 4-7 are enough).
- Use synonyms instead of the most common words (nice, people, many, like…).
- Avoid informal vocabulary in a formal piece of writing (“a lot of”, for example, is informal, as well as all contractions such as “don’t”). Using passive voice is a great way of making your writing more formal.
This is exactly how you go about it: read the instructions; decide how many paragraphs you will need; decide how to start and link the paragraphs; find some key words in the instructions and prepare a couple of synonyms for each; write the piece; sprinkle it with adverbs; finally, proofread trying to watch out for repetitions and informal vocabulary. You have 45 minutes!