Some tricks to check whether an expression is formal or informal (apart from looking it up in a few kinds of dictionaries or asking your teacher):

  • long Latin words (apprehension) and weird Germanic words (strength) are almost always formal (or neutral, so they are OK in a formal setting)
  • Use Enter your expression in the search box. A table with your expression should appear. Click your expression to show examples of its use. In a column to the left of the examples you shall see where the examples are from. If it’s “conv” (conversations), your expression is informal. If it’s “ac” (academic), it’s formal.
  • this blog is not written in formal English


Essay tips.

First of all, please read all the previous posts on exam writing 🙂

When writing a CAE essay,  as part of your task you are given three arguments with an ready-made sentence for each argument. Remember to only use two of the arguments and, if you wish to use the sentences, never ever copy them – they are not in formal English anyway.

The easiest way to rewrite the sentences is to use passive, along with long words of Latin origin, some of which could be adverbs. See previous posts with lists of formal writing vocabulary. For example, “We need fewer cars on the roads” gets transformed into “A lower number of vehicles on the roads shall certainly be appreciated by local inhabitants”.

Essay – 4-paragraph structure:

  1. a) an opening statement to engage reader’s interest, b) two sentences introducing the reasons for the proposition, c) a closing sentence showing that the matter is urgent
  2. a) sentence introducing the first approach, b) two advantages/ reasons/ examples of the approach, c) a disadvantage of the approach and/or a possible outcome of implementing it
  3. Same as the second paragraph but about the second approach
  4. a) one-sentence comparison of the two approaches, b) indicating which of the two approaches is better, c) explaining why,  d) final recommendation

Begin collecting vocabulary for each element of the structure! Here are some examples:

1a. At the beginning of the 20th/21st century… It is widely known how important… Today’s world is forever changing.

1b. The simple fact is that… It seems ironic that…

1c. It is an issue that x must address. The question is…

2a. One approach that x could take is…

2b. In certain countries, for example, … In some cases, … also … According to… In addition, …

2c. Unfortunately, …

3a. An alternative approach would be to…

4a. In conclusion, … , but in the long term, …

4c. This is the strategy that I would recommend x adopt.


The word limit. It’s the same for both your writings: between 220 and 260 words. I’ll tell you a secret though – it doesn’t matter! Don’t waste your precious exam time on counting the words while you’re writing.

If you’re doing your writing right, it can’t be either too short or too long. If it’s too short, you didn’t follow the requirements of each genre – I shall write more about those in my upcoming posts. For example, in an essay you might not have provided two explanations for each of your two arguments. On the other hand, if it’s too long, you probably offered too many explanations, maybe you repeated your ideas or you got lost.

I guess it’s better, if anything, to pay attention to the number of lines. An essay introduction should be 4-6 lines long, the following two paragraphs 6-8, and the conclusion 3-5.

If you find yourself writing pieces that are too short because you lack ideas, remember to use synonyms, sprinkle your writing with a few adverbs (clearly, basically etc. – see my previous posts on writing vocabulary) and, most importantly, remember that you don’t have to be creative, original or interesting in your writing. Not this time. You can say things that are blatantly obvious (smoking is bad for your health) or invent completely ridiculous explanations (smoking in public places should be banned because if people smell bad, they kiss less, which leads to a lower number of children in the society).

If your writing tends to be too long, rigidly follow the structure of each genre, get rid of any repetitions and remember not to use more than one linking word per sentence (well, one of the two sentences you are linking may contain a relative clause, that’s OK).

keep reading writing samples and studying writing vocabulary! My posts on exam writing genres are coming soon.


Since I’ve been bombarding you with vocabulary lists lately, I think it’s time to show you yet another method of studying vocabulary – and, as what I’m covering now is CAE Writing, here is a worksheet I use to revise essay vocabulary by means of synonyms and little Post-its.

Prepare some post-its (little reusable sticky pieces of paper) with the vocabulary you wish to study. Here you can see that grouped into: verbs (with prepositions, if necessary), noun phrases (so much better than single nouns), adjectives/adverbs and linking. i suppose it’s nicer to study if you use different colours and arrangements.

Write the synonym of each word/expression directly under each piece of paper, on the large sheet. (Another way of doing this is using your language on the pieces of paper and English on the large sheet. However, personally I don’t recommend translation at the advanced level if synonyms can be used instead.)

To study, remove all pieces of paper, then stick them in the correct places. A more difficult option is to guess what’s under each piece of paper.

If you need a hint, just move the piece of paper a little bit to reveal the first letters.


If you’d like to recreate this particular worksheet, the pairs were as follows:

to lead to sth – to result in sth

to point sth out – to claim

to decline – to plummet

to grow – to soar

to distinguish – to draw a distinction

a serious disadvantage – a major drawback

important implications for sth – profound impact on sth

latest research – recent findings

the rapid growth -the significant rise

a source of sth – a trigger for sth

due to sth – owing to sth

whereas – while

mainly – largely

essential – vital

general – widespread

On the whole, … – By and large, …

It should be noted that… – It is worth bearing in mind that…

This means that… – …, which means that…

As to… – With regard to…

The main dangers are x of y, as well as nn and mm. = Apart from x of y, the main dangers are nn and mm.