How to develop writing for CPE

Have you decided to take a CPE test? Are you struggling to remember all the rules and tips of how to nail the exam? Are you feeling uncomfortable with the production tasks, writing, and speaking? If yes, let’s look at some tips on how you can improve your writing skills for CPE in a more structured way.

First of all, when preparing for a writing exam, any exam for that matter, we are taught to use many linking phrases, ‘advanced’ words, mind-blowing grammar to impress the examiners. However, we forget the simple truth, that examiners are trained to catch forced structures, unnatural constructions and penalize them accordingly.

As you know, the CPE writing exam has 2 parts:

  • In part 1 candidates are required to write an essay (240-280) words, summarising and evaluating the key ideas and points in two texts of about 100 words. 
  • In part 2 candidates have a choice of task, to write an article, a letter, a report, or a review.

So, let’s look at some ideas that can help to improve writing skills for CPE for both parts.

Essay writing is one of the main writing skills we master starting from school. It is a quite well-versed type of writing among students and they mostly feel quite confident about it. The little difference between school essays and CPE essays is that the students need to base their answers on the two texts suggested by the paper. As for Part 2 writings, they can be new types of exercises for the learners, which need to be dealt with from the very start. Developing skills for both types of writings require the following practices:

  • Make sure your students remember/know the basic rules of essay writing — paraphrasing the main ideas, using topic sentences, linking phrases, a summary, etc. Teach the basic principles of Part 2 writing tasks. There are many resources on the web which cover all of them. 

How to write an ‘Opinion’ essay 

How to write a ‘For and Against’ essay 

Stages of a writing lesson 1

Stages of a writing lesson 2

How to write a ‘Report’ 

Writing Part 1&2 guidelines 

  • Start from small things — have students read a short text, underline the main ideas expressed in the text and try to produce an essay by paraphrasing the main ideas in their own words as much as possible. As soon as you see that your students feel comfortable with this, start choosing more challenging texts. In case you have a scarcity of resources, CPE sample paper tasks can be a real lifesaver.
  • Approach the task from the correct angle — it’s important that your students know how to work with each task so that they can make the best of it. When working with Part 1 essay, here are some steps that can help you make your job easier and more constructive.
  1. Teach your students to analyze the 2 texts their essay should be based on. They will need to decide whether the 2 texts are complementing or contrasting each other.
  2. Teach your students to paraphrase and summarize. Encourage them to use some ‘impressive’ structures like passive forms, idiomatic phrases, inversion, etc.
  3. Teach your students to evaluate and react to the text they read. They will need to decide what points they are going to agree/disagree with or support. It’s also important to brainstorm their own opinion and thoughts that will be included in the essay.

Here is a sample essay written by a student. It has sample feedback of the examiner as well.

  • Use sample writings — there are many of these available on the web. Have students look at good samples and make their own piece of writing similar to it. Alternatively, assign the students to analyze bad samples and suggest improvements on how to make them better. In both cases, students will benefit by using their background knowledge and exercising it practically. Here is a good source of sample writings that your students can use.
  • Enrich the vocabulary — no matter how good your students know the structure of different types of writing, enlarging their word-stock is crucial for scoring good results. The ability to manipulate with the words appropriately is a key to show one’s language competency. The same is true for the grammatical structures. To help your students achieve better results, Destination C2 is a good resource to consult. Another nice source for some functional language to be used for CPE writing tasks can be found here.
  • Practice, practice, practice — there is no other way of getting better than practicing. Make sure your students have enough writing assignments to work on and receive appropriate feedback to build their learning on. The best source is probably the official mock tests that Cambridge offers here.
  • Teach your students to reflect After they write, ask them to check and re-check. Answering the following questions might help: Did I do what the task asked for? Is my message clear? Do I need to change anything? Do I need to add something? Though these questions can work with all types of writing exams, they are still worth asking oneself in order to go back and revise the text. Make your students evaluate their writings according to the assessment criteria. 

Here are some book suggestions that may help you to prepare your students for CPE writing.

  1. Longman Exam Skills. CPE Writing.
  2. Objective Proficiency (Cambridge University Press)
  3. Proficiency Masterclass (Oxford University Press)

In a word, exam preparation is a quite standardized procedure. It takes a lot of practice and effort to follow the rules and exam tips and manage to show language competency in general.

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