FCE (First Certificate in English) is a B2 level examination that serves as a bridging test between B1 Preliminary and C1 Advanced. It is a Cambridge Assessment English qualification that testifies that a migrant, for instance, can navigate, work and study on their own in an English-speaking country. B2 First comprises four skills assessments; Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. This article focuses on FCE Writing.
Overview of the FCE Writing Section
The candidate is allowed 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete this section. The test includes two parts. The first question is a compulsory essay. The second offers three choices of text types – report or review, article, e-mail or letter. The candidate must answer one.
The FCE is offered in two versions. B2 First for Schools (FCE) is taken by students and B2 First for General and Higher Education (FCE) is offered to adults. The structure of the written paper remains the same for both versions, with the exception of a set text being offered to school students as an additional choice in the second section. The content, on the other hand, is tailored to satisfy the communicative needs of situations that are anticipated to be frequently encountered by each group.
In the first section of the FCE Writing, the candidate is presented with the title for an essay which is supported by two key ideas that can be associated with the main topic. The candidate is expected to write a 140-190-word essay using the two ideas while bringing in a third idea of their own. This compulsory section evaluates the candidates’ ability to share their opinions on a given topic, identify links between ideas and formulate a new hypothesis based on given information and personal knowledge and experiences. In short, the first section tests the candidates’ ability to express themselves through the written medium.
The topics that are given deal with everyday or general issues and do not require specialized knowledge on the candidates’ part. In the B2 First for Schools (FCE), for example, the topic could be Environmental Pollution Around the World and the key ideas are given would be Transport and Rivers and Seas. The candidate would be expected to discuss the effect of transportation development on the environment and examine how rivers and seas are subjected to pollution through human action. The candidate’s third idea could investigate solutions to the issue, such as those enacted through environmental conservation initiatives.
The second question in the FCE writing test varies in terms of the types of choices provided for students and adults. B2 First for Students does not include report writing but may include essay writing and storytelling which are not offered to adult candidates. The word limit range for this question is 140 – 190 words.
Students are also offered the additional choice of a set text question. This includes studying a given text prior to the examination, either in text or video format. From January 2019 – December 2020, the recommended text is Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The edition suggested is the Oxford Bookworms Edition as its language and vocabulary are evaluated to be best suited to the B2 level learner. Candidates and educators, however, are free to use whichever version they prefer. Candidates are not encouraged to take up the set text question if they haven’t been exposed to the text beforehand.
In the case of the other options in the FCE Writing Section, candidates will be informed of the purpose of the topic and the target audience so that the tone and the direction of the answer can be appropriately guided. Candidates will also be offered contextual information; situational details, for better comprehension. Candidates could be expected to write book reviews, reply to e-mails from friends, or articles on topics such as The Most Useful Thing I Have Ever Learned, for example.
How is FCE Writing Assessed?
Candidates are assessed based on the Writing Assessment Scale. The four subscales are Content, Communicative Achievement, Organization, and Language. The candidates’ answers are evaluated and categorized under six bands from 0-5. Written content that scores band 3 or above is considered to be at the B2 level.
- Content – This measure examines whether the candidate has completed the task properly. In short, have they performed what was required of them. A band 3 candidate would have minor inconsistencies, but would, on the whole, manage to communicate relevant ideas and content to the target audience.
- Communicative Achievement– This scale evaluates whether the content written is appropriate for the task. A band 3 candidate in FCE Writing would ensure that the reader’s attention is sufficiently retained and that the ideas are transmitted adequately.
- Organization – Is the written piece logically formulated and do the ideas convey good flow and structure? The written text would be coherently organized using linking terms such as modals and conjunctions where necessary, in the case of a band 3 candidate.
- Language – This involves syntax and diction. Has the candidate used a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures accurately and appropriately? A band 3 candidate would have minor errors in badly placed vocabulary and loosely formed grammar structures, which do not hinder the writer’s ability to convey key ideas to the reader. Simple and complex sentences coupled with day-to-day vocabulary would be sufficiently used.
To score a higher band (4-5) in the FCE Writing, the candidate would have to use content that is completely relevant to the task, managing to successfully convey all ideas to the reader. The text should have to be creatively organized in an engaging fashion without risking the loss of coherence in any way. The use of complex, uncommon, and novel grammatical structures together with researched diction should enable candidates to create their own flair in their writing. Even a band 5 candidate is allowed an occasional error, so long as it doesn’t undermine the quality of the written piece or impede communication.
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Tips on Scoring Well in the FCE Writing Section
1. Use Official Sample Tests
The official website for Cambridge exams; https://www.cambridgeenglish.org provides an ample amount of resources for any learner. The sample written tests provided can give a candidate a better grasp of what to expect on the day of the exam. The first step in preparing for the exam is to familiarize oneself with the format of the paper and the way in which the questions are presented.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect! There are 6 text types that could appear in the FCE writing test. By practicing writing each, the candidate will only have to fit the content of the question into a structure that they are already familiar with. There are many sample texts available online for each category. Topics and questions can be extracted from sample papers on the official website.
3. Manage your time well
Time management is essential. Reading the question properly is vital. Pre-structuring is key to writing a good answer in the FCE writing exam. First, allocate 5 minutes to reading the questions and making selections. Use another 5 or 10 minutes to jot down a very basic skeleton structure for the two answers while reading. Then divide the remaining 70-60 minutes appropriately, depending on how difficult the questions are. Spending too much time on one question will only take away time from the other. Practicing within this time frame beforehand will make time allocation much easier during the exam.
4. Use Grammar Software to Improve
Once a few answers are written, they can be edited to improve grammar and vocabulary. Using the thesaurus feature in MS Word to search for synonyms or using apps such as ProWritingAid Grammar Checker could help improve syntax and diction. Reading essays, reports, articles and other written content can provide sufficient exposure to writing styles which will help develop a personal flair. Exchanging written material such as letters and e-mails with a study partner or a more fluent friend can significantly improve language skills.
I hope that this article on the FCE writing was helpful. To know more information on studying abroad, check out the Available Programs for International Students.