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How to write a Cambridge essay

Many of the points I discussed in the article about IELTS writing apply to Cambridge writing too; similarly, the points in this blog post will mostly apply to IELTS candidates.

A formulaic question needs a formulaic answer! For me, one of the things that makes Cambridge writing a little easier than IELTS is that your essay question will always have the same format - you cannot be tricked intro writing the 'wrong' kind of essay. And, because the essay will always be the same, you can (and should, in my opinion) always structure your answer in the same way.

Why? - because most candidates find it difficult to fulfil the question requirements and memorising a specific structure can help you to do this successfully. I teach specific essay structures for each Cambridge exam but you can also do some research into other ways of answering the essay questions. In short, it doesn't matter what structure you use as long as the structure works and you use it consistently.

Learn lots of topic vocabulary and linking words Just like in IELTS, a broad range of topic vocabulary is important in the Cambridge exams. You need to be prepared to write about any topic that Cambridge give you, from education to art, from the environment to fashion. The higher the exam, the more abstract the vocabulary you will need. Make sure you read about a wide range of topics and take the time to learn interesting words and phrases.

In addition to topic vocabulary, Cambridge want you to use linking words and phrases too. These are level-dependent (so someone at FCE won't need as many complicated linkers as at CPE) so make sure you do your research and can use appropriate linking phrases and devices for your level. As well as linking phrases, you want to think about pronoun referencing and pronoun substitution as well.

Read other people's essays

There are many examples of Cambridge essays available on the internet and in the official Cambridge exam books. Make sure you read some along with the examiner comments. It can be interesting to read an essay, grade it and then compare your grade with the examiner's. Doing this will help clarify what the examiners are looking for in Cambridge essays. It will also expose you to different ways of organising your essay (remember to choose one structure and stick with that!).

Get some feedback on your writing Ideally, you are preparing for the exam with a teacher, but if not you really should get some professional feedback on your writing at least once. It can be very difficult to be objective about your writing and without an expert eye, you may not know if you are doing what Cambridge want you to do. Although some people are reluctant to pay for professional feedback, I believe that this is an investment as you will be much clearer about what you need to improve on and how close you are to being able to take the exam.

Do plenty of timed writing

Timed writing is when you set a timer and aim to complete your essay within the time limit for your exam. It is a crucial part of the exam preparation process and is very different from other writing skills such as practicing planning or re-writing essays. When you do a timed writing, make sure you do not go over the time limit! It is very tempting to just quickly finish off the conclusion, but in the actual exam you will not be allowed extra time. Learning how to complete the tasks within the time-frame is of paramount importance and needs to be practiced so you know you can do it on the day.

Watch video lessons about Cambridge Essay Writing

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