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How to write an essay for the CAE exam

1. Introduction

You will be given 90 minutes to write two texts. Each text should be about 220-260 words in length.

Part 1 is always an essay, and part 2 gives you have a choice of 3 tasks (letter/email; proposal; report; review).

The examiners will assess you on these four things for both of the writing tasks:

  • Content – Did you complete the task you were asked to do?
  • Communicative achievement – Did you use the correct tone and amount of formality?
  • Organisation – Did you link the paragraphs together so that they flow together in a coherent way?
  • Language – Did you demonstrate your range of vocabulary or did you only use First Certificate words? Did you make lots of grammar and/or spelling mistakes?

2. Managing your time

You will be given 90 minutes to write the two texts. Both texts will be roughly the same length, and are worth an equal number of points, so ensure that you spend approximately 45 minutes on each.  It is strongly recommend that you spend an adequate amount of time planning your work as having a plan of what you are going to write and the points you will want to include, will ultimately save you time. Here is a guide as to how long each part should take (depending of course on how fast you are able to write):

  • Planning – 10 minutes
  • Writing – 25 minutes
  • Checking – 10 minutes


3. Don’t embark on the journey without a map

A lot of students think planning how to write the texts wastes valuable writing time. But do intelligent and sensible people set off on journeys without knowing which direction and route they will be taking? No they do not! Instead they look ahead at the route, plan accordingly and try to foresee potential obstacles in advance.

Your route and direction will be your plan. Consider how many paragraphs to write and then make brief notes on the contents of each. Now is also a good time to start thinking about the sort of language you want to use. Ask yourself the following things:

  • Where can I use the passive voice?
  • What linking words or phrases can I use to smoothly connect each paragraph?
  • What CAE-level vocabulary can I use to demonstrate my knowledge at the required level on this topic?


Thinking about potential solutions before the writing begins is an excellent way to start.

4. Content

Part 1

Part 1 of the paper requires you to choose two from three points on a given topic and talk about them in the essay and you should aim to write approximately 220-260 words. Consider that you may have to explain which of the two points is more important, and remember that you will always have to justify your opinions with reasons. The task is to be as discursive as possible so ensure that you cover both of your chosen points in enough depth. Ensure your style is clear and coherent and follows a logical format. Don’t bother to include anything irrelevant as it’ll mean you miss out important points out and overall it will have a negative effect on your writing.

Part 2

Part 2 has three questions, from which you must choose only one to answer. Again, you should aim to write 220 – 260 words. The task could be to write a letter, an email, a proposal, a report or a review. In this part of the test you will be given a clear remit as to what to include (and a reason for writing) but don’t let this stop you being imaginative and inventive in the writing process.


5. Communicative Achievement

Think about your tone: who is your audience and how would they expect to be addressed? ‘Dear Madam or Sir’, or ‘Hiya’? Naturally it will depend on your audience and clearly if it is a serious organisation/person then formal language must be used. One of the most important points is to try and be as consistent with your language as possible. Remember not to include exclamation marks, slang, contractions, or any informal vocabulary. Demonstrate control over your language at all times. It is worth investing some time ensuring that you know the difference between a letter and an essay, and between a report and a proposal so do some research beforehand and read some model answer texts online before the exam. Remember: forewarned is forearmed!

6. Organisation

Cambridge is looking for linking words and cohesive devices which give your writing ebb and flow.

For example:

For introducing the topic:


  • It is often claimed that…(people today read less than they did in the past)
  • Many people contend that (climate change is the most serious problem we face)


Linking ideas:


  • While it is true that… (young people make extensive use of mobile phone technology, this is not the case that this has made them less literate than their parents)
  • That may well be so, but, surely.. (people throw away food because they are simply unaware of the dreadful moral and economic cost of such a practice, both or themselves, and for others).


Giving opinions


  • I can honestly say that… (I would wholeheartedly support such a plan).
  • In my view,..(the first of those approaches is more likely to be more successful because…)
  • As I see it..(no one solution can be applied to such a complex issue).




  • On balance..(I believe that the best solution is to reduce spending on new building projects)
  • Taking everything into consideration, there are many good arguments for.. (providing young women with grants to continue their education).



7. Language


In addition to organising your text, using the right linking words, and getting all of your points across (which is an excellent start) you will also need to use advanced vocabulary in this exam along with more difficult and sophisticated sentence structures, so as to achieve the desired high score.

During your planning stage of the exam think about which advanced, high-level words you know for the topic and which will create the right amount of impact for writing at this level, considering how you can use each one and in which paragraph. For example, if the topic is about the environment thinking about using words such as to ail (e.g. ‘the huge trees had been ailing for years before they were cut down’), biodiversity (‘understanding the sheer scale of biodiversity on the planet is undoubtedly a hurdle’) and fertile (‘the fertile land is where vegetation can flourish).

Then you need to consider using a variety of structures -the more variety you can demonstrate the better. Remember also to vary your sentence length in order to maintain a melodic tempo as opposed to a dull tone, one that sounds monotonous to the reader. Finally, avoid repeating the same words and demonstrate your range of vocabulary by incorporating plenty of synonyms.

Finally: good luck! And remember that preparation is the key to success!

Sample CAE essay 

What’s the best way of encouraging people to lead healthier lifestyles?

  • television advertising*
  • government campaigns
  • education in schools*


Nowadays it is widely known that leading an active lifestyle and following a healthy diet promotes longevity of life and higher levels of fitness; keeping the body strong and helping to fight disease. In fact, the list of benefits of leading such a lifestyle are fairly endless. Yet, large numbers of people seem to be either unaware, or are choosing to ignore this message. So what do we do?

Arguably television advertising is one of the most powerful marketing tools available to us and so it would seem foolish not to utilise it for these purposes. Using TV to actively promote images of people leading healthier, happier lives due to cutting back on junk foods, sugar, alcohol and tobacco; and instead taking regular exercise and eating a balanced diet would seem like a sensible way to approach the issue, given the vastness of television audiences.

Additionally, tackling the issue with children and introducing concepts of healthy eating etc. in schools could be another way of promoting the message. Teaching youngsters about the benefits of leading healthier lifestyles are ideas and concepts that will hopefully stay with them throughout their lives.

In conclusion, the most important thing is to ensure people take the advice in the positive spirit that it is intended.  Any overtones of ‘nanny-state’ style directives should be avoided due to their negative overtones. People must feel they are making the right choices for themselves, and not because the state or the government is telling them to. Ultimately it should be about spreading information positively, rather than dictating.

(259 words)