In this lesson, you can learn how to write a review for the FCE writing exam. For many people, the writing section is the most challenging part of the FCE test. In this lesson, you’ll see a step-by-step process for writing a review. You’ll see exactly what to do at each stage and how to improve your FCE writing score.
Book reviews wanted
Have your read a book recently that you couldn’t put down? Write a review of the book. Say why you liked it and who you would recommend it to.
The best reviews will be published in the magazine.
There are four steps to writing an effective answer. So, what’s the first step? Read the question and identify exactly what the examiners want from you.
Your FCE writing is assessed on four points:
Each area is worth up to five marks.
First, let’s focus on content. To get five marks for content you need to make sure, “all content is relevant and the reader is fully informed.”
Those aren’t my words—those are the words from the official mark scheme! But what do they mean?
Very simple: they mean you need to do everything the question asks you to do.
Look at our sample question again.
There are three things you need to include in this task; Do you know what they are?
Number one: you need to write a review of a book. This means you should include some basic information about the book, like its title, the author, and what genre it is: crime, historical, romance, etc.
Number two: say why you liked it.
Finally, say who you would recommend it to.
Easy, right? Yes and no. It’s simple, but most people don’t get full marks for content. You should aim to get five out of five. Here’s how you do this:
One: make sure you cover everything fully. Don’t leave any parts of the question out! Two: make sure you cover everything equally. In this question, there are three points to include. You should have a more-or-less equal number of words for each point. Three: make sure you support your ideas with reasons or details. Four: don’t include anything unnecessary or irrelevant. Your task is to do what the question asks, and nothing more!
Now, you’ve identified the three things you need to include. You can move on to step two: planning!
2. How to Plan Your FCE Writing Review
Planning is the most important step.
The FCE writing test is one hour 20 minutes long. Parts one and two are worth equal marks, twenty each, so you should spend about 40 minutes on each.
Of those 40 minutes, you should spend five to ten minutes on planning.
It can be tempting to think, “I need all of that time to write! I don’t have time to plan!” However, this is a bad idea.
Not planning your writing is like going on a journey without map: you’re likely to get lost.
Planning is especially important for your organisation score. Your writing needs to be well-structured and coherent to earn marks in this area.
Organisation focuses on “how well the writing is put together”. By planning your writing carefully, it will naturally be organised. This gives you a good chance to get high scores in organisation.
You can also use this step to maximise your score in “Communicative Achievement”. This focuses on “how appropriate your writing is for the task”.
So, when you’re planning, think about questions like this:
What kind of language should you use: formal, neutral or informal?
How should you organise your text? Do you need an introduction or conclusion?
The answers to these questions will depend on the exact task.
For a book review, it should probably have a title, but it doesn’t need sub-headings. It should be written in a neutral style, and it should use specific language for the task: for example to describe books, or make recommendations.
You don’t really need an introduction or a conclusion, because it’s not an essay; you’re not trying to prove anything.
Now, let’s make a basic plan together. When you plan, you need to decide how many paragraphs you’ll have, and what main idea will go in each paragraph.
How many paragraphs do you think you’ll need?
There isn’t one right way to do this, but you have three main points to include for your content score. So, it makes sense to have three paragraphs, and an extra paragraph to explain what happens in the book, like this:
Basic information about the book
What happens in the book
Why you liked it
Remember: this isn’t the only possibility. A different structure might make more sense for you. That’s fine; just make sure the structure is clear in your head. ‘Clear’ means that each paragraph has one main point, and you know exactly what that main point is.
After you have your basic outline, you should add some key words or phrases to each point.
A book I read recently was ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ by Truman Capote. Maybe you’ve read it, or perhaps you’ve seen the film!
So, here’s my plan. You don’t need full sentences, just an idea of what you’re going to say.
Title -> Breakfast at Tiffany’s – A jewel of a book.
Explain what the story is about -> a lonely writer fascinated by a girl who lives downstairs, set in 1940s Manhattan
Why you liked it -> the characters are believable, they have interesting backgrounds
Recommendation -> yes to teenagers and older but younger not appropriate
Pause the video if you want some more time to read the plan.
3. How to Write Your FCE Review
Okay, now it’s time to write your answer! You have between 140 and 190 words.
Count the number of words you write in your practice answers so you can get a feel for how much to write.
Here’s something you might not know: Cambridge does not allow correction fluid, correction tape or erasable pens. Make sure you leave plenty of space on the page in case you want to cross something out and change it.
Here’s our first draft:
Breakfast at Tiffany’s grabbed my attention right from the start. The novella by Truman Capote opens with an intriguing mystery about how the protagonist, Holly Golightly, may have travelled to Africa, which is quite different to the film!The book is narrated by an unnamed male writer and is set in Manhattan in the 1940’s. He’s fascinated by Holly, who lives downstairs. She’s a society girl who is devoted to her brother Fred, and makes her living by convincing rich men to give her money.What I enjoyed the most is that the characters are believable. It’s not difficult to imagine a lonely young man trying to help the beautiful young girl who lives downstairs. It’s more difficult to relate to Holly but the hints Truman drops about her troubled past help explain her behavior.I’d definitely recommend reading ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ to older readers. Particularly if they’ve seen the film. As for younger readers, I’d recommend it teenagers but I don’t think the content is appropriate for anyone younger.
Pause the video for as long as you need to read it.
How does it look to you?
It’s not bad but it’s not perfect either. Now for the last step!
4. How to Check and Improve Your FCE Writing Answer
It’s time to find the mistakes. Even if you’re short of time, try to leave two to three minutes at the end to check your work. It can make a difference to your score, so it’s important!
This is where you can improve your score in the ‘language’ section of the assessment.
To get a high language score, you need to “use a range of vocabulary, including less common vocabulary,” “use a range of simple and complex grammatical forms,” and make only “occasional errors.”
Again, these are direct quotes from the Cambridge mark scheme.
There will be mistakes and things you can improve in your writing. Look at our model review again. There are at least seven things which could be changed in this answer. Can you find what they are?
Here are some questions to help you:
Have you forgotten to include anything?
Is all the punctuation, grammar and spelling correct?
Can you replace very common words with more interesting, specific vocabulary?
Have you used linking words and phrases to make it easy for your reader to follow?
Are you within the word count?
These are questions you can ask yourself after you’ve finished your own practice answers.
Pause the video and read our answer. See how many things you can find.
First, did you notice I forgot to include a title? A book review in a magazine or a newspaper normally has a title, so our review should have one, too.
What else could I have done better? Look at the bold text in the answer. Can you improve them?
Breakfast at Tiffany’s grabbed my attention right from the start. The novella by Truman Capote opens with an intriguing mystery about how the protagonist, Holly Golightly, may have travelled to Africa, which is quite different to the film!The book is narrated by an unnamed male writer and is set in Manhattan in the 1940’s. He’s fascinated by Holly, who lives downstairs. She’s a society girl who is devoted to her brother Fred, and makes her living by convincing rich men to give her money.What I really enjoyed is that the characters are believable. It’s not difficult to imagine a lonely young man trying to help the beautiful young girl who lives downstairs. It’s more difficult to relate to Holly but the hints Truman drops about her troubled past help explain her behavior.* I’d definitely recommend ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ to older readers, particularly if they’ve seen the film. As for younger readers, I’d recommend it teenagers but I don’t think the content is appropriate for anyone younger.
Okay, let’s see how you did!
First, titles of books and movies are normally written in italics or placed inside speech marks. Let’s put it inside single speech marks here:
‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
Then, in the 2nd paragraph, 1940s should not have an apostrophe:
In the third paragraph, I’ve repeated who lives downstairs which I said in the second paragraph. Can you think of another way to say this?
You could say …who rents the apartment downstairs,…who lives in the apartment below his, or …who is a tenant in the apartment downstairs.
This shows a greater range of vocabulary and will improve your language score.
The next one is similar: can you think of a synonym for more difficult?
How about more challenging?
More difficult is not wrong, but challenging is a less common and more specific word. If you show a range of language, you’ll get more marks for your language score.
Next, behavior. Why is this a problem?
Behavior is the American spelling.
It’s fine to use American spelling, but you must be consistent! Earlier I spelt travelled with two l’s, which is British spelling. I need to change one, so let’s change behaviour to the UK spelling by adding a ‘u’:
Next, let’s look at the gap at the start of the last paragraph. What do you think we could add here?
You could add a linking word or phrase. It would make it much easier for the reader to follow. You would also improve your organisation score.
You have a few options. For example:
To sum up
All in all
What about in conclusion? Would it be a good choice?
Maybe, but it’s not ideal. It’s too formal! Save this one for your essay and keep your review in a neutral style.
Finally, what’s wrong with I’d recommend it teenagers?
Remember after recommend you need the proposition to:recommend something to someone.
I’d recommend it teenagers. I’d recommend it to teenagers.
By correcting these errors and making these improvements, you could improve your FCE writing score without very much work.
We used this process to write a review, but you can use it for any Cambridge exam writing task, including the CAE and CPE when you get that far.
Good luck with your exam preparation and let us know when you pass! Thanks for watching!
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