For the Cambridge: First For Schools [formerly FCE] writing exam, you might be asked to write a story in 140-190 words. Here’s an example below with some tips on what to consider when writing your cool story.
Cambridge have changed the format for the First Writing Exam. Cambridge First For Schools includes story writing, but Cambridge First (ie the general adult version) includes writing an essay, email/letter, a report or a review. Not a story. Check with your teacher or exam centre if you’re not sure which exam you’ll be taking.
The question for a Cambridge First FCE story can be worded in a few different ways. For example, you may have to answer something like this:
Here is an example. Do you think it’s true..?
Cambridge First Writing: part 2 – example
Although I wasn’t feeling well, somehow I managed to get onto the tram to work. Rather foolishly, I’d cooked some food the previous night with an old sauce which had gone off. Now I was paying the price. I’d seen there was a little mould on top of the carrots I was eating yet this Australian attitude came across me:
“She’ll be right.”
So I kept on eating. I should have known that something was up when I felt a little dizzy. On the tram I felt faint. Things got worse when the tram was re-routed about 5 minutes’ walk from the school. Damn.
As I was getting off, a girl came up to me.
“Do you remember me?”
I thought it was Pavla, a student of mine, joking about her absence the week before.
“Sorry, not feeling well. I may have to cancel today’s lesson.”
“But..you taught me 5 or so years ago. Don’t you remember?” Now I was delirious. But I did remember, slowly. It wasn’t Pavla.
Looking a little perplexed, Aneta pointed in the direction of the school. Then she smiled and walked away.
Words: 185 + 5 for the title “She smiled and walked away”
Managed to – succeeded in after some difficulty or effort
Go off/Gone off – when food goes off, it is no longer good for eating (opposite of ‘fresh’)
Pay the price – if you pay the price, it means that if you do something bad or unhealthy, you’ll have some negative effects as a result
Mould – yucky bacteria that grows on top of food after the food is no longer fresh 🙁
She’ll be right – Aussie idiom for saying everything will be ok
Something was up – something unexpected or not normal or wrong was happening
Dizzy – when you feel the room is spinning and you feel you’re losing your balance
Faint – you feel weaker and that you might lose consciousness
Delirious – you’re a bit confused about things because you don’t feel well
Perplexed – another word for confused, puzzled
What did you think? Yes, this was a true story! In the end I had food poisoning!
After a day or two at home, I remember going back to my other place of work and my boss was very sympathetic with my situation until I told her I was the one who did the cooking, not some dodgy restaurant!
Anyhow, you definitely won’t get a topic like “the day I got food poisoning.” Instead, it’ll be a more general topic.
You will get asked to write a story based on a general theme or common experience. The exam question may give you the opening or closing sentence or ask you to write about a true event. Likewise, the question may ask you to be creative.
Cambridge don’t want you to copy out a story but if you do a few good pieces of writing during the year, you might find that one of them may suit one the topics in the exam.
In any case the most important thing is to answer the question!
Top Tips For Writing Your Story
- PLAN your answer. Spend a few minutes and write down what you’re going to say in each paragraph.
- Write the story ONCE in the exam. Please DON’T do what many Czech students do and write a rough copy before writing ‘the nice copy.’ First, there have been a few horror stories of the examiner taking a student’s exam booklet before they’ve finished! Second, if you plan it you won’t need to worry about ‘the nice version.’
- Check the question and make sure you know what the question is asking you to do. In the example of a story, is it giving you the first sentence or the last? Should it be a true story from your childhood or fiction?
- As part of making sure you understand the question, underline the key words.
- Go over your story and check for any common mistakes you might be aware of (eg missing articles, spelling, missing prepositions, punctuation).
- Use paragraphs. Planning will help you decide what should be in each paragraph. AVOID writing a messy story with arrows all over the place – I’ve seen some students do this and it makes the story harder to follow!
- Use some direct speech. Eg “Do you remember me?”
- Write a story which sounds INTERESTING. It can be something funny or where you learnt an important lesson. It should have some kind of point to it.
- You’ll be marked on your range of grammatical and vocabulary/lexical structures, so be sure to practise these in any FCE preparation course you are doing.
- Use some linking words and time phrases to ‘signpost’ where your story is going. ie to show you are writing an organised story use expressions such as: as soon as; after that; that’s when I…; not long afterwards; some time later.
- Stay within the word limit or as close as you can.
- Include a title for your story.
Finally don’t be afraid to show some of your personality! I’ve met many Czechs who don’t wish to write much about themselves or who don’t wish to give any ‘personal information.’ First, you can make things up! Second, try to show a little of who you are – isn’t that why you’re learning a language?
What next? Now it’s your turn!
There’s definitely a lot to mention about writing a story so I’ll follow this up soon with more! In the meantime especially for my own students and clients, here is a topic you can write at home. Feel free to post it in the comments below:
Get Into English webzine is asking students to write a story about a time they travelled to another country. It must begin with this sentence:
“Although it was so beautiful, I knew I couldn’t stay much longer.”