Authentic teacher’s tips for improving your writing skills.
Suitable for both teachers and students CAE, FCE, IELTS.
I have enjoyed the success of many of my students, including A-s in CAE and a lot of 8.5 and 8s on IELTS. So, I can speak from hands-on experience.
Writing in general combines intelligence, reasoning, grammar, vocabulary, etc. Since it's multi-faceted, it means you should try and develop various aspects.
You have to be well acquainted with the requirements for the respective type of writing, as far as contents, language and register are concerned. I could not overestimate the importance of reading excellent examples. I will explain later what to do with them.
You should read carefully what the respectful layout should be like. For example, if you are writing a CAE/FCE essay, it should include introduction, arguments and conclusion.
Take a very good grammar book that corresponds to your level, i.e which you can understand well. I would recommend using one written by a local author and another by a native speaker. This is an important choice to make. You will have to read grammar thoroughly, without going into too much detail, however.
This is the point so often underestimated. I realize students usually think exams are about grammar. Yet, with CAE and IELTS, for example, I believe vocabulary is of utmost importance. I suggest the following, though students are not happy with it. Although learning vocabulary in context is by no means preferable, I suggest you set a number of words you learn on a regular basis. If they are words from a testbook, that is better. For example, Cambridge 1 and 2 (National Geographic Learning) have glossaries with definitions, so they serve the purpose perfectly. Let's say, you decide to learn 2 pages (300) words every week. In the worst case, you can even learn words from a dictionary. BUT DO IT! You yourself will be surprised by the change.
I have seen a considerable change in writing, reading and speaking simultaneously.
IDIOMS and SET PHRASES
I give this item separately because it really makes a change. There are lists of idioms in some grammars/textbooks (e.g. 'Destination C1 and C2') or you can select about 100 idioms from a book. I have made such a list for my students and expect them to learn them by heart. Choose idioms that can be more widely used, like 'Needless to say', It's a matter of priority ',' To begin with', etc. MAKE A POINT OF USING THEM. After you have written your composition, go through it and try to insert an idiom/set phrase where possible. There is one problem here I should warn you against. You should be clear about informal and formal register. Most idioms can be used in informal and semi-formal writing but you should not use them in formal writings. Set phrases tend to be more universal. If you are careful, you can make your writing much richer.
HOW TO PROCEED
When you are preparing for an exam:
1/Read as many excellent samples as you can. Study them carefully. Analyse their structure and components (introduction, arguments, examples, conclusion). Underline and take notes.
2/Copy certain phrases and useful language. Study them. Make a whole Writing Notebook with the various types of writing. This I find very useful. Try it and you will see for yourselves.
3/Write as many compostions as you can. Of course, it would be nice if a teacher can check them all and give comments.