Exam Tips for English

Our Top Exam Tips for English Writing

English writing exams are among the most difficult Functional Skills exams, they require more precision and accuracy than the other English exams.

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English writing exams are among the most difficult Functional Skills exams, they require more precision and accuracy than the other English exams. However, with these simple tips you can focus on the key elements to focus on for the English writing exam and ultimately improve your chances of getting a good mark.

  1. Know your formatting
    Writing exams require you to know how to write a variety of different documents, and it is important to know the differences between them! Different types of written content requires different structures and content, so it is extremely important to know the ins and outs of each one before you get to the exam. The most common questions that you will be asked to write are:

Letters:

  • Two addresses
  • Date
  • Correct open and close: for a formal letter you would open with ‘Dear Sir/madam’ and close with ‘Yours Faithfully’

Reports and Articles:

  • Heading
  • Subheadings and bullet points where they are needed

Emails:

  • Addressee
  • Subject header

The best way to get comfortable with these different formats and structures is to practice writing them when you are revising for the exam.

  1. Make sure you use the right tone
    Marks are easily lost for being too formal or informal. Read the question and make sure you adopt the right tone for the task required. For example, writing an email to a friend is likely to be informal, but writing a job application should have a formal tone.
  1. Use your own content
    Source documents are provided to help you with structure and prompt some inspiration for your piece. It is important not to copy these passages, as this will not gain you any marks. Always use your own content and ideas when writing the pieces, this will give you the best chance of scoring highly in the writing paper.
  1. Spelling, punctuation and grammar
    One of, if not the, most important element of the English writing is that every element of spelling, grammar and punctuation is as near to perfect as possible. This is one of the main skills that is being tested in the English writing exam, and a significant number of marks are awarded for showing proficiency in these areas. This includes correct use of lower and uppercase letters, full stops, commas etc.

Always double check your work once you have finished. Make sure to leave enough time to do this at the end of the exam – reading through what you have written again can be crucial to identify mistakes you might have made and ensure that the piece is as good as it can be before the exam ends.

  1. Pay attention to the question!
    Make sure that your answer is relevant to the question that is set. There’s no use writing a well-structured, punctuated and grammatically perfect article if it has no relevance to the question. Read the question carefully to ensure that what you are going to write isn’t going to stray away from what the question is asking.

It might help to take 2 minutes to write a brief plan of what you are going to write to make sure that you don’t stray from the question. This also helps to give a clear direction to your answer.

You must make sure that you answer both questions set in the exam. If you don’t, it is impossible for you to pass the exam – so this one’s pretty important! There should be enough detail in each question to constitute an answer that can be marked.

  1. Write enough!
    Strictly speaking, there’s not a word count for Functional Skills exams, however it is hard to assess a piece of writing if you have not written enough. Markers want to know your writing capabilities and it is difficult to assess this without a significant amount of written content.  You should be looking to write somewhere around 150-300 words for each answer, approximately between half and a full side of A4 paper. If you write anything less, you might lose marks – so always be on the safe side and write the amount that the examiners are looking for.
  1. Practice identifying language features
    Some questions will ask you to identify language features, including bias, persuasion, humour and alliteration. Be sure to learn what these features are and how to use them when writing a piece – before you sit the exam. These are often some of the hardest questions, so make sure that you are confident at using them to give yourself the chance to gain extra marks in the exam.
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Download: This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you can take anywhere. Click here to get a copy. (Download)
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