10 Tips to Pass an English Writing Exam
I’m not going to try and tell you that writing is easy... in any language… It isn’t.
Writing in our native tongue can be difficult enough so I know how hard it can be to do it in English.
What’s more, when we bear in mind the fact that we usually only wish to learn how to write in English out of necessity – either for work, to pass an English exam or simply to try and impress a girl or a guy – well, it’s understandable that we start to stress out.
But here’s the good news… calm down, there’s no need to panic!
I have lots of useful advice for you on how to pass an English writing exam. All you have to do is follow that advice and you’ll find your English writing becoming easier and easier and then, when it comes to a writing exam, you’ll be ready!
1) The Blank Sheet of Paper Syndrome
Is there anything worse than not knowing what to write?
Of course, there is. Sometimes you know exactly what you should be writing about (because the exam has given you the topic) but you don’t have a clue where to start or what to say. What I mean is, we all know how sitting staring at a blank sheet of paper feels.
You’re waiting for the ideas but nothing, nothing comes up… you can’t start… the tick-tock of the clock starts getting on our nerves. Arrrrrrgggghhh!!!
Not only do you have to think of something to say, but you also have to worry about HOW to write it in English.
Oh my God!! All this makes you so anxious that you can’t think straight.
But don’t worry, the human brain is incapable of being stuck for long.
So, my first piece of advice is, if you want to think clearly, you must first keep calm.
Take a deep breath… in… out… Ignore the clock for a moment. Now move on to point number two.
2) Brainstorming and Planning
Once you feel a little calmer, the feeling of shock will go (I promise!) and suddenly, out of nowhere, ideas start coming into your head.
“Thank goodness!”, you think. But it’s not that simple, you cannot write down one idea after the other as if you’re writing a shopping list; no way!
There’s planning to be done.
For instance, let’s say the topic is pets… Take a separate piece of paper and write down all the words, all the ideas that spring to mind.
Next, decide which ideas to keep and which ones to discard.
Then, decide on the order in which you’ll write them.
Now you have the content for your text and a plan.
You’re ready to start writing!
3) Beware of Dictionaries
When you are practicing your written English, don’t overuse the dictionary!
I’m not saying you can’t use it at all… Of course, you should look up words and check spelling but if you use it too much, you’re going to miss it a lot when it’s not there, such as for example, when you are in an English exam.
Written tests are not about simply putting a long list of words together. You are supposed to be able to express yourself with the vocabulary that you’ve got, either a lot or a little.
And while we’re talking about relying too much on artificial help, that leads us to the next piece of advice, point number four.
4) Electronic Translators
Repeat after me: «Electronic translators are bad» Come on, everybody!!
Don’t expect a machine to do your work, for God’s SAKE!!!!
An automatic translator can give you a hand, as a last resort, but it can not write a whole text or essay for you! And if you do use one, then don’t expect a good outcome. Don’t be surprised if your teacher catches you red-handed.
You’ve been warned…
5) Keep It Simple, My Friend
Why do you make it so hard?
Don’t try to write in English at the same level you would in your mother tongue. I know, you feel frustrated, but that’s the way it is. We can’t start building the house from the roof.
At the beginning you will use simple sentences and then, as your command of the language improves, you will gradually write more complex and expressive text. But don’t try to run before you can walk; take it step by step.
6) Practice, practice and more practice
You learn to write when you write.
The more you write, the more fluent and natural you get. So write, write and then write some more. When the test comes, you will be glad you practiced so hard.
Reading all kinds of written English will help you improve on many levels. Not only will you improve your comprehension, but also enhance your vocabulary, fix your grammar structures, correct your spelling, etc.
Best of all, this will all be reflected in your test.
8) Create More Volume with Adjectives, Adverbs, Connectors…
Quality is what matters, not quantity, but… what if you must write a specific number of words and the mark depends on it?
It can be such hard work that you’re asking for time out when you’re only half way to the target.
Here’s a trick to pad your text out and, at the same time, make it richer.
There is a world of possibilities in adjectives, adverbs, and connectors.
Take these phrases for instance:
- Mary was in her bedroom.
- Yesterday, Mary was in her bedroom.
- Yesterday evening, Mary was in her bedroom.
- Yesterday evening, my friend Mary was in her bedroom.
- Yesterday evening, my friend Mary was in her beautiful but small bedroom.
- Yesterday evening, my friend Mary was in her beautiful but small bedroom alone.
Wow!!! Don’t be surprised, there’s nothing new here. How you say things is what really matters. Some decoration here, some adornment there, and… voilà! You’ve got three times as many words.
Be smart, administer this resource wisely.
Excess is never good, if you write too many words, you risk boring the reader. Also, remember that the more words you write, the more opportunities you have for mistakes!
For more on using connectors easily, try this free guide: Writing in English: Connectors (post in Spanish).
There are different structures that should be used for different styles of text.
A formal letter won’t have the same format as an argumentative essay, for example. If you want to find out more about essay types and structures, you can download this fantastic guide to learn how to write academic essays in English 😉
10) Revision and Editing
After all the suffering, you are dying to put the final full stop to your masterpiece, but STOP!!!
You need to read the text again, otherwise, you may not pass your English writing exam :/
“But, I’ve already read it… I even know it by heart…”
NO… buts! You must do the last check. You will mainly be looking for these common mistakes:
- Subject-Verb Agreement:
People is happy–> People are happy
- “-s” for the third person present tense:
I see him and he say hello–> He says hello
- Change of tenses and relative clauses:
He told me that he is late–> He told me that he was late
An university–> A university
- False Friends:
Okay, those are my ten top pieces of advice when writing in English. Put them into practice whenever you’re writing English text and by the time of your exam, they’ll be second nature to you.
Now, I’m sure you’re going to get an outstanding mark!!
Read this post in Spanish: «Cómo aprobar el examen de Writing en inglés»