Writing Exam Preparation Tips

When we arrive to a few weeks or even a few months before the exam date, you have groups of students that have finished the textbooks and done a few mock exams, right? Well, what do you do next? Here are some tips to get the best results out of your students pre-exam.

Improving The Writing

Your students should be churning out a couple of writings a week, of all of the different types, to practice the section before the big day. Given the time it takes to do a writing properly, it’s impossible to do it in class, there is simply not enough time. So here’s my ideas for improving.

  1. When students give you a piece of writing, perhaps an essay to start with, make some photocopies and give them to the rest of the students. If you are worried that this will intimidate the student, use a piece from a student in a different class. Proceed to read it all together and focus on the spelling and grammar mistakes they make, correct these together and explain the reason behind the correction. Once this is finished, give students a few minutes to assign a score for each of the 4 marking categories; (Content, Communicative Achievement, Organisation, and Language). Each are worth 5 points, then tell them what score you would assign and explain your rationale. I tend to be quite harsh, to encourage them to keep working on it. Extension – Look at the writing again with all of the corrections and get students to and improve the score by adding nicer vocabulary like adverbs, or more advanced grammar structures.
  2. Even if students are aware of the aforementioned marking categories, it can be difficult for them to translate this into helpful information. Much of the time, they don’t understand what to do in order to improve their score in the different categories. So spend some time explaining what each of the categories mean! A printer friendly PDF checklist available here – Writing Checklist

Content – Did they answer the question? Have they addressed all of the points for the given task? Also, have they developed the ideas or only mentioned them?

Communicative Achievement – Does it have the appearance of, for example, an essay? Or does it read like a more informal piece of writing. The presence of any idioms, phrasal verbs, or contractions would lead to deductions in points here.

Organisation – Did they use paragraphs? A combination of long and short sentences? Appropriate punctuation? Cohesive devices?

Language – Do they use their own words? A variety of words that are both relevant and of an appropriate level? Grammar structures that are appropriate for the level. Bad spelling or repeating vocabulary would constitute a loss in marks here.

3. Equally, make sure that they know the things they are not required to do in the writing exam. For example, they receive no marks for presentation. As long as they write coherently and paragraph well, there is no need to be worried about how it looks. Some students waste time in the exam by writing the whole thing twice to make it look pretty. Also, they are given the opportunity to leave the exam room if they finish before the time has finished. This is generally a bad idea, I personally recommend using all of the allowed time to plan, write and check everything twice.

4. Make a ‘spelling checklist’. Many students have specific words that they find difficult to spell. Depending which language is their first, they struggle with different words. But for example, ‘wich’ and ‘which’ are pretty typical mistakes. Encourage students to spend a few minutes thinking about the words they personally find difficult to spell. Perhaps 5 or 10. Write them down, and every time they finish a writing and have used one of the words, to pay special attention to them and the way they should be spelled. Interestingly, students who take the computer based exam, make less spelling mistakes than those who do the paper based.

Did you find this useful? Have any comments? Let me know! Happy teaching!


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