How to Write the Perfect Essay for B2 First

Introduction

In part 1 of the Cambridge English B2 First (FCE) Writing paper we have to write an essay, it’s compulsory. So in order to get top marks, it’s essential to be able to write a good one.

Luckily, we can do a lot to prepare and make sure we get our highest marks possible.

The Basics

  • Spend approximately 40 minutes on the essay; the Writing paper is 1 hour 20 minutes in total both parts are worth the same points.
  • The word limit is 140-190.
  • According to Cambridge English, the essay should:
    “Focus on agreeing or disagreeing with a statement, giving information, giving opinion, giving reasons, comparing and contrasting ideas and opinions, drawing a conclusion.”

What do I have to do?

Let’s look at an example question:

Write 140 – 190 words in an appropriate style.

In your English class you have been talking about education. Now, your English teacher has asked you to write an essay.

Write an essay using all the notes and giving reasons for your point of view.

‘The role of schools should be to prepare students for a working career.’ Do you agree?

Notes

  1. exams
  2. learning valuable skills
  3. ………………………… (your own idea)

The question always starts with the phrase “In your English class you have been talking about…” and a topic, e.g. the education.

Then, we have a statement about the topic and question:

‘The role of schools should be to prepare students for a working career.’ Do you agree?

Often, the question is “Do you agree?”, sometimes it’s more specific. In any case, you are asked to give an opinion.

Finally, we have some notes with three prompts. The first and second are always provided and the third is always “your own idea”.

In our essay, we must answer the question and refer specifically to the 2 given prompts and our own idea.

The 5 Paragraph Formula

This is a very simple five-paragraph formula you can use to structure any B2 First (FCE) essay:

Paragraph 1Introduction
Introduce the topic and agree or disagree with the statement – 2 sentences
Paragraph 2Prompt 1
Introduce, explain and example – 3 sentences.
Paragraph 3Prompt 2
Introduce, explain and example – 3 sentences.
Paragraph 4Prompt 3 (own idea)
Introduce, explain and example – 3 sentences.
Paragraph 5Conclusion
Summarise essay and make final decision for or against the question statement. 2 sentences.

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Introduce the topic in our own words. This demonstrates to the examiner that we have understood the question. Say whether we agree or not with the statement. Two sentences are sufficient.

Paragraphs 2-4: Prompts

Give each prompt its own paragraph. The first sentence should introduce the prompt. Then, we should explain why it supports our opinion and give examples why.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

We should summarise the essay briefly in different words and repeat our opinion in a clear way.

This isn’t the only way you can structure your essay, but it’s easy to follow so I recommend it (as well as most teachers).

Planning

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Planning your essay before you start is important. Think about:

  • if you agree or disagree with the statement (if the question asks you).
  • detail and examples for prompt 1 and 2
  • your own idea for prompt 3.
  • high-level vocabulary related to the topic

Example Answer

Here’s an example essay for the question above:

It is widely accepted that our education system should give students the best chance for future employment. However, it is my opinion that schools should provide much more than this.

Firstly, we can not deny that examinations are unimportant. However, putting too much focus on testing can leave students feeling overstressed, and often does not provide space for them to develop their creativity. Furthermore, it makes the experience of learning boring.

Secondly, schools absolutely should teach students useful skills which they can use throughout life. But they should focus on a range of skills, not just work-related ones. For example, if students learnt about finance and health they would benefit in other areas of their lives, outside of work.

Finally, the importance of social interaction in education must not be forgotten. For many young people, schools provide an opportunity for students to form relationships which will serve them throughout their entire lives. A person with strong social skills will not only do well in their careers but will be happier too.

In conclusion, while it is important to give students good job opportunities, schools also have a responsibility to make learning enjoyable, relevant and creative. Life is not just about work, and education should reflect this.

Tone and register

Your essay should have a formal or neutral tone, never informal. Here are some ways to make your writing more formal.

Avoid contractions

❌ It’s widely believed…
✅ It is widely believed…

❌ We’ve seen…
✅ We have seen…

Avoid personal stories and information

Only refer to yourself when giving your opinion about the question. Avoid talking personally otherwise. Don’t use personal experiences as examples.

❌ Whilst I was travelling last year…
✅ It is my opinion that…

Phrasal verb alternatives

Phrasal verbs often have a more formal alternative; for example:

❌ They took part…
✅ They participated…

❌ People are finding out that…
✅ People are discovering that…

Avoid exclamation marks

❌ Furthermore, it makes the experience of learning boring!
✅ Furthermore, it makes the experience of learning boring.

Use the passive voice

If you haven’t included a passive example, think about sentences where you can:

✅ We must not forget the importance of social interaction in education.
✅ ✅ ✅ The importance of social interaction in education must not be forgotten.

How is the Essay assessed?

There are four areas that examiners focus on when assessing your essay:

  • Content – focuses on how relevant your writing is to the task and if you have answered the question
  • Communicative Achievement – focuses on how appropriate your writing style is
  • Organisation – focuses on how well you have constructed the essay
  • Language – focuses on your range of grammar and vocabulary

Each area is marked on a scale of 0 to 5.

Here are some main points to remember in order to get top marks:

ContentMake sure you answer the question and respond in detail to the prompts
Don’t include any irrelevant information
Communicative AchievementUse a formal/neutral tone
Make your ideas easy to understand
Give reasons for your examples
Make your opinion clear in the introduction and conclusion without repeating words
OrganisationUse linking words and connectors to link and organise your ideas
Make your ideas flow
Follow the 5 paragraph formula
LanguageUse a range of vocabulary related to the topic
Use a range of simple and complex grammar (e.g. passive and modals)
Avoid repeating words if possible
Check your spelling

Answer the question!

Often, students lose easy points because they write more than necessary about irrelevant things, or they forget to completely answer the question and prompts. It doesn’t matter if you write better than Shakespear, if you don’t answer the question correctly you can’t get full marks.

The most important things to remember are to:

  • clearly give your opinion to the statement and question
  • introduce each of the 3 prompts and give details and examples

Improve your conditionals

Here’a a good tip: if you find yourself writing a conditional sentence with ‘if’, see if it’s possible to change it to a second conditional. If so, do it. This is an easy way to demonstrate a higher lever.

Compare these sentences:

For example, if students learn about finance and health they will benefit in other areas of their lives, outside of work. ✅

For example, if students learnt about finance and health they would benefit in other areas of their lives, outside of work. ✅ ✅ ✅

Both sentences are correct for an essay and express the same idea. But the second sentence will get more points because it uses more complex grammar.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does it matter if I write more than 190 words?

Not exactly, a few words over the limit won’t make a difference, so don’t waste time counting words. It’s not a strict rule. However, if you write much less than the limit then you probably aren’t covering all the points with enough detail. If you write much more than the limit, you’re likely including irrelevant information. In both cases, you would lose points for Content.

Does my spelling have to be perfect?

One or two small errors won’t matter but if your errors make the essay hard to understand you could lose points.

Do I have to include a title?

No, but you can if you want.

Should I use British or American English?

It does not matter which you use, but you must be consistent. Don’t change between the two.

Common B2 First Essay Topics

Here are some common B2 First (FCE) essay topics; make sure you have a good range of vocabulary for each:

  • Environment
  • Education
  • Work
  • Health
  • Fashion
  • Entertainment
  • Young people
  • Advertising
  • Shopping

Tools, Links and Downloads

I hope you find this guide for the B2 First (FCE) Writing essay helpful. Practice makes perfect so make sure to write as often as you can. Use the comments below to leave your answer to the sample question above.

If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment below.

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