In the B- and C-Level exams you have to write a short text as part of the exam. There are different types of text that can be asked for, which I will look at below and give tips on how to do them.

  • Informal Letter or Email
  • Semi-formal letter
  • Report
  • Article
  • Review
  • Essay

So what are the differences between these, and what do you need to think about for each type of document?

Informal Letter or Email

This is a letter or email to a friend or a member of your family. You don’t need to write the “to”, “from”, “date” or “subject” (if you do, don’t count the words you have used for these as part of the total number of words you have written).

Start with an informal greeting, such as “Dear Peter” or “Hi Mary”, and on the next line remember to start a new sentence with a capital letter. Make some comment about what what they wrote to you before answering their questions and giving your own news. Finish with an informal phrase such as “All the best”, “Cheers”, “See you soon”, “Love” or something similar.

Semi-formal letter

A semi-formal letter could be to a company, your local newspaper, or the local government, probably to tell them about a complaint or an opinion you have, or maybe to apply for a job. In the exam, you don’t need to write an address, the date, or the subject. If you want to include these, the number of words in these parts doesn’t count in the number of words you have to write.
In this case, you need to use more formal language, (for example using the passive voice, e.g. “it is said”, “the quality has become worse”, etc.) and will probably start with an expression like “Dear Sir/Madam”, “Dear Mr Jones”, “Dear Sirs” etc. The ending will also be fairly formal, for example: “Yours faithfully”.

Report

A report is usually written for your boss, or for a customer. For example, you may be asked to suggest ways of improving how your company treats customers, or you may have to make suggestions to a client about their business. A report needs to start with a title, and to have several sections which each have a different main idea. The sections should each have a heading on a separate line. You will need at least 3 sections, normally you will need more than 3. The first section should be the Introduction, then you will need one or more sections to present your findings, and finally a section (usually called Summary or Conclusion or Recommendations, depending on the style of report you have written).

Article

An article is something written to be published – in a blog, a newspaper, a magazine or something similar. It is written to interest the reader of the publication. Again, the style should be semi-formal, unless you are writing in a discussion forum. An article needs a title, like the report does, but doesn’t need headings for the sections. You’ll need to write an introduction in the first paragraph, and remember to summarise the main point(s) for the reader at the end of the article. The article needs to be structured, with each paragraph having a main idea.

Review

A review is special type of article. It should start with a title for the review and be written in a semi-formal style. It’s written for a blog, newspaper or magazine, but it reports your opinion about something. It could be a review of a restaurant, a fashion show, a film, a book, etc. It’s very similar to an article, but here what counts is your opinion, which you should justify. For example, don’t just say that the service was bad or that the food was terrible, say that the food took over forty minutes to arrive at the table, and it was served luke-warm. Again, the review, like an article, should start with a short introduction and finish by summarising your opinion and the reason for having it.

Essay

An essay will usually ask you to discuss something. As in the other types of document that you can be asked to write, it should be structured with a main idea in each paragraph.
An essay doesn’t need a title or section headings, although I think it is a good idea to give a title to the essay. The number of words in the title doesn’t count towards the number of words you have written. It’s important in an essay to include views for and against the point you are being asked to write about. However, you should make your own views clear and give reasons why you think your views are correct. Don’t forget to finish with a conclusion or a summary of your views.

General things to remember in all the above document types

  • Make sure you answer all the points/questions that the exam paper asks for. If you are asked for 3 reasons for something, and only give two, you can not get full marks for your answer. This is the easiest way to collect marks – even if your English isn’t perfect you will get marks for answering all the parts of the question!
  • Remember that if you write too few words, you have probably not answered all the points you were asked to write about in the question; and if you write too much, you give yourself more possibilities of making mistakes, and if you write much to much, the examiner may stop reading altogether, and you may get marked down for an incomplete answer!
  • Remember that in English we don’t usually write “…” at the end of a list to show there are more possibilities which have not been listed. Instead, you can say “etc.” or “and so on”.
  • If you have time at the end of the exam, re-read what you have written, and check you haven’t made typical mistakes such as writing he when you are talking about something a woman did, check that each verb has a subject (which can often be it), check you haven’t written plural forms of adjectives. Adjectives don’t have a plural form in English – there are no blacks cats!