Cambridge English Southern Europe

Experts in Language Assessment

Tips and FAQS for the Writing paper of the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam

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Here are some tips and answers to questions we often receive on the Writing paper of the Cambridge English: Proficiency exam.


  • Read each question very carefully.
  • Remember that Question 1 is compulsory.
  • Choose Part 2 questions on the basis of what interests you the mostbut also bear in mind the task type.
  • Decide exactly what information you are being asked to give.
  • Identify the target reader, your role as writer and your purpose in writing.
  • Check which task type you are being asked to write.
  • Organise your ideas and make a plan before you write.
  • Use a pen, not a pencil.
  • Write your answers in the booklet provided.
  • Write in an appropriate style.
  • Identify the key points in each text in Part 1.
  • Deal with all parts of the question in Part 2.
  • Calculate how many words on average you write on a line and multiply this average by the number of lines to estimate how much you have written – don’t waste time counting words individually.
  • Follow your plan and keep in mind your purpose for writing.
  • Use as wide a range of structure and vocabulary as you can but think carefully about when to use idioms.
  • Use paragraphs and indent when you start a new paragraph.
  • Check for spelling errors and the use of punctuation such as capital letters, apostrophes, commas, etc.
  • Cross out errors with a single line through the word(s).
  • Check structures: subject-verb agreement, tenses, word order, singular and plural nouns.
  • Make sure that your handwriting can be read by the examiner.
  • Don’t attempt a set text question if you have not read the book.
  • Don’t attempt a question if you feel unsure about the format.
  • Don’t include irrelevant material.
  • Don’t write out a rough version and then try to write a good copy – you will not have time.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

There are some similarities between the writing tasks in Cambridge English: Advanced, also known as Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), and Cambridge English: Proficiency. What is different?
Cambridge English: Proficiency questions are designed to generate language that requires you to use more abstract functions such as hypothesising, interpreting and evaluating and to move away from just factually based responses. This raises the expected language level not only in terms of structure but also range of vocabulary and appropriacy of style and register.

Are there any differences in the way the Part 1 and Part 2 questions are assessed?
Part 1 and Part 2 questions carry equal marks, and Writing Examiners apply the same assessment scales to them (Content, Communicative Achievement, Organisation and Language). Content focuses on how well the candidate has fulfilled the task; Communicative Achievement focuses on how appropriate the candidate’s writing is for the task; Organisation focuses on the way the candidate puts together the piece of writing; and Language focuses on the range and accuracy of the candidate’s vocabulary and grammar.

How are extended responses in the Writing paper assessed?
Examiners mark tasks using assessment scales developed with explicit reference to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The scales, which are used across the Cambridge English General and Business English Writing tests, are made up from four subscales: Content, Communicative Achievement, Organisation and Language:

  • Content focuses on how well the candidate has fulfilled the task – if they have done what they were asked to do.
  • Communicative Achievement focuses on how appropriate the writing is for the task and whether the candidate has used the appropriate register.
  • Organisation focuses on the way the candidate puts together the piece of writing, in other words, if it is logical and ordered.
  • Language focuses on vocabulary and grammar. This includes the range of language as well as how accurate it is.

Each response is marked from 0 to 5 on each of the four subscales and these scores are combined to give a final mark for the Writing test.

If I write in a text type, such as a letter, a report, or an essay, that is different from the one asked for in the question, how will the writing be assessed?

The text type is a very important aspect of the Cambridge English: ProficiencyWriting paper as it is a major factor in the choice of style and register for the piece of writing. For example, if you write an essay when the question has asked for an article, the register will not be totally appropriate for an article. This will have a negative effect on the target reader and will be penalised.

Will I be penalised for writing an answer that is over the word limit stated in the question?

You will not be penalised just because the text is over the word limit. However, over-length writing may lead to irrelevance, repetition and poor organisation. These factors have a negative effect on the target reader and will be penalised.

How is the writing assessed if the candidate has obviously run out of time and the answer is incomplete?

Examiners will only assess what is on the page and will not make assumptions about what you might have written. For example, if the conclusion is missing, this will affect the organisation and coherence and will be penalised.

How severely are poor spelling and punctuation penalised?
Spelling is one factor considered under the assessment scale for Language, and punctuation is one factor considered under Organisation. You do not lose a mark every time you make a spelling or punctuation mistake, so it is still possible to get a high band score with occasional native-speaker type lapses. However, spelling and punctuation are an important aspect of accuracy, and frequent errors may have a negative effect on the target reader, which is one factor considered under Communicative Achievement.

Do I have to study all the set texts?
The set text questions are optional. If you decide to answer on a set text, it is only necessary to study one of the texts as there is always a question on each of them. Information on what the set texts are for this year can be found above.

Can any edition of the set texts be used for study?
Any full-length edition can be used for study. At Cambridge English: Proficiency level, you should not be reading simplified editions.

Will there always be a narrative question?
There will sometimes be the opportunity to write a narrative, but it will be embedded in a letter or article, as in the sample papers. Such a question will not necessarily be on every paper.

Are addresses to be omitted ONLY when stated in the task?
As a matter of policy, where the genre is given as a letter, ‘You do not need to include postal addresses’ is added to the instructions. Where other genres are given (e.g. a report, an article), you could choose to use a letter format to answer the question, if appropriate to the task. In no case will the address, if you include it, be subject to assessment, either negative or positive.

Is a report format obligatory for such questions in the Writing paper?
Reports should be clearly organised and may contain headings. The report format is not obligatory, but will make a good impression on the target reader if used appropriately. The mark awarded for the report will, however, depend on how the writing meets the requirements.

Written by Cambridge English Southern Europe

May 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Very informative and exhaustive report ofexam CPE tips…


    May 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm

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