Top Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge Advanced (CAE) Writing Exam

“Why am I not getting a higher score in my CAE Writing exam even though I make very few mistakes?” This can be a common complaint from Cambridge Advanced students when you find that you are not getting such good marks in the Writing paper. Well, how can you get better marks?

First of all, of course, you’ll have to practise. However, while studying and practising there are some particular areas and aspects that you should focus on if you are going to push on to get a higher score. Here are some tips that we recommend to our students when preparing for the Cambridge Advanced exam at Atlas.

1. Improve your writing with the Grammarly app.

It’s all very well to say ‘practice makes perfect’, but who can you get to correct your writings to make sure you are doing them correctly? Well, there are many really useful online resources that can help you improve your English and get a better score in the Cambridge Advanced exam. One of the apps we love at Atlas is Grammarly. Grammarly is a google chrome extension that monitors your writing and analyses your mistakes as you write. It also gives you suggestions for why you’ve made the mistake and records your errors in a diary for future reference. You can download the app by going to the website here:


Grammarly can be a really useful tool to help you learn autonomously, especially when you can’t get help from your teacher to correct all your practice writings. If you get into this app, the only downside is that you’ll have to pay for the premium version! But it comes highly recommended. Do take advantage of this great tool.

2. Learn what each writing requires you to do.

So, how much do you actually know about the Cambridge Advanced exam? Even if you are a strong writer but you go into the exam with no previous experience or knowledge about how to complete each of the writing tasks, you will surely encounter problems.

There are five types of writing question on the Writing paper:

  • Essay
  • Letter / Email
  • Report
  • Proposal
  • Review

You must do two of the writing questions. Everyone has to write an essay with a discursive focus, but you then have a choice of a letter (formal or informal), a report, a proposal or a review.

Each type of writing is unique and has its own style, tone and language. It’s really important that you get these right! For example, a review should have a more relaxed conversational tone, while a letter of complaint should be very formal. It’s critical to understand the differences between each type of writing.

One other point that you will have to consider is your use of functional language. You may be asked to use persuasive language or language of dissatisfaction, so make sure you go into the exam aware of what is typically needed in each of the writings.

You get marked on various things – Content (you’ve answered the question in full), Communicative Achievement (using the correct writing features and type of language), Organisation (correct paragraphing and use of linkers) and Language (range and accuracy of vocabulary and grammar).

Again, it is critical that you understand the importance of each of the four assessment criteria, and how to maximise your marks for each one. For example, if you do not differentiate between the task types correctly, you will lose points on Communicative Achievement. With just a little preparation this should be the easiest area in which you can pick up points in the writing exam.

At Atlas, one thing we recommend is making flashcards to test yourself on what each type of writing requires you to do. Here’s an example.

 Proposal  Features:

 – Include headings and subheadings (Don’t include a fancy heading).

 – Use a correct tone – Formal or semi-formal.

 – Functional language of persuasion, suggestion and evaluating.

 – Use a range of ‘formal’ linking words and phrases correctly. 

 – Include a clear introduction and conclusion.

 – Make sure sure to proofread at the end.

The model texts at the back of your coursebooks are great places to find such information to make similar cards for other types of writing.

3. Record your errors and rewrite your answers!

Why do some students fear the Writing paper? One reason can be because as a student you have a visible record of your errors! But making errors and learning from them is an important part of the language learning process.

A good way to take advantage of this is to keep a written record of your mistakes, especially mistakes that you are constantly repeating, and learn from them. If you are having difficulty with gerunds, for example, then record the error that you made, what the correction was, and make a note of the reason behind it. You can then revise this later and test yourself on your own mistakes.

With essays and articles that you hand in, another great suggestion is to look at your teacher’s feedback, think about how you could change the organisation and language you use to make it better, and then rewrite your answer from scratch taking on board your teacher’s feedback.

 Mistake Correction Note
If I often dream with flying to Cuba II often dream about flying to Cuba Dream + about 
Never I have eaten snake Never have I eaten snake Inversion – auxiliary verb goes before the subject

4. Learn your synonyms and their differences. 

Even though some students write accurately with no spelling mistakes, one thing that you might continue to have difficulty with is using a wide range of language.

You will need to make sure that you are well-equipped with a bank of synonyms relating to different topics and are able to express certain things using different expressions. For example, learn how to ask someone for information in different ways – e.g., ‘I was wondering if you could tell me…’, ‘Could you let me know if…’, ‘do you have any information about….’.

This will make your language richer and will certainly gain you extra marks. But as you are learning synonyms, do remember to focus on the small and significant differences in meaning and usage between synonyms. By way of example, let’s have a look at the sentences below:

  1. Since she won the lotto she is absolutely loaded.
  2. That family at the end of the street are quite well off.
  3. He comes from quite an affluent background.
  4. Oh, I’d love to be filthy rich.

So, what are they all synonyms of? ‘Rich’, of course! But can we all use them in the same way? No, we can’t. Which one we use will depend on the context. For example:

  1. Loaded is the informal use of rich
  2. Well off connotes that they are not only rich but also in a good situation.
  3. Affluent tends to be used quite formally and is in some ways an old-fashioned word.
  4. Filthy rich is part of an informal collocation that means really rich.

As you can see from these synonyms, it is important for you to appreciate the differences in meaning between synonyms. Make sure you have them clear in your mind before you use them!



5. Learn chunks of language.

What are chunks of language, you say? Chunks are words that commonly go together i.e., ‘I look forward to meeting you’. ‘Kind regards’, ‘a convincing argument’. Learning chunks of language for each type of writing can really prepare you with a bank of vocabulary that you will need for the exam. It’s also worth noting that these can also come in the form of collocations (these are groups of words that commonly go together).

When you come across unfamiliar collocations, focus more deeply and try to connect the main verb with other words to come up with other collocations that you are familiar with and could use.

E.g., Pay attention

        Pay a compliment

        Pay someone back

A great way to learn chunks and collocations is by using flashcards. You can make these yourself at home. There are also many online resources that can help you. One website that you could also is Quizlet. Click the links below and start testing yourself now and your language will develop in no time.

You’ll see that Quizlet is a free study tool that allows you to make electronic flashcards that you can access on your computer or any mobile device such as your phone. The flashcards show the terms, and you can ‘click to flip’ to move back and forth between the term and definition. Simple arrow keys can be used to move to the next term. From this starting point there are various games and fun tests you can do to help you learn these new vocabulary items.

These, then, are our top five tips to help you improve your writing and get better marks in the Advanced Writing paper? Let us know what works for you as you push on to get a higher score.

If you found the above tips useful make sure to follow our blog series on Tips for Preparing for the Cambridge Advanced (CAE) Exam. 

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