Knowing how they mark the Writing part of the Cambridge Advanced (CAE) exam not only helps you to understand your score you get back, but will help you to know how to improve your writing for the exam.
Before I explain how they evaluate/mark your pieces of writing, I will explain the marking system they use.
The marking system
For each piece of writing you do in the exam, you will be given a mark out of 20. For a piece of writing to pass, it needs to get a mark of 12 (equivalent to 60%). They then add the marks you get for both pieces of writing and this gives you your final mark/score for the Writing exam. They then convert this mark to their ‘Cambridge English Scale Score’.
For you to pass this part of the CAE exam, your combined final mark needs to be 60% or over (which is equivalent to a ‘Cambridge English Scale Score’ of 180 or over).
You don’t just lose points for each mistake you make
Some students (and some teachers as well) believe that you lose points for every mistake (incorrect choice of vocabulary, spelling a word incorrectly, using a grammatical structure incorrectly etc...) which is made in a piece of writing. Although if you do make mistakes in your writing your score will go down (apart from spelling, but I will explain more about that later), you don’t lose a point for every mistake made.
The examiners evaluate your pieces of writing on more than just your mistakes. In fact, it is possible to make no mistakes with your vocabulary and grammatical structures in a piece of writing and it still fails (gets under 12 points/60 %). And below I will explain how they evaluate/mark your pieces of writing.
What the exam is evaluating
The main thing that the exam is evaluating is your writing ability. This is not only your ability to write sentences in English and your vocabulary and grammar, but also your ability to know how to write different types of pieces of writing (e.g. an essay, an email etc...) and to do this successfully (so, it’s easy to read/understand, includes what you are asked to etc...).
The amount of points (out of a maximum of 20) that a piece of writing receives, depends on four main things. And for each, they will give you a mark out of 5:
- Your use and variety of vocabulary and grammar structures:
They will evaluate you on the vocabulary and grammatical structures you use in your piece of writing. If you use a variety of different vocabulary and grammatical structures (both simple (e.g. present tenses) and some more advanced (e.g. inversions, passives, modals etc...)) correctly, you will be given a higher mark for this part than if you only use simple words/phrases and grammar or make mistakes when using them.
Obviously for the CAE exam, you need to use more advanced vocabulary (e.g. ‘nevertheless’ instead of ‘but’ etc...) and grammatical structures when writing it than you did in the pieces of writing for the Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE) exam (if you did that exam). In addition, you should avoid repeating the use of the same word or phrase and use synonyms of them.
- If you write about what you are asked to:
For this, they will not only evaluate you on if you have written about what you were asked to do in the task/question, but also on what you choose to write about for these things.
The things you write have to be relevant for what you have been asked to write. For example, if you are asked to write an essay where you evaluate the importance of two factors for choosing courses at university and write something in a part about courses at school or work, then this information is not relevant and you will lose points.
- How well the piece of writing is organised
You will also be assessed on how well you have organised what you have written. Firstly, does it have the right type of structure (e.g. if it is an essay, does it have an introduction, body and conclusion) and does each part of the structure do what it should (e.g. does the introduction successfully introduce to the person reading it what they are going to be reading etc...). And secondly, you’ll be evaluated on how well the piece flows. Is it easy to understand and follow what you are saying. Do you use words and phrases which clearly tell the reader what some sentences are there to express or do (e.g. unfortunately, besides, firstly etc...) and do you introduce new topics and points which you write about well and effectively use paragraphs.
If you both structure what you write correctly and make what you write easy to follow and understand, you will given a high mark for this.
- How well it achieves what it is supposed to
The last thing each piece of writing will be evaluated on is on how well it does what it is supposed to do. Firstly, they assess how well what you have written is easy to read and understand. Secondly, if you use the right type of vocabulary (formal or informal) for the piece of writing. And thirdly, does each piece of writing do what the person reading it would want or expect from it (e.g. if it is a report, do the recommendations you make at the end (and how you justify them previously in the report) help the person reading it make a decision etc...).
To learn some advanced synonyms of common words that you can use in your pieces of writing, read our article called 'Vocabulary to Improve your Writing and Speaking in the CAE Exam'.
To learn what grammatical structures you need to know, read our article called 'Improve your Grammar for the CAE Exam'.
What you are not evaluated on
There are some things that your pieces of writing are not evaluated on (you won’t lose points for doing them). And these are:
How many words you have written
Although you are told to write between 220 to 260 words for each piece of writing, you are not punished (lose points) for either just writing under 220 words or over 260 words. But if you write under 220 words, it will very likely mean that you are not writing enough about what you have been asked to or have forgotten to include something that you have been asked to or should do (so, you’ll lose for either of these).
If you only write a little over 260 words (say 10 to 30 words), you won’t be punished. But if you write a lot more than 260 words, it probably means that you are including things which are not necessary for the piece of writing. So, you could lose points for that.
What your piece of writing looks like
It also doesn’t matter how your final piece of writing looks. You can cross out parts of what you’ve written and you won’t lose points for that.
You don’t directly lose points in your pieces of writing for making spelling mistakes. But if the spelling mistakes make it difficult to understand what you’ve written then you’ll lose points for that.
Using this to get higher marks
Knowing how your pieces of writing in the exam are marked is important to know because it shows that how you write it (the structure of it and how easy it is to read/understand) and what you choose to write in your pieces of writing are actually more important for getting a good mark than the vocabulary you use. This makes it easier to know what you have to do to write better pieces of writing for the CAE exam (what things you have to improve and focus on when writing them).
To help you do this, below are five things which I recommend that you do to improve your pieces of writing:
- Learn what the different structures are of the 5 different types of writing (an essay, a report, a letter/email, a proposal and a review) you could be asked to write in the exam.
- Learn what the parts of the structure for each of the 5 different types of writing you could have to write are there to do (e.g. what the introduction of a essay is there to do, what the body of a report is there to do etc...).
- Learn what the main purpose of each of the 5 different types of writing is (e.g. convince, persuade, help somebody make a decision etc...).
- Think like the person who is going to be reading it. What things will they want to read about and what will make it easy for them to read what you’ve written?
- Plan for about 10 minutes what you are going to write in a piece of writing before you start writing it.
By doing these five things, it will make your writing both more successful and easier to read. It will also mean you get higher marks for your pieces of writing in the exam.