If you are new to, or even if you are not, the Cambridge Proficiency English exam, doing the part 1 essay of the Writing exam is difficult. Not only is it very different to writing an essay in any other of the Cambridge exams, but you have probably never done anything similar to it before at either school or university.
In this article I will explain what you have to do when doing it and give you some advice to make doing it easier for you. You also see towards the end, two examples of the types of essays which you can write for this part of the exam. But let's start by looking at the task.
Below is an example of a task you will find on the exam paper for part 1 of the CPE writing exam. It includes instructions of what you have to do and two texts which you have to read.
Identify the 4 main points
Having read the texts, what you need to then do is identify the two main points (the main assertions) from each text. You are going to write about these four points in the essay you produce.
This is more difficult than it may seem. I have generally found that students identify three of them relatively easily, but often struggle on identifying one of them. To be honest, I have done the same myself. As I mentioned before you need to identify the two main assertions that each is making, not the information which is only there to support the assertions (which you can also write about in your essay).
This hopefully will become clearer when I show you what the two main points are for each of the texts which you have just read. I will also both underline and bold them in the actual texts.
Text 1 Main Points
- Home is the only place where one can relax.
- Home gives us the opportunity to reflect and think about our lives.
Only at home for many of us, can we really relax. It is the place we go to recover from the stresses and strains of our everyday life: the chaos and endless noise of city life, the pressures of work or study, and the unbearable journey to and from work through endless traffic. It is home which gives us the opportunity to reflect on all that has happened that day. It is where we can contemplate at leisure all that has happened to us and others either when alone in the peace and quiet of our own room or through a discussion with those that we live with over a cup of tea or coffee.
Text 2 Main Points
- For some people it is outside home where they feel free and themselves (stated in the first two sentences).
- Home is a place where we can express who we are by what we do with it.
Although for some life at home is a place of contentment and liberty, for others it can not only be quite a restrictive environment, but also a rather dull one. As a consequence, they need to go outside its confinements to parks or bars or even shopping centres in order to socialise with people they want to and be themselves. But that being said, home is still a place where one can express one's personality. From the choice and colour of fixtures and fittings, to the books in the bookcases and the paintings or posters on the walls, we learn a lot about the person who lives there. So if one visits a friend's home for the first time, it might well reveal aspects of their personality which had previously gone unnoticed before.
They will look for the 4 points
The person who is marking your essay when you sit the exam will be looking that you have correctly identified and written about these 4 main points. Although you will be marked down if you don't correctly identify all of them, it doesn't mean that you will fail this part of the exam (get less than 12 out of 20) if you misidentify one or two of them (for example, say the second point from text 2 is "we can identify who a person is from visiting their home"). The reason why is that they are also assessing other aspects of your writing (your range and level of your grammar and vocabulary, the structure and flow of the piece of writing, how easy it is to read and your logic and reasoning) which are equally if not more important. So don't worry too much about identify all four correctly.
Reword the points
You should try to use synonyms where possible of the words used in the main points in the text. For example, instead of "happened" you could use "occured", or instead of "dull" you could use "tedious". It is not always possible to do, but try to do it as much as you can.
Be critical or one or two points
Writing an essay in the real world (at school and university) is to show your teacher, lecturer or professor that you not only understand the topic you are writing about (you have the knowledge), but that you can make a good argument (i.e. is something good, is something bad or is something both good and bad). Everything that you choose to write about is to support the main argument you have (e.g. Social media is bad for our mental health). You shouldn't write about things or make assertions which contradict what your main argument is.
The reason I am telling you this, is that you will often find with the texts that they contain opposing or contradictory ideas about the same topic. When you write about these in your essay you need to be critical of one or two of the points from the text. Which ones depend on what your main argument is going to be in the essay you are writing.
From the text above, if your main argument is that home is a good place then you would be critical of the point which says "for some people it is outside home where they feel free and be themselves". Whereas if your main argument is that home is a bad place then you could be critical of any of the three of other points. But when you are critical of any point you have to justify why it is wrong.
Two types of essays which you can write
There are two types of essay which you can write for this part of the Cambridge Proficiency exam: Discursive or Comparative. The discursive essay is one which you are probably used to writing at both school and university. The comparative essay is going to be new to most of you and in a way is more like you are writing a type of review of the two texts.
I am not going to go into detail about the differences in them and how to write them in this article (I will do that in separate articles on both types of essays in the future). The only thing I would like you to do now is read an example of the two different types. Whilst reading them, think about how they differ in structure and what they do and how the four main points are incorporated in them.
Each of them is an essay on the four points from the texts you read above.
Please bear in mind that you are not expected to produce something of this quality to pass the Proficiency Writing exam, because you aren't. The examiners know that you are not a native speaker and expect you will make mistakes. These are just two perfect examples (which took a lot longer than 45 minutes to write) of what you should be doing.
There is a common saying in Britain that "an Englishman's home is his castle". A place of refuge from the strains and stresses of everyday life. The only place where one can be truly oneself and do whatever one desires. However, is this really true?
It is undeniably true that having a home does afford a person a degree of control and independence which is sadly lacking in most other areas of modern life. The ability to tailor one's own surroundings (whether it be how the furniture is arranged or the colour scheme of a room) is something which is not possible to do outside one's abode. And furthermore, the ability to choose who and when people are permitted to visit, provides (if needed) a much needed respite from the trials and tribulations which we have to face on a daily basis. A safe harbour in stormy waters where one is free to reflect on one's life without interference from the outside world.
However, it would be folly to accept that this idealised view of the home is available to all. For unless you live on your own and own the property, you are not only limited to what you can do with it, but you also have to share it with others who may not provide you with the space or the sense of control we sometimes need. For those who find themselves in this situation, the only solution available for finding peace and quiet may often be to seek it elsewhere.
Although it is true that a man's (or woman's for that matter) home can be their castle, it is not true for all. The advantages that a home provides a person depends on the circumstances they find themselves living in.
Ever since Homer's epic poem Odyssey, a common plot line in numerous novels, plays and operas has been people trying to find their way back home; willingly enduring countless perils and hardships to achieve that aim. This would seem to indicate that the place we call home occupies a very special place in our hearts. And the two texts discuss why the place we reside in carries so much importance to us.
The first text starts with the claim that for many of us home is our place of refuge from the strains and stresses of everyday life, the only place where we can really disconnect. The text consequently goes on to support this by arguing that it allows us the freedom and ability to reflect on one's life without interference from the outside world. And although both of these arguments make perfect sense, I feel it really depends on the individual circumstances we find in our home life whether they happen.
This is perfectly illustrated in the second text where it is asserted that for some people it is not at home, but outside of it, where they can truly find the peace and quiet that they long for. It then contradictorily states that home provides us with a degree of control and independence over our surroundings (through how we arrange or even decorate them) which we don't have elsewhere. And yet being true for some, this again really depends on the circumstances we live in.
It is undeniably true that the place that we call home is important to us all. Not only does it potentially provide us with a degree of control over how we live our lives, but it also has other significance for us. It is the place in which we spend a lot of time with those who are most significant to us. And if we have lived there for a prolonged period of time, it is also the source of many memories. Whether we regard home as heaven or hell, very much depends on the experiences in which we have had or continue to have there.
I hope this long article has helped you understand better what you need to do for this piece of writing in the Cambridge CPE Writing exam. It is not easy, but with practice and perseverance it will become easier to do. It has done with all the students I have taught.