Writing is one of the most difficult tasks to do in a foreign language given that it is an expression skill, in contrast to reading or listening. So while doing a writing exam, apart from being able to create and develop ideas in relation to the topic or situation given, we need to have enough knowledge of vocabulary and grammar to deploy those ideas accurately.
So our aim with this article is to gather a few useful tips to help you easily face the writing tasks of your I/GCSE exam. And for such a purpose we have used only official sources from a range of examination boards –Edexcel, Cambridge International Examinations, AQA, etc.-, to make sure our advice is trustworthy.
1. Your first goal is to fulfill all of the communication points provided in the task
As you may already know the long writing tasks, but in some boards’ papers also the short ones, asks the student to provide information related to four to five bullet points.
So in order to get all the marks accounting for the communication criterion, you need to answer with information in relation to all of them. If you miss some information or you don’t develop it enough you will get deducted some marks. In contrast, if you satisfy this requirement properly you will even be allowed to write a few less words than initially asked without any deduction of marks, so please take into account how important this criterion is for the examiner.
Answer each bullet point in a different paragraph, and make sure you provide appropriate information to the communication point. For example, if you are being asked for things to do for young people in your city, make sure you answer a few places using nouns like en mi ciudad hay una bolera, un parque, y un polideportivo, and activities with infinitives like se puede nadar en la playa, or me gusta hacer senderismo. The more pieces of information you provide, the more marks you will get.
Very often each bullet point makes reference to past, present or future situations so that you need to answer to it with the appropriate tense or tenses. This way you can show you consistently and successfully can make reference to different time moments. Make sure then that you use preterite and imperfect when referring to the past, and also near future (ir a followed by infinitive), simple future and conditional when talking about future and your future ideal house, trip or job for example.
Very often one of the bullet points is related to your opinion about an issue. In this case you should always justify your opinion, and below we will give you examples for it.
2. Without enough vocabulary whole ideas cannot be deployed
Knowing enough vocabulary in Spanish not only will help you to consolidate your ideas, but if specific enough and related to the topic it will also help you to produce new and more complex ones. Showing that you know and use accurately very specific vocabulary will also be rewarded since the idea of the usage of a ‘wide range of vocabulary’ by the candidate is very recurrent in the IGCSE guidelines for examiners.
But, what if I am bad with lists or lists of vocabulary I have are endless? One important previous step is doing a right selection of vocabulary. First, find an appropriate and trustworthy list. Every examination board provides a core vocabulary list with different sections by topic so, go for it.
But after finding an appropriate list, transform it! Make it shorter and more useful, and topic by topic: a) exclude common words you already know and don’t need to revise, like days of the week, colors, name of animals, etc., just keep the ones you really need to revise frequently, b) pick words specific enough for each topic focusing mainly in three categories: verbs, nouns and adjectives, and c) avoid adding to your list words so specific that seldom you will be able to include in a phrase.
When selecting verbs, nouns and adjectives don’t add too many. 8 to 10 specific verbs by topic are enough, but make sure you can conjugate them in every tense. Similarly 5 to 7 adjectives are also enough. But probably you will need to memorize more nouns, they are also easier;)
3. Verbs and accurate conjugation are the most important part for in the language criterion
Usage of verbs will be marked on itself, and generally 18 different verbs have to be ticked for getting full mark in this section of the language criterion.
But not every usage of verbs is ticked in the same way. Importantly, only the first occurrence of a verb in the same form is marked. That means that writing me gusta (✔) el chocolate y también me gusta el zumo will be awarded only one tick. In this case would have been much more profitable to declare me gusta (✔) el chocolate y también me encanta (✔) el zumo, almost same phrase but double the marks.
In contrast, when same verb but different subject yes two ticks are given: yo prefiero (✔) la carne y mi hermano prefiere (✔) el pescado. Just make sure that if you specify the subject it is correct as well, since yo prefiero (✔) la carne y hermano prefiere el pescado will only be awarded one tick given that hermano (wrong) is missing the posesive pronoun, mi hermano (right).
Also structures with two verbs, the second one in infinitive or gerund will be accepted as two verbs instead of one: me gusta (✔) leer (✔), quiero (✔) bailar (✔), no puedo (✔) nadar (✔), or suelo (✔) estudiar (✔) por la noche. Since these types of structures are extremely easy to use they are also incredibly worth it.
The same apply to near future tense, for example in mi hermana y yo vamos (✔) a ir (✔) a España. Just verify you don’t forget the preposition a in between the two verbs since this will be penalized with only one tick. The same applies to structures with infinitive and a preposition or connective in between like: empezar a plus infinitive, acabar de plus infinitive, tener que plus infinitive, hay que plus infinitive, etc.
Although this double tick does not apply to estar plus gerund, like in the expression estoy (✔) estudiando chino, yes it will be awarded to other structures with gerund like seguir plus gerund, or llevar plus gerund.
Talking about present perfect, since it is a compounded tense we can also obtain a double tick by combining two past participles like in estas vacaciones hemos comido (✔) y bebido (✔) mucho. But remember, don’t be repetitive and use each of the structures listed here only once.
4. Make longer and more complex sentences using connectives
Longer and more ‘like native’ sentences are awarded under the other linguistic features of the language criterion. But hardly we will be able to make them if we lack connectives to merge simple phrases into more complex ones or to put in relation statements around a common idea.
Sometimes it can be very easy to write longer sentences using the connective que. For example, these two simple and independent phrases, tengo una casa en la playa and mi casa es muy grande, can be joined into a longer and more complex –two verbs- phrase: tengo una casa en la playa que es muy grande.
Other connectives, apart from allowing you to make longer sentences, they also help you to put ideas in relation. This happens when introducing the cause of something with porque (because), when stating the consequence of an action with por eso (so), when making contrast between ideas that seem opposite with pero (but) or sin embargo (however), or when presenting an impediment with aunque (although).
Finally, this idea of long phrases is especially important when declaring an opinion. As we said before, not any opinion should be written without a justification. In this case the opinion me gusta leer would better be developed as in me gusta leer porque aprendo mucho. In order not to repeat the same connective, ya que or dado que can be used exactly in the same way as porque.
5. If you have taken into account all the above, you are ready to get full marks with the ‘creative language’ and the ‘varied and complex grammar’ expectations on your writing
Apart from all stated above an extra step on the usage of language is expected from the very top students. Examiners are urged to find examples of uncommon that go beyond the minimum or predictable response. These are language structures that will also help to convince or create interest in the reader, and to express emotions and thoughts for example.
Ask your teacher how you can achieve this extra step, or check the grammar list of structures from the corresponding board of examiners. Superlatives and comparisons, conditional phrases, suggestions and proposals with structures like yo que tú or yo en tu lugar followed by conditional tense, or even opinions with presente de subjuntivo like no creo que or es importante que can be smart grammar structures to include in your text.