This of course is a silly question, isn’t it? You’ve learnt your grammar pretty well; your vocabulary is substantial after extensive research on your favourite topics and watching TV; you’ve been listening to an English radio station; also you’ve been chatting away enthusiastically in class trying to imitate English accents(and you’re nearly there); so can you apply all this knowledge and your skills to the all-important B1 exam? It should be easy and it is but it needs practice.
Let’s think about the writing paper for your exam. It needs careful consideration so you can show everyone, including yourself, how hard you’ve worked during the course. Your teacher has gone on and on about the importance of planning and you’ve nodded away in class and you’ve tried hard to emulate her/his model answers and advice but you still feel that planning is not necessary. There isn’t enough time in the exam to plan and write, you say. Getting my words down quickly is much more important. But no! You’re making a big mistake. You have to understand that organising your ideas will avoid mistakes, repetition and the definite no-no (but easily done) – not answering the actual question but the question you think you’re answering.
Plan of action
1. Firstly, read the question and read it carefully. Underline any key words. Take in what is expected of you.
2. Note any bullet points in the email/letter as they must be included in your answer. Be careful about the word count, too.
3. Part 3 of the writing- you have a choice between questions 7 and 8. Consider both options and don’t dismiss either one. You really want to do the letter because it seems easier than the story but just wait a moment.
Take 2 minutes to write down any ideas which come to mind. Look at them and think which question you’d like to write now. Which question has generated more ideas? It might surprise you!
Getting down to it
- If you’ve decided on question 7, write a draft. Remember to write a name for your friend and to sign off with your name. Have you included all the information that’s required of you? Don’t forget to present your writing as a letter with the correct paragraphs. Reread your work again and correct it. Think about grammar, expressions, vocabulary and the flow and rhythm of your letter. Are you satisfied with it?
- If you’ve decided on question 8, write a draft. Make it interesting and something you’d like to read. Have you used or eliminated any brainstorming ideas? Can you develop them into a story? Remember your paragraphs – beginning, middle and end. The flow and rhythm together with the genre are very important or you’ll fail to impress. Grammar, vocabulary, expressions are necessary to make this a success. With the story, bear in mind the title or the first line you have to continue. If you’ve chosen a spy theme for example, is it thrilling? A science fiction one has to be out of this world! An adventure has to be exciting. Whatever you choose to do, and there are quite a few genres, make it the best you’ve ever done!
Don’t forget to keep an eye on the time. I would suggest that you would need around 30 minutes to complete this task. You must move yourself along during the whole of the reading and writing paper which is 1 ½ hours in total.
Now you’re ready to write up your final piece of work. Bear in mind that you may still want to alter a little something here and there. Reread your answer one more time in its completed form. Have you answered the question exactly as it has been written? Are you pleased with it? Then your planning has been successful. Well done!
If you find you have a few minutes to spare at the end of the whole exam, don’t just sit there till the time is up- look over your work as a whole just in case you find a mistake or you can improve on anything.
Do you know the difference between active and passive sentences? Today you’ll learn to master it!
In an active sentence, the person or thing that does something is the subject. Then we have the verb, and then the object:
Someone – ate – an apple.
However, sometimes we might want to start the sentence with the object because we think it is more important than the person who does something, or we might not even want to mention who does something. In these cases, we use the passive form:
An apple – was eaten – (by someone).
We don’t need to say “by someone” in this case because it is not important, but we’ll see more about this later. First, let’s think about how to form the passive.
First, the part before the verb (subject) moves after the verb, with the word “by”, and the part after the verb (object) moves before the verb.
Active: Someone – … – an apple [Símbolo] Passive: An apple – … – by someone
What happens with the verb? We have to think what the tense is. In our example, “ate” is the past simple, so we need to write the same tense, the past simple, with the verb to be, “was/were”. We need to use “was” because “an apple” is singular. Then, we add the verb of our example, “to eat”, in the past participle form (the third column for irregular verbs, or just –ed for regular verbs).
An apple was eaten by someone.
The tense of the verb “to be” will depend on the tense of the verb in the first sentence. After the verb “to be”, the main verb is always in the third column. Here you have an example with some tenses so you can see the change:
When do we use the passive? Here you have a few cases with examples:
When we want to change the focus of the sentence:
- Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare. (We are focusing more in the book than in the writer.)
When the person or the thing that does the action is unknown, obvious or unimportant. In this cases, we don’t need to write the “by” part at the end:
- My wallet has been stolen. (We don’t know who stole it)
- In Spain, Spanish is spoken. (It is obvious that it refers to Spanish people)
- I was told the exam is on Monday. (The person who told me is unimportant)
In facts or scientific writing, to make it sound more formal:
- The chemical is places in a test tube and the data entered into the computer.
In formal writing to avoid using “someone/people/they” which is not very informative:
- The enrolment period will be closed soon.
When the subject is very long:
- I was surprised by how well the students did in the exam.
Now it’s your time to lose fear of using the passive and making it part of your daily English. It will make you sound much more natural!
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