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Six steps to writing transactional letters in the FCE Exam – Part 2

Young woman working and smiling in classroomIn Part 1 of this article, Michael Duckworth shared his first three steps towards writing the perfect transactional letter in the FCE Exam. In this second installment, he shares steps 4-6 and a useful summary.

4. USING YOUR OWN WORDS

When it comes to the exact words and phrases that you use, you should avoid copying too many words and phrases from the original letter.  If you can use your own words and phrases, then you will demonstrate your ability to use a range of structures and show your breadth of vocabulary.

5. CHOOSING THE RIGHT STYLE

Another way of doing well in this part of the paper is to make sure that you use the appropriate style.

If it is an email to a friend about a party, you will want to keep the language informal; if it is a letter to a company, you will need to keep the language formal or neutral.

Sometimes it is difficult to remember the differences between formal and informal English, so here is a short checklist of how to write informal English, for example in an email to a friend.  A lot of these differences are very small, but if you use all of them together, they make a big difference.

In informal English:

a) Use short forms like isn’t, won’t, it’s, I’ve instead of is not, will not, it is, I have, etc.   This is because we tend to use these forms when we are speaking, and using them in written English makes it sound more informal.

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Six steps to writing transactional letters in the FCE Exam – Part 1

Young woman thinking in examMichael Duckworth, a teacher and author of several courses for preparing students for Cambridge ESOL examinations, gives a two-part guide to writing the perfect transactional letter in the FCE Exam. Part 2 explores steps 4-6..

The first question in Paper 2 of the First Certificate in English (FCE) Exam is one that all candidates have to answer. This is the transactional letter or email – the word transactional simply means that it is a response to a letter or email and some notes.

I’ve found it helpful to give students a checklist to go through when they write their answer in the exam, and to give them key vocabulary for the types of reply they may need to write. Here are the first three steps of my six step process that will help your students write their best answer. There will be a summary at the end of the next post.

1. GET OFF TO A GOOD START

Before you do anything, read the question carefully and find out the following:

  • who you are writing to
  • why you are writing (e.g. to ask for information, to complain, etc.)
  • what you are writing about

When you have worked out what the purpose of your letter or email is, you should be able to work out what kind of style you will need to use.

2. PLANNING

Remember that the transactional letter needs to be between 120-150 words, so can be quite short. Take advantage of this and use the extra time for planning – a well-planned answer will be much easier to write and will get a much better mark.

There are three things to consider when you are thinking about a plan:

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