Marilena Chirculete takes a look at the revised Proficiency exam and shares her classroom ideas to help students prepare for the new exam format. This is the second part of a series of blogs on the topic.
Let’s continue our stroll through the changes of the new and revised Cambridge English: Proficiency examination. I have tackled the issue of the reformed Reading and Use of English Paper in a previous post but what lies ahead regarding the Writing Paper?
Approaching the Writing Paper
Students will spend only one hour and a half, instead of two hours, on this paper due to the fact that the minimum word count will be reduced from 600 to 520. There will also be less variety, in that Part 1 will only be a compulsory discursive essay, while for the second part candidates may have to choose an article, a report, a letter or a review. Good news on this front, therefore, less text types to prepare for! Further on, I am going to focus on the newest type of task, which makes for Writing Part 1.
Writing Part 1 – what’s in two texts?
Thankfully, the Proficiency examination is usually not the first Cambridge English examination students have sat. This is the reason why they may already be very familiar with what is required of them.
Part 1 has always been the compulsory one, much like in figure skating – there are certain tricks the assessors must notice in the candidate’s performance.
The new Part 1 is a follow-up to that former Use of English task which dealt with summarising, organising information and evaluating its merits, as they are now offered by two texts of around 100 words each.
Naturally, candidates will need help pinpointing the essential information in a text and analysing it compellingly. Encourage them to use highlighters in order to stress out significant information, whether it is presented in a contrasting or complementary manner by the two given texts.
‘So, what makes an idea essential?’, your students might ask. Well, both texts are linked by a common topic, theme or subject. Whenever an idea is brought to the table by both of them, that is when students need to pay attention. The arguments may be divergent, of course, even if related to the same aspect and the dynamic between the two texts may not always be transparent. It is the students’ task to make connections, to identify the two ways in which an idea is presented.
‘What next?’, I hear students ask. Once they have broken the message of both texts down into main points and have found the connecting/contradicting viewpoint in between each pair of ideas, it is time to finally get down to the writing. What is extremely important for students in this part 1 is that they understand they must be first excellent readers and only afterwards excellent writers.
Teachers now face the challenge of having to train students to select the main pieces of information and to also use them successfully in their own written discourse.
- Help students disintegrate a piece into its basics, into the main ideas and then reintegrate them into their own frame of thought.
- Play detective games, where students must first identify the relevant information offered by the witnesses, then present the two sides of the story, only to conclude with their final pleading – the moment when they weigh both versions of the truth and give their own view and interpretation. There’s your piece! Now, write it down!
- Individual or group projects are also useful in this respect; cut-outs offer the possibility of recycling what’s given into one’s own project.
Careful with the language! Accuracy and appropriateness are both of the essence. What is paramount, other than a high flexibility and versatility of language use is signposting its functions. A writing task will always ask students to comment, argue, recommend, suggest, persuade, and so on.
Make sure your students have the right tools at hand: language for making recommendations, for instance, or language for persuading. These are the “buffer”-words that will allow their writing piece to function. Concrete arguments and ideas are merely the material that revolves around the way this raw material is put to good use.
Obviously, there also needs to be diversity amongst this kind of preparatory statements. If you are trying to teach language for suggesting or recommending, set the scene for it. Ask students to picture themselves in a therapist’s office. What would they tell the therapist to make his/ her job more difficult and what would they reply, as therapists, to the requests of the patients? What would they recommend and, most importantly, how would they introduce the ideas and smoothen their way into communication?
Writing Part 1 is challenging because of its very essence: focusing on both the WHAT and the HOW. The greatest novelty in the revised Proficiency examination is the fact that there are two steps to solving the task: reading comprehension and relaying information in a discursive piece, while also analysing and interpreting. It is, however, the chance for students to be personal, to weigh in their own thoughts, too. The candidate gets to feel like a true contributor to a matter of interest, therefore, as a final word of advice, ask your students to speak their mind and to think critically, with every opportunity you might have in class.
In the next post I will be looking at strategies to help students prepare for the Speaking and Listening papers. Details of the changes to the Cambridge English: Proficiency 2013 exam can be viewed here. View the title on our online catalogue.
- Something old, something new… (oupeltglobalblog.com)