Cambridge CAE tips: Writing an Essay

For over 20 years, CISL has provided intensive classes to prepare our students for the Cambridge exams. We can’t think of a better place than California to study for (and take) the Cambridge tests! If you are taking the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English exam, you must write an essay for the first part of the writing exam. (It is also a possible prompt for the First Certificate of English Writing Module.) Learn all about the format and the requirements of an essay here.

Cambridge CAE tips: Writing an Essay

Essay Guidelines

What is an essay? An essay is a piece of writing where you, the author, explain your position on a topic. Like all writing, it must be well-organized (into paragraphs), use proper tone (formal vs. informal), and have correct grammar and vocabulary. You must clearly explain your point of view (using examples to support your argument), but you must also take into consideration the other opinion on this issue, usually acknowledging the opposing opinion and/or explaining why the opposing opinion is incorrect.


Know your Reader

According to Cambridge, an essay is typically written for an academic reader; often, the “writing task is similar to a follow-up to a class activity, such as attending a seminar or watching a documentary. The main purpose of the task is to underline relevant salient issues on the stated topic, and to support an argument with subsidiary points and reasons. An essay should be well organised, with an introduction, clear development and an appropriate conclusion. It should hold the target reader’s attention and communicate complex ideas using an appropriate range of vocabulary and structures.”


Essay Prompt

As published in the 2015 guidelines by Cambridge, the essay is now the only prompt for the first section of the Writing Module (there are two parts in total). In both Part 1 and Part 2, students are expected to write between 220 and 260 words: this is a change from the previous years, when Part 1 was shorter in length.

In Part 1, the student is given bullet points. The student must make a choice from these two bullet points and then write an essay explaining why one of the bullet points is more important than the other.

Take a look at some sample prompts below. For sample prompts and sample responses, visit the Cambridge website (or speak with a CISL instructor, who will have plenty of resources).


Sample Prompts

Prompt 1: Over the past century, which of the following jobs has increased in difficulty the most?

  • Politician
  • Mother
  • Farmer

Write an essay discussing two of the professions. You should explain which profession has increased in difficulty the most, giving reasons in support of your answer.

Prompt 2: Which of the following has technology helped the most?

  • Communication
  • Science
  • Daily life

Write an essay discussing two of the ideas presented above. You should explain which has been helped the most by technology, giving reasons in support of your answer.



  • Read the entire prompt before you begin writing. You must answer all parts of the prompt: make sure that you fully understand it before proceeding!
  • Organize and outline before writing. Always.
  • Don’t be afraid to agree or disagree. Just explain WHY you feel the way you do, and always support your opinions.
  • Do not write about things which the prompt does not mention. This will cause you to develop ideas that the prompt does not discuss, which will take away from your ability to develop the topic.
  • Avoid using the exact words from the prompt. Use synonyms.
  • Use linking words and phrases within paragraphs and to link paragraphs.


For information on the CISL CAE and FCE programs, click here.