When taking CPE, CAE, FCE, IELTS or any other international examination, you are often asked to write an essay.

Essays are formal documents and therefore must be written in a formal style. They are based on discussions on very serious topics such as the economy of a country or the environment. 

In the Cambridge CPE writing exam you are given two pieces of text with information on a topic and then asked to write an essay summarising the most important information in the texts. (See an essay sample )

In the CAE exam you are given a task which is usually something like "you've had a class discussion on Global Warming (or any other serious topic), write an essay giving your opinion on the following statement..." (See an essay sample)

There are a number of things you should take into consideration before you write, while you write and after you write an essay:

1. Types of essay

Take into consideration that there are two main types of

essays: Discursive essays and Opinions essays.

In a Discursive Essay you introduce the topic in the first

paragraph. Then present arguments for in the second

paragraph, arguments against in the third and a conclusion in

the forth.

In an Opinion Essay you give you opinion in the first

paragraph and in the paragraphs that follow you support that

opinion with ideas and examples.

"A discursive ( or for and against ) essay is different from an opinion essay. In an opinion essay, the writer starts out stating his/her opinion; in a discursive essay, the writer gives a balanced view and in the conclusion can either state his/her opinion or give a summary of both sides of the argument." Source: "Speak Out" by Eales Frances and Oakes S.

organisation discursive essay

2. Useful language for essays 

Here there are some useful phrases you can use:

Sentence openers :
-          The first text suggests that…..
The second text raises the issue of …..
-          The writer is of the opinion that….
-          Additionally, it is ragued that…..
-          The two texts contrast differing views of…..
-          According to the first passage…….
-          Personaly, i …………….
-          The second text put forward……
-          I believe that………
-          In conclusuon , it is my opinion that……

Linking points and arguments

-          As opposed to
-          In the sense that…..
-          For this reason……..

Making generalisations :

-          On the whole….
-          In general…..
-          For the most part….
-          As a rule……
-          It is often that….
-          It is usually the case that…..
-          People to regard…..
-          The reality is that…..

Being specific:
-          With respect to...
-          In the case of...
-          As regards...
-          In terms of….
-          With the exception of…..
-          From the ….. point of view….
-          They are seen as…..
-          As far as ……are / is concerned……

Raising an argument:
-          Considering…..
-          On the question of….
-          No one would dispute…….

Giving one side:
-          One argument in favour of this is ….
-          In support of…..
-          It is true that……

Giving the other side:
-          At the same time….
-          In actual fact…..
-          On the other hand….
-          In contrast to….
-          Set/ weighed against this is…..

Attitude :
-          Personally...
-          Unfortunately...
-          Obviously...
-          Evidently...
-          Presumably...
-          Naturally...
-          fortunately..

-          a great deal of...
-          to some / a large extent...
-          a large number of….

F.A.Q: What´s the difference between an article and an essay?
(Click to read origial post)

We asked 6 CPEs (people who have successfully passed the Cambridge Proficiency in English exam) and this is what they said to us:

CPE1: "An article is a piece of writing where a topic, either serious or light-hearted, is tackled from a personal point of view, including personal experience or arguments. Its purpose is generally to both inform and entertain. On the other hand, an essay is a piece of writing tending towards the academic: the topic in discussion is of a more serious nature and the writer is expected to provide an idea plus the arguments that discuss it. In doing so, they will have to refer to specific points about the issue in question and will generally have to use more precise language."

CPE2: "Article, informative, based on facts. Essay, develops an argument, involves opinions (so does a for an against article, oops!)."

CPE3: "As far as I´m concerned essays are more academic, you need to analyse both sides of the topic, and provide arguments to back you up, whereas articles are somehow more flexible and can have a more neutral tone."

CPE4: "I think an essay develops arguments and has always your opinion. An article gives information, although sometimes you can write your opinion."

CPE5: "As far as I know, an article is a piece of writing in which the writer chooses a topic and develops it giving his/her own opinion throughout the text. The language used can be fun and eye-catching as usually an article is meant to get as many readers as possible. An essay, on the other hand, is a rather formal piece of writing with a usually 4-5 paragraph structure, where usually the last paragraph carries the writer´s opinion."

CPE6: "Well, I think an essay is normally more academic and analytical, when the writer supports his views usually has to make reference to factual information and other people's or authors' views and findings. An article is basically aimed to inform or entertain the reader, it can be formal or informal depending on the topic and publication it appears whereas an essay is rarely informal. An article is published mainly in magazines or newspapers, for example a school´s newspaper, while an essay is normally a university assignment. Some essays might be of more than three pages, but for international exams we have to keep them short. The tone of an essay is generally serious, compared to the one of an article which might sound more relaxed and include some humour. I hope I have contributed with something."