International House Santa Clara students at B2 (First), C1 (Advanced) and C2 (Proficiency) levels take mock exams during their courses in order for us all to gauge how everyone’s preparation for the relevant Cambridge English exams is going. We believe that this experience is an important step as it gives students and teachers a clear picture of both their strengths and areas to improve on. In other words, we see the mocks as great opportunities for learning and improving your performance. As such, the aim of this post is to suggest some things that you can do as learners when you get feedback on the writing papers.
When you do a mock at International House Santa Clara, you receive some feedback on your writing which details your marks in the four areas we evaluate when assessing your texts (content, communicative achievement, organisation and language). You can use this feedback to assess where your strengths and areas to work on lie. What do you need to work on to improve your grades in these areas? For instance, for organisation, you might be advised to widen the range of linking words and phrases you use to order, add and contrast ideas in your texts. If so, then you can look back in your course book to refresh your memory on linking phrases you have studied in the past. Don’t foget to be sure you know how to use them. Maybe you can practice by writing some example sentences. Then, next time you do a piece of writing, set yourself the aim of paying attention to how you signpost your texts in order to bring about greater cohesion.
Another thing you can do after the mock and with any piece of writing you do on the course, is to look at the notes your teacher has made on your text. Sometimes we’ll correct things by suggesting better ways to express them. At other times, we’ll leave some of the work to you by only identify the error and giving you a hint as to the type of mistake it is (using our correction code). In this case you can have a go at making the correction yourself.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of the mistakes you make either in a notebook or on an electronic document. Write down what you originally put and then your attempt at correction. Later, check your correction with your teacher. This is a great technique for helping you realise the kinds of mistakes you make and hopefully learn from them so you avoid repeating them in future! Here’s an example of how you could organise your correction record: Original sentence: Thank you for the time and attention you take to this letter. Type of mistake: Collocation Correction: Thank you for the time and attention you pay / give to this letter. (pay / give + attention to something). As you start to build up a collection of the kinds of errors you regularly make, you’ll be in a better position to edit your writing more efficiently as you’ll know what to look out for.
Here are some of the most common codes we use to classify the errors in written work (if your text has other marks which you don’t understand, just ask your teacher for clarification). Use it to go through your texts and try to correct some of your own mistakes.
- WO = word order. There is a mistake with the order of the words you used (e.g. a cat black)
- WF = word form. You have used the wrong type of word for this part of the sentence; maybe a noun where you should have an adjective, for example (e.g. The exercise was very difficulty)
- VF = verb form. The verb needs to be in a different form (e.g. I am very glad hearing from you)
- VT = verb tense. The verb is not in the correct tense (e.g. She was very embarrassed when she realised she forgot his name)
- Prep = preposition. An inappropriate preposition has been used. (e.g. They met on 5 o’ clock)
- Col = collocation. Some of the words you have chosen don’t sit naturally together (e.g. I hope you all had a merry holiday)
- WC/Voc = Word choice/vocabulary selection. The word you’ve chosen isn’t ideal in this context. (e.g. The chairs on the plane were very small and didn’t give much legroom)
- WW = Wrong word. The word used is incorrect in this context (e.g. I can’t imagine how life was like 100 years ago… (what)
- Reg = register. Your level of (in)formality is not appropriate to this text type (e.g. I look forward to hearing from you, hugs and kisses)
- Sp = spelling. This word is not spelled correctly (e.g. His Oscar aceptence speech was very funny)
- Agr = agreement. Your subject does not match the form of the verb or other dependent words (e.g. This people is friendly)
- Art = article. There is an error with the choice or use of an article (e.g. In Portugal today, most people use the computers every day)
- MW = missing word. There is a word missing from the sentence (e.g. After John got his black belt in karate, he decided was time to take a new sport.)
- XW = extra word(s). There is an unneccesary word which you should remove (e.g. The media it‘s a powerful force in modern society)
- Org = confusing use of linking word/phrase/discourse marker (e.g. Mobile phones are very useful. On the other hand, people tend to like them…)
- ?/clarity = meaning not clear. It is hard to understand what you are trying to say. (e.g. Potato topic had was is too fizzy)
- P = punctuation. You need to rethink how you’ve used punctuation or use some!
For both grammar and vocabulary error correction, don’t forget how useful the information provided in dictionaries can be. Here are some links to online dictionaries you can use for free:
Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries: www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com
Cambridge online dictionary: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/