The Writing paper for Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET), at B1 level, comprises 3 parts:
- Part 1: Sentence transformation
- Part 2: Short message (35 – 45 words)
- Part 3: Email/Letter or story (about 100 words)
In this post we will see how to write an email or letter at B1 level for your Preliminary (PET – B1) exam. If you already read the post on how to write a short message, you will see that writing an email/letter is quite similar, only a little longer and slightly more complex.
What do you have to do in Writing Part 3?
In this part of the test, you are given an extract of a letter or email from an English friend or relative, and you are asked to respond to it in about 100 words. The topics are usually not very difficult, as you’re expected to write at an intermediate level, about topics you are familiar with: sports, hobbies, TV programmes, the weather, your town/city, etc. Here’s an example taken from Cambridge English sample papers:
The first thing you need to know is the different parts of an email:
- Greetings: we greet the other person (i.e. say “hi” or “hello”).
- Opening paragraph: we react to the other person’s news and ask them how they are feeling and whatever else you feel is appropriate.
- Main paragraph 1: in this paragraph we deal with the first important point, which we can identify in the instructions.
- Main paragraph 2: if there is a different point to deal with, this paragraph will do so.
- Closing paragraph: in this paragraph we “start” to say goodbye by wishing the other person well and asking them to reply to your letter.
- Goodbye: we use a short expression to say goodbye.
- Signature: we sign the letter with our name.
Now that we know the different parts of a letter or email, we should see an example.
Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) – Writing Part 3: Email or Letter
Let’s take a look at the following example of a Preliminary (PET) task answer for Writing Part 3, where we can see an answer to the sample task we saw above:
In the example above, you can see the different parts of a letter or email well defined. It’s important that your writing is visually appealing, apart from having good grammar and vocabulary. This means that the paragraphs should be well defined, with a space in between, and that you should know when to break lines. This is specially important after greetings, after opening and closing paragraphs, and after saying goodbye. This will make your text visually appealing, as it will look like a real letter or email.
Expressions to use in your email/letter
In this section, we are going to focus on different expressions you can use in the different parts of the letter. While the main paragraphs will vary completely depending on the topic of your writing, most of the other parts in the letter can be practised and memorised almost completely. Let’s take a look:
In order to start your email or letter in Writing Part 3 for Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET), you can use different expressions, which are really typical and easy to remember. We have 3 basic ways to greet in this kind of letter, which is usually for a friend or family member:
- Hi John,
- Hello John,
- Dear John,
Notice how “hi” is less formal than “hello” or “dear”. Also, don’t forget to write a comma (,) right after greeting your friend or relative. After greeting the addressee (i.e. the person who will read the letter), you must start the opening paragraph in a new line.
The opening paragraph is the place to react to your friend’s or relative’s letter. In order to do so, you can use a number of different expressions. Here we have some examples:
- It’s nice / great / good to hear from you.
- It’s nice / great / good to read your letter.
- I’m glad to hear your news.
- I’m excited about… (your news.)
- It’s great to hear that…
- I’m sorry to hear that…
- I’m really sorry to read your news.
- Thanks a lot for writing!
- It was good to receive your letter.
- Thank you very much for your letter.
And many more. Also, it’s a good idea to ask your friend or relative how they are feeling, which you can do like this:
- Hope you are doing well.
- How’s it going?
- How are you (doing)?
- How are things (going)?
You can also add some information that you think is relevant or necessary, but don’t expand this paragraph very much, because the important information must go in the main paragraphs.
For the main paragraphs, there aren’t any fixed expressions which you must use, as it depends mostly on what you have to write about. However, you should try to make use of connectors and appropriate punctuation. So let’s take a look at common useful connectors and the punctuation we use them with:
- … and… : to connect two similar things or ideas.
I love reading and listening to music.
My favourite meal is fish and chips.
- …, but… : to connect two contrasting ideas.
I love watching Tv, but I don’t have a favourite show.
I am reading a book, but I don’t remember the title.
- . However, … : to connect contrasting ideas.
Last month, I went to the cinema. However, I didn’t enjoy the movie.
I am a very big fan of this author. However, I haven’t read his last novel.
- Moreover, … : to add more information about something.
- … because… : to justify an opinion or idea.
My mum is the perfect cook because she knows a lot of recipes and has plenty of experience. Moreover, she experiments with different ingredients all the time.
- . Because of that, … : to justify an opinion, fact or idea.
My mum likes to cook using new ingredients all the time. Because of that, she creates original dishes every month.
- . As for…/ Regarding… : to switch to a new topic. For instance, you can use this connector to start the second main paragraph.
As for/Regarding why I like this cookery show, I think it’s because it’s a great way to see new recipes.
- Time linkers: then, after that, yesterday, this morning, last summer, etc.
Last night, I watched a very good action film.
With many connectors, we typically use a comma (,) after it when we start a sentence (e.g.: However, Last night, Moreover, etc.).
If you’d like to find out more connectors and discourse markers, check out Alicia’s English Blog.
As we mentioned earlier, a closing paragraph in this Writing part 3 is used to start saying goodbye to the addressee and to ask for a response to your letter. So we can use the following expressions:
- Well, it’s time to say goodbye.
- Anyway, I have to go now.
- Well, it’s time to go.
- Anyway, gotta go.
- I really hope to hear from you soon.
- I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
- I hope you write back soon.
- Make sure you write back soon.
Also, if you still have to write more words, you can add a question for a subsequent letter or email. This question should be related to the topic of your piece of writing.
There are many ways in English to close an informal letter or email. The most frequently used ones are the following:
- Best wishes,
- Take care,
- All my love,
- Lots of love,
- See you soon,
Notice how there is a comma (,) after each of the phrases. Also, after writing any of these sentences, make sure you write your name on a different line. And write your name without a full stop!
Another example of Preliminary (PET): Writing Part 3
Now that we know what expressions we should be using in our writing, we are going to take a look at another task and a sample answer:
Notice how the expressions in bold are used. Whenever you write an email, you should think about this type of expressions and make sure you use them appropriately.
Top 5 Tips for Preliminary (PET) Writing Part 3 (Emails/Letters)
- Learn and memorise a set of expressions. Make sure you already know a set of expressions to use in your greetings, opening and closing paragraphs, and to say goodbye. This will save you a lot of time while doing a task, and you will avoid making silly mistakes as you will already know the expressions by heart.
- Write a well-structured and visually-appealing email or letter. One of the things Cambridge English examiners pay attention to is the organisation of your piece writing, so make sure not to write a messy email. Also, remember that punctuation matters, so be sure to separate your sentences with stops and commas and don’t write excessively long sentences.
- Brainstorm, write, read and edit. Before starting to write your email, brainstorm a couple of things and write down some ideas. This can include vocabulary related to the topic. For example, if you have to write about TV shows, you can write down thinks like “contestants”, “cookery show”, “prize”, etc. Then, write out your email. After that, read it and look for possible mistakes or opportunities for improvement (e.g.: adding descriptive adjectives, rephrasing sentences, etc.).
- Read carefully and identify the task. Don’t start writing right away. Make sure you read the task carefully and that you identify exactly what you are being asked. Sometimes, we don’t pay attention to the instructions and we end up writing about something different. This will mean losing points, in a very silly way, I must say.
- Experiment at home, be conservative in the exam. Homework is the best chance to be creative and experiment different ways to express yourself. So make sure you try your hardest to keep improving when you write at home. On the other hand, when you’re doing an exam, don’t risk trying out new words or expressions, as you may be making a terrible mistake. So be safe in your exam and stick to what you already know works.
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