Some critical aspects of C2 writing
Preparing learners for a C2-level examination is a tall order, as it requires considerable effort and dedication on the part of both instructor and learners. C2 is the highest of the CEFR levels and, possibly for that reason, remains the least clearly defined. As a result, apart from a broad perception of learners’ overall linguistic ability, we often neglect individual aspects of our students’ writing skills which may well play a pivotal role in their examination performance and evaluation. The main objective of this text is to identify a number of commonly neglected areas in students’ preparation for a C2 examination, as well as in their performance during the examination. Needless to say, most of these points, apply equally to all – or most – CEFR levels. However, as a C2 examination is clearly more demanding, it becomes essential that both students and teachers familiarise themselves with all these points and do their best to address them.
Planning may seem like a waste of time to many candidates, but, precisely due to time constraints, it is of absolutely paramount importance to have a clear outline of what their composition will look like, before they start writing. Remind your students that, in case of an error or a change of heart, there is no time to modify or abandon one’s initial plan. Effective planning of a composition must lead to a well-structured piece of work with a clear introduction, main body and conclusion. Ideas and arguments must be structured according to a logical order, and this must be made evident to the reader through the use of lexical cohesion. The text produced must be clear and smoothly flowing. In order to achieve this, students must employ a number of cohesive devices and organisational patterns and use them effectively. Cohesive devices act as markers, which guide the reader through the text, thus facilitating the reading process – keep in mind that an examiner may have to read tens of pretty similar compositions in a limited amount of time.
Please consider the following examples (adapted from The Longman Writer’s Companion, p.32):
In 1779, Captain James Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay and discovered the island of Hawaii. As he entered the bay, did Cook notice the many mountains on the island? Perhaps he noticed Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in the Pacific. Perhaps he spotted one or more of the five major volcanoes. One of these, Mauna Loa, is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1984. Another, Kilauea, is the most active volcano on earth. It sends forth lava continuously. In addition, it keeps adding to the landmass of what is already the largest island in the Hawaiian chain.
Captain James Cook discovered the island of Hawaii in 1779. Mauna Kea, on Hawaii, is the tallest mountain in the Pacific. Cook might have noticed the many mountains on the island as he sailed into Kealakekua Bay. The island also has five major volcanoes. Mauna Loa, another mountain on the island, is a dormant volcano that last erupted in 1984. Kilauea is the most active volcano on earth. It continues to enlarge the land that makes up this largest island in the Hawaiian chain. The volcano sends forth lava continuously.
Please note how the second text, due to the severe lack of organisational patterns, cohesive devices, and limited use of pronouns, resorts to extensive use of repetition, makes scarce use of structures and complex sentences, and, as a result, becomes monotonous, interrupted, even confusing. Again, although grammatically and syntactically sound, the second rendition reveals a number of its author’s linguistic weaknesses.
Style: Tone and Register
There is no such thing as a styleless text. All texts are written in accordance with certain stylistic norms. The extent to which their authors are aware of the stylistic norms they employ is a different matter altogether. Style is an essential aspect of writing which inexperienced writers must be encouraged to explore. Two aspects of style are worth exploring here: Tone and register.
Tone is the dominant emotion in a piece of writing. It can be better understood as the equivalent of an angry voice or a smile in terms of spoken discourse. It sets the mood for your text, defines the choice of words to great extent, and also establishes the relationship between the author and his/her audience. Register, on the other hand, refers to the level of formality exhibited by a text and may vary from slang, colloquial and informal to extremely formal. It is worth mentioning that register is directly referred to in the CEFR and tested from level B2 and above. As a result, its presence in C2 exams is central. The choice of register for a particular text will vary depending on the intended audience as well as on the genre of the text. In any case, C2 exam-takers need to clearly demonstrate register awareness and control.
Consider the following three examples (adapted from Peter Newmark’s book on Translation):
First sentence: The consumption of any nutriments whatsoever is categorically prohibited in this establishment.
Second sentence: Eating is not allowed here.
Third Sentence: You can’t feed your face here.
Although the content of all three sentences is practically identical, the actual meaning they convey differs radically, as it heavily relies on context, mode of address, tone, register and choice of words. It is worth pointing out that all three sentences are grammatically and syntactically sound. This, however, does not necessarily qualify them as appropriate or acceptable under any circumstances.
On our part, we fully appreciate the intense pressure that language centres and EL teachers operate under. However, it should also be noted that this pressure should, under no circumstances result in hasty decisions. By administering the Test of Interactive English throughout the year at multiple examination sessions, we eliminate the strain of the single examination period, and allow for a more personalised exam preparation process. Candidates should, therefore, only register for a certain examination, when they and their teachers are well confident that the learner has acquired the desired level of language acquisition, and not because external factors – e.g. a job application – dictate so. Experience has shown that this practice is counterproductive and certainly not rewarding for those involved.