Before you start writing… read others. Make use of every text that you find interesting, note out words and expressions that you like or find useful. Even if you know them. Words and expressions have a mysterious tendency to slip your mind the moment you need them most. Sometimes it is good to copy the whole sentence in which an expression you know from different context appears.
Have a list of your favourite expressions – the ones you are entirely sure of as far as their correctness is concerned, and which you will always remember. It is better to put down something less lofty but correct than wrestle under time pressure with your own memory, wondering how this ‘stupid thing went’.
Always keep in mind who your target reader is. Even if you know that your ‘letter to a friend’ will be read by an examiner… write to a friend. If you have problems with determining the potential addressee of your writing, assume that he or she is an educated person in his/her thirties. But usually it is indicated in the task.
Make your writing interesting. Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Would you fancy reading boring stuff?
Use linking words to form paragraphs and join your ideas in a logical way. They make reading easier, which counts a lot if your piece is longer.
Be careful with pronouns. They are tiny and look innocent, but can cause a lot of commotion.
DO write! As much and as often as you can. Make yourself mock tests – with time restrictions and word limits. Do not worry if you forget some words and get stuck – better now (when you still have the chance to look these words up in a dictionary), than during the exam.
Do not panic!
Do not forget that you are writing, not speaking. What would go in a friendly chat, will not work with writing.
Do not forget that you write to communicate something, not to practice caligraphy. If certain fragments of your essay do not convey any relevant message, cut them out. Unnecessary wordiness shows that you have problems with controlling your language.
Do not ask your reader to read your mind. You are the one who knows. If you do not mention something in your essay, it is not there.
Avoid line-lifting. It means that you should not repeat the sentences used to set the task.
Do not write very long sentences, unless you are perfectly sure how to punctuate them.
Do not try to impress your reader with vocabulary. Do not use words you don’t know.
Do not scribble! If your reader struggles to decipher your handwriting, do not expect him or her to focus on the content.