THE FCE BLOG by Claudia Ceraso

Friday, November 03, 2006


Writing a Mini Short Story

FCE Task Type Overview
The FCE short story task probably poses two major problems. For some students who believe they lack creativity to invent stories, it is perhaps difficult to decide what to write about. For others, it is difficult to tell a story within the word limit.

To begin with, let’s de-mystify the task. You are not expected to write a story with full development of setting, plot and characters. You should remember that the purpose of the text is to entertain the reader. You may imagine you are taking part in a writing context or that your story will be published in a magazine. An anecdote dealing with just one episode worth telling will do.

Let’s see some guidelines

What is the expected language here?
It is important to have a good handling of tenses for the reader to follow the sequence of events. Try to vary your structures, you can use reported speech or quote some words from the characters to make it more vivid. Sentence length and punctuation require some thought, too.

Possible start & finish lines:
The instructions for this task usually include a start or finishing line for your story. You must not alter it. This line could be in the first or third person. Look at these past paper example:

You have decided to enter a short story competition. The competition rules say that the story must begin with the following words:
I will never forget my first day at...
Write your story for the competition.

Source: Cambridge First Certificate in English 4. Examination Papers from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. CUP, 2000 p. 41.

How many words can I write?
Between 120 to 180 words. Let’s say that 201 is too much!

To keep within the range of the word limit, you will probably have to focus on some of the many things involved in writing a story. How much to say about the place, time, characters and action are decisions you make at the planning stage. Choose what is more important to clearly picture the episode you want to narrate.

Here is the task analysis and writing guide from Cambridge ESOL. You will find rubric examples from past examinations together with the questions you need to ask yourself before planning your story. There are also some questions to help you structure your plan. It might be a good idea to print it and keep it at hand until you learn the writing steps.

In this second link, there are evaluation questions for the revision of your draft. They will help you to make adjustments to your story while keeping language and reader in mind!

Remember that you will not be tested on creativity. You should be able to clearly put forward a mini short story that can create interest and entertain. I know, I know, it is not so simple.

A Sample Answer

To end this post here is a sample answer from one of my FCE students. The author tells me this story is fictional and not based on any true happening.

Your language school is running a short story competition. The story must begin or end with the following words:
I had never been so angry in my whole life.
Write your story in 120-180 words.

Source: Haines, S and Stewart, B. First Certificate Masterclass Student’s Book. OUP 2004, p. 84.

Author: Alicia

Note: I am transcribing the task as it was submitted to me without any of the language corrections.

I’d never been so angry in my whole life. 2005’s New Year reminds the worst evening I’ve ever spent.

I was flying to
Rio de Janeiro to receive the new millennium and spend my holidays with my dear father, as I usually did since my parents had divorced in 1992. The journey began well. The flight was very quiet, I could enjoy watching a romantic film called ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and before getting anxious the airplane had landed.

My father was there. He seemed to have changed since the last time I had seen him. Although he was in his sixties, he kept on being an attractive man. We were just arriving at home when he gave me a marvellous piece of news. 'I'm engaged with a charming woman and I can't wait you meet her'.

I was still shocked when a very young lady appeared with a big smile to receive us. She was his girlfriend. I couldn’t believe my eyes and I shouted: ‘Is it a joke? She is on her thirties; she can be your daughter?’ You can imagine the dinner.

As the song says: ‘The time goes by...', and fortunately my father recovered his common sense and that love story finished in a few months.

Some comments

Although a bit wordy (209), this is an interesting realisation of the task. It is quite challenging for a student to remember being angry and express it with clear and correct language. There are a few grammar mistakes, which do not interfere with communication at all. The writer has given enough details about the context to understand her own feelings and, at the same time, she has used varied structures and sentence length to keep the reader engaged. Paragraphs are well balanced and the story gets to a smooth ending.

Anyway, love is love, isn’t it? Just a thought.

Disclaimer: The story presented in this posting is property of its author and has been reproduced with permission. Surnames have been avoided for the sake of privacy.

Note: Would you like to read other sample stories by FCE students? Here is a selection of love stories by Italian students.

If you think you have written a story worth publishing, email it to me!

Related Post: English Grammar


  • Hi!
    I just took the FCE today and I think I might have written more than 180 words.
    Do you know if the examiners punish this a LOT?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 7:45 pm  

  • Probably not, Carolina. The mark is decided on the basis of your overall performance. If you sample is really good, a bit more than 180 words will be OK.

    By Blogger Claudia Ceraso, At 12:35 am  

  • Thank you so much!

    I hope my performance was OK.



    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 8:25 pm  

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