An article by Russell Whitehead about the Cambridge English B2 Business Vantage (formerly BEC Vantage) exam Writing component Part 1 (the concise correspondence task) with tips for preparing candidates and a sample task and explanation.
The task type
A description of a business situation is given. Candidates have to write a 40– 50 word internal company comnmunication (a text written by one member of a company or organization's staff to one or more other staff members) using the information provided. The channel of communication to be used (writing a message/memo/email giving instructions/explaining a development/asking for comments/requesting information/agreeing to requests, etc.) will be given in the instructions. Ten marks are available for this task.
Standards of appropriacy:
Although the exam task does not directly specify details of the style the writer should use, candidates are expected to show they know how to write to their colleagues in a suitable way. For example, a notice that began with ‘Hi!’ and contained a lot of slang would not be appropriate for the normal office environment.
The tasks are designed to be realistic reflections of the kinds of communicative tasks that people working in a variety of occupations and contexts are required to perform. Of course, the actual specifics of a particular task will vary. However, the language involved is expected to be typical. For example, tasks usually require candidates to identify some things, or to explain the reasons for something, or to apologise for something, and these are functions that people with a broad range of jobs are often required to do.
The candidate’s text will be assessed principally according to whether it communicates what it is supposed to.
The Business English Certificate Vantage assesses English used in the context of business at Level B2 of the CEFR (Common European Framework). Three pass levels are available for this exam:
- Grade A (CEFR Level C1) – 180– 190 marks
- Grade B (CEFR Level B2) – 173– 179 marks
- Grade C (also CEFR Level B2) – 160– 172 marks
Candidates receive a separate score for each skill area (reading, writing, speaking and listening) and their overall score and grade is the average of these individual scores
Candidates who gain 140– 159 marks receive a certificate stating that they have demonstrated ability at CEFR Level B1.
Candidates whose scores are below 139 do not receive a result, CEFR level or certificate.
When awarding marks, examiners consider the following:
This is about whether the content points are included and are dealt with effectively. Remember that the required points are made very clear in the task – in a bulleted list – and the identities of relevant people involved are too. This real-purpose-driven approach is intrinsic to Business Vantage, and candidates need to be aware of it.
This is about the number and nature of errors present in the text. The key issue here is whether the errors block understanding. If they do, then communication is reduced. However, a number of errors may be made by candidates without it becoming difficult for the reader to know what the text is about.
Range of structure and vocabulary:
This about the different sentence structures, verb tenses, functional devices, variety of lexis and so on, that the candidate demonstrates in the text. It can be easy for candidates to forget that examiners can only assess what they see; it is important to indicate the sorts of language that has been successfully learnt.
Organisation and cohesion:
This is about how well the information contained in the text is organised and linked together. Although the texts are short, a paragraph division may be relevant. Sentences should be linked to each other in a meaningful order. Where an explanation follows a statement of fact, it should be clear that this is the relationship between the two sentences.
Register and format:
This is about how suitably the candidate addresses the reader or readers. It is likely that a neutral or semi-formal register will be appropriate for many of the tasks set. Many tasks will need to be topped and tailed with suitable openings and closings, and generally follow the conventions of business communication.
Spelling is not directly assessed in its own right as a separate category. However, it is likely to have an impact in the categories of Accuracy and Range of structure and vocabulary.
Note: the most important factor is the effect on the reader. Will the reader of the email, memo, etc. understand and know what to do or think?
It is fundamentally important that candidates grasp the situation for the task. They need to be able to clearly see who is required to write to whom, about what, and why or when and where an outcome is supposed to happen.
The bullet points below act as a kind of plan of content. However, candidates need to provide suitable language to achieve the communication needed. They need to able to convert cues such as suggest … into suitable forms, for example it might be a good idea to …
Paraphrasing is an important aspect of the task. If a candidate simply copies parts of the instructions into his or her text, then the examiner cannot know whether these have been correctly understood or not. There is no demonstration of what language the candidate knows.
Above all, writers should always remember they are writing to readers. What matters most is that the reader gets the right message.
Tips for preparing candidates
Practice is, of course, very important. However, simply getting students to do lots of practice tasks will not in itself make anything any better. A good variety of process-driven writing activities should be conducted with students. Try the following:
- Get students to discuss tasks in detail in pairs and groups before looking at the task and writing straight away.
- Get students to compare notes with other groups.
- Have one of a pair of students try dictating live to the other to create a first draft, then pass drafts round the class for peer correction.
- Give ‘prizes’ to students for the best ranges of vocabulary or structure shown.
- Write good and bad examples yourself and get students to evaluate and assess them.
- Give out jumbled up texts to re-assemble.
- Give out texts with the linkers gapped.
- Give out texts with nonsense words that students have to substitute with suitable vocabulary.
- Give out texts that are inappropriate – too informal, say – and get students to improve them and say why they are inappropriate.
- Give students texts that are too short, and get them to increase them.
- Give out texts that are too long, and get students to edit them down.
You are the manager of the customer services department in your company. A new assistant manager has been appointed to start work next month.
Write an email to all the staff in your department:
- introducing the new assistant manager
- describing the experience of the new assistant manager
- explaining why a new assistant manager is needed in the department.
- Write 40-50 words.
To: All customer services staff
Subject: New assistant manager
Look at this sample answer. Use the five categories in Assessment section above to decide how effectively this answer fulfils the task overall. Then look at the Comments provided below.
He has worked for several years at TRD, so he has the strong background in customer services in our sector. He has a diploma in marketing.
We need him as we are growing so rapidly.
Task achievement: All points are reasonably dealt with.
Accuracy: There are some errors – announce isn’t fitted into the sentence correctly; joining needs as not for; it should be a strong background, etc. – but they do not make it difficult for the reader to understand.
Range of structure and vocabulary: A good range of vocabulary and structure is used. Different tenses are correctly employed, results are introduced with so and as, etc. Topical lexis is evident.
Organisation and cohesion: Paragraphs are used and the information is presented in a logical order.
Register and format: These are suitable.
Note: a top-scoring answer would not be substantially different to this one. However, there would perhaps be even fewer errors, another item or two of relevant vocabulary might be present, one or two linkers might be used, etc.
Cambridge English qualifications for business (BEC)
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B2 Business Vantage: Writing: Part 1