Tips for your CIE O’Level English Language 1123 Examination

Dear Students,

I thought about providing some last minute advice for the O’level English 1123 Examination, and hence, I have written this post. I hope you will find it a useful reminder/instant revision guide for your final examination paper.

Writing Paper

Section 1

Read the question carefully to understand the situation, task and content points.

Always follow the format in the question. If no format is given, then you should follow the format prescribed by your teacher.

Develop the 03 contents in equal detail, whenever possible.

Write 4 – 5 paragraphs in your letter/report/speech/article/account.

Write a proper beginning and ending sentence.

The word limit is 200 – 300 words. You should write around 250 words at least.

Use formal language in all directed writing tasks, except Informal letter.

Always plan your response before you start writing. You can divide the examination time in the following way:

1. Planning your response: 3/4 minutes.

2. Writing : 22 – 24 minutes.

3. Editing: 3 – 4 minutes.

 Section 2

Read all the given topics at least twice, before choosing the topic you want to respond to.

Choose the topic according to your strengths and preparation, and whether you have enough ideas to write between 350 – 500 words.

Avoid  writing an argumentative essay, unless you have thoroughly practiced this type of writing.

Plan before you start wiring and always recheck your work before you hand it in. You can divide the examination time in the following way:

1. Planning your response: 7/8 minutes.

2. Writing: 45 minutes.

3. Editing: 5 – 6 minutes.

Descriptive and Argumentative essays should have a proper introduction (1 paragraph), a detailed body (3 – 6 paragraphs) and a logical conclusion (1 paragraph).

Stories should have an engaging opening, with an intriguing middle to sustain readers’ interest and a logical ending to bring a proper resolution to the plot.

Use similes, metaphors and effective descriptive words to create verbal pictures in a descriptive essay.

Keep your stories believable and realistic. Use flashback, dialogues and description of setting to make your narrative composition engaging for the reader.

Avoid writing stories which end up as a ‘bad dream.’ Avoid copying the plots from popular movies you have watched. Also refrain from showing violence, racism or glorifying crime in your stories.

Editing your essay is immensely important before handing it in. You should know what your common errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling are. Also keep an eye out for commonly committed slips in English writing: its/it’s, there/their, ‘i’ instead of ‘I’, use of articles (a, an and the), subject-verb agreement (He don’t/doesn’t etc), run-on sentences etc.

Don’t try to use ambitious vocabulary unless you are sure about its meaning and use. Using a simple word correctly is going to gain you more marks than using an unfamiliar word incorrectly, while trying to impress the examiner.


Reading Paper

Section 1

You have to write 15 content points from the given passage, on two aspects: advantages/disadvantage, causes/effects, comparison of past and present etc. The points on both sides should be balanced (8+7, 9+6 or 10+5).

The points should be brief, precise and concise. You don’t need to write them in your own words. Review the marking scheme to find out how the point should be written.

Avoid repeating a point in different words. Examples of a point do not count as separate points.

Each point should be written on separated line in a numbered or bulleted list.

Example points given by the examiner in the boxes are not included in your 15 content points.

Write 2/3 extra points, whenever possible. You will get marks for the extra points in case some of your points are incorrect.

Write a paragraph summary of 160 words, including the 10 words given in the question. Use your own words as far as possible and use conjunctions to make your paragraph cohesive and fluent to read.

You should know the difference between facts and opinions. Google it and you will find plenty of resources. Practice solving the past paper questions on finding fact/opinion.

Section 2

Read the passage once only to get the general idea of the main topic/theme.

Read every question twice to identify its type and then locate the answer in the relevant paragraph.

Your answers should be two the point. They can be given in one word for particular questions and in 1 or maximum 2 sentences for all other questions.

‘Answer in your own words’ questions are to be very carefully dealt with. Find two key words in the text which are the exact answer of the question. Replace the key words with the correct synonyms and write your answer in a complete sentence.

Inferential questions would be more challenging than others which would require you to read between the lines and extract implicitly given information. The answer is not explicitly available. They usually start ‘What do you think/What can you tell/How do you know/What evidence is there’ etc.

If the question requires you to give one reason or find one word from the passage, writing more than one reason/word will get you zero marks, even if the answer is otherwise correct.

Vocabulary question requires you to provide meanings in context and using a single word or a phrase of maximum 7 words.

Do not attempt extra words or give extra meaning, as only the first one will be checked.

Wish you all the very best for your English examination!


65 Responses to Tips for your CIE O’Level English Language 1123 Examination

  1. Maha Ali says:

    very useful tips!
    i want to know how to write a formal letter if its a directed writing question?
    1. what format to follow? all to the left, or sender’s address to the right, date to the right, recipient’s address to the left?
    2. do they expect us to mention subject?
    3. which side is the signing off?

    • Thank you for your appreciation.

      Please find a post on this blog which explains the format of letter and other directed writing tasks.
      Writing a subject in the formal letter is optional.
      The left or right side signing off depends on whether you are using full block format or modified block format. Full block format uses left side for signing off, while the modified block format uses the right side for the same.

  2. Syed Taqi Abbass says:

    i have an question that in my pastpapers there are 2 papers of each sesion of paper 1
    e.g M/J 2014 1123/12. &M/J 2014 1123/21
    this is very confusing for me as im appearing in oct
    just want to know the difference

    • Due to the time difference between the countries where CIE examination are held, all the countries have been divided into 6 administrative zones. CIE prepares two variants of the English language paper and these variants are used in different administrative zones. Pakistan falls in administrative zone 4, and the variant for Pakistan is 1123/12 (writing paper) and 1123/22 (reading paper).

      There is no difference in the format or difficulty level of the two variants. You can use the other variant for your past paper practice.

  3. Sahar says:

    Hello, sir. Can you email me some suggestions for Paper 1 as to how to improve my writing skills. My english is pretty good but I want to please the examiner to get an A. So some suggestions at this time when CIEs are near would be really helpful. Thankyou

    • You can get an idea of what kind of writing gets an A in English by looking at the marked essays in the Standards Booklet uploaded on this blog.
      Secondly, go through the mark scheme for the writing paper in detail to understand the requirements for A grade.
      For improving your writing skills, regular and intensive practice is the most important strategy. Learn the structure and features of different genre of writing, i.e. descriptive, narrative, argumentative, reports, letters, etc. Use precise and sophisticate vocabulary and write accurate language. Get feedback on your writing from an experienced teacher and bring changes in your writing in the light of the feedback.

  4. humayoun hanif says:

    i am very weak at writing can u suggest me ways to gain marks easily in writing task

    • Well, Humayoun, there are several things involved in writing including your vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, style, tone and ideas. I can provide you some general suggestions:
      Read, read and read. Reading is the most beneficial activity for improving your writing skills. Read at least 30 minutes daily anything of your interest in standard English.
      Write regularly to practise and improve your writing skills. Write freely on any topic of your choice for 10-15 minutes every day.
      Develop an understanding of the rules/norms of a genre that you have to write in exams. For example, learn about the structure of essay writing, the kinds of essays you have to write, the format and body of letters and reports. Learn the rules and apply them in your writing.
      Get your writing reviewed by a teacher/senior/family member and ask them to give you feedback on the content/style/language of your writing.
      Always follow the writing process: Brainstorm ideas before you start writing, write following the structure and rules of the genre, and edit your work for language revision.

      I hope these suggestions are helpful for you.

  5. Sajeel says:

    can I know the basics for an A grade in english

    • Please review the Mark Schemes to get the idea about the standard of work required for A Grade. Also check the grade thresholds for the previous session to get the information about marks required to secure an A grade in English.

      • Maheen Ashraf says:

        First of all thank you so much for these amazing tips, they were really helpful!
        I have a request, Can you please send a link of those solved papers that are checked by Cambridge, since they are extremely helpful
        Also, could you please give me some tips regarding how I should prepare for the exam because there’s really less time left now and I have my exam in May
        Thank you!

        • Maheen Ashraf says:

          I was talking about the standards booklet, I found one on your website, can you please send a link where I can find more of these
          Thanks and Regards.

        • Thank you so much for your appreciation.

          What you are looking for is actually the standards booklet. It is uploaded on this blog. There’s only one published by CIE as of now.

          As for your examination preparation, solve as many past year papers as you can. You can check your comprehension papers with the help of mark schemes yourself, however you will need feedback from a teacher on your writing. Identify your mistakes while solving past papers, and work on them to improve your reading and writing skills.

          All the best for your examination.

  6. Samarpon says:

    Thanks for posting such an useful article.This will be of great help as I am a candidate of May/June 2017

  7. Maheen Ashraf says:

    Could you please brief me a little on what exactly I should do now to get an A star in English considering that we barely have any time left, by sending me an email, I’m really tensed and would be extremely grateful if you did and thank you for the information you gave us, it was really helpful

  8. Khalid Ahmad says:

    Aoa Sir.Your article is precise yet concise!!.i am appearing for the May June 2017 C.I.E. English Language exam.Sir, can please guide me a bit more about argumentative and discursive essays.I would be very grateful to you!!!

  9. xxx says:

    can i lift sentences from the passage when answering the comprehension or should it be in my own words

    • It depends on the type of the question you have to answer. If the question has the phrase ‘answer in your own words,’ you must in that case answer in your own words. You are also required to answer in your own words when you answer an Inferential question. To study the types of questions in detail, please consult O’level English, Helen Toner & John Reynolds, 2nd Edition.

  10. Ayesha says:

    hi… this one was very useful!!
    i am a language teacher and catering students of o levels from last 3 years almost but still there is always a room for improvement. can u give me few tips in making students prepare for their cies ?
    i will be grateful

  11. Meer-E says:

    Asslam o Aliqum Sir,
    Firstly, your artical is very easy to understand and yet informative.
    For me, the matter of concern is to fulfill task requirements , in directive writing. Kindly please give me tips

    • Walaikum Salam.

      For task fulfillment, you should clearly understand the given situation and write your response in accordance with it. You need to focus on the given three content points and cover them in detail. Finally, you should begin and end your response appropriately.

  12. tamoor says:

    Sir I want to ask few questions
    1)Will olevel reduce my numbers for cutting some words in eng paper 1?
    2)In my urdu paper 1 I forget to write repoter and my name under it will cambridge reduce my numers for that?
    Also, i have eng and urdu paper 2 next week any tips will be appreciated.thanks!!

    • You will not lose any marks if you neatly cross out any words or sentences to make corrections. Exam conditions do not permit writing a rough draft and then revising it, so examiners are sympathetic towards students’ corrections in their essays.

      I have not taught Urdu syllabus, so I will not be able to give you an authentic answer.

      I have already written a post about tips for taking O’levels English examination. Please check this blog.

  13. Ibrahim says:

    AssalamuAlaikum Sir,

    Actually I am appearing for October session and only few days are left for the exams to be held. I wanted to ask that what if my vocabulary is not fantastic however i do not commit many grammar and spelling errors in my papers. Will I be able to score a good grade?



  14. Cherry Blossom says:

    The article was very informative
    What i want to ask is what is the best apporach for preperation?
    should i read novels and supplementary grammar books or stiking to my textbook and past papers would be enough?
    waiting foryour reply

    • Good to know you have found the article helpful.

      Reading novels and doing grammar exercises will help you improve your general English langauge proficiency which is important for scoring a good grade in your CIE Examination. However, you also need to practice past papers exhaustively to familiarise yourself with the exam pattern and the required level of competence in English.

      Both the activites are important and I would suggest you focus on past papers more as you approach your examination date.

      All the best.

  15. Fakhar Ahmad says:

    Thank you sir for these nice tips.
    Can we write the summary consisting of less than 15 points, say 13 or 14?

    • You are most welcome.

      Ideally you should include 15 content points in your paragraph summary. Writing 4-5 words more than the word limit is okay, but you shouldn’t go beyond this.
      Try to squeeze in as many points as you can into the word limit of 160, if you are unable to include all the 15 points. Practice combining two points in one sentence and stating your points as briefly as possible to keep your summary within the word limit.

  16. R.B.Anujan says:

    Dear Sir, This was quite useful!
    One question, according to the grade thresholds we should get particular marks to get an A Grade. What if Paper 1 is a B and Paper 2 is an A and the total satisfies for an A*. Ultimately what will be the grade?
    Thank You.

  17. Mohad ur Rehman says:

    Thank you very much. These were some very useful last minute tips. Can you please tell me the formats of Article and report writing

  18. Hammad Khalid says:

    Thank you for this post sir.
    I have a question. You wrote that there should be 1 introduction paragraph in a descriptive essay. So if the topic asks us to describe a place, for example a park, then how should we write an introduction paragraph for that essay? Should we just start describing the place and not write an introduction paragraph?
    Please reply as soon as possible.

    • Dear Hammad,

      There are different ways to start an essay. You will get examples of different types of introduction in guide books on writing or the internet.

      Some introduction techniques are ‘funnel’, asking a question, using a quotation, telling a short story/incident, describing a scene and emphasising the importance of the topic.

      For your essay on the park, you can use a funnel introduction, which means writing 3/4 general statements about the topic, and then coming down to your specific topic. You can also start by describing any scene relevant to the park. A suitable quotation may also work.
      It all depends on the topic at hand and what you will find easy to in the examination paper.

  19. AHSAN MALIK says:

    Dear sir can we get bend 1 marks in directed writing by using appropriate grammer,punctuation but use simple vocabulary and any suggestion to improve vocabulary

    • Dear Ahsan,

      If your vocabulary is simple but accurate, and you fulfil all the other criteria for Band 1, you can get Band 1 marks, according to my limited understanding. For developing vocabulary, regular and extensive reading is the number one strategy. Secondly, you can also find vocabulary building books to be very useful. Cambridge Vocabulary in Use is a very good series for developing vocabulary, and it is easily available in good book stores in Pakistan.

  20. Noor khan says:

    This is very helpful. Thank you, Sir. Just wanted to ensure is it compulsory to write only 15 content points? I write as much as I can find and in the summay I omit some of them to make the length appropriate. Is that okay?

    • You are welcome, Noor.
      Yes, you can write more than 15 content points, to ensure full marks, even if you get a couple of points wrong.
      However, in Summary Writing Task, include only the 15 content points that you are most certain about, to remain within the word limit of 160 words.
      Best of luck for your examination tomorrow.

  21. usama says:

    In the grades threshold it’s A* at 78%. Is it really that easy? I don’t see a lot of A*s. Or maybe it’s difficult to get to 78%. What do you say?

  22. usama says:

    Thank you for these past papers and notes.

  23. Sadia naveed says:

    Sir, everything is very helpful and informative. Thank u so much. Wish u were my teacher. U r an excellent guide for all the CIE candidates.
    But one thing is wrong in these notes. Plz edit it, in speech writing there are 7 paragraphs not 3 to 4.

    • Thank you so much, Sadia Naveed. Your appreciation means a lot to me.
      Well, I suggest candidates write 4 – 5 paragraphs at least in all directed writing tasks. Writing less paragraphs is an issue, writing more paragraphs may not be penalised, unless paragraphs are not properly structured.
      According to my limited knowledge, writing 7 paragraphs is not mandatory in speech writing. I would be grateful if you could provide me an authentic source for your suggestion of writing at least 7 paragraphs.

  24. Nudrat Mustafa says:

    you are a blessing to us…may ALLAH be with you always

  25. Annie says:

    Thank you. I really appreciate your sharing

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy TabResources for CIE English Examinations wrote:

  26. mimi says:

    an awesome overall review and a mind refreshment
    thank you!

  27. Muhammad Ahsan Iqbal says:

    thank you sir
    May Al-mighty Allah bless you!

  28. zaintheman98 says:

    Excellent guide for last-minute revision. Hope we had more talented and ambitious teachers like you!

  29. Nargis says:

    Thank you for the last moments reminder.

  30. Aiza Hanif says:

    really helpful sir ..(Y)

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