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Exam Tips: How to Write a Story for an English Language Test

For sixteen years I taught English as a second language in Greece. I am also a freelance writer who has published several novels.

5 steps for writing a great English story

5 steps for writing a great English story

How to Write a Story in an English Exam

Not all ESL exams have the option of writing a short story, but the Cambridge First Certificate exam does (as well as some others), so it is necessary to know how to write one. Students often choose to write a story in the second part of the writing section in Cambridge First Certificate thinking that it will be easier than the other options because it is less formal and more imaginative. Imagination is called for, it's true, but also good organization and careful attention to some specific rules and guidelines.

I will use the Cambridge First Certificate exam's rules as an example in this article, but the general principles outlined here would apply to the writing of stories in other exams as well.

How to Write an English Exam Story

  1. Pay attention to the instructions.
  2. Figure out what to write.
  3. Think about point of view.
  4. Stay organized.
  5. Be aware of verb tenses.

1. Pay Attention to the Instructions

First of all, stay within the word limit. If the instructions say to write the story in 120 to 180 words, then do so. If your story falls above or below the word count, add or trim as needed. Secondly, pay careful attention to the question. Often the Cambridge exam gives a sentence that must begin or end the story. Sometimes it says it must begin it and sometimes it says it must end it, and sometimes you have the choice. Whatever the instructions say, do it. In addition, you must not change the sentence in any way or add to it; it must go into your story exactly as it is given. This is a basic of successful exam writing: follow the instructions explicitly.

2. Figure Out What to Write

What should you write about? That's up to you. You might like to write a true story, something that happened to you or someone you know; you might like to write a fantasy, like a ghost story; you might like to write about something exciting, like a rescue. That's the fun of story writing: the fact that you can choose any subject. But whatever you choose, recognize your limitations. Don't try to tackle novel-length subject matter. Don't try to summarize an entire movie you've seen. In this length of story you only have the space to write about one incident, one thing that happens. The rest of the story adds detail.

3. Think About Point of View

A story can be told in either the first person, that is, the point of view of the writer, or in the third person, a more objective presentation of the events. If you are taking the Cambridge First Certificate exam, usually the exam question will determine the point of view. If the sentence you are given to open or close your story is in the first person, then write your story in the first person; if it is in the third person, then the rest of the story should be as well. If you are given a title only, then you have a choice, but remember: whatever you choose, stay consistent. Always use the same point of view throughout the story.

4. Stay Organized

Plan your story carefully. A good story doesn't just take off and go anywhere. When you are writing a story as short as this, good organization is essential. Your story should have about four or five paragraphs depending on the subject matter, but each paragraph should have its particular topic and advance the story in a specific way. The organization should be like this:

1. Introduction

The introduction informs the reader of the three Ws: who, when, and where. Who is the main character or characters in the story? When does the story begin? Where does the story begin? Sometimes there is a hint of what and why as well. What are they doing when the story begins and why are they doing it? Try to mention something interesting that will hook the reader into wanting to continue reading.

2. Main Body

This is the part where the action happens. In the second and third paragraphs, there is usually a buildup to the main event in the fourth and last paragraphs in the main part. Remember, in each paragraph, one specific thing should happen that advances the story along.

3. Conclusion

In the conclusion, there is usually a summing up, or lesson learned, or the writer's feelings or impression of the events, if the story is told in the first person.

5. Be Aware of Verb Tenses

Stories can be fun to write but they are also challenging, and one of the most difficult grammar aspects is the correct use of verb tenses. Stories should be told mainly in simple past tense, with occasional use of past progressive or continuous, and past perfect. Don't mix present and past tenses, and don't make the common mistake of using past progressive for simple past. Watch your tenses!

Have Fun!

In conclusion, stories are fun to write, so have fun. Use your imagination, but keep it under control by following these simple guidelines. Your imagination is a tool that must be used correctly, just like any other tool – and when you do wield it with skill and precision, you can use it not only to pass your writing test, but to create a thing of beauty.


Pinkunicorn on April 02, 2020:

How do I write a story when I'm given a statement to start with

Not at all useful on December 29, 2019:


vartika on December 10, 2019:

i want to know that if a storey comes in my exam ''what you give is what you get ''how will i wrte please help me thank you

Pema Dupchu on November 28, 2019:

Great help....Thanks

Good article on November 12, 2019:

Thank you

Vishal on September 19, 2019:

It helped me a lot

Dr.Adam Shaik on July 21, 2019:

Excellent! Thank you.

on July 17, 2019:

Too good....thank you

Batoon on May 12, 2019:

WOW! That was absolutely perfect

Thanks, soo much!

It was really quite helpful!

marisa on April 23, 2019:

what about new vocabulary and literary devices ??????????????????????????????????????

riya on March 25, 2019:

Thanks a lot really helped

Mansi on March 22, 2019:

Great n awesome

Spandana on March 22, 2019:

tomorrow i have English board exam so i will definitely use these tips

thank you so much

Kavya on March 21, 2019:

Tomorrow is my English exam and in portions they have given short story.

I will use this tips and try to write the story well but I have grammar problem I do it often unknowingly after paper correction when I read it I understand that is a mistake I will try not to do that mistake again.Thanks for the tips

Tejas on March 21, 2019:

Thanks.....It is really helpful.

xyz on March 20, 2019:

WoW! I like it

kalyani on March 18, 2019:

its was helpfull..........thanx

WHYDO on March 07, 2019:

not bad

Khan maaz on November 22, 2018:

Nice one

Chetandddd on October 04, 2018:

Very impressive

Harjot singh on October 04, 2018:

Its totally wrong

neymar on September 22, 2018:

its totally wrong on September 16, 2018:

not so vivid or strong...not upto my expectations..

Mohosen Ali on August 05, 2018: Helpful tips

Bhuvaneswari on August 01, 2018:

If the hints are given in present tense, while developing can write in past tense

Kushagra suryavansi on July 23, 2018:

Not good

James stubber on April 19, 2018:

This is so bad, get good. I'm just kidding this is very useful

Tom on April 18, 2018:

It wasn’t that helpful

dineth on April 16, 2018:

do you have the Cambridge checkpoint story guide

snehith on March 14, 2018:

thanks bro

Afna Sudheer on March 11, 2018:

Useful tips

lavneesh garg on March 09, 2018:

very very useful or helpful for me ,thanks

Krithika Pravin on March 07, 2018:

Good's gonna help me a lot

mrityunjay sharma on February 17, 2018:

very useful

Amritha Pradeep on January 25, 2018:


Anushka on November 26, 2017:

Good knowledge

kulsum on October 28, 2017:

very useful knowledge

sanae on September 29, 2017:

How can i write a real story

Kusum on September 15, 2017:

Nice it help me

ayesha on April 25, 2017:


iro on March 31, 2017:

thank you very much i have learnt alot from this article

saikyo on March 29, 2017:

very very useful..

ayush on March 24, 2017:

lets see if the tips are usefull because tommorow is my english test

Shivi Singhal on February 24, 2017:

Your guidelines really helped me a lot in writing my stories. THANKS TO YOU VERY MUCH!!!

SAKSHI on February 13, 2017:




nbmhbjk on October 10, 2016:

i am very thankes for your voice

Chador Wangchuk on June 17, 2016:

Thank you for the information. It was useful indeed. Short and effective story writing process. Saves time as well as fetches good marks. Thank you once again. :)

SUMAIYA QURAISHI on March 14, 2016:

i love this website. thanks you sir. u are helping students a lot.

SUMAIYA QURAISHI on March 14, 2016:

thanks a lot

Your Name on February 11, 2016:



Rohini on February 03, 2016:

Helped a lot in exams!!!!

Seema jadhav on November 29, 2015:

Very helpfull

Paul Perspicacity (author) from California on April 17, 2013:

You can base the story on real life to give it authenticity, and then embellish it.

adikuh on April 17, 2013:

yes i thing real life stories are good but they should be interesting and it might be good to have a twist that is not there in real life

Agni Bose from India on July 13, 2012:

I think writing a story taken from every day life is not only more convenient, it is also more appreciated by examiners. Useful hub. Voted up.

Paul Perspicacity (author) from California on July 13, 2012:

Thanks. I'm glad the article is helpful.

Patty Kenyon from Ledyard, Connecticut on July 12, 2012:

Good Tips!!