For sixteen years I taught English as a second language in Greece. I am also a freelance writer, who has published several novels.
Not all English as a second language exams have the option of writing a film or book review, but the Cambridge First Certificate and Proficiency exams do, so it is necessary to know how to write one. The advantage of writing a review is that most students can draw on their recent memories for the subject matter. Most of us like to read books and/or watch movies. In addition, reviews are not difficult to write if you keep a few guidelines in mind.
What to Write About
First of all, you have to choose which film or book you want to write about, and the main thing to keep in mind is not how much you liked it, but how well you remember it. It's important to feel confident that you have the vocabulary and ideas to describe it. Of course, we usually tend to remember the movies and books we liked the most. A review can be positive, negative, or balanced; what you think of the film or book is entirely up to you and doesn't influence your grade at all. Unless, of course, the question specifically asks you to write about something you liked or disliked, in which case you should do whatever the question says.
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Generally, a review can be divided into four paragraphs. The first paragraph, of course, is the introduction. In it you give the reader some general information. For a book, this would include the title, the author, and the type – that is, novel, story collection, biography, memoir. For a film you would give the title, the director or producer, possibly the main actors, and again the general type – action, romance, comedy, science fiction, or whatever.
In the second paragraph, you will briefly describe the plot. You can't, of course, give every detail, because you usually are writing with a word limit. Just an outline will do. But it is very important to remember that plot summaries are always written in present tense, such as "Frodo and Sam leave the Shire and go to Mordor to destroy the ring of power." Another point to keep in mind is that you should not give away the ending. Many people read reviews before they see the film or read the book. You should just tell enough of the plot in order to give them a general idea of what to expect.
In the third paragraph, you can write about anything special that the book or film offers. For example, for a book you might comment on the author's style. For a film, you might mention the quality of the acting or script or photography or special effects.
In the conclusion, you would sum up your opinion of the book or film and then say whether or not you would recommend it and for whom. For example, some books or films might be inappropriate for children but great for teens and adults; others teens might like but adults might not.
So, as I said, a film or book review is fairly simple to write, and if you follow these guidelines it is a good choice of exam essay for all of you bookworms and film buffs.