To determine which writing exam is more difficult, the following criteria have been analysed:
- Grammar – The grammar functions that are expected to be produced
- Variety – The variety of writing styles a candidate needs to be aware of
- Marking – The marking scales
The requisite grammar functions have been summarised in PART 3 – SPEAKING.
Trinity vs Cambridge grammar functions
As has already been stated, the only grammar points on the ISE II (B2) list that are not covered in Cambridge PET (B1) are
- Third conditional
- Present perfect continuous
Therefore, exactly the same conclusions can be drawn:
B1: ISE I vs PET
Trinity ISE I is grammatically easier than Cambridge PET.
B2: ISE II vs FCE
Trinity ISE II is grammatically easier than Cambridge FCE.
C1: ISE III vs CAE
Seeing as neither Trinity nor Cambridge specify what constitutes C1 grammar, it wouldn’t be fair to assume that Trinity ISE III is grammatically easier than Cambridge CAE.
To determine which exam in each level is easier than the other, we can simply count how many writing styles they are expected to know how to produce. The fewer the styles, the easier the exam because more time can be spent mastering them.
B1: Trinity ISE I vs Cambridge PET
The format of Cambridge PET is easier than the format for Trinity ISE I for four reasons
- The ISE I candidate needs to master a greater variety of writing styles
- The PET candidate may choose which writing style to attempt.
- The Cambridge PET candidate is only required to produce one long writing, whereas Trinity ISE I requires two
- The reading into writing part of Trinity requires a higher degree of skill and is a lot easier to fail
Verdict: The format of Cambridge PET is easier than the format for Trinity ISE I
B2: Trinity ISE II vs Cambridge FCE
The difference in difficulty in B2 is less pronounced than is it is for B1, but there exists a difference nonetheless.
The format of Cambridge FCE is easier than the format for Trinity ISE II for three reasons
- Although it can be argued that an FCE essay could be argumentative or discursive, there is nevertheless at least one more writing style in ISE II than FCE.
- The FCE candidate is obliged to produce an essay, but then may choose between 4 questions in part 2, whereas the ISE II candidate is not given a choice.
- The reading into writing part of Trinity requires a higher degree of skill
Verdict: The format of Cambridge FCE is easier than the format for Trinity ISE II
C1: Trinity ISE III vs Cambridge CAE
I’d say that a CAE essay could be discursive or argumentative and, therefore, with the addition of a proposal in CAE, the number of writing styles is the same. As with the B2, in C1 a CAE candidate is obliged to produce an essay in part 1, but then has a choice between 4 questions in part 2, whereas the ISE II candidate is not given a choice. The reading into writing part of Trinity requires a higher degree of skill
Verdict: Probably the same. However, perhaps the format of Cambridge CAE is slightly easier because you can choose in Part 2 whereas for Trinity you have to write what you are given.
C. The Marking Scales
As for the speaking exam scales, although the scales for Trinity and Cambridge are different, there are enough similarities for comparison to be made.
The Cambridge writing exams are assessed according to four criteria
- Communicative achievement
Each criterion is marked out of 5. To pass B1, a candidate requires roughly 14/20 (70%), whereas for B2 and C1 roughly 12/20 (60%) is required.
The Trinity writing exams (part 4) are assessed according to three criteria
- Task fulfillment
- Organisation and structure
- Language control
Each criterion is marked out of 4. To pass, a candidate requires roughly 6/12 (50%)
B1: ISE I vs PET
The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE I and 3.5 for Cambridge PET.
Verdict: There are no discernable differences between the mark scales.
B2: ISE II vs FCE
The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE II and 3 for Cambridge FCE.
There are two differences that stand out:
Whereas for Cambridge FCE, candidates are required to use “a variety of linking words and cohesive devices”, Trinity ISE II allows for “some inconsistent/faulty use of cohesive devices”
Secondly, while a Cambridge writing examiner expects that “Errors do not impede communication”, a Trinity ISE II examiner permits candidates to make “Errors [that] sometimes impede understanding”
Verdict: The Trinity ISE II marking scale is more forgiving than Cambridge FCE.
C1: ISE III vs CAE
The minimum grade to pass each exam is roughly an average of 2 for Trinity ISE III and 3 for Cambridge CAE.
Cohesive devices & structure
Similar to B2, the application of cohesive devices is not of the same level for Trinity and Cambridge. A Cambridge CAE student must produce“Text [which] is well organised and coherent, using a variety of cohesive devices and organisational patterns to generally good effect” whereas Trinity ISE III can get away with “some use of cohesive devices but may be inconsistent”. Allowances are also made for structure, which “may only be partially achieved with limited use of introductions/conclusions and topic sentences” and “arguments may not follow in a predictable order”.
Moreover, a Cambridge CAE candidate may make “occasional errors” as long as the errors “do not impede communication”. Compare this with a Trinity ISE III candidate who is allowed to make “errors [which] sometimes impede understanding ([and]sometimes require the reader to reread and/or reflect).
Verdict: The Trinity ISE III marketing scale is less demanding than Cambridge CAE.
NEXT: PART 5 – FINAL VERDICT