Writing TEM-4 Notes

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Writing Notes for the TEM-4 Exam

Compiled for the students of Michael Krigline, MA (2005); www.krigline.com


(Examples and suggestions concerning one of the writing sections on the TEM-4; for Sophomore writing)

(click "Writing Essays" above to see my comments concerning the "essay" section of the test)


Here are some of the problems I saw on the student samples, followed by suggested improvements. These guidelines may only apply to what is expected on the exam, not "good English" in general.


General comments regarding the TEM-4 practice tests at NPU


In 2005, students have 45 minutes for the writing portion (35 for the essay plus 10 for the note). The essay is to be around 200 words, the note 50-60 words. This is worth 25% of the test grade.


The three numbers that make up your grade (10 points) correspond to the following. This should help you understand what I am looking for:

      --content (3 pts): is it interesting and relevant? does it flow naturally? what about sentence variety and the proper level of formal/informal language? what about clarity, specificity, transitions, misused terms, conciseness, etc.?

      --organization (3 pts): the wording and location of the “dear” and closing sections; punctuation; is there a logical sequence to the body? do grammar problems interrupt the flow or clarity?

      --language use (4 pts): grammar, word choice, verb tenses, punctuation, formality/informality, awkward constructions or choices, repeated mistakes

      --other (can lose points): does it follow instructions and/or answer the question? is indentation/word count OK?


On practice tests I have seen notes to friends, teachers, and even notes about selling things (i.e., campus advertisements). Be prepared for anything!

The following "codes" are used when I grade TEM-4 academic essays in my beginning writing classes. If you avoid these problems, it will help you get a better score on the writing portion of the exam.

(The lines below that start with need to be improved)


N1. I would NEVER use the “th” on a date (e.g., don't write "April 5th," either above the text or in it); never only use numbers to present the date (esp. on the test; e.g., 03/05/05)

       --always: March 12 or March 22, 2005 (I would spell out “March” or “April” instead of Mar/Apr)

       --use the “th” when the number acts as an adj.; e.g.: “I am writing to invite you to my 18th birthday party.”

       --regardless of the topic, I would put a date at the top of your note (spell out the month “April”)


N2. Miscellaneous examples of inappropriate usage

A►   “I feel sorry for…, because I had to teach.”

       --You need to keep “I’m sorry” in its own sentence—the reason goes in another sentence.

B►   “We look forward to your coming.” “I hope we’ll have a good time.”  “I look forward to you reply.”

       --more natural: We look forward to seeing you. We hope to see you there. I hope you can come. If you come, I know we’ll have a great time. I hope to hear from you soon. I look forward to your reply. I look forward to hearing from you. (make it slightly more formal by adding “to be+ -ing”, e.g., “I am looking forward to your reply.”)

C►   “Many our old friends are going to held a party.” “We want you can join us because you are good friend of us.”

       --Many of our old friends are going to hold a party. We want you to (We hope you can) join us because you are a friend of ours.

D►   “It will be good to get together since we have a long time no see.”

       --Avoid sayings. “Long time no see!” can’t be part of another sentence. It is complete. You might use it at the very beginning of a letter to someone you have not seen in a long time.

E►   “What a nice day!”

       --avoid exclamatory sentences, especially (as the student was when making this error) when you are referring to the future. Instead: “If you come along, I’m sure it will be a great day.”

F►   “Meet me in front of my dorm.”

       --Technically, “dormitory” (or “dorm”) means your room, but Americans also use the word to mean your building. If there is a chance of confusion, say “dorm building” (or “dorm room”—though British people might think this is redundant).

G►   “This computer is in a good condition, has great equipments and softwares for study.”

       --These nouns are NOT countable: condition (such as someone or something’s physical condition), equipment and software. Improvement: This computer is in good condition, and has all the necessary equipment (such as mouse and speakers) as well as academic software.’ (or …school-related software.    …software you can use in your studies.)[1]

H►   “If you are interested in buying it, please come to room 102.”

       --This is not “wrong” but since you only have 50-60 words you should make things less wordy. Better: “If interested, please come to room 102.”


N3. Watch the format with prepositions and days of the week. These have been corrected.

      --I can’t keep the appointment on this Friday.      or      I can’t keep the appointment on this Friday.

      --I can’t keep the appointment we have/had set for this Friday.

      --I can’t keep the appointment we have/had set for Friday.


N4. “I think you must be interested in this.”  “I think you may be interested in this.”

      --both sound awkward/unnatural/formal, perhaps because we don’t want someone saying we “must” do or be anything, and as I’ve said before, avoid “may” because it makes you sound uncertain. Instead: “Are you interested in this?” “You’re interested in this kind of thing, aren’t you?” “I think you would enjoy it” “Don’t you like things like this?” or even “I think you would be interested…” (depending on the context)


N5a. “Now I am expressing my apology and please forgive me.”

(or N5b) “I’m glad to tell you that….” “I would like to invite you to….” or “I am writing to invite you to a class party….”

      --Expressions like those in 5b are fine for formal invitations, but when writing to a friend, don’t tell him/her you are doing something; just do it. “I am sorry. Please forgive me.” “Can you come to a class party on Monday at…” or “We’re having a class party next…. Can you come?” “Have you heard about the class party….” For emphasis, start with something like: “I’ve got great news! We’re having….”


N6. Headings (and formality). If the instructions say to write to a friend (even a foreign friend), I’d use a “first name” greeting (e.g., “Dear David,”). Don’t think of “foreign friend” as a polite way to translate 老外。I’d assume that a friend is your peer, and thus you should use informal language, which (to me) means avoiding things like 5b (above). And contrary to my normal instructions for good English writing, the grader might be looking for contractions in a note to a friend. Be sure to put a comma after your heading for informal notes.

N6b. If the instructions say to write to a teacher, I would also use the title and family name (e.g., “Dear Prof. Smith:” or “Dear Ms. Yao:”). I would also make the note more formal, including polite language but avoiding many of the contractions you might use when writing to a friend. Put a colon after your heading for formal notes.[2]

N6c. What headings could you use for the note about selling your computer? (I think the following are acceptable—there’s no telling what a grader will accept)                  

            Dear schoolmates,     Dear classmates,                   Dear fellow students,

            Dear Sirs/Madams:     To whom it may concern:                                (note that these have a colon!)

            NOTICE                      Attention Please!                     Computer for Sale!


N7. “It is said that this restaurant makes the best food in Xi’an.” 听说

      --I think it sounds wrong without “that” after “said.

      --Regardless, “It is said that” is also too formal for a note to a friend. Use “I’ve heard that” or “This place is supposed to have the best food…” or “They say this place makes the best…” or “A friend told me (that) they make the best food…”


N8. Closing. Technically, you can leave out “Sincerely,” so I won’t count it wrong—but a grader might count it wrong. Likewise, you can put your name and closing flush left, but this is more formal—graders might not like that either. I advise that you include “Sincerely,” (or “Sincerely yours,”) and that you put it between the middle and the right margin. “Sincerely” is slightly to the right of the center of the page, and the name starts either even with the “S” or the middle of the phrase. (Technically, the name and closing should start in the middle of the page, and both should be even with the date at the top, but our textbook book doesn’t show this.) Also, be sure to use a standard closing phrase—don’t make up something like “Yours sincerely,” (someone has told me that the British use “Yours sincerely,” but it is not in our book and my wife and I think it sounds odd—use it at your own risk). End your closing with a comma. If you use a sub-close like “All the best,” or “Best regards to you,” (usually not a complete sentence), indent it as a new paragraph and end with a comma. Finally, only the first word of the closing is capitalized.

N8b. Regardless of the topic, I would sign your name at the bottom (preferably after “Sincerely,”)


N9. Watch the instructions. The grader will most likely take off if you fail to adequately include something specifically mentioned in the instructions. For example, one practice test might say to include a description, a price, and contact information concerning the sale of your computer; another might say to include time, place, and reasons for an appointment. INCLUDE what it asks for!

N9a. What might you include in the description of a computer? (age, speed, size of hard drive, special features (wi-fi), software… But remember that you can’t put ALL of these in 50-60 words, so choose what you think you can write about intelligently!)

N9b. “Price is negotiable.” This is fine, but if the instructions say to include a price, add this AFTER stating the price.


N10. NUMBERS: Remember that if a number is less than 10, write it out (e.g., six, nine). Also use this format:

        Bldg #5     or     Bldg 5     or     Building 5           (not Bldg 5#)

        Dorm 102, Bldg 5    or    Bldg 5, Dorm 102     or     Bldg 5, #102


N11. In most English writing, you should avoid overusing the passive tense. Passive is used when you don’t know who performed the action, or when the actor’s identity is less important than the action. In the following, “passive” is not wrong, but it sounds unnatural (or at least wordy) to me.

►   “I want to sell my computer, which was bought two years ago.”

      --Better: “I want to sell my computer, which is two years old.”

        or “I want to sell my two-year-old computer.”

        or “I want to sell the computer I bought two years ago.”


N12. It is inappropriate to ask a superior (e.g., professor or boss) to come look for you (anywhere). Make your appointment to meet somewhere convenient for him/her. It is also inappropriate to ask a teacher to meet you in a restaurant or café, since it might mean spending money (this is not as uncommon when a boss is concerned). (Depending on the circumstances, you could also meet at a superior’s home, but this is less common than meeting at his/her office or classroom.)


N13. Watch the wording when setting meetings or appointments

A► “Would you mind we having an appointment at 3:45 p.m.?”

      --Would you mind having a meeting at 3:45 p.m.?

      --Would you mind setting an appointment for 3:45 p.m.?

      --Would you mind if we have a meeting at 3:45 p.m.?

      --Would you mind if we set an appointment for 3:45 p.m.?

      --Could we set up a meeting for 3:45 p.m.?

      --Could we meet at 3:45 p.m.?

      --Can we make an appointment for 3:45 p.m.?

B► “I would like to make an appointment at your office.” “I would like to make an appointment at 3:45 p.m.”

      --I would like to meet in your office.

      --I would like to make an appointment for 3:45 p.m.

      --I would like to make an appointment for 3:45 p.m. in your office.

      --I would like to set up a meeting in your office.


N14. Politeness. Avoid being too polite. It is often Chinglish. Your professor or boss wants to help you—you are not “disturbing” him/her, or “giving them too much trouble.” However, when writing to a superior it is OK to say things like “…if it is convenient” or “if you are available.” It is also good to use the more polite modals (“May I come…” “Could you…” “Are you going to be free at…”  instead of   “Can I/you…” or “Are you free at…”)

N14b. Another example of formality/politeness: to a friend you could write “How about meeting me at Rosebud Café at 2?” but to a professor this might be too informal; instead: “Could we meet in your office at 2 pm?”

        --Also see N6, N7, N12


N15. Question marks. Be sure to use a question mark if you ask a question like the following.

        --Can you be available at 4 p.m.?

        --Would it be OK to meet at the gate?

        --If you are free, could I come to your office at noon?

        --Would you mind if I call you tomorrow?

        --How about a movie after the meeting?

N15b. These do not need question marks.

        --I wonder if you can be available at 4 p.m.

        --If you are free, I could come to your office at noon.


(The lines that start with ► need to be improved.)


[1] British speakers might say/write: “The economy is in a depressed situation.” An American would use “The economy is in poor condition.” However, both are just as likely to use “The economy is depressed.”

[2] Also see N14



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