Wednesday, August 26, 2009



FOR the next 15 weeks, we will be going through the SPM English 1119 examination format. Yes people, D-day is not very far away. Before I send some of you scurrying back to your books, there are some changes to the format that you need to be aware of.

Paper One (1 hour, 45 minutes)

Directed Writing and Continuous Writing

Paper Two (2 hours, 15 minutes)

Section A: Multiple-choice items
Section B: Information transfer
Section C: Reading comprehension & Summary
Section D: Literature

TIP: Spend at least 10 minutes everyday reading to improve your English.

As you can see, the essays are now in Paper 1 and the time allotted is 1 hour and 45 minutes. Paper 2 begins with the multiple-choice items such as graphics and short texts followed by Section B where you are required to do some information transfer. There are no changes to these sections.

In Section C, you are required to answer only five comprehension questions as compared to 10 last year. You can also expect a shorter passage. You are also required to do a summary on the same passage in not more than 130 words.

In Section D, you are required to answer structured questions on one short story and one poem. Finally, the novel question now carries 15 marks. I shall discuss each section in detail in the weeks to come

Let's begin with directed writing. What does “directed writing” mean?

It is a piece of writing that follows a set of directions or instructions. Thus, the question aims to test the ability of students to respond appropriately to a certain task.

In the exam, you will be given a question in the form of notes or a stimulus. You may be tested on the following items: report writing, speech, letters (formal and informal), processes and procedures, descriptions, articles and recounts.


1. You have only 45 minutes for this question, so budget your time carefully.

10 minutes – planning
30 minutes - writing
5 minutes – checking for mistakes

2. Read the question carefully and determine the task required. Are you required to write a speech, an article or a letter? What is the purpose of the task? Who is the target audience? Ask yourself continuously as you plan and write your answer, checking that you are answering the question correctly.

3. Plan your answer quickly, deciding which points would go into which paragraphs or which points could be combined. Remember to use all the points given.

4. If there are more than ten points given, you do not need to elaborate on each. Many of my proficient students tend to elaborate too much on each point and end up having less than an hour for their continuous writing. Remember that only one mark is awarded for each point, no matter how long the elaboration is.

5. Write out your answer as neatly as possible as there is no time for re-writing. Do not use liquid eraser to wipe out whole sentences and re-write over these sentences. The errors might resurface after a month or so and the examiner would not be able to read your answer.

6. Write your essay with an appropriate introduction and conclusion. Make sure your paragraphs are well-organised.

7. Check for grammatical mistakes, punctuation and spelling errors.

Now, let’s try to answer the following question which is similar to a previous year's exam question.

Task A: Read the question below

As the secretary of the English Society in your school, you have been asked to write a report about the club and its activities for your school magazine. Use the following notes to help you write your report.

• established in 2000
• 250 members
• aim – to help students improve their English
• advisor – Puan Zarina bt Amin

Activities organised

• English assembly
• Pop Quiz
• Treasure Hunt
• English camp
• English week – poetry, drama and story-telling competition
• Annual party

In your report,

• remember to provide a title
• state the aim of the society
• encourage others to become members

Task B: Answer the following questions.

1. What is the required task?
2. How many points are provided? Do you need to provide any of your own?
3. What is a suitable introduction and closing?

As you can see, you are required to write a report. In a report, you usually have a suitable title and the writer’s name at the end. Twelve points are provided and you are required to add a point, that is, to encourage others to join the society. Did you include the three points found in the ‘English Week’?

So, let’s plan the answer.

TITLE: (Think of a suitable title for your report)

The English Society was established in 2000 with the aim of helping students improve their English. It received tremendous support from its 250 members this year.


The main activity for this year was? (include all the points given in two or three paragraphs.)


(End your essay with the mention of the annual party, presentation of prizes, etc and encourage others to join the society)

Now, it’s your turn. You will have to complete this essay yourself. Next week, we shall discuss a sample answer and how marks are awarded for this question.


I receive a lot of e-mails and queries from my students asking me to give them advice on how to improve their English, especially their essay-writing. Here is my advice.

1. Use it or lose it

There are times when I wish I have a magic pill that I could give to students. The fact is, there are no shortcuts. To learn a language, one has to use it. Start today. Speak to your friends.

If you are shy, start with a few words or phrases in your conversation. Practise speaking in front of the mirror.

2. Read it

Read the newspapers. I would recommend the sports pages if you are a sports enthusiast, or the letters to the editor. You will learn how to give opinions, to complain and to elaborate your ideas. Go to your school library and borrow a book.

Make use of pockets of time during school such as in between classes. I am quite sure you are able to squeeze ten minutes a day for reading. Do not get bogged down if there are words that you do not know. Just read the easier stuff first.

3. Write it

My students are required to keep a journal in my classes. What is a journal? Is it like a diary? A diary is a record of your daily experiences but a journal is more than that. It is a collection of your thoughts, responses to events in your life and it may also include any interesting article, poems or even a song. I keep a journal of articles and quotations that are motivating.

There are many types of journals which you can keep. Check out the bloggers on the Internet for more examples. Search also for examples of journals to help you get started.

I would like to invite you to join my students in a journalling programme. I have provided seven prompts below to help you get started. Get a notebook or any old diary and begin your writing journey with me. Make the notebook special by decorating it. Just use the prompts (questions) to help you get started.

Day 1: What is something that you like about yourself?
Day 2: Write about three fears of your life.
Day 3: Which quality do you dislike most about yourself? Is it laziness, selfishness, or childishness and why?
Day 4: What is something that makes you happy? Why?
Day 5: Do you have a favourite subject in school and one that you dislike? Write about these subjects.
Day 6: Do you have a favourite teacher?Write about his/her class qualities. What makes you look forward to his/her class?
Day 7: Have you ever had a crush on someone? Write about your experience(s). If you have never had a crush, what do you think about falling in love? Is it advisable? Is it a waste of time?

Read the prompt and respond instantly with the first thing that comes to your mind. Do not stop at one sentence or two. Write for as long as you want without worrying about your grammar.

We will come to errors later. Apart from writing, you can also add pictures, photographs, poems, drawings. Be creative. See you next week with more prompts. Remember, use it or lose it. Bye.

1 comment:

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