Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tips on writing skills


THE focus of the SPM 1119 paper, which is the English Language paper, is mainly on the reading and writing skills. Paper 1 tests candidates on their writing skills while Paper 2 deals, for the most part, with the reading skills.

We’ll begin this series with the more difficult writing skill as it carries a significant portion of the marks for the whole paper. This paper consists of two compulsory questions: Directed Writing and Continuous Writing.

The Directed Writing question carries a total of 35 marks – 15 marks for content and 20 marks for language.

The marks for format, which can vary between one to three marks depending on the text type, are included in the 15 marks allocated for content.

In this section, candidates are given only one question. This means that candidates do not have the luxury of choice which they are given in the Continuous Writing section.

Most candidates find this question quite manageable. In fact, even weak candidates can be taught to cope with this question to a certain extent.

Several factors make this question quite doable. Firstly, candidates are given help with content.

This means candidates do not have to worry about what to write as content points are provided.

It is not difficult to score full marks for content. In fact, candidates can score full marks for content if they are able to use the information given in grammatically sound sentences, irrespective of the sentence type or length.

It is also easy to get marks for format if they have been exposed to the formats of different text types. Secondly, this question does not demand much linguistically unlike the continuous writing question. Most candidates are able to cope with this question, even if they are linguistically limited. Thirdly, the question is usually set around the experiences of students. Hence, there is no reason for candidates not to attempt this question.

Over the years, teachers and students have become quite adept at predicting the type of question that might appear. Still, I would suggest that you familiarise yourself with the different text types. Below is an analysis of the questions which have appeared over the past few years:

General Guidelines for Directed Writing

Read the question carefully. Identify your task, your role and your audience.

Use the 45 minutes allocated for this question wisely.

Plan your essay and organise your thoughts (this includes what to write and how to elaborate on points)

Include an introduction and a conclusion and make sure your paragraphs are well organised.

Use all content points given. It is advisable to cross out the points you have used, so that no point is left out.

Include points of your own only if you are asked to. Otherwise, do not waste precious time doing so because you will not get any extra marks.

Elaborate on the points given. Write two to three sentences to elaborate on each point. Remember a crucial aspect of this paper is language and your ability to write can only be tested if you provide sufficient language for the examiner to gauge your linguistic ability.

Use a variety of sentence structures so that your essay is not dull and monotonous.

Always read through what you have written. Correct grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.

Common pitfalls

Poor time management. Do not spend more than the allocated 45 minutes on this question. Otherwise you will not have enough time for the second question.

Lengthy essays. Do not write too much. As mentioned earlier, this question does not make many demands on a candidate. Directed writing is a succinct piece of writing. All you have to do is use the given points and provide a sentence or two (maybe three) to elaborate on them. A response of one-half to two pages is more than sufficient. After all, the more you write the more mistakes you might make. Some candidates make the mistake of writing one paragraph for each point. If you do this, your essay is going to be very lengthy. Save the time and energy for Continuous Writing.

Usage of informal language. This paper tests your written English. Do not use spoken language. Avoid using slang words (such as guys), contractions, and informal language (such as informal idiomatic expressions or informal phrasal verbs).

Poor punctuation. Some candidates do not punctuate their sentences correctly. Make sure you end your sentence with a full stop and not a comma. Also, make sure that the pronoun “I” is written in upper case and not lower case (i) as is the practice among some candidates.

Let’s look at a sample question.

Many students in your school complain that they are stressed. As the president of the Health Club in your school, you have been asked to give a speech during assembly. You have made a list of the reasons given by these students and you would like to give them some suggestions on how to cope with their problem.

Use the following notes to write your speech.


- long hours spent at school

- too much homework

- too many projects

- frequent exams

- tuition classes

- high expectations from parents

- lack of sleep

When writing out your speech, you should remember to:

address your audience

state the purpose of the speech

use all the points given

end your speech appropriately

Before you start writing, ask yourself these questions:

what am I required to do?

what is my role?

who is my audience?

how many points have been provided? Do I need to give any point of my own?

This task requires you to write a speech in your capacity as the president of the Health Club. You have been asked to address the students during assembly. This means that your audience includes teachers and students. As such, make sure your tone is formal and polite. A total of twelve points have been provided which means that twelve marks are for content and three marks for format. The marks for format are allocated as follows: One mark for addressing the audience, one for stating the purpose of your talk and another for ending the speech appropriately.

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