SPM English with JENNY TAN
The continuous writing section, which carries 50 marks, tests a student’s ability to write a 350 - 500 word essay in one hour. Five choices will be given and students are normally given the following types of essays:narrative, descriptive, argumentative, reflective or factual.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
1. Choose a suitable question
Read each question carefully before deciding which one to choose. You must decide if you have enough points to write an essay of between 350 – 500 words. You will need to write at least four to five paragraphs.
2. Plan your essay
Many good students do not plan. Instead, they tend to write in a think-as-you-go manner. Consequently, they discover they have nothing left to say mid-way and they discard that question and start another one.
A plan will help you to stay focussedand not stray from the topic. For example, a student chooses to write on the following: “Describe the night market in your town”.
He starts well by mentioning the location of the night market, the vendors and the things sold. Then, he starts describing a snatch theft in the night market and how he ends up as a witness in the police station.
The student has not fulfilled the task required. He is asked to describe the night market and not an incident at the night market.
3. Check your essay
It is important to give yourself some time to check your work before handing in your essay. This is because your essay is assessed by impression marking, that is, the examiner reads your essay, notes down your good points as well as your mistakes, and allots a grade according to his impression.
THE NARRATIVE COMPOSITION
A narrative is a story with a sequence of connected events. It could be about a personal experience or an imagined event or events.
Let’s look at some typical questions:
1. Write a story about a man who returns to his home after many years.
2. The day I lost my temper.
3. Write a story ending with, “I shall never forget this day for the rest of my life.”
4. Write about an occasion when you got into trouble.
5. Write a story beginning with, “I could not believe my eyes?.”
YOUR ACTION PLAN: (1 hour)
A. Planning = 15 minutes
B. Writing = 35 minutes
C. Checking = 10 minutes
This plan is for those who are quite weak in English. For those who are proficient, you may only need 10 minutes for planning.
Let’s say you have chosen question 3: Write a story ending with, “I shall never forget this day for the rest of my life.”
1. Read the question carefully and underline important phrases. Pay particular attention to the ending.
2. Brainstorm for ideas and jot down notes. For exam purposes, the simplest way is to divide it into three parts:
i. Presentating the situation/characters/setting
What day was it?
Where were you?
What were you doing?
Who was there with you?
Choose one event or day which is unforgettable. Many students tend to describe a trip somewhere and the places they visited but nothing much happened that could be described as unforgettable. Do not describe more than one day.
- What happened first?
- How did it happen?
- Who was there with you?
What happened that was unforgettable? Is it going to be a funny day or a tragic day? Think how you will develop the story and how the events will unfold.
Use a simple time line (chronological sequence – first to last event). Those who are more proficient may choose to start from the final event (flashback).
- What happened as a result of the complication?
- What effect did this have on you?
- What is the outcome of the action or complication?
Point out a lesson learnt as the conflict is solved. Remember to include the last line as given in the question.
Now that you have got the skeleton of your story, it is time to begin writing. Use connectors to link the events so that it flows well.
Some suitable phrases are:
It was very dark?.
I will never forget ?..
A few minutes later?.
When the disaster happened,...
(Refer to last week’s article for more transitional phrases.)
Use sensory details to reveal the events and to get the reader involved.
a. I went into the restaurant.
b. I walked into the restaurant.
c. I sauntered into the restaurant.
Sentence (a) merely states that I went into the restaurant while sentence (b) gives a little more information as to how I went into the restaurant. Sentence (c) is more specific as the word “sauntered” means “strolled” or “walked slowly”. Thus, sentence (c) is more effective in narrative and descriptive writing.
Read your essay through and check for the following:
- Is the spelling correct?
- Is the punctuation appropriate? Have you use too many commas in a sentence?
- Have you varied the length of your sentences? Does one thought follow the next in a logical order?
- Did you stick to the topic?
- Did you use words so that your reader could clearly visualise the incident?
- Did you use the appropriate tenses throughout your essay?
Make any corrections neatly.
Now, read the following model answer and see if you can identify the three parts of the action plan and how I use sensory details to make the story come alive.
It was a cool September morning. Early rain had cleared the skies to a golden hue. The occasional pit pat of the rain drops on the rooftop gutters lulled me to a dreamy stupor. Soon, I would have to get up as I had to attend a club meeting.
My brother, Alex had promised to give me a lift before he went to his office. As usual, we dropped by Permai Restaurant for breakfast. The town was just beginning to stir from its sleep as Alex swerved into one of the many empty parking lots. While he slotted some coins into the parking machine, I grabbed my handbag and sauntered to the restaurant, the aroma of teh tarik beckoning me.
Suddenly, I felt a strong tug from behind and before I realized it, my handbag was gone. I looked up and saw two men on a motorcycle. Then it hit me! Snatch thieves! I screamed but the sound was a mere whimper. I ran towards Alex, arms flailing. He jumped into his car and gave chase.
By this time, some workers from the restaurant who had realised what had happened brought me into the restaurant and gave me a hot teh tarik. Curious eyes followed me. I could not swallow. Why me? The thought of losing my handphone made me nauseous. I was vaguely aware that my arm was throbbing and I saw that it was swollen.
Twenty minutes later and what seemed like an eternity to me, Alex came back empty-handed. I was relieved that he was all right. He advised me to eat something. The thosai tasted like paper and I pushed the plate away. We headed for the police station nearby and this time, I kept close to Alex.
A kind elderly policeman took me into a room where I tried to narrate the incident. We saw several women complaining loudly to an officer. Alex told me they were also victims of snatch thefts. Somehow the thought that I was not the only victim comforted me.
Alex sent me to school with some money when I insisted on going. I sat bravely through the meeting without uttering a word. I waited nervously for Alex to pick me up but he was late. Mei, my friend, offered to walk me home. Each time we crossed a road, I clutched her hand. Each motorcyclist that came by looked suspicious to me.
That night, after saying a prayer with my mother, I finally broke down and cried. I could not sleep as images of those two men lurked in my mind but I was thankful that I was not hurt. I resolved to be more alert the next time. I struggled for a few hours before exhaustion took over. I shall never forget this day for the rest of my life.
Presenting the situation
What day was it?
Where was the writer?
What was she doing?
What happened first?
How did it happen?
What happened then?
The writer uses short sentences here to emphasise the event that took place quickly.
Notice the sensory details used here (in bold) to make the story come alive.
Each paragraph introduces a gap in time and the next event.
What happened as a result of that event?
What effect did this have on the writer?
What is the result ?
Now, read the essay again and fill up the star diagram below with the sensory details used.
Now, it is your turn to write. Look at the five questions again at the beginning of this article. Choose one question and follow the plan I have given. Many students e-mail their essays to me but I am afraid it is impossible to reply or correct every one of them. However, I shall try to address the errors and problems through my articles.