Monday, October 26, 2009

Writing a summary



By JENNY TAN

THIS year, the summary writing question is based on the reading comprehension passage. You are required to summarise a portion of the passage in 130 words. A total of 15 marks will be given for content as well as language.

What is summary writing?

It is a shortened version of a text.

It should only include the main ideas from the original text and not your response to those ideas.

The main ideas must be expressed in your own words as much as possible.

Here’s a summary question for you to try. You will need to refer to last week’s comprehension passage.

The writer’s mother wanted all her children to go to university.

Summarise the steps she took to make sure they succeeded.

Your summary must

be in continuous writing (not in note form).

not be longer than 130 words, including the 10 words given below.

use only material from paragraph 3 to paragraph 8.

Credit will be given for the use of your own words, but care must be taken not to change the original meaning.

Begin your summary as follows:

My mother took several steps from the beginning. Firstly, she …..

HERE'S HOW WE DO IT

STEP 1: Read the question and determine what is required.

In the question above, you are required to summarise the steps the mother took to make sure her children got into university.

Look out for reactions, feelings, benefits, advantages or disadvantages, problems, causes and effects.

STEP 2: Select the relevant information.

Read the text or the section required. Mark the sentences or paragraphs which you are required to summarise. Go through each paragraph, sentence by sentence, asking yourself which information is relevant or important. Underline important sentences or phrases. The real challenge is to pick out what is relevant to the question.

Let’s look at paragraph 3 and 4.

The first step she took was to make sure we attended the English-medium school instead of the nearby Chinese school which the other villagers’ children attended. Many of these students failed in the examinations or dropped out of school.

We needed money for transport, food and school fees in those days, and although money was hard to come by, she always managed. The villagers laughed at her. They thought that she was foolish for having such lofty dreams for us.

The summary is about the steps taken by the writer’s mother to ensure her children's success. So, the first sentence is relevant. Since you only have 130 words for your summary, you cannot afford to copy everything. For the first point, I would underline the following sentence.

Point 1: The first step she took was to make sure we attended the English-medium school instead of the nearby Chinese school which the other villagers’ children attended. Many of these students failed in the examination or dropped out of school.

In the second paragraph, the relevant point is that the mother always managed to provide for her children.

Point 2: We needed money for transport, food and school fees in those days, and although money was hard to come by, she always managed.

Here, I would leave out the next few lines as it is about the villagers’ views about her mother and not on the steps her mother took. Many students make the mistake of copying irrelevant parts and end up missing out on points for content.

Go through each paragraph and mark out all the important points. You should leave out examples, repetitious points or supporting details, as they are not necessary to the summary. List all the important points you have marked out on a separate sheet of paper.

STEP 3: Paraphrase (rephrase in your own words) the information and reorganise it.

Examiners look for students’ ability to organise and paraphrase the text given. As far as possible, do not lift or copy the words straight from the passage. Students usually copy every single word and end up losing points for language. While you are not expected to change every word of the text, you are expected to try to reorganise and rephrase certain parts of it in your own words. Look at the list that you have made. Try to condense long and complex sentences into shorter ones.

Point 1 above could be summarised as below:

Firstly, she made sure we attended the English-medium school instead of the Chinese school as many students failed to do well there.

It could be condensed further as below:

Firstly, she sent us to the English-medium school instead of the Chinese school as many students failed to do well there.

Many students who are weak in English try to reorganise the information by copying parts of sentences or phrases and stringing them together.

As a result, they end up not making any sense at all.

So, the tip here is if you are weak in English, stick to copying whole sentences. If you are good in English, do some paraphrasing but do not go overboard by misinterpreting the meaning of the text.

Let’s look at some sentences to paraphrase.

Apart from school, she also made sure we took advantage of the various co-curricular activities organised by the school. She listened intently to us as we practised for our school story-telling competitions. She made sure we attended every camp organised by the Scouts and Girl Guides. She paid for our trips to various towns and visits to organisations. I suspect that she had borrowed some money from our rich uncle to ensure that we never missed out on these activities. Looking back, those trips really opened up our minds and showed us another way of life.

This paragraph could be summarised as below:

She encouraged us to attend the various co-curricular activities organised by the school and paid for our trips with borrowed money.

All the other points are supporting details about the activities organised and they are not important to your summary.

STEP 4: Insert links between sentences.

Once you have got all your points organised and rephrased some of them, it is time to write them out in a paragraph. As you may be rushing for time, Step 3 and Step 4 may be done simultaneously. Make sure that the connection between your sentences is clear and logical. Ensure that the sentences flow smoothly from one to another. Use linking words such as therefore, but, because, however, besides that, and so on.

Example:

Firstly, she sent us to the English-medium school instead of the Chinese school as many students failed to do well there. Then, she ensured that we attended school daily and saw to our revision at home. Besides that, she encouraged us to attend the co-curricular activities organised by the school and paid for our trips with borrowed money.

Notice how I have joined the sentences with Then and Besides that. You do not have to do it for every sentence. You could also use relative pronouns such as who, which, whose and that.

STEP 5: Adjust the length of the summary

If you have exceeded the word limit of 130 words, read the summary once through and check to see if you could leave out any information that is not essential. You could also try shortening certain words or phrases. Do not delete chunks of important points as a short cut. Try to write your summary within the limit of 125 to 130 words as any word after that is not counted.

Example:

i. She made sure we attended school every day.

She made sure we attended school daily.

ii. Mother also believed that if she became friends with the teachers, we would stand a greater chance of succeeding in our education.

Mother believed that if she befriended the teachers, we would have a better chance of success.

Next week, we shall look at a few model answers to this exercise. I shall also set you a few more exercises.

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