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Cambridge English checkmate

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We are almost coming to the middle of the first term for our learners who will be writing their Cambridge O’ Level English examination in 2020. The Cambridge O’ Level English exam is made up of two papers. English Paper Two: Reading passages; and English Paper 3: Directed writing and composition. Here are some hot tips on how to ace the directed writing and composition.

About Paper 3
Paper 3 Directed writing and composition is a two-hour examination. You will be given a reading inset containing one or more texts. You will answer two questions. Forty marks are available for the quality of your writing. Ten marks are available for the accuracy and sensitivity of your reading.

How to get top marks on Question One
lRead the inset carefully and make inferences
Even though this is a writing paper, do not forget that 10 marks are available for how well you read and understand the inset. As well as picking out a wide range of explicit ideas from the text, the best candidates will make inferences about what is only implied or hinted at. When you make an inference, you add your own thoughtful and logical ideas to what has been written in the text to develop and extend it. Don’t just repeat what you’ve read. Don’t make up new and irrelevant ideas. Infer!

lAdopt a point of view
Typically, Question One tasks you with creating an argumentative or persuasive piece of writing. Often the inset will present you with two points of view, such as pros and cons. You will need to weigh up the evidence and decide on a point of view. Using two cultured highlighters to identify relevant information for each factor will help you. Don’t write as yourself, unless you are particularly told to do so. Imagine you are in a role and addressing a specific reader directly. Make sure you justify your ideas with evidence. The best answers will evaluate the issue with great attention to detail and thoughtfulness.

lUse TAP
Before you start writing, make sure you have checked the text type (T). Are you writing a letter, an article or a speech? Make sure you use the correct conventions for each type of text. Next, check the audience (A) that you are writing for. Is it your peers at school, your local MP or your aunt? Finally, think carefully about the purpose (P) of your piece of writing. Are you writing to persuade, advise or argue? Don’t start writing until you have identified the TAP and planned accordingly. The top responses will adapt their writing to fit each of these criteria, adopting an appropriate style.

lStructure your piece logically
The wording of the question supplies you with a logical structure, so make sure you follow it! Typically, it’s broken into three bullet points. Write one paragraph addressing each bullet point. You will also need a punchy introduction, which clearly introduces your role, the situation and your purpose for writing. Transition smoothly from one point to the next using discourse markers such as “furthermore” and “in addition”. Craft your piece right to the end with a definite conclusion.
lKeep it formal
Never forget that this is an exam, offering you a platform for showing off your very best writing. Even if the task asks you to write a letter to a friend, keep it formal. Avoid colloquial language and contractions, such as ‘don’t’ and ‘wouldn’t’. Select impressive vocabulary. Leave time to check your work for spelling and grammar errors.

How to get top marks on Question Two
lSelect your task carefully
Descriptive and narrative compositions are different! They follow different conventions and are structured differently, and the mark scheme reflects this. Narratives include description in them, but descriptions do not contain a plot. Make sure you know the difference! Think carefully about your strengths as a writer, and select your task accordingly.

Plan a clear structure
Every English teacher will tell you to plan, yet many students ignore this advice. Don’t! Before putting pen to paper, decide on the tense and person for your piece. If writing a narrative, plan your arc with a clear hook, conflict, climax and resolution. If writing a description, decide whether you will structure your piece chronologically or spatially and choose a focus for each paragraph. Make sure your piece progresses smoothly from start to finish.

lMake it believable
The top candidates choose believable scenarios for their compositions. It may help you to draw on your real-life experiences to achieve this. Avoid melodrama and clichs, such as a narrator dying at the end or someone waking up from a dream. Choose a story you can complete in the time. Include no more than three characters and use dialogue sparingly.

lShow off your language skills
When describing, you will need to create a vivid sensory experience for your reader. You’re not just painting a picture. Your writing should also take account of the other senses: smells, sounds and feelings. Avoid vague language. Aim for specificity and originality in your vocabulary choices and imagery. Don’t forget that powerful verbs and precise nouns are just as important as lots of adjectives and adverbs.

lCraft your sentences
Use a wide variety of sentence types, from minor to complex. Vary your sentence openers. Use colons and semi-colons for impact. If you include dialogue in your narrative, punctuate it correctly. Check your work for accuracy. Spelling and punctuation errors will badly impact your mark.
Good luck!

l The Language Coach is a private tutor and high school teacher based in Harare. For more details, app 0772 487 227.

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