By Marcus Goh and Adrian Kuek
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Many secondary students choose to focus on their continuous writing at the expense of their situational writing when it comes to Paper 1 of the English O-Levels. After all, the continuous writing component has a larger word count (350 to 500 words) than the situational writing one (250 to 350 words). However, both components are worth 30 marks each.
For this reason, students should ensure they don’t neglect their situational writing. Here are some tips to help them score well.
1. Make full use of Purpose-Audience-Context
Teachers often stress the importance of identifying the PAC (Purpose-Audience-Context) before writing – and for good reason. Students must show that they are aware of whom they are addressing and what their objective is, and be sensitive to the circumstances described in the question. Once identified, a situational writing piece should have at least two sentences to address each of the three – Purpose, Audience and Context.
2. Explain your objective in your introduction
The question will state what the situational writing is about, but many students forget to include this in their introduction. Even if it feels like they are repeating the question, students should explain what their piece is about in the introduction and why they are writing it. This will show that they understand the objective and purpose behind the situational writing question.
3. Circle keywords and cross them out as you write them
Unlike continuous writing questions which have at most two sentences, the situational writing question is often a long wall of text. Students should circle keywords so that they have visual cues for the question requirements. Once they have covered those keywords, they should cross them out. This will ensure that they are not penalised when it comes to task fulfilment.
4. Use the same keywords in the question
Students should use the same keywords from the question so that it is clear which part of the question they are answering. This will prevent any points from being inadvertently missed out by the marker, especially if they’re written in a different order from how they are presented in the question.
5. Read the first two or three paragraphs thoroughly
A common mistake students make is to go straight to the bullet points, and ignore the first few paragraphs of the question (since they make up the aforementioned wall of text).
However, these few paragraphs are critical because they reveal the PAC of the question, and there are often keywords hidden in the question. These paragraphs should be read closely and carefully to identify any key information.
6. Remember to look at the handout provided
The situational writing question consists of two parts – the question itself and an accompanying handout. It’s easy to forget about the handout while under exam stress, and students should remember to annotate it as thoroughly as they do the question paper. In their answer, they should also make clear and specific references to the handout.
7. Include at least one personal response
Students should include their own opinion and interpretation of the handout and question, which is most easily expressed by writing their personal response in the piece. At the very least, they should indicate if they feel positively or negatively to the information in the question, and explain why they feel that way.
Remember, the situational writing piece carries as much weighting as continuous writing composition!
Marcus Goh runs Write-Handed, a creative writing studio. At the same time, he teaches Secondary English at The Write Connection. He has been a specialist tutor for English and Literature (Secondary) since 2005.
Adrian Kuek runs Joyous Learning, an enrichment centre that specialises in English, Mathematics, Science and Creative Writing for Primary. He previously served as the academic director of one of Singapore’s largest enrichment centre chains for over seven years.