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Critical Tips for Students Taking PSLE English


Tip 1:   When writing your composition, including setting details is definitely recommended. However, forcing memorised phrases of flowery language that do not match your writing style in the opening paragraph could do more harm than good.

Instead, space out your setting details throughout your story by slotting in descriptive words and sensory details in every paragraph!

Tip 2:   In your composition, create round characters instead of flat. How?

Think of 3 adjectives to describe the personality of each of your characters. Then, when writing, instead of telling the reader these three adjectives by listing them in your story, show the reader through:

  • the characters’ actions
  • the character’s reactions or other characters’ reactions to her
  • the character’s thoughts & feelings
  • dialogue

Tip 3:   Remember that a good story must have a plot – it must have an exposition, a climax and resolution. The plot doesn’t have to be complex and filled with twists and turns – it just needs to be well developed with a logical flow.

The following 8 types of plot are the most common:

  • a riddle
  • a race
  • a chase
  • a rescue
  • a journey
  • a fight
  • a search
  • an escape

Tip 4:   Even the best writers in the world need to edit their work. After you have completed your composition, give it a series of checks. (One check is not enough!) Each time you check, look out for something different:

  • First, check for logical gaps.
  • Next, focus on looking for spelling mistakes.
  • Then, keep an eye out for tense errors.


Open-Ended Comprehension

Tip 1:   Always always always read through the entire passage first. If you can (and if you have the time), read it twice. Stop at the end of each paragraph and ask yourself if you have understood the passage so far. If the answer is no, read through the paragraph again and check your understanding.

Ask yourself the following questions to check understanding:

  • Where did the events in the story occur?
  • Does the setting change as the passage moves along?
  • What did the character mean when she said or did something?
  • What does this tell me about this character?
  • Are there any words in the passage that I don’t understand? Can I infer the meaning of the word?
  • In what sequence did the events in the passage occur? Are they presented chronologically?
  • Did any event occur that is not stated in the text but needs to be inferred?

You will NOT be able to answer the comprehension questions if you don’t understand the passage!

Tip 2:   Read through ALL the questions first before attempting to answer. Underline the question word (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How) as well as they keywords in the question. For each question, underline the answers/clues within passage as well.

Tip 3:   Is the answer you gave the best possible answer? After answering each question, check the following:

  • Was your answer in a complete sentence?
  • Did your answer the question directly?
  • Did you lift directly from the passage? If so, try to rephrase and use your own words.
  • Did you answer the question completely? Is there more information you have to add? Simple check: Read through your answer – do you need to ask ‘Why?’ or ‘How?’ – if so, your answer is not complete.

Tip 4:   Even geniuses don’t always get it right the first time. Always check through your work! One check is never enough – it’s difficult for the brain to focus.  Break down your checking into the following steps:

Check if the answer is logical and fits the question.

Check that your tenses and general grammar are correct.

Check that you have not made any spelling mistakes. Refer back to the passage for words you are unfamiliar with.


Cloze Passage

Tip 1:   Cloze passage is primarily a test of vocabulary. The best way to score in a cloze passage is to have an extensive vocabulary. The best way to have an extensive vocabulary is to read widely and pay attention to new words every time you read!

While preparing for the PSLE, reading as many different books as possible with as wide a range of topics as possible is MUCH better practice then doing numerous cloze passage exercises.

Tip 2:   After reading through the entire passage, identify the theme or subject of the passage. Is it about outer space? Is it about the ocean? Is it about floods? Is it about racehorses?

Once you’ve identified the theme/subject, make a list of as many words as you can think of related to that theme or subject within a 1-minute time limit. This will help you when it comes time to fill in the blanks as you will be conscious of using the right vocabulary for the given context.

Tip 3:   Before rushing to fill in the blanks, identify the following things for each black:

  • the part of speech of the answer
  • the contextual clue for the answer
  • the type of contextual clue.

Types of clues include:

  • grammar clues
  • figurative/idiomatic expressions
  • association clues
  • synonyms
  • contrast clues
  • cause and effect clues

Tip 4:   The importance of checking can never be over-stated. And it is important to check more than once. Check for:

  • logic
  • grammar/tense
  • spelling


– Creative Horizons


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Excellent tips!

Short, sweet and to the point.

Those things mentioned are definitely what examiners are looking for when grading compositions and free form answers to comprehension and cloze passage.

For students taking this year’s PSLE English, do read these tips carefully and try to internalise them by practising them daily between now and the final.

Good luck!

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