What’s really important in PSLE writing?

When faced with the writing component of the PSLE exam it can be tempting to “just start writing”.  There’s a time limit, you have lots to say and more is better, right?  Not always.  A long essay which covers a lot of territory sounds like a good idea in theory but what is most important in your essay is the content.  A thousand words which take the reader nowhere, or fail to address the specifics of the essay task, will be more detrimental to your overall marks than having a shorter but more focused piece of writing.

Take time to carefully consider the task in front of you.  Is it asking you to give an opinion?  If so, then it is important you actually give one!  Does it want you to describe an issue?  If so, a detailed description of all sides of that issue will be important. 

Once you have considered the task, think about what is the most essential information for you to include – this is especially important because you have limited time in the exam.  Plan out what you want to say or what action is going to take place in your writing before you begin and you will have a solid foundation to achieve essay success.

Relying on pre-taught phrases can be helpful when writing essays but if they are the same phrases that all students are taught then there is nothing to distinguish your writing from that of others.  It is important to show your flexibility with the English language.  This includes accurate descriptive language.  Watch out for overly flowery descriptions, sometimes called “purple prose”.

His long, crooked, witch-like fingers grasped in a vice-like grip the elegant, gilded sceptre.

This kind of description does show off the writer’s skill at description but is a little bit lengthy and leaves little up to the imagination of the reader.  If there aren’t many other equally flowery descriptions in the piece then it can seem a little out of place.  It is important to keep in mind that there needs to be a healthy balance between description and also moving the action forward.

It can be difficult to use your time wisely when doing a writing task but making sure you take some time to plan at the beginning and leave a couple of minutes to read through and check your work at the end will help ensure you produce a more accurate and well-structured piece of work. 

Good luck!

– Christopher Newcombe,

British Council (Toa Payoh centre)

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