PSLE Paper 1 Composition | Last-Minute Tips

Selamat Hari Raya Haji to all our Muslim friends! (: Time flies and we are about 7 days away from the PSLE English paper now. I would like to start by just telling all our Primary 6 children and parents how great a job you have been doing this year and to hang in there just a little longer! By this time, what is most important is really to keep the children healthy and not too tensed up. Hence, make sure that the children have ample rest so that their brains can really function to their optimal abilities!

I have decided to do this post to provide some last-minute tips for composition writing. For situational writing, we have touched on some common Q&A and the step-by-step procedure in the previous posts. The following 3 tips for composition writing were chosen not because they will deliver any sort of miracle or help your child bump up 10 marks instantly. Bearing in mind that compositions are marked holistically and every mark counts, I feel that the tips below are possible for children to try out during this intense period and may be able to fine tune their compositions, even if it is by a wee bit. Therefore, sit tight as here are the three last-minute tips that I have for composition writing in Paper 1.

1. Balance is key.

The five parts of a composition: Introduction, Build-up, Problem, Solution and Conclusion should be proportionate in a composition. A good composition, to begin with, should always have a balance.

For a composition with a typical structure as above, each part should be quite equal in length to the others. It is fine if the build-up or problem is slightly longer as those are the exciting parts of a story that help to develop the given theme. However, it is a big no-no for the introduction to take up an entire page and for the problem to only take up three lines. Having only three lines for an introduction is also problematic as it does not help the readers to have a clear sense of the setting and background of the story to draw them in. Each part should therefore be sufficiently developed to achieve the role which they are supposed to play

Last minute application:

For the remaining compositions that your child is writing, make it an effort to first check whether the composition is balanced by marking out the paragraphs in the different parts. This has helped open the eyes of some of my children and allowed them to see very clearly which is the part that they need to extend.

2. Tell it like you are there.

As mentioned earlier, an introduction helps provide the setting and background to a story. In fact, it is so important to give your readers a sense of where they are as they read your story that I advise my children to describe each new setting in their story. For instance, the story might have started in a restaurant and the character ended up at the hospital. Readers should be able to see themselves in the restaurant and at the hospital.

See. Hear. Smell.

How do you describe the setting then? There is no harm in memorising chunks of description from model compositions. However, at this point, to memorise a chunk will probably be stressful. Hence, it will probably be more fun (hopefully!) and less stressful if your child is given the freedom to describe what they see, hear and smell at each setting. Using the five senses to describe a setting is not new and the three senses that we use most often are our sense of sight, smell and hearing. This comes in useful when the children are unable to remember what they have memorised for a particular setting or have thought of a great idea that requires a setting that they have not used often. In addition, I am sure the marker will find a description that is really based on the child's experience to be something refreshing

For instance, one of my pupils who was unsure of how to craft her introduction for quite a while, recently decided to take this approach and came up with a few main points for her setting. Together, we came up with: (Can you guess where her setting was at?)
See: A waitress, neatly dressed in a traditional Cheongsum that was immaculately woven with silk, *led us to our table* with a big smile on her face. At the corner of the eighty-seater restaurant stood a large tank with big, fat groupers which were unaware of their fate.

Hear: Porcelain utensils and bowls with golden flower motifs went "Clink!" softly as waitresses cleaned and set up the tables at top speed for the hungry diners who were next in the queue.

Smell: The heavenly aroma of roast duck wafted into my nostrils, making me salivate instantly. *As I lay the crisp and white napkin on my lap, my stomach gave a loud complain. I was ready for dinner.* 

If your answer is an expensive Chinese restaurant, the description above has done its job in pulling you into the setting. 

Not all three senses need to be used and sometimes, using what you see and what you hear can be enough. What is important is that the child must remember to weave the character into the setting (as marked with ** in the example above) so that the description does not seem disjointed from other important details in the paragraph such as the "who" and "when".

Last minute application tip:

Play a relaxing game of describing the following settings with your children when they take a breather. Let your child practise writing out some descriptions and let them know that during the examination, they can always do this if they really are unsure of where to start. Some interesting settings may be:

1. restaurants (consider different cuisines?)
2. supermarkets or convenience stores
3. a bus stop
4. a park
5. a classroom or a corner of the school
6. a bedroom (What is the personality of its owner?)

Always consider first whether these places are supposed to be crowded or quiet, depending on your storyline. (e.g. a picnic at a park will be different form a robber at a park)

3. Some helpful, flexible vocabulary for every composition.

Although we said that by this time, packing in long descriptive phrases may be a challenge, reading up on some flexible vocabulary that can be used for EVERY (if not most) composition may not be a bad thing. Having one or two alternatives to the usual words and expressions helps to add variety. Here is a list for 5 type of words or situations that can be used in almost every piece of writing.  Your child may pick and choose the ones which he or she feels are easier to remember and there should really be no pressure to remember all of them.

Last minute application tip:

Try picking out about 2 words per category to apply. Remember that it is important for the spelling to be accurate, on top them being used in a grammatically sound manner. I love getting my children to draw out phrases that they need to remember and some of these certain are easy to imagine (e.g. like an arrow from a bow) so draw away! It might be therapeutic for some of your children too (:

I hope that the tips above are simple to apply and are helpful in making a difference to your child's writing at this point. This has indeed been quite a journey with all of you during this period of preparation.  

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