Transition from Studying O Level English to A Level General Paper
Junior College is one of the prime destinations for students in O Level. However, there will be many bridges to cross in the journey to Junior College, especially when students need to bridge the gap between O Level English and General Paper in A Levels. This is a major hurdle which students need to cross, but many people find the gap a difficult one to cross.
This hurdle comes from the misconception that General Paper (GP) is simply an advanced form of O Level English. However, discerning students should not fall into the same trap, as GP is a completely different ballgame which requires a whole new set of skills. The format of the GP written examination is deceivingly like the format of O Level English, but the skills required are different.
It goes without saying that both GP and O Level English require a good command of the English language to read, understand, and write your prose. However, that is where the similarities end. GP is much more than a simple English paper. It is not enough to simply know how to write an essay or how to answer comprehension questions. GP requires students to demonstrate their knowledge of current affairs, global and local events, as well as a strong linguistic ability in their comprehension paper.
Students of GP should not be drilling or reading their notes rigorously. Instead, they should be browsing news sites online or newspapers. This information gathering process should be useful in writing essays and answering the infamous Application Questions (AQ) based on your knowledge of these current affairs. There are themes in GP which are broader and require students to deal with difficult issues such as prejudice and discrimination, gender and inequality, and arts and literature. These themes will require current examples which must be gleaned from world affairs.
This article will explain to all GP students how to bridge the feared gap between A and O Levels with these helpful tips to ensure that students pass their GP paper with flying colours.
The themes introduced in GP are rather broad and will include many specific subtopics. As there are many exam questions to choose from, students could be strategic with their preparations instead of attempting the impossible task of studying for everything. Instead, students should pick and choose a few themes which they are the most confident in, which is a different ball game as compared to O Level English. The student should then read model essays and research around the topics they have chosen. Students should compile statistics and relevant articles to build a database of examples.
In GP’s Paper 1, there are a total of 12 questions. Students are only required to do 1 question, which will allow them to choose the question they are most confident in writing. Students should bear in mind that having sufficient content for Paper 1 can be the determinant of their GP grades. As the essay writing Paper 1 constitutes 50% of the GP grade, the content alone is worth 60% of that.
Paper 1 thus requires students to provide relevant and tangible evidence, along with an objective evaluation to substantiate your points to score content marks. Students should avoid writing at great length, but without proper evidence and a non-robust structure. Rambling on tangents will not do the student any good, and students should write concisely but clearly.
To prepare for the General Paper, students should be strategic and choose topics which overlap, such as Science and Technology and Globalisation as it is likely that these themes will have similar examples. Students who choose their topics wisely will have many strong and flexible examples (both local and global) which they can repeatedly use in these different questions.
For GP Paper 2 (the Comprehension paper), students are required to demonstrate your understanding of the passage by paraphrasing your answers. Unlike O Level English where examiners tolerate some lifting of answers from the passage, lifting will be a sure-fire way to flunk Paper 2, as the student will not earn any marks from their answers and will lose language marks.
There are 2 popular ways to paraphrase in GP: (1) replacing all the words in the sentence with a synonym or (2) rewriting the sentence.
I will now demonstrate the two ways of paraphrasing by paraphrasing the previous sentence.
Replacing all the words:
“There are 2 common methods of paraphrasing for the General Paper, which are changing all the words within a sentence with another word with similar meaning or entirely restructuring the sentence.”
Rewriting the sentence:
“Replacing all the words in the sentence with a synonym or rewriting the sentence entirely are 2 ways in which paraphrasing can be done for the General Paper.”
To help students paraphrase well, they should keep a word bank, which is a book of words they have learned along the way by revising their General Paper notes. Students should then jot down the meaning of the words as well as some examples where the word is used in a sentence. To achieve mastery of the English language, students should practice writing these words in sentences.
Practicing paraphrasing will allow students’ abilities to increase by leaps and bounds. Students who practice often will notice that their abilities get better after practicing as they have a wide range of vocabulary at their disposal. The more they paraphrase, the faster students will be able to do it in their exams.
Unlike O Level English, GP is not as simple as it sounds. Students will be surprised at how often candidates do not answer the question. To illustrate the point, consider this question:
“Rehabilitation, not punishment, should be the purpose of the justice system. Discuss.”
Although this question seems straightforward, the student needs to answer 2 questions and discuss 2 concepts as possible purposes of the justice system: rehabilitation and punishment.
This question involves a compare and contrast exercise between rehabilitation and punishment.
Below is an example of a bad and good answer to the question:
“Rehabilitation should be the purpose of the justice system because rehabilitation is a solution that seeks to disentangle the problems that criminals face.”
“Rehabilitation, rather than punishment, should be the purpose of the justice system because rehabilitation is a solution that seeks to disentangle the problems that criminals face, whereas punishment is simply a reactionary measure that is merely a counter to violations of the law.”
The Application Questions (AQ) can cost many students their A grade, as they will not have encountered this in O Levels. The AQ involves the student writing a mini essay which answers a question based on excerpts from the passage. Students must present their arguments in a concise and coherent manner. Moreover, students should write their arguments based on a LOCAL context.
The most important technique to answer the AQ section is analysing the question well and mastering the technique. Analysing the AQ consists of finding out what the question is really asking. For example, if the passage talks about problems and solutions but the AQ only requires the students to evaluate the solutions, DO NOT evaluate the problems.
There should be a balance in the paragraphs of the AQ, either by having 1 paragraph agreeing with the author and another paragraph disagreeing, or by having the argument and counterargument in the same paragraph. For most AQs, students will be required to address 2 points from the author.
Although there is undoubtedly a huge jump in difficulty from O Level English to the A Level General Paper, students need to acquire a new set of skills by understanding how to deal with the section. With a good attitude and the willingness to work hard, crossing the bridge will be a doable task.
At WR!TERS@WORK, we are committed to providing the smoothest learning experience for your child sitting for their English exams at both primary and secondary school levels. With our carefully curated methods of teaching English for PSLE, O Levels, and A Levels, your child will be able to identify the answers to the questions and present them in a concise manner in no time.
English is a compulsory subject that has direct impact on your chances of advancing to upper secondary. Overall, English tuition and writing courses can help primary school students enjoy a smoother transition between education levels by reinforcing their language skills and providing a strong foundation for academic success.
Engaging in English tuition and writing courses can greatly assist students in smoothly transitioning between education levels. These programs reinforce their language skills and establish a solid foundation for academic achievement. For more exam tips, parents and students can explore our website and watch our YouTube videos.
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1. How do you structure an English essay?
Firstly, you need a good hook as an introductory paragraph. Next, the body of content follows, which will answer the essay question provided. Lastly, a strong conclusion which “comes down on one side” is needed.
2. What is a good paragraph starter?
It depends on the essay. For narrative writing, the student can start in media res. For argumentative essays or discursive essays, a thesis statement is needed which outlines the central tenet of your argument.
3. What should you not do in an essay?
You should not ramble with run-on sentences in an essay. Furthermore, students should always answer the essay question and not address points which are unrelated. Good grammar and vocabulary, along with robust sentence structure, is a must.
4. What makes a bad essay?
A bad essay will not deal with the subject matter it is being asked for. Moreover, a bad essay will fail to drive home the central point, be it a good plot, or arguments posed on either side based on the essay topic. Moreover, a bad essay will contain many grammatical errors, spelling errors, and will have a limited range of vocabulary.
5. What is the hardest part of an essay?
Planning the essay is the hardest part of the essay. Students need to figure out what content to put in the essay and how it is structured, as well as the examples to bolster their argument.
6. What are the common essay writing mistakes?
Firstly, not reading and answering the question is a cardinal mistake made by many students. Students should write the essay which is being asked of them instead of writing the essay they want to write, whether it is based on another model essay they have encountered in the past or a question the student thinks is easier to answer than the real essay question.
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