General Guidelines for Directed Writing

The focus of the SPM 1119 paper, which is the English Language paper, is mainly on the reading and writing skills. Paper 1 tests candidates on their writing skills while Paper 2 deals, for the most part, with the reading skills.

 We’ll begin this series with the more difficult writing skill as it carries a significant portion of the marks for the whole paper. This paper consists of two compulsory questions:  Directed Writing and Continuous Writing.

The Directed Writing question carries a total of 35 marks – 15 marks for content and 20 marks for language. The marks for format, which can vary between 1-3 marks depending on the text type, are included in the 15 marks allocated for content. In this section, candidates are given only one question. This means that candidates do not have the luxury of choice which they are given in the Continuous Writing section.

 Most candidates find this question quite manageable. In fact, even weak candidates can be taught to cope with this question to a certain extent. Several factors make this question quite doable. Firstly, candidates are given help with content. This means candidates do not have to worry about what to write as content points are provided.  It is not difficult to score full marks for content.  In fact, candidates can score full marks for content if they are able to use the information given in grammatically sound sentences, irrespective of the sentence type or length.  It is also easy to get marks for format if they have been exposed to the formats of different text types.  Secondly, this question does not demand much linguistically unlike the continuous writing question. Most candidates are able to cope with this question, even if they are linguistically limited.  Thirdly, the question is usually set around the experiences of students. Hence, there is no reason for candidates not to attempt this question.

Over the years, teachers and students have become quite adept at predicting the type of question that might appear. Still, I would suggest that you familiarise yourself with the different text types. Below is an analysis of the questions which have appeared over the past few years:

Year

Text type

Purpose

2000

letter (informal) To inform mother of choice of present for your brother and persuade mother to lend you some money

2001

Article To inform students on ways of coping with stress

2002

Speech To inform  students about road safety – causes of road accidents and suggestions to reduce them

2003

letter (formal) To inform the class teacher about the choice of class trip

2004

Report To inform the school principal about the conditions of the school canteen

2005

letter (informal) To inform a friend about a holiday camp

2006

letter (informal) To convince a friend to run for the post of head prefect

2007

Speech To tell students about a science reference book

2008

Article To inform students about a friend who has been chosen as the Best Group Leader

General Guidelines for Directed Writing

  • Read the question carefully. Identify your task, your role and your audience.
  • Use the 45 minutes allocated for this question wisely.
  • Plan your essay and organize your thoughts (this includes what to write and how to elaborate on points)
  • Include an introduction and a conclusion and make sure your paragraphs are well organized.
  • Use all content points given. It is advisable to cross out the points you have used, so that no point is left out.
  • Include points of your own only if you are asked to. Otherwise, do not waste precious time doing so because you will not get any extra marks.
  • Elaborate on the points given. Write 2-3 sentences to elaborate on each point. Remember a crucial aspect of this paper is language and your ability to write can only be tested if you provide sufficient language for the examiner to gauge your linguistic ability.   
  • Use a variety of sentence structures so that your essay is not dull and monotonous.
  • Always read through what you have written. Correct grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.

 Common pitfalls

  • Poor time management. Do not spend more than the allocated 45 minutes on this question. Otherwise you will not have enough time for the second question.
  • Lengthy essays. Do not write too much. As mentioned earlier, this question does not make many demands on a candidate. Directed writing is a succinct piece of writing. All you have to do is use the given points and provide a sentence or two (maybe three) to elaborate on them. A response of  1 ½ – 2 pages is more than sufficient. After all, the more you write the more mistakes you might make. Some candidates make the mistake of writing one paragraph for each point.  If you do this, your essay is going to be very lengthy. Save the time and energy for Continuous writing.
  • Usage of Informal language. This paper tests your written English. Do not use spoken language. Avoid using slang words (such as guys, …..), contractions, and informal language (such as informal idiomatic expressions or informal phrasal verbs).
  • Poor punctuation. Some candidates do not punctuate their sentences correctly. Make sure you end your sentence with a full stop and not a comma. Also, make sure that the pronoun I is written in upper case and not lower case (i) as is the practice among some candidates.
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