Updated: Sep 14, 2021
Composition is an integral part of PSLE & O Levels Chinese Examination, it is also a segment of the examination that many students struggle with. At Yanzi Mandarin, we glean the best insights from our team of star tutors and assessment book authors to help students confront the challenging composition component.
1. Appropriate usage of good phrases and quotes
Too many times, students think that memorising and regurgiating good phrases and quotes is the key to unlocking higher marks. That is a BIG MISCONCEPTION. Peppering composition with random good phrases and quotes will inadvertently lead to awkward expressions and disrupt the flow of the story, which will ultimately lead to a mark down by examiners.
Good phrases and quotes are icing on the cake, not the fundamentals upon which the gist of story is being built on. Students should place emphasis on their situational awareness and need to understand where and when good phrases should be used, instead of blindly memorising and plugging them in.
2. Revising past practices and pinpoint weaknesses
It is pertinent to go through past compositions and sit down to analyse the various mistakes and target areas of improvement. One should prioritise quality over quantity. It is pointless if a student keeps writing multiple practice compositions and not realise where he or she has gone wrong. Doing so will create the opposite result - the student will internalise the mistakes which then become deep-rooted in his/her writing habits.
Students should consult with their teachers or tutors to get a sense of their weaker areas and in the future, practise with a goal in mind - to cut out the mistakes and drill better forms of expressions, structuring of ideas etc. Progress should be tracked through comparative analysis of compositions done over time.
It's time to take out the old compositions and analyse them, instead of chucking them away to a old dusty cupboard for them to be never seen again. One can note down their common mistakes in a notebook, make them into a checklist and refer to them from time to time when writing future compositions.
3. Proper Structuring of Ideas
As the saying goes, "If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail". The good compositions are underpinned by a logical flow and well-execution of ideas, not what one feels like writing at the spur of the moment. Often times, students start off their composition without a plan in sight and write with the mindset of "going with the flow". Rarely, a student gets a sudden inspiration while writing mid-way and even if it happens, it may be already too late - the time limit may not be sufficient or it is too much of an effort to erase the previous portions of the composition.
Divide and conquer is the name of the game. Students need to strategise and split their compositions into the key components, coming up with a specific game plan for each and every component while making sure they have proper linkage amongst them. Some techniques would be doing a rough sketching of ideas on a blank sheet of paper or drawing a mind map or flowchart to visualize the flow of ideas. Doing so will take out the constant thinking of ideas out of the equation and students can focus on executing and perfecting that specific part of the composition.
4. Timed Practices
Students should not take their own sweet time and do practices without keeping track of how much time they're spending on them. Many students do that and their sense of urgency only kicks in during examinations when reminded by invigilators that they only have 10 minutes of writing time left. They either scramble to wrap up their composition in a haphazard manner which leads to sharp drop in the quality of writing or leave their composition hanging without a conclusion/closing paragraph.
The very best students do all their practices under timed conditions, simulating exam environment so as to get the pace of their writing up to an elite level where they can complete their compositions not just on time but well before it, freeing up time to spot and correct mistakes.
5. READ, RE-READ & UNDERSTAND the questions before starting
Often, students just glance over the questions and quickly pick the one that they think they can score well just because the question may seem familiar to the ones that they have practised or they have seen it somewhere before. This can lead to disastrous consequences to the extent that the composition is marked as fail for writing out of context and deemed as not answering the question.
The Chinese composition questions are filled with many pitfalls and students should not rush into answering them. Spend the first 2 minutes to see whether the question is something that you are indeed familiar with and read every single word of the question to make sure your essay plan is aligned with what the question is asking for. A difference of a few words can totally change the objective of the question. This first 2 minutes of checking and double-checking will thus ensure the student ultimately picks the correct option, saving tons of time and regret.