The Sunday News
When public examinations get closer some learners panic. They feel empty, devoid of knowledge of subjects they have been learning and above all excelling in them.
Teachers come in handy to calm the nerves of the affected learners by continuously showing them how examination questions can be tackled. At times teachers as well panic when they find that learners seem to have forgotten even the simplest methods of answering questions.
For a start I will dwell on helping learners who still have problems on answering essay questions especially on literature. There is really no need to panic if learners have fully read and understood the set texts.
There is a tendency by some learners not to fully read the texts prescribed. These learners are so cunning such that they rely on class discussions where they get points from points raised by diligent learners and additions from the teacher.
They develop good listening skills for them to at least score a pass grade in the examinations. Teachers should be wary of such learners. However, because of numbers and the pressure the teacher goes through, it might be a big challenge to track such truants. The main focus today is to remind learners how to respond to the essay question. This is what I read: “You must pay close attention to the key words of the question. Sometimes learners forget to do this.
For example, they see the title of a poem they have studied in the question, and write everything they know about that poem.
But an answer requires more than just knowledge of the poem. It needs to provide a convincing and relevant response to the actual question set, this is why it is important to read the question carefully. Keep the question clearly in focus as you write your answer.
Some learners ignore the question completely and simply re-tell the story of the text, whether it is a poem, play, novel or short story. A common feature in such narrative responses is the use of connectives such as “next” or “then”.
These words are tell-tale signs the learner is not answering the question but simply re-telling the story. This is a major weakness displayed by learners in answering essay questions.
Quality of answers is more important than quantity. Learners might be tempted to re-use prepared answers on a particular character or theme because they have done a similar question before. But this is not a good idea. Material you might have used in previous essays needs to be re-worked to meet the particular demands of the new question you are answering. A new question should be answered in its own way. Learners should watch out for slight changes in the demands of the new question.
Taking for granted that the answers used in the previous question also apply in the new one is dangerous. Tackle the new question independently from the previous one. Questions usually require you to focus on the text and the main focus in questions will be on your response to the text. Show a clear detailed understanding of the question. A few straightforward comments that show a general understanding is not enough. Convince the examiner that you have a clear grasp of the detail in the text you are writing about.
You need to show that you have carefully explored the ways in which the writer uses language, structure and form to communicate what they have to say. We are made aware that showing a detailed understanding is not the same as writing down every point you could make about a particular text. You must be selective.
Choose the best material for your answer. In examinations essays on set texts have time limits, so you cannot write about everything. You should not write extremely long essays. Select the material that most effectively answers the question you have been set. Avoid long-winding answers.
Develop your points clearly. Your points must be carefully organised into paragraphs so that one point leads logically to the next. Every sentence you write should be relevant to the question that has been set. The logic of your argument should be clear throughout your answer. Here is something interesting about all this: “It is not necessary to write a long introduction, telling your reader what you intend to do in the essay.
“It is best to engage with the key words of the question straight away, and move to your first specific point. There is no credit for starting essays with “courtesy” introductions such as “In this essay I am going to write about . . .” You should make your points concisely and move on. There is no credit for repeated points. Experts recommend that you make your reader’s job a pleasure not a chore. Organise your paragraphs logically. Check that spelling, punctuation and grammar are accurate.
Write legibly so that your reader can easily follow your ideas. Use appropriate register in your answers. Register refers to the level of formality in writing. Writing in critical essays should be formal. You should not, for example, use contractions as isn’t or didn’t in formal writing. Your personal response should not include slang or colloquial English. Learners are encouraged to use literary terms in their answers to make points concisely. There are, however, two things to avoid:
Merely spotting or labelling literary devices: for example, “This is a simile. It means . . .” Using literary terms instead of commenting on how writers create certain effects. Your job is to show why a writer uses a particular device and what effect it has on you as the reader. In your answers move from description to analysis.
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