You have made it through three years of secondary school English, and are on the cusp of entering your final year and facing the O-Level English exam! No matter how you have performed through the years, you now need to focus on scoring the best that you can for each component of the paper. How can you maximise your strengths in a particular component, and minimise errors in another? What should you concentrate your efforts on in this final leg of the journey? Here are some areas (classified under the four papers) that you could focus on.

Paper 1 Continuous Writing

Work on the genre/s you are stronger in

Whether it is the personal recount, or discursive or argumentative essay, you should know which type/s of writing you are stronger in.

  • If it is the personal recount, hone your ability to create interesting story arcs or recollect memorable experiences in your life where you learnt meaningful lessons. Drawing from personal experience always lends your story authenticity and realism.
  • If it is the discursive or argumentative essay, hone your argumentation skills. For your introduction, practise using different ways to hook your reader (e.g. with an intriguing anecdote or shocking statistic). As for your body paragraphs, learn to use a variety of examples / illustrations to support your point. It also helps to practise expressing your ideas succinctly.

An illustration: Writing a persuasive body paragraph

Let’s take this example of an argumentative essay topic.

Most young people today are obsessed with fame and imitating celebrities. What are your views? (2019 O-Level, Question 3)

Below is a sample body paragraph of how to use a variety of examples to illustrate your point. Elements of the body paragraph are indicated in square brackets.

[Point] Indeed, it is difficult to disregard how young people today appear to be extremely obsessed with fame and imitating celebrities because of how they seek gratification from social media. [Example 1] Research by the University of California Los Angeles has shown that teenagers are especially drawn to social media as their brain’s reward circuitry is triggered when their photos receive ‘likes’. This prompts them to continually seek gratification from social media, thereby spending hours

satisfying their digital cravings. [Example 2] From my personal life, I have witnessed how the gratification social media offers can quickly breed obsession. I have several friends who can spend up to 10 hours on their phone each day and spend the majority of their screen time on social media sites such as Instagram or TikTok. They post multiple times on their accounts in hope of increasing their number of followers, and some have gone to extreme lengths to do so, such as imitating Korean idol IU’s diet to try and become as slim as her. Gaining new followers or succeeding in their crash diets gives them a sense of accomplishment. [Link] Social media can indeed breed an obsession for more fulfilment, and it is therefore understandable why young people today may appear to be obsessed with fame and imitating celebrities.

Source: Present Perfect, The Essay Issue (2020 Issue 4/5)

Example 1 uses research to explain teenagers’ tendency to seek pleasure from social media.

Example 2 uses personal observations to support the point that some teenagers do depend heavily on social media to gain satisfaction.

Examples 1 and 2 complement each other in supporting the Point that young people are obsessed with fame and imitating celebrities. Using Example 1 alone does not show how teenagers are drawn to social media, while Example 2 (writer’s observation) alone may seem like an isolated experience. Notice how the writer illustrates the idea of ‘obsession’ — by mentioning the extent of teenagers’ obsession. Hence, if you are able to, use a combination of examples to strengthen your point.

Build robust knowledge in several topics or areas of interest

In the event that there are more argumentative essay topics than personal recount ones, it pays to consolidate key events or case studies related to certain issues like environmental conservation or social media. Select a few topics of interest to delve deep into and compile a set of notes or organise the information into a mind map so you can revise them easily before the exam. That said, do pick up key facts about other significant issues like mental health, education and popular culture.

This also comes in handy for the Oral Spoken Interaction, as you are likely to encounter similar topics. Having a breadth of knowledge about various issues enables you to start the conversation with the examiner.

Paper 2 – Comprehension

Check that your answers are Concise, Accurate and Relevant

The comprehension paper is a bugbear for many of you, as it demands precision in your answer while excluding excess or irrelevant information. Cultivate the habit of checking that your answers are C.A.R — concise (expressed clearly without lengthy explanations), accurate (information is translated correctly from the passage) and relevant (answers the question). The number of points made should also match the number of marks for the question.

Secure full content marks for Summary

The summary is probably easier to score in, as compared to the comprehension questions. Aim to secure at least 8 points to score full content marks for the summary. Ensure that you make a conscious effort to paraphrase / use your own words, and you should clinch at least 5 or even 6 out of 7 marks for Language. This gives you a good chance of scoring 13/15 or 14/15.

Paper 3 – Listening

Take notes to review on second listening

While the Listening paper can be said to be most students’ ‘trump card’, you should not neglect to check your answers and make the most of your second round of listening (for all sections except the last). In your last few listening practices throughout the year, practise taking notes quickly or with shorthand, so you can check back easily. This is especially useful when the text is not explicit and you need to make inferences.

Paper 4 – Oral

Practise speaking on a wide range of topics

This relates to point #2 about building substantial knowledge across a range of topics, so that you can engage on (almost) any topic. This applies to both writing and speaking. To prepare well for the Spoken Interaction component of the Oral paper, practise speaking about a variety of topics using questions encountered in class, or with past year O-Level questions.

You could start off by using the questions at the bottom of this article, which also provides some conversation handles to get you talking. More practice questions are also available in these articles:

With these tips, start working through each of these areas in your last year of secondary school, depending on what you are weaker in. You may not be able to brush up on every single component, but work on your strengths and sharpen your skills, and you stand a good chance of moving your English marks up by a notch. All the best!

2023 Bukit Timah Branch Secondary English tuition timetable

LevelDayStart timeEnd time
S1SAT2 pm4 pm
S2SAT4 pm6 pm
S3SAT6 pm8 pm