Planning before writing is an essential skill for all levels, be it primary or secondary. Below, Tr Rachael discusses what she has worked on with her Sec 4 class last Sunday during their writing component.

Our Secondary 4 lessons have kicked off and in our first lesson, we focused on the essay writing component of the English paper – specifically on how to plan your essay and ensure relevance. This is a very important, though often neglected, step in the writing process. As the song lyrics go, “Wise men say: Only fools rush in”, rushing into your essay without first thinking through what you want to write about (and whether it does address the question), is to put it bluntly, a recipe for failure.

We covered 3 main types of essays – from the 2019 ‘O’ level Paper 1.

1. Hybrid essay

Which person has had the most positive impact on your life? Describe the individual’s personality and in what ways he or she has influenced you. (Q3, 2019 ‘O’ level)

By ‘hybrid’, I mean a combination of two types (or genres) of writing. How can we tell if a question is a hybrid? Look at the key words highlighted – ‘Describe’ indicates that you have to give a detailed description of this individual you have in mind who has had a positive influence on you, while ‘in what ways’ requires you to discuss about how this person’s qualities have impacted you. In short, you have to use descriptive and expository writing to fully address the question.

I would recommend following the ‘rule of 3’ – 3 qualities paired with 3 influences:



  • Introduce the person with a striking feature or dialogue of his or hers.
  • Summarise the 3 ways he or she has influenced you for good.


  • Describe Quality #1 (e.g. patient)
  • Explain Influence #1 (e.g. to exercise care and compassion to others)


  • Describe Quality #2 (e.g. determined)
  • Explain Influence #2 (e.g. to learn to overcome fear of failure)


  • Describe Quality #3 (e.g. adventurous)
  • Explain Influence #3 (e.g. to learn to face uncertainty and be more adaptable)


  • Reiterate how the person has changed you (e.g. your circumstances, your outlook on life)

To take BP1 for example, if you describe the person as patient, a possible way you might be influenced could be in adopting these traits by extending care and understanding towards others. Remember to give concrete examples of how you have done so as you see this person in action.

2. Narrative essay

‘It was my proudest moment.’ Write about a time when you felt like this.(Q4, 2019 ‘O’ level)

We all love a good story, but it takes skills to write an engaging story. While some people just have a knack for storytelling, a key ingredient in good stories is building up tension. We brainstormed for possible storylines, which included winning a race, performing well in the examinations, and overcoming one’s fears. Note that the period before the moment of pride is important because pride (and joy, exhilaration) is borne out of having felt inadequate, inferior, or unworthy. The ‘hero’ of your story (i.e. main character) has to have overcome these hurdles to reach this pinnacle of pride and satisfaction. Describe how these hurdles were overcome.

3. Expository essay (which can be classified into Discursive and Argumentative)

‘Most young people today are obsessed with fame and imitating celebrities.’ What are your views?(Q5, 2019 ‘O’ level)
‘People can only be happy if they feel they are treated fairly.’ Do you agree?(Q6, 2019 ‘O’ level)

With the above two questions, how can you tell which is discursive (comes from the word ‘discuss’) and which is argumentative? Look at the question at the end. The first one asks for your ‘views’, suggesting you can give varied perspectives. This indicates a discursive essay, in which you would usually give 2 points for and 1 point against, or vice versa. Notice key words like ‘obsessed’ which is quite an extreme word to use, unlike ‘favour’ or ‘love’. ‘Obsessed’ implies an unhealthy fixation or even addiction. How are young people today dangerously occupied with fame and ‘copycatting’ celebrities?

The second question asks if you ‘agree’, to which you would have to make a stand, i.e. pick a side. That is perhaps what makes an argumentative essay a tad more challenging. You need to argue and persuade your reader towards your point of view. All 3 BPs thus have to support that one view. Note the key words:

  • ‘only’ – Ask yourself whether being fairly or justly treated is the only factor to happiness, and whether there are other paths to happiness. You should also consider instances where fairness directly leads to happiness.
  • ‘feel they are treated’ – This suggests a feeling or perception of fairness or justice, which gives a bit more leeway for you to define what fairness means to different groups of people. What a child deems unfair, e.g. getting jealous or being denied what he/she wants, would be different from what a student deems unfair, e.g. not being selected as class chairperson despite one’s exemplary conduct. This can also get you started on finding examples to support your point of view.

Here is how the 2 types of expository essays compare:


  • Introduction:
    Summarise your 3 points (for and against)
  • Conclusion:
    Reiterate your 3 points.
    Suggest how people can take action or change their mindset.


  • Introduction:
    State your stand
    Summarise your 3 arguments (for or against)
  • Conclusion:
    Reiterate your 3 points.
    Call your readers to action.

I hope the above tips are helpful to get you thinking about what to write for each of these topics, and check for relevance of your ideas, by knowing what type of essay it is and constantly going back to key words in the question. Come and join us in our Sec 4 lessons to hone your skills at planning and generating ideas and examples!

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2024 Bukit Timah Branch Secondary English Tuition Timetable

LevelClass TypeDayTime
S1All Components ClassSAT5 pm to 7 pm