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Is it important for PT3 or SPM candidates to know the assessment criteria for writing? Must they know the criteria for a good piece of composition set by the Malaysian Examination Syndicate? Should the candidates know in detail what the examiner of their essays looks for before she or he gives a mark? I believe most ESL teachers would say “YES” for all the three questions posed above. However, it is a stark reality that many English teachers do not expose their learners to those assessment criteria.

Are the assessment criteria confidential? Some teachers claim we cannot reveal the assessment criteria as it is SULIT. Well, it is confidential if you reveal the ones issued by the Malaysian Examination Syndicate. I am not asking you to reveal the ones endorsed by the ministry but teachers can make use of the assessment criteria modified by the state panels. The assessment criteria for writing which are edited by the state panels are not that confidential because anybody can get access to them online. All trial papers for PT3 and SPM English available in the internet do come with the assessment criteria for writing.

What are the benefits of revealing the assessment criteria for writing to our learners? Firstly, it crystallizes goals and directions. Knowing about each assessment criterion in detail gives a clear direction to the PT3 and SPM candidates. Many students care about their grade for English. They always want to get the best result. When they know about the assessment criteria, they will spend more time to polish their grammar if language accuracy is their main weakness. They will also aim to widen their vocabulary when they realise it is very important to include wide and apt vocabulary in their essays. Similarly, the candidates who strongly desire to get an A for English will also aim to master simple, compound and complex structures. In short, without clear understanding of the writing assessment criteria, do you think the candidates will have a clear aim of what to be improved in their writing?

Secondly, the candidates’ direction is crystallized when they know exactly what the examiner looks for before he or she awards a mark for the essay. When the PT3 or SPM candidates know about the criteria, only then they can prepare themselves well so that they can give good language accuracy, ensure ideas are developed well, vary sentence structures and use wide vocabulary.

Finally, the candidates’ awareness about each assessment criterion will create a crystal-clear purpose which then enhances their motivation. If the teacher introduces a strategy to reduce errors in class, the PT3 and SPM candidates who know about the assessment criteria can see the purpose clearly why they must give their best commitment in implementing the strategy. When the teacher asks them to memorise certain low frequency words for their essays, the candidates will do it wholeheartedly because they know its importance. Teachers will not have to go all out to motivate them to reduce errors or widen their vocabulary as they are already motivated to do so for the sake of their own grade in examination. In addition, their awareness will also promote better and more meaningful engagement in whatever strategies teachers implement in the classroom. When students are engaged in class, definitely they learn more and give their best (Goss, P and Sonneman, J., 2017).

Kudos to you if your learners, no matter which form they are in, have been exposed to the assessment criteria in details. Your effort to ensure they understand each assessment criterion is commendable. However, if your learners, especially those who have the potential to get an A or a B, know nothing or know little about the assessment criteria, then, sorry to say, you are not being fair to them. It is their right to know what they must give to the examiner for them to get a good result.

It is our responsibility as English teachers to crystallize the goal or direction of our learners. We must make sure all our learners, especially our potential A and B candidates, know how their essays are assessed. I know all teachers want the best for their learners so let us give our best! Yes, we can! Yes, we will!


Goss, P and Sonneman, J., (2017). Engaging Students: Creating Classrooms that Improve Learning.

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