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If ESL teachers want their intermediate SPM candidates to give examination tips for Directed Writing in Paper 1, how many examination tips do you think the intermediate SPM candidates can give? Definitely, the answer varies but I am positive most of the SPM candidates (not only intermediate students) could only give less than five examination tips for Directed Writing. Why couldn’t they offer more than five tips? One of the possible answers (sorry to say this) is simply because their own English Language teachers have not been seriously emphasizing the tips in the writing lessons. In other words, SPM candidates have not been constantly exposed to practical and effective examination tips which should be at their finger tips!

In this write-up, I would like to share examination tips which I have been giving to all my SPM candidates year in year out. To me it is crucial for my Form 5 students especially the intermediate candidates to know these tips as the tips will guide them to minimise errors or flaws, write a good essay and get the highest mark they deserve. No doubt it takes some time for intermediate students to remember and understand all tips. These are the common tips offered to my SPM candidates:

  1. Read the question and underline the keywords.

  2. Examine each keyword and pay attention to singular / plural or past / present. For examples, “the biggest challenge” refers to only ONE challenge and “a three-day-two-night camp” refers to three continuous dates (maybe 2-4 January 2020).

  3. If required to give a number such as the number of participants or latecomers, the number has to be logical /suitable. “There were 500 latecomers daily” may not be a logical number.

  4. If asked to explain “when” (e.g. when the campaign was held), better give a clear information. Avoid giving unspecific information such as “last week” or “two months ago”. Better offer clear details such as “Sunday, 23rd January 2020”.

  5. Understand the meaning of words such as accommodation, duration, participants, accompanying teachers and requirement which are commonly included as content points.

  6. Rewrite all the content points given one by one. Do not string content points. Each content point should be rewritten and elaborated one by one.

  7. For intermediate students, each content point should be rewritten in a short sentence. Sometimes, it is good not to combine the content point and additional detail in one sentence because of the worry the additional detail may distort the meaning of the content point. Whatever additional ideas the candidates have, they can be written in the next sentences as elaborations.

  8. Do not change the words/content points given. However, a minor change is allowed as long as the change does not affect the original meaning. For example, “poster drawing” (given content point) is changed to “Students will draw posters in the hall”.

  9. In certain cases, in constructing a complete sentence, candidates only need to add a few words to the content points given. For instance, if the content point is “beach cleaning project”, then, candidates only need to add words like these “ The first activity is beach cleaning project” or “Beach cleaning project is great .”

  10. Study the sub-heading of the content points. If the word “Recycling” comes under the heading of “Activities on the first day”, then candidates will not get a mark for this sentence “Recycling is good” (not an activity). However, a content point mark can be awarded for this sentence, “There was a recycling campaign.”

  11. Elaborate each content point but do not provide too many elaborations for each content point. Normally, 2-4 elaborations can be offered, of course depending on the availability of time during examination and candidates’ language proficiency.

  12. Use wh-questions such as when, who, why and where to elaborate.

  13. Master all the formats – speech/talk, report, article, letter (formal and informal). Ensure the correct format is used.

  14. Arrange the content points into several paragraphs. Decide which content points should be written in the first paragraph and so on.

  15. If possible, do check language errors especially the consistency of past tense verbs or any other verbs used. Apply certain sophisticated words in your essay in order to get merits. Focus on sophisticated words to describe people, places, feelings and activities/events.

If those examination tips are relevant to you, do share them with your SPM candidates. Perhaps, it is a good idea for teachers to find out how many examination tips for Directed Writing their students know. If they only know three, there is nothing to be alarmed. Just share those tips or whatever other tips the teachers have and make improvements. I am confident, after some time, with constant exposure and proper explanation given by teachers, those students who only know three tips initially, will be able to explain at least 10 tips, in shaa Allah.

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