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  • Vanita Pal


Most people think that the common mistakes in the secondary English paper revolve around using unsuitable words in essays and not having done enough preparation.

Actually the “real” mistakes which students make are far from those.

The Most Common mistake which students make is to misread the essay question.

All students are excited when doing their exams and easily misread or do not understand the question properly before doing it. Secondary English essay questions can be about Reflective, Argumentative, Narrative or Descriptive and Personal Recount topics as a hybrid essay. The argumentative topics can be demanding and expect the student to know about various political, environmental and social topics. For example,

“Do families spend much time with each other?”

This is a topic which can be easily misread as families spending time or not. IF a student writes that families DO spend time as there are a variety of examples to support it, then he is headed straight for a borderline pass at best.

The question is not asking about whether they spend time or not but whether they spend MUCH time. So, the answer should be that families spend time but not THAT MUCH or families spend a lot of time together. This will be the correct interpretation of the question.

Reading the question slowly and understanding the main aim is of great importance.

The second most common mistake which students make is to not allocate time for checking at the end of the paper.

Students literally stop when the examiner says ‘pens down’. That is not the way to do it.

The best way is to do time management exercises before the paper and to allocate about 10 minutes to read through. Countless mistakes can be avoided this way and marks can be gained. One of the worst careless mistakes students make is to misspell words. They even misspell words which are in the passage. All they have to do is to copy it back. This is truly a waste of marks as marks can be lost for such carelessness. The use of “i” instead of “I” is one of the common mistakes. Another one is to forget to use commas and full stops. In total this will amount to grammatical errors and loss of marks from 2 to 5 can be incurred.

Not checking one’s work at all could mean that you may have forgotten to even do a question which you may have meant to do later! When I teach at Wizpals, I always make sure that I scrupulously check every line before grading. That way, the student will know how to strengthen the weak areas in time for the exams.

The third most common mistake is to totally discard paraphrasing for the summary question.

I cannot emphasize enough about how important it is to paraphrase when you are editing the summary answer. Students are expected to write about 8 – 10 points for each summary answer and they have to paraphrase so that the words are not copy pasted. Unfortunately, most students will reduce the words to the 80 word count and re-use the same words/ phrases from the passage. 5 marks are allocated for editing and these can be lost if this is done. Paraphrasing in your own words will mean that you can actually get a full score for summary. In order to excel in the summary portion, students need to have a basic proficiency of vocabulary. A good base knowledge of vocabulary words is needed to paraphrase effectively. That’s the only way to change the words from the text to your own words without losing the main intention of the content.

The fourth most common mistake is to hastily choose an essay question and discard to do another midway.

Many students are intensely nervous when doing the paper and are unable to decide properly on the correct question. They do not do mind maps for the question and delve straight into writing it. It is only halfway through the essay that they will realise that they have run out of points and decide to switch topics.

This result in precious time being lost! Students will never be able to recover time no matter how quickly they write. This is one of the worst things to do. The best and only thing to do is to do a mind map or short outline of the answer for the question. This will mean that you will be able to sketch out the number of points needed to write out your answer. If you are writing a narrative or reflective/ personal recount, you will have to sketch out the background, build-up, climax and the resolution. If you realise that you cannot complete this, you would have only lost 5 minutes or so and will be able to restart in time.

The fifth most common mistake is to not allocate proportionate time for each section of the paper.

For example, the editing section can be done in 15 minutes. Too much time on that will mean there won’t be enough time on the other sections. The situation writing paper has less weightage compared to the continuous writing portion which has more marks. Most students feel that tuning in to the smaller portions will mean they will have more time later for the bigger portions but this can also mean that they may make the mistake of spending far too much time on it. Allocating the correct portion of time for each part of the paper is crucial.

If this is done, all students will have a good shot at getting the best possible score as these are some of the most common ways that students lose their marks.


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