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  • Vanita Pal


Ok. You are in the second part of this year’s preparation for O levels. And you have just started panicking about your O level English paper.

You are probably coasting along in your Math, Science and other papers. And you have shown very little interest in the English paper so far.

How can you possibly fix this problem at the last minute?

As you all know, last minute preparations can usually leave you in a muddle.

The million dollar question you must be asking yourself is this…

Exactly how do you prepare for English at the last minute … and…..

…is this at all viable?

Of course, I have to take the stand that last minute preparations are to be looked down on. They imply that you have been irresponsible and shirking your work. All your teachers would have told you that there are no short cuts to studying hard and passing.

It’s true. There are ‘supposed to be no shortcuts.’

But there are.

I am going to tell you how you can actually prepare for your English composition exams with just a few tips and you will be able to get rather respectable grades too.

I am not going to get into the intricacies of the comprehension paper because that means you will have to be conversant with the 8 to 10 different types of questions. And there are 2 comprehension passages. You will have to be fairly confident in both. The quick fix will take a while.

The quick fix for composition is faster provided that you follow all the rules carefully.

Now, the rule of thumb for writing is that you should have a good vocabulary bank at your fingertips.

And what if you have a really basic vocabulary?

What? You have not been reading? You don’t really like it?


Ok. Never fear.

The first task is to familiarise yourself with vocabulary lists for each genre of your composition paper.

The argumentative portion demands more prosaic words but they should be suitable for current affairs topics. Words such as “predominantly”, “converging on”, “massive spread” can be used for topics on social issues or environmental concerns.

The words should reiterate the urgency of the topic and how relevant it is to our times.


“Super spreader events caused the massive spread of the virus and the year long good work in inhibiting the deadly disease was undone in just one event.”

All the words used are precise, logical, down-to-earth and relate to facts. And the main point of the sentence is clear. It is obvious that the virus has gained deadly proportions recently.

The other main concern of such vocabulary is to show that you are well-informed. Logical and precise words denote control over the topic and easily impress. There has to be a journalistic style which supports the topic. The same style can be used for Expository topics as they are also concerned with facts.

The second rule of thumb is to have a list of words for the Reflective and Personal Recount topics.

By far, these are more popular with students today as there are more choices in this genre.

The topics reflect the need to show a learning experience and a gradual progression in character.

The last portion of the paper should reflect the sense of having come a long way from the beginning. This can be

seen with the inclusion of idioms or words of truth and wisdom.


“It was with great regret that I found in giving up the thing I loved the most meant that I could move on with my life. I knew that I could no longer live in that lovely, country house of my parents but the effort to wrench myself from my old life would free me and I could finally etch a new life for myself unrestrained of the tethering influence of my family.”

This is a sort of bitter-sweet ending where you finally make the conscious decision to leave your childhood home which obviously meant so much to you and you move on to what you think will be a new life filled with the opportunity to test your own strength.

This is a heartfelt statement and is deeply resonant of moral catharsis. Reflective and personal recount topics demand that you show that you have been on a learning journey of sorts.

You must show:

I Progression in your part of life

ii Change in character

iii Learning something new

Once you have fulfilled these platitudes, you would have arrived at a truly beautiful story.

The third part of my ‘vocabulary experience’ is confined to Narrative topics. These also have become more prominent in the O level exam papers.

Narrative topics are storytelling at its best. That is what you should aim for. Anything less than that becomes fodder for primary school papers.

Why? That’s because students started to write narrative compositions in primary school. Unfortunately, most students think it is the same thing. You cannot go on writing in the same way with a flashback and then a climax and resolution.

Yes, the same highlights are there in terms of a climax and the solution but the effect cannot be as simplistic.

Narrative topics for O levels demand a great deal of subjective thought. It should reveal independence of thought, the ability to make judgements and the need to provoke the reader into feeling something for what you are saying. Your story should be there for a reason. And the reason should reveal some originality and depth.

Most students settle for hackneyed plots and run-of-mill character sketches. You have to veer away from these and think out of the box.

Words such as “it was the catalyst which started the emotional drama in my life”, “the need to exercise the utmost caution ruled out every other thought”, “a new horizon dawned in my life.”

All these words are purely subjective and very descriptive. There is a mix of metaphors which indicate a certain poetic quality about it. This has to be done just right or it can be too overdone.

The most important criteria for Narrative writing is to choose:

I a good subjective thread of thought

Ii use suitable words to describe your story

Iii have a cathartic or morally uplifting end

Now that I have come to the end of my little blog, you are probably thinking of the burning question – “How Do I Learn all these appropriate words for each Genre?”

You have already begun to understand what sort of words suit each genre for writing. There are not that many and your only concern is to use them well.

Learning how to use these words depend on the tutors who are there to help you out at the last moment or you can get hold of Guided English Composition Books with vocabulary lists for practice.

I would like to encourage you to try these tutors who will be able to give you some last minute tips.

1. Eduscore

2. Stepping Stones

3. Wizpals

Now, all you have to do is to quickly learn and memorize these tips which will lead you to success. Good luck!


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