• Vanita Pal

Secondary English Singapore: Assessment Format in 2021

Preparing for the GCE O level syllabus is not as daunting a task if you know the syllabus by the back of your hand.

The first task at hand is to know the O level English syllabus inside out. I have written the 4 components of the English syllabus for you.

After perusing it, you will need to focus on the ones with the highest weightage.

  • Paper 1 – Writing ( 1 hour 50 mins) 65 marks. Weightage 35%

  • Paper 2 – Comprehension (1 hour 50 mins) 50 marks Weightage 35%

  • Paper 3 – Listening Comprehension (45 mins) 30 marks. Weightage 10 %

  • Paper 4 – Oral (20 mins) 30 marks. Weightage 20%

Total Weightage 100%

Paper 1 Writing has an Editing section at the beginning portion. This is to test you on the finer points of English grammar. As much as you think you can just rely on reading models and using the ‘copy pasting’ technique for comprehension, you cannot get away with any such formula for this section.


That is because you will need to find grammar mistakes in each line and circle it.

There are a total of 10 blanks and two of them are correct. Your objective is to find the 8 incorrect ones and give the right answer. And they are based on grammar mistakes only.

The total marks is 10. This can be a gift to those who are proficient in grammar.

How do you prepare? Get started by doing lots of grammar exercises or vocabulary exercises. You will need someone to mark it for you. Just make sure that you get enough time to practise all of this.

The next section in Paper 1 Writing is the Situation Writing section.

There is an illustration page with content for each diagram or picture. It will tell a story of an activity or process.

The entire answer should comprise of 250 to 350 words. You will be tested on your ability to match the content in the illustration to the question and write it using your own ideas.

You may be given a forma or informal letter writing question as well. These are very popular according to recent exams. For these, there will be no illustration but a given set of notes will accompany the question. You will have to use this information to complete the letter.

The last section for this paper is Continuous Writing

Though this section has the same weightage as the one above, (situation) it is slightly more difficult as you will have to write about 400 words maximum. The content may range from world topics if it is argumentative to more freestyle writing such as narrative.

These are the genres that you will have to follow. Descriptive, narrative, reflective, personal recount, argumentative or expository.

Each genre has its own style and focus. You will need to prepare for the argumentative and expository by reading up news articles or focussing on current affairs. The more knowledge you have the better. After all, knowledge is Power! Remember to make it your daily task to read the news or scan the internet for daily news updates around the world.

For the narrative, reflective, personal recount writing you will need to focus on personal and subjective viewpoints. This is a more stylised form of writing where you will need a ‘plot’ to effect a good composition. There are techniques for this type of writing which you need to learn and practise.

All said and done, this section can be a satisfying paper if you know which type of question to aim for. Remember to have 2 options at your disposal when you prepare. Have a Plan A and Plan B. Eg Narrative as your first bet and Expository as your second. Never only focus on one genre.

Paper 2 is the Visual Text, Comprehension and Summary section.

For the Visual text, you will focus on an illustrated page with pictures and captions. Or it could be just picture and a heading. Whatever it may be, you will have decide what the ‘message’ is. Knowing exactly what the intended audience and target is the next focus. The questions will always ask you about the impact of the ‘message.’

This section has a total of 5 marks. Getting all 5 marks requires you to practise these visual texts. It is not really a difficult section to do as you only need to apply with the given information.

You main challenge is to decide exactly what the message is about or the hidden meaning in the pictures. You need to be observant and accurate in you analysis of this section.

The next section has a high weightage of 35%. Comprehension Text B

This is a narrative passage which tests mainly on analysis, vocabulary and inference skills. There are also language based questions which aim at literary analysis such as metaphors and ironies. Knowing some of these literary devices is the best way to score in this paper. You will also have to read between the lines in analysing what the author is trying to say. There will be plenty of undercurrent meanings, hints and implications in this section. You will need to read the passage carefully a couple of times before you answer.

There are 1 – 3 mark questions. Always answer according to the marks. 2 mark questions should have an explanation. For 3 mark questions there may be 3 examples which are needed. Always answer fully and accurately.

Comprehension section C with 35% weightage also

This section has fewer questions. There are only 10 marks given for the comprehension section. The rest is for the summary.

This information based text expects you to assimilate information and answer questions of the similarities and differences. They are usually posed in arguments and the questions may have 2 characters with each referring to opposing points of view. You will need to understand what each point of view is. This is a more factual passage so you need not worry so much about the hidden meanings but you will need to use analysis skills.

Next is the Summary question.

This is a question which asks you to summarise information from the given paragraphs. The marks for this section is 15. There is usually a question about the action or focus in these paragraphs so you will need to select information accordingly. After selection, you will need to paraphrase and edit it so that the word count does not exceed 80. The only way to paraphrase and edit it is to have a good store of vocabulary words at your fingertips. You will need to know the exact meaning of the sentences and reduce them accurately without losing the original meaning. If you can fulfil all of the above criteria, you will have a well-written summary.

Listening Comprehension

Listening comprehension is an audio paper. You will need to listen to a recording. This may be a live presentation of someone discussing a topic. The students will have to listen carefully and answer the questions based on it after that. Good listening and recall skills are needed for this section.

Oral Section

Most students feel queasy about sitting for an oral exam. It means that they will sit in front of an examiner and read a passage followed by a question and answer session. There will be a video which the student will watch and questions will follow about that video. The last question is usually about a current-affairs topics usually related to social or environment topics.

I have discussed the main points of each section. Now the rest is up to you. Preparation is key but there is something else I would like to point out. Did you notice that most of the questions are linked to vocabulary skills? Yes, dear friends. You need to get by with your vocabulary if you want to reach for the high scores. And now, for the next part. It is time for you to get going and start those vocabulary exercises. It’s time to give this paper your best shot!