SPM 2013 Paper 1 Section A – Formal Letter (letter of complaint)

Well, I believe none of us saw that one coming. I was extremely disappointed when I heard the news because I know there is not much chance of my kids doing well for this one. While the complicated format is an issue on its own, the more pressing matter I believe is the fact that even the best of us can have problems writing a proper formal letter using the proper language.

Nevertheless, I am glad that a couple of weeks prior to the exam, I did give out some samples of formal letters. Although I only went through them briefly, hopefully some of it stuck with my kids and helped them during the exam.

In any case, here are the samples that I gave out to my students. (It is a little late but it can serve as reference for next year? HAHA)

[ideasforenglish] Sample Essay – Formal Letter

In my opinion, formal letters at this level are limited to only a few typical scenario such as a letter to request for permission, a letter to invite someone to an event or a letter of complaint. Each of these letters has a different purpose and it is reflected in the title of the letter (highlighted in red). The purpose is then reiterated in the first paragraph (highlighted in yellow) but in a complete sentence and sometimes with more details [Sample 2].

As can be seen from the samples, different purposes are expressed in different ways so it is important for your students to be able to produce these sentences. With average students, your best bet would be for them to memorise the sentences and alter them according to the question. Finally, formal letters should end appropriately (highlighted in green) according to the purpose of the letter.

Sample Essay – Report

Here is a sample essay I prepared for my students and thought that I would share it here as well since I received a comment a few posts back asking for one.

This sample essay is based on the mid-year examination that recently took place in my school. I have included the question in the word document as well for easy reference.

Also, I have colour-coded the question and the essay to demonstrate how each point should be accompanied by a short elaboration. Essentially, as long as a point (taken from the question) is written in a complete sentence, it should be granted one mark for content. But to be on the safe side, I always encourage my students to elaborate on each of the point. This is both to secure the content mark as well as to gain additional language marks.

In the sample essay, phrases highlighted in RED are the points given, phrases highlighted in YELLOW are the elaboration for each respective point and phrases highlighted in GREEN are the required format. If you read the question carefully, you will realise that the required format is actually mentioned in the question. Make sure your students are aware of this.

You will also notice several phrases highlighted in BLUE. At times, not all of the points are readily given; students have to provide points of their own. A lot of students tend to miss out on these points because they did not read the question properly. One way to avoid losing content marks is to teach your students to count the number of points given. In most cases, the total amount of marks allocated for content is 12. If there are only 9 or 10 points given in the question, ask your students to reread the question to see if there are any additional points that they must give. As can be seen from this particular example, only 10 points were given and students were told to state the benefits of the event. In other words, they have to provide 2 “benefits” on their own in the essay.

One final reminder, if you find that this essay is extremely “structured”, that is because this essay is written to show students how to maximise their chances to gain marks. I would suggest using this sample with intermediate students who can write relatively well on their own but might need abit of help with the structure of their essay. With highly proficient students, there is no need to emphasis on such a strict structure as the natural flow of their writing will most probably outweigh any potential merit that they might gain from adopting this approach.

[ideasforenglish] Sample Essay – Report

SPM English 2012

Paper 1 

Section A – informal letter (advice on how to spend money wisely)

Section B -

1) Describe an outing with your friends.

2) Should parents give children more freedom?

3) Saving money for the future.

4) Write a story beginning with: “The teacher walked into the classroom. It was the first period…”

5) Cleanliness

Paper 2

Section D

Poem – Nature

Novel – Write about an event that makes you feel angry.

COMMENTS

Most students should be able to do well in Directed Writing. In fact, Continuous Writing seems quite alright as well although the last question is a bit narrow, in my opinion, in terms of the things that you can cover. The final question for Continuous Writing from previous years were mostly words with multiple interpretations (such as “stars”), common ideas that students can easily elaborate on (such as “music” and “food”) or slightly abstract concepts (such as “beauty” and “peace”).

There’s nothing much to be said regarding the poem although I believe most of us were aiming for “Are you still playing your flute?” The novel question however, took me by surprise. At first glance, I myself can hardly think of an event from the novels that is negative enough to invoke feelings of anger. On top of that, students will have to justify why/how the event they chose made them feel angry. Also, being associated with anger means that the events that students can choose are limited to the negative ones whereas I believe most teachers tend to focus on the positive aspects of a novel.

Any thoughts on this year’s SPM English paper? Share them in the comments!

SPM English Trial Papers 2012 summary

It is that time of the year again as Form 5 teachers left no Internet stone unturned in their search for trial papers from states across Malaysia in the hopes that they will shed some much-needed light on the upcoming exams.

To make the process a little easier for all of you, I have summarised the trial papers from 7 states (Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu & Pulau Pinang), MRSM and SBP into a single word document that can be downloaded from here:

[ideasforenglish] SPM English Trial Papers 2012 summary

*This is just a summary to provide you with a general overview of what the different states have been asking in their trials. For the actual papers, you will have to do some digging of your own. (:

**I’ve included only what can be found online. The states that are not included either did not have state-level trials or they are simply too elusive for a regular Internet user like myself. To the best of my knowledge however, Sabah, Sarawak & Johor definitely did not have any state-level trials.

Directed Writing – General Tips

For the past few weeks, we have looked at the four types of essays that are typical of the Directed Writing section. This week, we will look at some useful pointers on how to tackle this section successfully.

1. Every question at the SPM level is designed in such a way that all of the basic information a student could possibly need to answer the question can be found in the question itself. As such, the first and most important thing to do is READ THE QUESTION CAREFULLY.

In Directed Writing, the question will tell us what type of essay we are supposed to write. Look out for the phrase “write a …”. This will then determine the format of our essay. Once we have decided on this, we can start searching for the other information we need.

Sample question:You are the Head Prefect in your school. You have been asked to give a speech on the importance of having good discipline during the school assembly. Write your speech based on the points given.

From the line “Write your speech…”, we know that we are supposed to write a speech. A speech has 4 elements in its format: greetings, role, topic and ending. For greetings, look for where the speech is supposed to be presented. In this case, the speech is meant to be presented “during the school assembly“. Therefore, we must include people such as the Principal, teachers and students in our greetings. For role, look for phrases that suggest a position. In this case, it would be “Head Prefect“. For topic, look for what our speech is supposed to be about. In this case, the speech is about “the importance of having good discipline“. 

Weak students sometimes cannot really remember the requirements for different types of essays. Not to worry because all you have to do is look out for this part of the question:

When writing your speech, you must:

  • greet your audience
  • state the purpose of your speech
  • thank your audience at the end of your speech
  • include all the points given

This section is usually found at the very end of the question and it reminds us that 1) we are writing a speech and 2) a speech must include a greeting, a topic and “thank you“.

2. The “When writing your … , you must:” section is also important for another reason: the final point, “include all the points given”. Do exactly that, include ALL the points given. The total amount of marks allocated for Directed Writing is 35 and out of the 35 marks, 12 marks are given for content, all of which are already provided in the question. Our job here is just to take those points and use them.

When I say “use” the points, I mean to take the points given (they are often given in short phrases) and make full-length sentences with them. For example, a question on the advantages and disadvantages of the Internet may have the following points:

Advantages

  • vast information
  • online shopping

In order to gain marks for these content points, we must make sentences along the lines of “One of the advantages of the Internet is the vast amount of information.” or “Another advantage of the Internet is online shopping.” Both of these sentences would have been awarded 1 mark for content.

“lifting” or stringing together the phrases to make them look like a sentence will not work. For example, “Advantages, vast information, online shopping and free entertainment.”

Also, for each of the points, make sure to add some elaboration. This is important to secure your content marks as well as to boost your language marks (20 out of 35). The elaboration doesn’t have to be very long or even extremely detailed (unless your student is a very good writer). Any additional information that is relevant to the point is good enough.

For example, if we refer to the example given above, it is said that “One of the advantages of the Internet is the vast amount of information.” Examples of elaboration that we can include are “We can find information on education, travelling, health and many more on the Internet.” (types of information) or “All we have to do is look for the information using websites like Yahoo and Google.” (how to find the information).

To help students learn how to expand points, what you can do is give them lots of sample questions and ask them to brainstorm for elaborations based on the points given. This can be done either individually or even in groups. Have them share their elaborations with the class so that the others can add on to their ideas. Actual essay writing can be pursued at your own discretion but the main aim of the activity is for students to practise quick and accurate note-expansion.

Directed Writing – Article

Article is by far, the least complicated essay in terms of format as it has only 2 components:

1. title

2. writer’s name

Additional tips:

1. Imagine what an article in a newspaper or magazine would look like in terms of layout and you will roughly have an idea of how to position the title as well as the by-line.

Typically, the title is written at the top of the page in the centre with capital letters and underlined.

For example,

The Title of This Article

The by-line can be written either right after the title of the article or at the end of the article on the right.

For example,

The Title of This Article

Written by Adrian Ng

(essay)

or

The Title of This Article

(essay)

                                                                                                                                                                      Written by

Adrian Ng

 2. Much like a speech, an article often revolves around a particular aspect of a topic, be it the causes, effects, advantages etc. As such, an article should start off with a general overview of the topic before going into the main aspect being discussed. Again, newspaper and magazine articles are great examples of how we should go about structuring the content of an article.

3. Another “trick” that we can learn from newspaper and magazine articles is the use of interesting titles. In real life publication, this is used to capture readers’ attention. In an exam, this can help to bring up one’s overall language marks. Better students should be given some practice in this area. (For weaker students, a suitable title can often be found in the question itself.)

For example,

You recently attended a leadership camp organised by your school. At the camp, one of your friends was chosen as best camper. You have been asked to write an article about your friend for your school magazine. (SPM 2008)

Standard title – Best Camper

“Interesting” title – Today Camper, Tomorrow Leader

*While the aim is to be interesting, titles should still be relevant to the topic of the essay and not just blindly dramatic.

Directed Writing – Report

In terms of format, a report has 3 important elements.

1. recipient (to whom is the report addressed?)

2. title (what is the report about?)

3. signature (who prepared the report?)

1, 2 & 3 should be aligned to the left of the page.

Additional tips:

1. Depending on the question, the recipient of the report may or may not be stated. Students can therefore, choose between inserting a recipient whom they think is appropriate for the question or leave it out entirely. (Since most of the questions in this section refers to school-related scenarios, the default recipient would therefore, be the Principal.)

2. Since a report is usually meant to cover an event or activity, the title of the report should reflect this.

Example:

Your school recently organised a charity run to raise funds for the local orphanage. As the Secretary of the organising committee, write a report to the Principal about the event.

To: Principal, SMK Melawati

Title: Charity Run *this is the programme you are meant to report on

3. The signature of the person who prepared the report is usually followed by his/her role or position.

*please refer to the question above

Prepared by,

Adrian

(ADRIAN NG)

Secretary,

Organising Committee,

Charity Run SMK Melawati 2012.

4. As mentioned earlier, a report typically revolves around an event or activity. As such, the first paragraph of a report should be dedicated to providing basic details on the event. For example, the date, time and venue as well as the number of participants, the objectives of the programme etc. These could sometimes be given (or requested) as part of the content points.

Directed Writing – Speech

A speech has 4 important elements that must be included in the write-up:-

1. greetings (Good morning/afternoon …)

2. role (What is your role or position that allows you to give the speech?)

3. topic (What is your speech about?)

4. ending (Thank you …)

*1, 2 & 3 are typically mentioned within the first paragraph itself.

Additional tips:

1. Most questions at the SPM level are based on the school setting. As such, the greetings should include all of the people that one will typically encounter in a school such as the Principal, teachers and of course, fellow students. If the question is set within a competition, then “judges” and “timekeepers” should also be included. Students can also add in the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen” at certain intervals of their speech but limit it to two or three mentions at most.

2. Typically, the question will set us up as someone with a certain post that allows us to give a speech. For example, Head Prefect, President of Interact Club etc. It is wise to get students familiar with such terms and phrases (I think I’ve mentioned this before?).

3. It is important to state the topic of your speech. Sometimes, the title is very clearly highlighted in the question with quotation marks. Other times, it is not and students will have to identify the title themselves from the question given.

Example:

You are the President of the Environment Club. You have been asked to give a speech to the students in your school on “The Importance of Recycling”.

or

You are the President of the Environment Club. You have been asked to give a speech on the importance of recycling during the assembly.

**The topic can be introduced with a simple phrase such as “Today, I would like to give a speech about …”

***This might be slightly obsessive-compulsive on my part but if students are writing the topic using quotation marks, then the topic should begin with big letters. If the topic is written as part of the sentence, then it should be written like a normal sentence with small letters.

4. Students must remember to thank the audience at the end of the speech. A simple “Thank you.” will do for the weaker students while better students can try phrases such as “Thank you for your attention.” or “Thank you for your time.“.

5. Speeches often revolve around a certain aspect of an issue such as the benefits, the causes, the effects etc of something. Students with a higher level of language should be taught to write an “introductory” paragraph on the issue before going into the points given. Talk about the issue in general, explaining what is the issue all about. Remember, it should come after the first paragraph (greetings, role & topic) and before the points (the benefits, the causes, the effects etc). This will give the essay a more “polished” feel overall.

Directed Writing – Informal Letter

An informal letter has 5 important elements that must be included in the write-up: -

1. sender’s address

2. date

3. salutation (“Dear…”)

4. complementary close (“Yours truly” etc)

5. signature

Here is an example of how an informal letter would look like in terms of layout: [ideasforenglish] Informal Letter

Additional tips:

1. Start off your letter with some general statements. For example, you can refer to the letter that you received from him/her, thank him/her for it or even apologise for the late reply. Weaker students can be given a “standard” introduction to memorise and use.

2. State the purpose of your letter. In general, informal letters are meant for asking advice/help, extending an invitation, offering congratulations/condolences etc. Remember, this should come before going into the main points of your letter. Again, weaker students can be taught a “standard” phrase to introduce the purpose such as “The reason why I am writing this letter is to…”

Also, it may be worthwhile to show students how to derive the purpose of the letter from the question itself.

Example:

Your cousin has been chosen to take part in the National Service Programme and is worried about going. You have decided to write a letter to tell him/her about the benefits of this programme and to encourage your cousin to go. (SPM 2010)

Purpose: The reason why I am writing this letter is to tell you about the benefits of the National Service Programme.

The purpose of the letter usually comes after the phrase “write a letter to”. If possible however, students should refrain from direct lifting because certain words might have to be replaced in the answer (“him/her” > “you”). 

3. Also, bear in mind that SPM questions do not make a distinction between informal and formal letters. In other words, they do not specify the type of letter required. It is up to the students to interpret the question and answer accordingly. The choice between informal and formal letter is of course, dependent on the recipient of the letter. Typically, letters to a friend, siblings, cousins etc would be informal while letters to the Principal and other official positions would be formal. Make sure students are aware of this fact.

PS: Sorry for the late update. Was away for the weekend.

Directed Writing

Today, I will explain more about Directed Writing. Then, over the course of the next four weeks, we will look at the four different types of essay tested in Directed Writing – letter (informal & formal), speech, report and article.

As I’ve mentioned before, all of these essays have their own specific format and marks are given for the correct use of them. The total amount of marks allocated for Directed Writing is 35 and it is divided between Content (15) and Language (20). Format is considered as part of Content and is usually allocated between 1 to 3 marks. Below is an analysis of past year SPM questions for Directed Writing including the amount of marks awarded for Format.

Year

Directed Writing

Format

2000

INFORMAL LETTER – to ask mother for money

3 marks

2001

ARTICLE – for school newsletter

1 mark

2002

TALK – on road safety

3 marks

2003

FORMAL LETTER – to class teacher about school trip

-

2004

REPORT – to principal about the school canteen

3 marks

2005

INFORMAL LETTER – letter to friend to share experience

3 marks

2006

INFORMAL LETTER – letter to friend asking for advice

3 marks

2007

SPEECH – to promote a book

3 marks

2008

ARTICLE – for school magazine (best leader at camp)

3 marks

2009

REPORT – to principal about students’ lack of interest in sports

3 marks

2010

INFORMAL LETTER – letter to cousin about the National Service Programme

3 marks

2011

SPEECH – how to treat a sprained ankle

3 marks

Having said that, a good place to start teaching essay writing therefore, would be the format. (This will be discussed further in the following weeks.)

Also, if we take a look at the situations provided in the questions, most of them concerns the daily life of a typical student with references made mostly to school as well as school-related matters. As such, when giving exercises to your students, focus on questions with similar scenarios instead of the ones that are more work-related. With weaker students, you should also try to introduce them to the terms associated with school such as “Principal”, “President”, “Secretary”, “English Week”, “Career Month”, “Nature Club” etc.

If you would like to have a copy of the above analysis for your own reference, you can download it from here:

[ideasforenglish] SPM Directed Writing 2000-2011