Month: April 2009

Common test situational writing question (March 2009)

Many of you wrote very well in answer to this question. The two that I attach here are by way of example for those of you who would like to know more about what the answer should look like- if you are not happy with your own. You will notice that the 2 are very different. I am not going to make any comment about them here. But I would like you to take note of the fact that smooth, almost error-free writing that makes use of rich, varied vocabulary and complex sentences are the distinguishing features of these essays.

boy-writing-11Young People Today Are Far From Selfish


Referring to last week’s article about young people being selfish and of no use to society, I have written this article to argue that young people are nothing like the stereotypes in last week’s article.


Firstly, it is unfair to generalize and stereotype teenagers just because the writer of last week’s article rarely sees the teenagers in his neighbourhood do good deeds. Not all teenagers are selfish, just as not all adults are totally selfless. I have seen many grown up people who completely ignore the frail old lady or the suffering pregnant lady. When someone actually does give up a seat, it is usually a youth. I am not trying to generalize, but being a person who takes the train on a regular basis and having seen many such incidents, I have made this claim with no small measure of confidence.


Secondly, when you help someone, it is not for the attention or the fame, but because it is the right thing to do. There may be young people who do not seem to contribute, but we have to consider that they may be looking after younger siblings or grandparents at home. Obviously, this will only be witnessed by family members, and so you do not see them receiving an “I help my family” award from the prime minister. Many schools have a buddy system where more able students can help their less able peers. Again, you will not find a “Best Buddy” medal in their trophy cabinet or their face in the front cover of the newspaper. Some teenagers do not want to be in the limelight, but this does not mean that they are the stereotypical teenagers who only hang out with their friends, listen to their new age rock music, have multi colour Mohawks and are a bane to society.


In conclusion, we are not going to make excuses by saying that we are studying too much to have any time for the society, but as the new generation and as people who go through rigorous moral education both at home and at school, I can confidently say that youths contribute to society and that we are not useless. You will almost never see a youth spit or litter, except for the occasional gangster. I would like to say again that we are not stereotypes and that youths are the future of any country. So I can once again say that youths contribute to society and that we are far from useless.


Avery Chong®


Student of Ubër awesome Swiss Cottage




The common view of teenagers and young people is that we are lazy, self-centered and a useless burden to society. I find that this view, which has been amplified by the article I am responding to, is rather contradictory to the real truth of the matter. I as a teenager myself, feel that I must enlighten society with the less shallow and more realistic view of teenagers from an insider’s point of view, which I am now going to present.


There are countless manners in which teenagers contribute to society. Co-Curricular activities do not just hone our skills and heighten our knowledge of the subject of our interest but also take the initiative to participate in community service. Uniformed groups are especially proactive in this aspect because not only do the community service that other Co-Curricular do, they also learn skills that are especially useful to the defending to our homeland. There are also Community Involvement projects which students participate in which harness the student’s skills and abilities and channel them towards them the aiding of the les fortunate. Both community service done by Co-Curricular Activity groups and Community Involvement programmes are varied in the nature of the service in the sense that it could range from collecting newspapers  for recycling to raising funds for the elderly or les fortunate. However, one thing is constant in all the activities: They are time-consuming. If teenagers really were selfish, why would they want to spend precious time in such services? Aside from this, it is crucial to note that almost all athletes who allow Singapore to walk with raised heads in the sporting world are teenagers. These teenagers spend hours practicing and training, all for the glory of Singapore. When teenagers devote so much time and energy to the development of Singapore’s society in such a holistic manner, how can it be said that they are selfish burdens to that very society?


Not all teenagers are so openly and publicly an aid to society as compared to teenage sportsmen. However, I would be lying if I said that these teenagers were self-centric wastrels. These teenagers are the ones who facilitate the looking after of the younger or older members of the family who may be disabled or not quite independent. It is impossible to say these teenagers are being selfish when it is known that the care of another human being is a very time-consuming and draining task. These teenagers and young people, like the ones who help out their less competent peers through he buddy system in schools, are not given fame or glory, although it cannot be said that they do not deserve it. These teenagers are the quiet leaders who oil the small cogs of family and friends so that the huge mechanism named society can function efficiently and effectively. They do not want publicity or fame and tis highlights their selfless nature.


Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that although some teenagers and young people may be inconsiderate or pests to society, these pests cannot be compared to or used as a scale to measure the usefulness and selflessness of al teenagers and young people of Singapore



Swiss Cottage Secondary School


Questions about composition

Here is an exchange I had with one of you who wrote in to me with some questions about the difference between argumentative and expository writing, the nature of persuasive language, and the use of time during the exam. I reproduce the questions and the answers below, so that all of you can have access to them.

doubt-1QUESTION 1

firstly, is there any difference between expository writing and arguementative writing? is there are difference in format?
and also, what are some questions that can come out based on these text types?

Yes there is a difference. In argumentative writing the point is to get your stand across to the reader and convince the reader that yours is the best stand. In expository writing the point is to explain something- no stand required. So if you are looking at format (by which I assume you mean structure), they are very similar, but there is an extra paragraph in the argumentative essay which is the counter argument/ rebuttal paragraph. An example of an argumentative question is “Handphones should not be allowed in schools. Do you agree?”. This requires you to choose one side and argue for it. An example of an expository question is “What are the pros and cons of allowing students to bring handphones to school?”. This requires you to explain both sides- it does not force you to pick one side. Of course, in the conclusion you can offer your opinion, but that does not frame your entire essay. Another example: “Democracy is the single best form of government that any country can have. What are your views?”. This is argumentative. Expository would be “What are the features of a democratic system of government?”.

doubt-2QUESTION 2
secondly, what does it mean by using “persuasive language” in editorials and how to use it?
In any kind of writing, persuasive language refers to the sort that is non-objective. For example, look at the following paragraph:
An excerpt from a critique of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”
He certainly has no doubts about his own importance. The trailer for the documentary states: ‘If you love the planet, if you love your children, you have to see this film.’ (1) Presumably those who fail to watch the movie are, at the very least, guilty of not loving their children. It does not specify what should be done to those who watch the film and disagree with it, but, given Gore’s intolerance to criticism, they must be risking eternal damnation.
Unfortunately for Gore there are good reasons to question the fundamental tenets of his faith. His account of the scientific consensus on climate change is willfully misleading. There is much about the science that is still debated and much that is simply not yet known. To the extent that there are problems caused by climate change there are other strategies to deal with it besides his favoured approach of mitigation.
Here is another paragraph from the same piece of writing
But even if climate change is a serious threat to humanity, it does not follow that Gore’s approach is the only possible solution, let alone the best. On the negative side, curbing carbon emissions, sometimes referred to as mitigation, has substantial disadvantages. Since fossil fuels are still by far the cheapest and most widely available form of energy, cutting back on emissions is likely to have severe economic consequences. Over time it is likely this technology will improve and others will play a larger role, but until this happens curbing emissions could damage existing economic capacity. It is even more of a problem for developing countries, since it makes it harder for them to industrialise.
Gore caricatures such concerns in An Inconvenient Truth as a love of money. He shows a picture of gold bars and says there should be no choice between them and ‘the entire planet’. Members of the privileged elite such as Gore often seem to find it easy to decry affluence – he is the son of a senator, attended an elite private school and went on to Harvard. But for literally billions of people, economic growth is essential if they are to achieve a decent standard of living.
If you look at the words and phrases in green, you notice that they are strong language that leaves you in no doubt about the writer’s stand. This is what persuasive language looks like. It conveys the writer’s opinion clearly.
Another illustration: let’s say there is a fight between two students in school and they go to see the principal. Obviously each thinks he is right. So when they are each given a chance to speak, each will argue from his own viewpoint. But the principal may then turn to a prefect who happened to have witnessed the fight, and the way the prefect describes the fight will be very different from the way either of the two students have described it. In terms of writing, the two students would be engaging in argument- two opposing sides (one for each). The prefect would be engaging in exposition (an explanation of what he saw- no opinion on any one side).

 doubt-3QUESTION 3

thirdly, about how much time should i spend on situational and free writing?
which should I spend more time doing?
My recommendation is that you spend more time on free writing, because you need to come up with the content, whereas for situational writing, the content has been created for you. So I would say 1 hour for free writing and 45 minutes for situational.

Do e-mail me if you have any other questions, or if there is anything about these answers that you would like me to clarify.

Hurry hurry everything’s due!

Oh my goodness! Do you ever feel like you are never going to be able to catch your breath? SO many deadlines, all converging on this one moment in time. There are only 24 hours in a day, and if you leave out the times when I just don’t feel like doing any work, there is really very little left! Here are the things Mrs V has to do over the weekend:

  1. Finish marking common test free writing section (55 scripts more- excruciating!)
  2. Make list of people who need some extra TLC from Mrs V (remedial lessons)
  3. Finish week 4 activities for Quantitative Data Analysis module- Confidence Intervals (ugh!)
  4. Work on refining research proposal for masters dissertation
  5. Drive kids around to classes
  6. Read and edit academic papers
  7. Find time to get hair dyed (it’s all going white- gee I wonder why)

So when you feel like whining about your homework and filing and all the other things you have on, spare a thought for your teacher, who is pretty much in the same boat. Except that I also have the extra obligation of keeping my family happy, which- let’s face it- is not something most of you have to do!

Have a GREAT weekend!