Saturday, 21 April 2012

New grammar section in O- and N-level English from 2013

Editing component part of changes to secondary school exams next year
By Stacey Chia, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2012

STUDENTS sitting the English language papers in the O- and N-level examinations from next year will be tested on grammar in one section.

In this new component of Paper 1, they will be required to spot and correct grammatical errors in a short piece of written text.

Students should take no longer than 10 minutes on this part of the paper, which will make up 5 per cent of the marks.

All in, the English language examination at the O and N levels will have four papers - the oral, the writing, the comprehension and a new listening examination, which was previously only for students in the Normal (Technical) stream.

Aside from the introduction of the editing component, other changes will be made to the English language papers.

The listening examination is one. In this new paper, students will have to show their understanding of audio recordings.

Another change is to the comprehension paper, which will be tweaked to include a section testing a student's understanding of visuals, for example, advertisements.

The new editing component in Paper 1 comes as a result of an English language syllabus review done in 2010, which brings a renewed emphasis to grammar and spoken English, said a Ministry of Education (MOE) spokesman.

Between 1991 and 2001, however, the teaching of grammar had been de-emphasised; during that decade, rules binding the language were taught in a more contextual way, that is, only incidentally, when topics in class lent themselves to it.

This means that, although grammar was still an important component of the syllabus, it was not on a prescribed list of areas teachers had to cover.

MOE explained that this was because it recognised that, by 1991, English had attained the status of a first language in the national school curriculum.

A thematic approach was thus recommended in the teaching of grammar, and the focus was on developing students' linguistic and communicative skills.

By 2001, however, based on feedback from teachers, the explicit teaching of grammar was revived through the use of various types of texts; the 2010 revision to the examination format is an extension of this.

Ms Serene Lai, head of English in Kranji Secondary School, said: 'A sound knowledge of the grammar of a language is essential to using the language to communicate effectively.'

She said that although the teaching of English in schools has always involved teaching grammar and vocabulary alongside reading and writing, some areas may not have been given enough emphasis.

Mrs Puja Dada, head of English at CHIJ Secondary (Toa Payoh), said that being able to edit one's own writing is a skill that would be useful throughout one's career and life.

Teachers say they have been preparing their students for the new editing component since it was announced in 2010.

Ms Lai said she has exposed her students to a variety of material, usually written in an argumentative style, and has drawn on passages from magazines such as Time and National Geographic in the exercises she gives them.

'Some students have more difficulty with this section, but with practice, they should improve,' she said.

Housewife Julia Looi, 47, whose son is in Secondary 3 in Maris Stella High School, is apprehensive about the changes to the English papers.

'Students used to be able to refer to the 10- year series as a guide, but now, with this new system, they have no way to judge the level of difficulty, as this will be the first time they are sitting it.'

Secondary 2 student Lucas Hsu, 14, said his English teacher started giving out editing exercises this year.

He said those who read widely have fewer problems with the editing section, so he plans to read more to familiarise himself with sentence structures.

'My friends who read a lot need only about five minutes to edit a two-page article. I take at least 15 minutes and still don't do as well,' he said.


Grammar: New section where students must spot errors and edit short written text

Listening: Students must show understanding of audio recordings

Comprehension: Will now include section testing understanding of visuals, such as advertisements


'My friends who read a lot need only about five minutes to edit a two-page article. I take at least 15 minutes and still don't do as well.'
Secondary 2 student Lucas Hsu, 14


'Students used to be able to refer to the 10-year series as a guide, but now, with this new system, they have no way to judge the level of difficulty.'
Housewife Julia Looi, whose son is in Secondary 3

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