Friday, March 1, 2013

How to get Top Marks in IB Commentaries, AS Exams, IGCSEs

Have you ever read the instructions on your shampoo bottle? 

"Wet hair. Apply generous amount of shampoo. Lather. Rinse. Repeat if necessary."

Nardvark was in such a rush today he decided to skip steps one, four, and five. He finished shampooing his hair in record time, but he walked around looking like a total freak for the rest of the day. Plus, it itches.

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Ever cook rice? Nardvark looked up this recipe.  He didn't read it carefully, skipping steps one and four because they had too many words.  He then skimmed right to the end where it said "20 minutes", but when he went back to his kitchen 20 minutes later, instead of a nice pot of delicious rice, he had a total disaster.

Unlike Nardvark, you follow the instructions on these simple, day-to-day things, with good results. You have shiny, clean hair, and you can cook delicious rice if the mood takes you. 

A set of simple instructions is called a process.

Writing something awesome that will get you a fantastic grade on your final exam in IB, AS, or IGCSE English also requires a process: the Writing Process.  If you follow these steps, you will get a higher grade.

1. Pre-write
     Read the question carefully and think about what you are being asked to do. If you have a choice, read each question, brainstorm a bit for each, and choose the one that you will be most successful on. If you are doing a passage-based question or a commentary, this step is going to take some time. Read the passage carefully, underlining any examples of literary features you find, and anything you can use to answer the question posed.

2. Plan
     Research finds that students who plan always get higher grades. Part of your grade is for structure, and the examiner gives higher grades for a carefully structured essay over thoughtless rambling.  This even applies to narrative and descriptive writing tasks. Take five minutes to put your ideas into a neat structure. Memorize the five-paragraph essay format, but feel free to add more PEE paragraphs or more Es to your PEEing. Another awesome thing about planning is that if you have a good idea while writing but aren't at a good place in your essay yet, you can add it to your plan so you won't forget it. Nerdvark says: Many the great idea has been forgotten by those who did not plan!

3. Draft
     This is where you actually write the essay or commentary. Many students, like Nardvark, skip the thinking and planning and go right to this step. Many students get crap marks. Not you -- now that you have put a lot of thought and planning into what you are going to write, you can write your essay quickly and you can focus on using excellent vocabulary, sentence structure, and punctuation. Remember to leave space for changes later.

4. Revise
     Not finished yet -- in this step, you take a good paper and turn it into a great paper.  Reread your work and look for places to make it better, by rewording confusing sentences, improving vocabulary, using literary terms that you missed out the first time, and so on. Remember that you are supposed to be discussing the writer's craft. Double check your pre-writing work and your plan to make sure you didn't miss anything out. Remember, to get top marks in IB, your writing needs to be concise. The examiner won't mind seeing some words or sentences crossed out neatly and changes written above or in the margins. Examiners expect good students to make improvements.

5. Edit
     Finally, your great paper becomes an outstanding paper, as you read it one final time and check for errors. No matter whether you are in IB, AS, or IGCSE English, you need to have error-free writing in order to get top marks. You know what kind of errors you usually make -- spelling? Punctuation? Grammar? Wordiness? Paragraphing? Go through your paper with a fine-toothed comb and find them.

This seems like a lot of work, especially if you're used to getting an exam paper, writing some stuff, and handing it in.  But I guarantee you, if you follow the writing process, you'll see your grades increase greatly. 

Practice makes perfect. Get some old exam questions, either online or in your text book, time yourself, and practice applying THE WRITING PROCESS until you can do it in the allotted time.

You wouldn't shampoo your hair without following the correct process, so why would you do something as important as your year-end exam, on which your course grade is based, without following the best process?

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