Sunday, June 16, 2013

Writing A* Composition for IGCSE or AS - Descriptive Writing

Nardvark likes to think of himself as a pretty bad-ass writer. He wrote a thrilling adventure story for the IGCSE composition exam, which you can read here and see how it's graded here.

Are you trying to get A* in IGCSE or AS English? I can help you. Click here for more info.

However, Nerdvark thinks he can do better... so it's on!

Nerdvark thinks he can write better....

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Nerdvark chooses "Descriptive writing" question (a) for his challenge piece:
Descriptive writing questions from 2012 IGCSE English Language May/June writing paper

Nerdvark knows that to get top marks, he must follow the mark scheme for CONTENT AND STRUCTURE:


More on marking next time. For now let's see what Nerdvark writes:

After six days shipwrecked and living at the mercy of the tumultuous sea alone in a tiny raft, the hard weedy sand under my feet was as welcome as a Starbucks café. I never thought I would do it, but as soon as I had crawled out of the water, I dropped to my knees and kissed the white salty beach below me.

Tiny black crabs scuttled for shelter under the sun-bleached rocks that encircled the small cove I had landed in. From the position of my shadow and the glaring sun overhead, I judged it to be mid day, though the days on the raft had started to stretch into an unimaginable epoch. Exhausted and relieved, with the sound of the gentle sea behind me and the breezes gusting through the palm trees in front lulling me, I merely sat on my knees and took it all in.

Up above the small beach I sat upon was a dark rocky horseshoe-shaped outcropping; it would provide a good shelter. Beyond that, a dense forest of palms and other fruit trees swayed lackadaisically in the island breezes. The bright yellow dates hanging in great bunches beckoned me, making my mouth water with the thought of their flavour - heavy, robust, sweet dates, hanging there like beacons.

Just then the tranquility was shattered by a whizzing that shot past my ear. Was it an insect? Another whiz and a stinging sharp pain in my thigh - instinctually I smacked at it, but it was no wasp. My hand knocked a home-made dart out of my leg, which was followed by a rivulet of blood.

Shooting my eyes around among the trees and rocks, I could not see my assailants, but no more darts came. I did, however, hear voices speaking in a strange language made up of sounds I did not recognise. The gurgles and booms they spoke sounded like many wounded soldiers crying out in a WWII hospital dorm.

My vision was becoming blurred and my ears muffled, but at last they approached me, the people of this island. A small gang of perhaps ten men, dark skinned like myself, but less hairy; tall, lanky, with long legs and arms that swung down like tree branches, their bodies bare except for animal-skin loin cloths and painted red ochre and white ash geometric designs on their chests and faces, and vicious pointed bones jabbed through their ear lobes and noses.

As the apparent leader, with a mass of black feathers woven into his shock of ruddy hair, poked at me with a pointed stick, I passed out.

Nerdvark wrote 435 words in 1 hour (for AS students, it would have to be 600 - 900 words), including taking time to follow the five-step writing process:
  •  pre-write - read the question carefully, 
  • do a quick plan (Nerdvark did a spider diagram to make sure he was mentioning all five senses in his descriptive piece, and using a very short time span. You'll notice that he also paid attention to atmosphere, and has a switch part way through, from a pleasant atmosphere of a welcoming island where he feels relieved to be safe, to a dangerous island where he is under attack, but there is a bit of foreshadowing in the diction at the beginning of the passage. All this comes from planning.), 
  • draft (Nerdvark wrote like crazy for about 45 minutes without stopping - he knew what he was aiming for because he read the question carefully and did a good plan, and he knew he'd have time to revise and edit before handing in his paper.)
  • revise (Nerdvark ended up with too many words at first, in other words he was wordy, and had to revise it to be more succinct and more clear. He also tends to be a bit repetitive. You'll notice that the marking guide specifically mentions not to be repetitive. Don't be repetitive. Nerdvark crossed out the repeated bits when he revised the piece.), 
  • and a final edit for errors (in the marking guide it says "linguistically strong and accurate"; i.e. no errors.)
For more on the writing process, click here: THE WRITING PROCESS

For more on descriptive writing, click here: FIVE KINDS OF IMAGERY

Nardvark has forgotten that they are having a competition and after reading Nerdvark's entry, asked if he could have his iPad and all his leftovers from the fridge if he doesn't survive the assault.

THANKS FOR READING! You've studied hard... time for a study break! Written by K.I. Borrowman

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How to Get Top Marks for Composition - Narrative in IGCSE English

Nardvark is quaking with fear. He has been practising his writing and thinks he can write a pretty good narrative (that's a story, if you weren't sure), but will the examiner agree?
An exciting illustration
 from Nar's story

Let's take a look at the marking guide and find out! If you want to read Nardvark's story, Attack of the Giant Anteater from Mars first, click here: Nardvark's story.

IGCSE compositions are marked out of 25. You can get 13 for "Content and Structure." Remember you have six choices on the Composition (writing) paper, from three different types of task: Argumentative/Discursive, Descriptive, or Narrative. To get top marks in "Content and Structure" for Narrative writing, you need to produce writing that fulfills this:
"Band 1" or 11 to 13 out of 13 for Narrative Writing
Let's look at this in some detail:

COMPLEX - It has many parts; it is complicated. They go on to suggest that you may include "devices" such as sub-texts (subplots, or a minor plot running alongside the main plot -- in Nardvark's story, his main plot was that he fought the Giant Anteater from Mars. The subplot was that he was struggling with feelings of social inadequacy, due to people always running away from him, screaming), flashbacks (in the middle of the story, you take the reader back in time to tell part of the back-story) and time lapses (Your story doesn't have to be exactly linear or chronological. You can jump ahead or backwards. That makes it more complex.)

COGENT - It is persuasive; it is reasonable. Ok, maybe a giant anteater from Mars isn't reasonable, but Nardvark gave details to persuade the reader's mind that it was possible: a hovering space-craft with red dust on it, people screaming in terror, a description of the creature to allow the reader to build up a persuasive image in his/her mind...

BALANCED - Give equal attention to developing character, setting, and plot. Voice, style, dialogue, etc are important but without the above, you don't have a story. Balance your beginning, middle, and end -- too abrupt of an ending can be a let down. 

CLIMAX - The events of the story lead up to this moment. In a romance, it is the moment when Hugh Grant's character confesses his love for Julia Roberts.  In an action/adventure, it is when the hero blasts the elusive enemy to smithereens and saves the universe.  In a sports story, it is when the unlikely underdogs make the final play in the last second of the match and carry their club to a one-point victory over the league champions.  You get the picture.  You need to build it up and make it unpredictable and exciting. Nothing worse than an excellent build-up with Then my mom was shaking me... "Wake up, Harold; it's time for school!" It was all a dream. as the final paragraph. Puh-lease! It's a fictional story; we know. Let us indulge in your fantastical musings for the moment without ruining it, will ya? 

You also get up to 12 marks for "Style and Accuracy." This is the same for all kinds of composition in IGCSE English.
Style and Accuracy marking grid - Band 1 out of 12
CONSISTENT - You keep the same style, vocabulary, point of view, etc throughout the whole story.

FLUENT/ACCURATE - You don't make errors in tenses, spelling, punctuation, etc.  (spend a few minutes re-reading your work, correcting errors, before you hand your paper in. Everyone makes mistakes. That's why newspapers have editors.)

AUDIENCE - A story is written to be entertaining. Therefore your audience wants to be entertained, and you should write in an entertaining way.  That might mean you are writing it in an amusing/comical way, a thrilling/intense way, an eerie/horrific way, etc; as long as it is consistent and suitable for the content of the story, you need to show that you are aware of your audience.

AMBITIOUS - Don't describe something as 'big' or 'nice' when there are so many more effective words you can use! Better yet, throw in a few literary tools.

Thanks for reading! Phew! Nardvark says it's time for a study break!