Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking at IGCSE Paper 3 Question 1 with a mark scheme

Once upon a time, a student wrote the Nardvark with the following question:
"Dear Nardvark.  I see you like grammar and stuff.  Could you help me figure out why my teacher gave me a bad mark on my English first language extended mock exams?" or something to that effect.

Always cooperative, Nardvark decided to take on the challenge by forwarding the entire email to the Nerdvark and immediately going to eat a peanut butter and salami french-toast-wich.

Nerdvark read the student's writing and found that it was quite good and done by a person who obviously works hard and has a lot of potential, but needs a bit of advice on how to improve his/her mark. If you are in the same situation, read on... 

Nerdvark decided to begin with Paper 3, Question 1, which the student, who cannot be named for legal reasons but here shall be referred to as H. Mango, helpfully included.

First, the reading:
The reading from IGCSE 0500 May/June 2014 Paper 3
If you can't read it like that, try downloading and zooming in.  I swear, it's readable.

Now, the mark scheme:
IGCSE 0500 Paper 3 Mark Scheme
Now, take a look at H. Mango's question and answer, which he painstakingly typed in purple, with Nerdvark's comments in his favourite colour, olive green, and the words he is commenting on in stop-light red.

1.   Read carefully the local newspaper article printed in the Reading Booklet Insert about student councils in schools. Then answer Section 1, Question 1 on this            Question Paper.
     Imagine you are a pupil in Mr Aziz’s school.
     Write a letter to him, in which you:
           • identify and discuss his views against student councils -- Before discussing them, you need to clearly state what his views are.
          • evaluate why and how a school council could be good for everybody.  -- You need to have more on this bullet point.  A good way to set up this letter would be argumentative style: in each paragraph, restate his view and then give a counter argument using a good transition word such as "however" or "conversely".
     Base your letter on what you have read in the article, but be careful to use your own words.
    Begin your letter, ‘Dear Mr Aziz …’.
    Write between 1½ to 2 sides, allowing for the size of your handwriting.
    Up to 10 marks are available for the content of your answer, and up to 15 marks for the quality of your writing
[Total Maximum Marks : 25]

H. Mango's answer to this question is as follows : 

Dear Mr Aziz, 
I feel utterly disappointed as i write this letter to you. It is not mere fiction, but fact, that students who are willing to cooperate with other pupil (plural) and teachers alike are more likely to succeed in their studies. Students tend to do better at academics when they are given the choice of what is better for them, rather than be powerless and inferior under the teacher's command. What adults fail to infer, (remove comma) is that a student's capability reduces when he's coerced into doing something, but if he has his own free will, he makes decisions that will prove better for him. (There are those who are offended by the traditional use of "he/him/his" in referring to an unknown person; "he/she" etc., while ugly, is more inclusive and therefore less offensive to those who feel women are people too.)
You mentioned that student council meetings are a waste of time and energy and should not affect student education. For the meetings to be worth the teacher's time and energy, they need to be productive, and as Sofia stated incisively (decisively) in her statement, "nothing ever happens", this (comma splice -- for more on comma splices, see here) is because the teachers do not cooperate with the members of the student council, no new ideas circulate in the student's (plural possessive "students'") minds and thus teachers regard them (regard what?  Be specific.)  as a waste of their efficiency (awkward use of "efficiency". Try "inefficient").  (new topic -- from meetings to teachers -- this should be a new paragraph.) It is necessary to fathom (awkward -- try "realize" or "consider") that a teacher plays a major role in developing a student's mind, (comma splice) without them (who?) the minds are enfeebled. You also stated in a feral (I don't agree with your use of this word; it's weird.  Try "aggressive") manner that you are the one operating the school and do not need to consult students about problems they don't understand. You have to realize that although the teachers are the ones teaching the class, the students are the ones that (who) need to learn. The teacher can teach in any manner than pleases him (him/her), but the students will learn significantly better under conditions he (noun agreement - from plural "students" to singular "he.") prefers, and after all, it's the students that (who) are learning ; (remove space before semi-colon) thus they should have a right to decide how they approach their studies. As Sofia mentioned in her statement, we discuss out cumulative ideas with the teachers but there is hardly ever a stimuli exhibited by them.  (I realise you are putting it into your own words, but this wording and the use of "stimuli" are awkward. Try "we discuss our ideas with the teachers, but the teachers rarely take action.") (Here there should be another paragraph started.) As a representative of Student Council Election Commitee, i can ensure (wrong word -- you want "assure") you that candidates are not elected based on any popularity contest. They are judged on basis of their cirriculum reports and refrences by teachers.
Teachers from other schools also agree that student council can lead to better academic reports because students learn better when their perspective and views are accepted and implied. Overall, i would say you should reconsider your statements as (comma before "as") school councils can be extremely beneficial as (repetition of "as" sounds awkward - try a semicolon.) they not only enable students to perform well at academics but also prepare them for real life matters where they will indubitably need their opinions to be heard (such as? give examples.). Parents could also join and support their wards (wrong word -- try "children") and our school would (wishy-washy -- try "will"; be decisive!) become more interactive than it previously was and be known for it's (wrong word -- it's = it is -- for more on it's, see here) illustrious (sounds sarcastic -- try "strong" or "healthy" or "positive"; be specific) bonds between students and teachers.

Your Student,
H. Mango

(I know you typed this out and it may not appear exactly as you wrote it on the paper, but I want to point out that you need to either leave a blank line between paragraphs or indent the first word of each paragraph.  In typing use a tab space and in handwriting, use what I call a "finger space", or a space approximately the width of your index finger.)

For reading, I would give you a band 3, because you have missed a lot of the "opportunity to develop it" by not reading the bullet points carefully.  Also, your school may be different than Mr Aziz's school.  This assignment expects you to talk about student councils in general and how they can be beneficial for everyone.  For example, at your school student council members may be selected based on grades and teacher references, but at many schools there really is just a student vote with no other criteria for running for student council.  Try to look at the bigger picture.

For writing, I would give you low band 2, however I could see how a teacher who is trying to force you to improve might give you a high band 3.  Your writing is quite stylish, but I get the impression that you are trying too hard with your vocabulary.  I can see that you are an avid reader and you know a lot of words, but you need to know when it is appropriate to use them, so... more reading my friend!  Keep doing what you're doing and I think your style will continue to improve, but when in doubt, stick with a word you are confident with.  Don't forget to use paragraphs correctly and try to think of techniques you have used in class regarding the specific purpose of the piece - in this case to argue or to persuade.  What argumentative and persuasive techniques have you learned?  Use more of them.  For more on persuasive writing, see here.

H. Mango, you and all the other IGCSE students out there might need to work on pacing yourself through the exam so you will have enough time to go back over your work, re-read the questions to make sure you covered all the bullet points, re-read your writing to revise it, and re-read it again (or proofread, if you prefer) for editing.  In addition to spending time before drafting your responses to really think about what the question is asking you to do, and then making a few notes to plan your response, this is called the writing process.  For more on the writing process, see here and continue reading this blog every chance you get.

Thanks for reading, and to H. Mango, wherever you are, thank you for sharing your work with the world.  Hopefully my comments will help more students improve for the IGCSE First-Language English Paper 3.  Meanwhile, please go visit my kitties at