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Ask our Teachers: How to improve in Chinese composition

Ask our Teachers: How to improve in Chinese composition

As one of the components of Chinese Paper 1, Composition accounts for 20% of the total attainable marks in the entire Chinese exam, making it a rather significant source of marks for any student.

However, writing a Chinese essay doesn’t come easy for some students, especially for those who are insecure about their grasp of written Chinese and have no interest in writing long passages. For them, Paper 1 can be just as difficult as Paper 2.

But have no fear; with just a little preparation and practice, any student can secure a decent amount of marks in their composition writing.

The two types of composition essays

Each Composition section offers at least two options for the student: Scenario-based Essays (命题作文), or Picture Essays (看图作文).

For scenario-based essays, students are given a specific topic, along with some instructions to follow as they draft their essay. The topics themselves are randomly selected, although usually broad in scope to lower the difficulty.

One example of a possible topic would be the following: “Write about a time when you felt regret.” Scenario-based essay questions also usually come with a list of prompts to help guide the student in their writing.

In picture essays, each student is shown a series of panel illustrations that tell a loose story when placed sequentially, with the last panel always left blank, leaving the ending up to the student’s interpretation. The student’s task when selecting the picture essay question is to craft a short story based on the set of illustrations, while incorporating a list of given keywords as much as possible to gain more marks.

Tips for Scenario-based Essays

#1: Review the question carefully. Take the time to understand the requirements of the essay and the relevant points to be included in it in order to score marks.

#2: Prepare a suitable opening and ending for scenario-based essays beforehand. This will help prevent your child from getting stuck thinking one up for too long, saving precious time in the process of writing the rest of the essay.

#3: Create a basic outline of the essay, while making sure that the relevant points considered in Tip #1 above are incorporated into it.

#4: Be as verbose as you can while drafting the essay. The more examples of good and accurate phrasing and idiom usage, the better!

#5: Once complete, check the essay for errors and coherence. Some mistakes are only detected when the essay is read as a whole. This applies for picture essays as well.

Tips for Picture Essays

#1: Review the illustrations carefully and try to create a coherent sequence of events out of them. This will be the basis of the story in your child’s essay.

#2: Create the outline of the story based on the plot created by your child, and think of a suitable ending to it. It may also be helpful to start thinking about where and how to use the keywords given in the question throughout the story.

#3: Similar to scenario-based essays, it may be easier to prepare a suitable opening for the essay before entering the exam hall. This will save more time for your child to focus on other aspects of the essay writing process.

#4: If your child is equipped with a dictionary, it may be helpful to skip words that they may not remember during the moment as they write their essay, then doubling back to fill them in with the dictionary’s help afterwards. Again, it saves time and preserves the writing momentum, allowing them to complete the essay faster.

#5: Pay close attention to the handwriting! Making the essay clear and easy to read can sometimes mean earning that one vital mark between a failing or passing grade.

How can we help as parents?

As with other aspects of Chinese exams, constant practice is key when it comes to improving in composition writing. But it’s not simply about hammering out essay after essay – after all, how does one know if an essay is ‘good’ when grading themselves?

One simple way to improve is to emulate good examples of essay writing. Help your child to search for model essays and highlight good examples of phrases and idioms that are used correctly in context.

The other method is to encourage your child to read extensively. This can be anything from magazine articles, to Chinese storybooks or even exceptionally detailed social media posts. As your child continues to read, they will begin to understand how good sentence structure, phrases and idioms can influence the quality of their writing and use that knowledge in their own essays.

Time to write!

Composition writing is used to assess a student’s ability to think critically and transform their arguments into coherent essays. Only through understanding the requirements and repeated practice will they be able to master this exam component and excel in their Paper 1. Good luck!

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