English is not quite like Mathematics or the Sciences. Many students lament that the process of improving their command of the English language is laborious, uninteresting, and most disappointingly, unfruitful. As Singapore’s top tuition center fronted by a team of dedicated educators, Zenith understands and empathises with the frustrations you might face. More annoyingly, the A Level General Paper seems to grade language arbitrarily––how exactly are you supposed to know that your standard is good enough? The truth is, the bell curve is very much unpredictable; it ultimately assesses your skills in relation to that of other candidates sitting for the A Level General Paper with you. To this end, Zenith believes in assisting you in developing your own voice and unique writing style to stand out from the rest. In this article, Zenith introduces you to 10 effective strategies to improve your command of the English language. Read on to find out how you can strengthen your English language skills simply and efficiently!
Strategy #1: Read widely.
Exposing yourself to a wide variety of written material does more wonders than you might think. A large part of improving your command of any language is to actively engage with it. Zenith recommends that you read articles from reputable sources such as The New Yorker, The Economist, and The Times Magazine; they familiarise you with the register of formal writing. At the A Level General Paper exams, most, if not all of the writing you do will be formal. It demands that you discuss global issues through a critical lens by taking a stand that you can substantiate with well-researched evidence. Reading widely helps you to kill two birds with one stone––it expands your vocabulary while helping you to collate a set of relevant examples to cite in your essay.
Strategy #2: Critically analyse good pieces of writing.
We often know when we come across a good piece of writing, but few people are able to explain why it is good. Understanding why a piece of writing is effective in conveying its main point is crucial; it is only then that you will be able to attempt to emulate that method of writing. Different writers have different writing styles; reading and analysing a variety of written materials helps you to realise which style of writing suits you best. Equipping yourself with a repertoire of styles puts you at an advantage. As Jo Ann Beard once wrote in her book Festival Days:
“Learning to write comes from reading, both the work of published writers and of our peers and from using one’s powers of insight and creativity to analyze what one reads and figure out why it works when it does and what is missing when it doesn’t.”
At Zenith, we strive to develop in our students the skill of critical thinking and analysis. Being able to appreciate a good piece of writing is arguably the first step to becoming a good writer.
Strategy #3: Listen to podcasts.
For auditory learners, there couldn’t be a greater blessing than living in the age of Spotify. While many of us use Spotify to listen to our favourite music on the go, it is actually an equally valuable resource for improving your command of the English language! The podcasts section of Spotify features numerous channels which provide listeners with interesting information (which you can cite as evidence in your A Level General Paper essays) while increasing their exposure to the English language.
Here are two of the channels which Zenith recommends (we are in no way affiliated with them):
This channel introduces you to interesting perspectives about global topics; find out more about policymaking, the environment, how the media works, racial issues, and more in this ongoing series of podcasts that are updated regularly. None of the episodes are more than an hour-long, with most of them hovering between the 30 to 40-minute mark––perfect for listening to on your daily commutes.
TED Talks virtually need no introduction; most of us would have come across one TED Talk or another while scrolling through the abyss of YouTube. TED Talks Daily, as its name suggests, is updated daily and keeps to its promise of being concise yet informative. Within a maximum of 20 minutes, podcasts by TED Talks Daily discuss art, music, the environment, medicine, geography, history, and racial issues, among many others.
Strategy #4: Consult the dictionary and thesaurus.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the dictionary and thesaurus are your best friends when it comes to expanding your vocabulary! While it might seem troublesome to constantly look up the meanings of words when reading an article, Zenith guarantees you that the reading experience will be less than useful for you if you misunderstand what the author is trying to tell you. Making assumptions about vocabulary just doesn’t bring you very far––words that look and sound similar don’t necessarily have similar meanings! When you have a dictionary at your disposal (unlike during the A Level General Paper exams), it is advisable that you look for the formal definitions of words you haven’t come across before.
As for the thesaurus, Zenith recommends that you use it when attempting practice papers for the A Level General Paper examinations. The A Level General Paper comprehension disallows the lifting of words from the given passage––looking up the thesaurus for synonyms when attempting practice papers expands your vocabulary, preparing you for the actual exam when you have no access to external resources.
Strategy #5: Keep a word bank. Keep a word document with all the useful information you come across.
Okay, so I’m reading a lot now. But how do I remember everything that I’m learning?
Many students often face the problem of forgetting the new vocabulary they encounter within hours of checking its meaning in the dictionary. That is perfectly normal––before a piece of information is encoded in our long-term memory, it circulates temporarily in our short-term memory. If we do not make an effort to commit new pieces of knowledge to our permanent hard drive, we simply forget them after a while. Unfortunately, most people forget nearly 80% of what they have learnt in the day throughout the night when they are asleep. To curb this, Zenith recommends that you commit to the following tips:
1. Keep a word bank.
A word bank is simply a word document or exercise book in which you make a list of words you come across when reading! Whenever you come across a useful word in your readings, record it in your word bank. If you are unsure of its meaning, look it up in the dictionary and write it down as well. Refer to this word bank regularly and review it once a week; this helps you to make sure that you are committing what you learn to memory. This way, you will not be faced with the problem of having to cram countless new words into your mind at 2 a.m. the night before the A Level General Paper exams. On this note, getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to your mental functioning––Zenith definitely advises you to prepare for your exams way ahead of time!
2. Keep a word document with relevant examples, information, and statistics you come across when reading.
As Zenith has pointed out previously in this article, one sure way to botch your A Level General Paper essay is to walk into the exam hall with no citable examples whatsoever. Developing your own trove of evidence to quote during the A Level General Paper essay exam ensures that you will not face this issue. Putting in the effort to collate information on your own also means that there is a lower chance that the evidence you cite overlaps with that of your peers. This sets your essay apart from others and impresses the marker.
At Zenith, our teachers will endow you with a trove of relevant examples and reading materials to help you ace your A Level General Paper exams. Priding ourselves as the top tuition center in Singapore, our resources are constantly reviewed and updated such that our students prepare for their exams with the most recent information available.
Strategy #6: Develop a clear framework for writing.
This tip is targeted at improving your writing skills. That being said, always write with a goal in mind. Find out more about how to understand the different demands of each essay question at the A Level General Paper examinations here. Diving straight into your essay without prior planning often results in a haphazard piece of work with incoherent ideas. At Zenith, we recommend that you decide on your argument and plan your essay before writing it during the A Level General Paper examination. You should have decided on the following components of your essay before embarking on the writing process:
Argument/Topic Sentence (to be included in the Introduction)
Supporting Point 1 (to form Body Paragraph 1)
Supporting Point 2 (to form Body Paragraph 2)
Supporting Point 3 (optional but recommended, to form Body Paragraph 3)
Ending Statement (to be included in the Conclusion)
Following the above essay planning framework ensures that your essay at the A Level General Paper examination will be logical and coherent, with links established between each of the paragraphs. It also prevents you from having repeated content points. Find out more about how to approach the A Level General Paper essay questions here.
Strategy #7: Practice, practice, practice.
Improving your command of the English language is similar to brushing up any other skillset that you have; you have to put what you learn to the test through repeated practice. As with any other subject, constant practice also reveals your common mistakes. For instance, you may realise that you are weaker at inference questions which appear in the A Level General Paper comprehension section. As such, you might want to spend some time to find out what you are doing wrong and how you can improve in your future practices. It is hence imperative that you practice sufficiently to discover your mistakes and subsequently avoid making them through further practice.
Strategy #8: Get feedback.
Oftentimes, we do not realise when our own writing is unclear. This is because we have spent a considerably large amount of time processing our own thoughts before attempting to express them. However, for a reader who is encountering your writing for the first time, what you have written might not seem very coherent or logical! Getting feedback helps you to understand how you might be able to convey your ideas better while discovering loopholes that you did not notice beforehand. While everyone writes in a unique way, some methods for presenting information are decidedly more succinct and easily understandable than others. Improving on the way you write does not mean you have to mimic the style of other writers, instead, it could mean that you’re adopting others’ proven “good practices” while you attempt to weave in your own voice and writing style!
At Zenith, Singapore’s top GP tuition center, our team of dedicated educators provides students with one-to-one consultations. These personalised consultations are a safe space for students to clarify any doubts they might have, receive feedback on any assignments they have completed in school, and customise a viable study plan for acing their A Level General Paper. Find out more about Zenith’s A Level General Paper tuition programme here.
Strategy #9: Consistency is key.
Writing is a soft skill, and all soft skills take a considerable amount of time to hone. Nonetheless, even after you graduate from JC, writing will remain relevant. It is an extremely valuable skill in this day and age where the ability to express oneself coherently is prized highly. Many professions, including engineering and data analysis, require you to be proficient in presenting your thoughts compellingly! Being able to express yourself with a distinct voice increases your charisma, makes you sound more convincing, and increases the chances of ideas you pitch getting accepted. This is why you should not give up on your journey to improve your command of the English language even after the A Level General Paper.
On many days, after a long day at school, the inertia to read a newspaper article, consult the dictionary, and practice some writing of your own is real. However, Zenith urges you not to give up; setting aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to improve your grasp of the English language will pay off eventually. The trick is to approach the task with moderation. Spending 3 hours a day improving your command of the English Language at the expense of neglecting your other subjects is not sustainable. On the other hand, staying consistent means that you will have a repository of useful information, a wider vocabulary bank, and the ability to craft sophisticated sentences by the time of your A Level GP exams. Furthermore, you will reap the sweet fruits of your labour not only when collecting your A Level results, but also when you submit university applications, apply for internships, and even when you hope to express yourself to important people in your life!
Strategy #10: Have fun during the process!
Improving your command of the English language does not have to be painful and difficult. On the contrary, it can be a highly fulfilling journey! Often, the attitude you have when taking on a challenge can also make a world of difference to the results you achieve. As this article has shown, there are many interesting activities you can indulge in to brush up on your grammar and vocabulary. We hope that you will try them out with an open mind––many people find joy in listening to podcasts about their favourite topics and bonding with their friends through collaborative writing practices!
In a world so reliant on English, the time, effort, and resources invested into improving your command of the English language will definitely be worthwhile. As such, Zenith seeks to imbue our students with a lifelong passion for the English language, instead of viewing the A Level General Paper exams as your end-all!