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Analysing General Paper Essay Topics: Politics
As a prerequisite for most university courses, A Level General Paper is unavoidable for many Junior College students (unless you take Knowledge and Inquiry, which is another battle on its own!). Every year during the A Level General Paper examinations, students can expect 12 questions across the 7 themes (Fig 1), out of which there will be one or two on the theme of politics. If you are having difficulty choosing which question to attempt, you can refer to our previous article here.
Fig 1. General Paper themes taken from SEAB’s syllabus
Attempting a question on politics can be daunting, but with Zenith’s help, you can confidently try your hand at these questions. As always, Singapore’s top General Paper tuition centre, Zenith, has just the solution to your worries. We have broken down this article into three main parts; question analysis, essay structure and lastly, key political ideas.
Part 1: Question analysis
Question analysis is crucial when planning for your A Level General Paper essay. Zenith, Singapore’s top GP tuition centre, has further divided question analysis into four parts: Question type, Debatable issue, Keywords, and Context. In short, QDKC, is an acronym that will come in handy when you’re preparing for your A Level General Paper examinations.
Under the umbrella of questions about politics, there are a large variety of questions that have different requirements. To avoid going off-topic, make sure you correctly identify the question type and answer accordingly. Zenith has compiled common question types and each of their specific requirements for you below.
Simple polarity questions are of the most basic level compared to the other question types and are also the most straightforward.
Example: ‘Do you agree that democracy is for every society?’
Zenith’s take: In this case, the debatable issue is whether democracy is suitable for every society, so you would need to argue for the view that democracy is suitable for every society, and the view that democracy is not suitable for every society. Take a final stand at the end of your essay only after you have covered both views.
As their name suggests, these questions have absolute words in their phrasing, for instance, ‘always’, ‘never’, ‘most’.
Example: ‘The responsibility of the Government is always to the people.'
Zenith’s take: In this case, the debatable issue is whether the responsibility of the Government is to the people at all points in time. So you would need to present the view that the Government’s responsibility is to the people at all points in time and the view that the Government’s responsibility is to other concerns that require their attention as well. For instance, in international politics, where the presiding government will need to ensure that they maintain a diplomatic and cordial relationship with neighbouring countries. However, when bringing these in, always remember to link it back to ‘the people’. After you have argued for both, take a final stand at the end of your essay. Argue for the debatable issue and against the cause before taking a stand at the end of your essay. However, the debatable issue must be the focus in every paragraph.
Comparison questions will have two variables and like the question states, you will be required to compare the two.
Example: ‘Is democracy a better political system than communism?’
Zenith’s take: In this case, the debatable issue is whether or not democracy is a better system than communism. Since the question is asking to compare between the two, make sure you consistently do so throughout your entire essay. Let's say that your final stand is that democracy is a better system, so you would have to ideally have 3 points on why democracy is better and 2 points on why communism is better. In each paragraph or point, the examiner must see the stark contrast between the two. Sample topic sentence: ‘Democracy is a better political system because it ensures that the voices of the people are heard, unlike communism, where the ruling party is in the seat of power’. Make sure you consistently compare the variables throughout your essay.
Cause and Effect
This question type is well represented by its name. Cause and effect questions typically consist of how an event directly or indirectly results in another event. There is usually a link between the two events!
Example: ‘Unrest amongst the people is the result of an incompetent government. Discuss.’
Zenith’s take: In this case, the debatable issue is whether unrest amongst the people is caused by an incompetent government. So you would need to evaluate the extent to which the government’s incompetency has led to unhappiness amongst the people. Let’s say that your final stand is that unrest is caused by incompetence. If this is the case, you would need to have 3 points proving this, and 2 points discussing how unrest can be caused by other factors. Weigh the factors well and argue as to which factor will have the largest impact on the lives of the public. A possible topic sentence could be: ‘Whilst there are many other factors that can cause unrest amongst the people, bread and butter issues are often at the top of the list. There are many limits as to what a civilian can do to improve these issues alone. For instance, the leap out of cyclical poverty is not easy to overcome, and often require intervention from the government.’
Such questions often have negative connotations and may suggest that a line has been undesirably crossed. These ‘lines’ often refer to moral or humane boundaries that have been unjustifiably broken.
Example: ‘The death penalty is too heavy a punishment for criminals. Discuss.’
Zenith’s take: Identify the line that has been crossed, which is usually a norm, and show how exactly this line has been crossed.
You can usually identify two different phases of time in time-based questions. More often than not, these two phases are the past and present or the present and future. You would then need to compare how things have changed in the present compared to the past, or how the future would differ from the present.
Example: ‘Is marriage still relevant in your society?’
Zenith’s take: The debatable issue here is whether or not marriage still has meaning or is required in today’s world. Time-based questions are relatively straightforward, all you have to do is ensure that your essay presents both sides of the argument.
Identifying the question type is crucial for your success because it ultimately determines the approach you will take when answering a question. However, certain questions posed may have some overlaps between the above categories, making it hard for you to discern the exact question type. Don’t worry though, our JC General Paper tutor is always ready to help out! Our tutor has had years of experience teaching General Paper, and she’s laser-sharp on identifying the different question types. But more importantly, how to address them in the clearest way possible. You can also look forward to free consultations, especially during the exam period, where you can immediately clarify your doubts with our dedicated tutors. Our tutors are always on standby to answer your questions. As the top General Paper tuition centre in Singapore, we merge highly traditional and modern teaching techniques to create the best experience for our students here at Zenith. Find out more here.
After our in-depth discussion on ‘Q’ of our helpful acronym ‘QDKC’, let's move on to the next letter, ‘D’, which stands for the debatable issue.
It is also important to identify the debatable issue in every question because this will be the very foundation of your entire essay. The debatable issue will always be the central focus of your essay and it will shape your main argument. After you have identified the issue, come up with possible stands, i.e. topic sentences.
Example: ‘Unrest amongst the people is the result of an incompetent government. Discuss.’
Debatable issue: Causes of unrest amongst the people.
Possible stand 1: Unrest is due to an incompetent government.
Possible stand 2: Unrest is caused by external factors like the approaching threat of war.
Identifying keywords is another factor that will help you score. By identifying the keywords, you break down the question into simpler bite-sized pieces, making it easier for you to ensure that you address all components of the question.
We will use the same question as above to explain: ‘Unrest amongst the people is the result of an incompetent government. Discuss.’
In this question, the keywords are, ‘unrest’, ‘result’ and ‘incompetent’.
Unrest: disagreements or fighting between different groups of people
Result: something that happens or exists because of something else
Incompetent: Not having the ability to do something as it should have been done
By identifying the correct keywords, knowing what they mean, and properly relating them to the context of the question, you will essentially be able to know what your essay should cover. In this case, you should cover instances of fights or riots happening because the government has not shown their ability to do something about it.
When deciding on what stand to take or what evidence to use, always consider the context. The context of a question will greatly affect the scope you can cover. For example, if the question is ‘Unrest amongst the people is the result of an incompetent government. Discuss’, feel free to factor in the point of view and evidence from any country. However, if the question were to be altered to ‘Unrest amongst your people is the result of an incompetent government. Discuss’, then you can only argue for instances and realities that take place in your country.
One word can make a big difference; always ensure that you analyse the question properly. Being the top General paper tuition centre in Singapore, we also have other resources for you to delve into. You can also check out our other article on question analysis here! 70% of Zenith’s students attain their coveted distinctions; our proven track record really speaks for itself! So rest assured, you are in good hands.
Part 2: Essay structure
Good structuring is key to having a balanced essay, which will definitely earn you brownie points with your marker. A balanced essay reflects a mature and well-thought-out answer, which is a clear winner when pitted against an essay that is imbalanced and biased. Here is a sample essay structure:
Opposing view #1
Opposing view #2
Your view #1
Your view #2
Your view #3
Always make sure that you have more paragraphs supporting your view than paragraphs supporting the opposing view. This is to show the examiner that your argument is stronger than the opposing argument, and thus, deserves to be accepted. In the event of time constraints, skip to the conclusion. An essay without a conclusion is like a dragon with a head and no tail, incomplete, which will not leave your A Level General Paper examiner with a good impression!
Key Ideas on Politics
There are many political systems in the world, and the only way to be updated with current political affairs is to read the news. You can head over to reliable websites like The Straits Times and Channel News Asia, where information is usually accurate and neutral.
However, here is a simple overview (Fig 2) of the key ideas to note:
Fig 2. A simple mind map of the theme on politics
There are two types of democracies, representative democracy and direct democracy.
Representative democracy: Government by the people, where the people vote for their leaders, who in turn make decisions for the state. Representative democracy in itself comprises of presidential and parliamentary. These elected leaders are ‘representatives’ of their people, acting as their voice in the parliament, passing laws and policies in their interest. Examples of representative democracies: The United States of America, Canada and The United Kingdom.
Direct democracy: where the people directly participate in the policy-making of the nation. Example of direct democracy: Switzerland.
In a democracy, rulers are also obliged to appeal to the general population instead of simply dismissing or disregarding them, ensuring the welfare of the people. Lastly, because democracy is a social contract, the government listens and considers the view of the people, even if it does not agree fully with them. Yes, in case you were wondering, Singapore is a representative democracy! As itinerant Chinese philosopher and sage Mencius once said, ‘The people are the most important element in a nation; the state is the next; the sovereign the slightest.’ (Feel free to use this quote when discussing the benefits of having a democratic political system!)
There are many examples of other political systems, but the most common ones are monarchies, communism and socialism.
International politics entails international issues like trade, interstate conflict, ethnic conflict, terrorism, poverty, etc. Some crucial political events you should take note of:
Similarly, national politics are national issues faced by the state, like corruption, poverty, rights, etc. Events in national politics to take note of:
‘Is democracy always desirable?’
Question type: Absolute question
Debatable issue: Whether democracy is always desirable
‘Democracy’: The belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief
‘Always’: In all situations
‘Desirable’: Worth having and wanted by most people
Context: All countries, since the question did not specify a single country or society
Whilst democracy may have its many perks, it is undeniable that a democracy can only function if there is sufficient political participation amongst the people. In a representative democracy, the people are required to take part in elections every few years to elect the new government. Thus, there is the risk of voters selecting for popularity instead of competency, and democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. During the election process, the majority needs to be involved and well informed, otherwise, they might lose faith in the system, rendering it an ineffective system. A clear example would be the 2020 General Elections in Singapore. In an attempt to connect with her people, politician Raeesah Khan from the opposition party, Worker’s Party, came forward as a victim of sexual assault. She then claimed to be an advocate for justice as she accompanied another victim to give a statement at the police station. Such an act enabled her to appear in a more humane light to the public. We can even argue that this incident may have been one of the main attracting points that garnered such widespread support for Raeesah and her party. For the first time in the history of national politics, the opposition party swept 10 seats out of the 93. However, it was later on revealed that Raeesah had lied in parliament, which was not only against the oath that she took, but also a revelation that shattered the trust of the people. Many expressed how they had started to question her competency as a leader. Hence, popularity is not always equivalent to competency, and democracy as a system would have failed because the chosen leader is not the most appropriate.
Here is a summary of how you can score for your politics essay:
Pinpoint the correct question type
Use the correct question analysis method
Structure your essay well
Ensure you have sufficient content knowledge by reading widely
This short overview we have provided is just the tip of the iceberg! If you would like to find out more, our General Paper Tutor is happy to help. Don’t fret about having insufficient examples as our tutor compiles the most relevant news and events for your perusal. Our tutor will also pass on her excellent vocabulary, critical thinking and writing skills to you!
Here at Zenith, we believe that academics is only half the story. Zenith cares, and our tutors will always go above and beyond to ensure your wellbeing. We understand that the A Level journey is a gruelling and tiresome one, which is why our tutors are always ready to support you in any way they can. Hungry after mugging? We have fully stocked pantries with goodies and drinks! Looking for a place to study after school? Look no further, we have specific study areas allocated in our tuition centres just for you (with both wifi and air conditioning!). We also believe in rewarding our students with outings to Universal Studios and taking them to watch Spiderman: Homecoming (Fig 3). If you’re interested, sign up today! We look forward to seeing you in class.
Fig 3. Outings planned for our beloved students