THE BIG FOUR IN SSCE ENGLISH ESSAYS
By Hassan Abdulbaqi
Most candidates may be quite confused about how English essays are marked or what words like ‘Content’, ‘Organisation’ and ‘Mechanical Accuracy’ mean in the grading of an essay. If you are one, this article is just for you! The comprehensive explanation of ‘the required big four’ (Content, Organization, Expression and Mechanical Accuracy) for your essays is here!
CONTENT: This carries ten marks. Content simply requires that the ideas presented in the essay must be relevant to the central theme or topic of the essay. When the writer is expected to discuss three reasons why she does not want her school to be changed for another, she must not be writing about how to prepare yam.
This equates to the fact that the candidate must understand the question. This is more so for questions that deal with writing stories which illustrate a saying. Do not attempt the question if you do not understand the saying in question. For example, if you are asked to write a story which illustrates the saying: “once beaten twice shy” or “a stitch in time saves nine” and you don’t understand such sayings, do not attempt it so that you do not lose all your marks under content and organization because the penalty is that zero mark should be awarded to the candidate for both. So again, if you are so confused about the requirement, kindly abandon such questions for another choice. The English WAEC and NECO essay section mostly contain five or six questions and these are enough to choose from rather than holding on to a question you don’t know or you are confused about.
More so, there are questions that may require candidates to write two or three things in a single essay. For instance, if you are asked to write to a friend who wants to change his or her school to your school and give three reasons why he/she should do so, the candidate must not only give the three reasons, he/she must also guide the friend in question to making the right choice. (Read Four Tips for Scoring High in Your SSCE English Essays)
ORGANISATION: This carries ten marks and it is about following the guidelines that have been set for writing each type of essay. The writing must be judged as whatever it is intended to be; an article, a speech, a letter, an argument or a debate etc the qualities to look for are a suitable opening, adequate development, good paragraphing, balance, coherence and a suitable conclusion.
For example, in the case of an article and speech, there is no need for an address. The letter must have address (es) as the case may be, one for informal and two for formal. Where should the addresses be placed and must the dates come immediately after the address? Features like the subscript (i.e Yours sincerely, Yours faithfully etc) and how appropriate it is for the letter shall also be checked. Is the opening of the informal letter, for example, impressive, or the often parroted “How are you and your family? I hope they are fine, if so, glory be to Almighty God.”?. If you are asked to write a letter to your Principal, for example, to convince him of his plan to change your school to a single-sex school, you need to write in a letter format, though it is meant to be convincing. There is no need for you to observe any protocols as in form of an argumentative essay. All these are the things that shall be judged under Organisation.
EXPRESSION: This carries 20marks and this makes it the most important on the list. The positive qualities to be looked for under Expression include the following:
- Clarity and general appropriateness of style: This points out that the sentences must be self-explanatory and the appropriate style must be employed. A letter to a friend for example must be chatty and informal, it must show a cordial relationship between the writer and the recipient of such letter. Such an informal style is in variance with what is required in formal letters.
- Variation of sentence structure and type: There are four basic types of sentences (simple, compound, complex and complex-compound sentences) and each must be employed in the essay. The candidate must not hold on a single type of sentences which usually make essays look childish and boring.
- Judicious use of figurative language: This is when words are used in a way that is different from the usual meaning in order to create a particular mental image. This includes, but not limited to, the use of figures of speech, idiomatic expressions etc.
- Skillful and sophisticated use of punctuation: Knowing the appropriate use of each punctuation mark makes you score high under ‘Expression’. An illustrative explanation of the appropriate usage of punctuation marks shall soon be uploaded.
MECHANICAL ACCURACY: This category carries 10marks. There shall be deduction of ½ mark for each obvious error that the candidate commits. The main categories of errors which the examiner may indicate with rings are undeniable errors in grammar, punctuation errors and grammar errors. This charges candidates to must themselves with the use of good English (especially written), judicious application of punctuation and rules guiding grammar and concord, prior to the examination.
This is the end of the explanation of ‘the big four’! Note that most of these explanations are based on The West African Examinations Council Marking Scheme.
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