“Scoring an ‘A’ or ‘A*’ in his/her composition writing is achievable,” says my son’s English form teacher in the beginning of PSLE year (2016). The skeptic in me though was not convinced. While English has always been my son’s strongest subject, he still struggles with composition and hovers in the above average marks. Having a mom who writes was no help as I was not sure how to help him achieve higher grades.

So when his PSLE grades yield an A* for English (with no help from us and no tuition), we knew that it was his hard work and the teacher’s techniques that helped him. So I am paying forward and sharing her tips to the current batch of parents with kids taking the PSLE exams this year.

What PSLE examiners look for in a composition?

PSLE examiners have to read and mark hundreds of composition scripts, so it will be helpful to know WHAT they are looking for and HOW to make your composition stand out to earn a higher score.

1 Clarity of purpose Good writing has a clearly defined purpose. Readers do not get lost or have to reread the text to figure out what is going on. There is coherence in the storyline or discussion that the reader can follow with ease.
2 Good organization A well-organized piece of writing is presented in a way that is logical and well-balanced. Information in the text is clearly connected and arranged in a way that is easily understood, including appropriate paragraphing.
3 Relevance of Ideas For a piece of writing to be considered well crafted, it has to contain clear ideas that are relevant to the topic. The writer should also support each idea with specific information for it to be sufficiently developed.
4 Credibility In fiction, the writing must be believable; the scenarios or characters described must be realistic.
5 Effective word choice Good writing includes clever and appropriate word choices and well-crafted sentences.
6 Accurate Grammar Make sure the rules of grammar are followed, and the spelling and punctuation are correctly applied.
7 Ability to evoke reader’s response A good piece of writing must make the reader curious or feel an emotional connection to the piece.
8 Originality


Because the examiners are reading hundreds of copies of the same theme, the ability to put common ideas together in new ways and creating new remixes will give the composition an edge.

To further help your child, here are some things you and your child can do:

  • Read composition books or model compositions.
  • Start a word bank book (if your child haven’t already in P5) on good words and phrases which can be utilized in composition
  • Ensure your child is familiar with the features taught for composition writing (eg. Sentence starters, extension to dialogues, idioms, paragraphing, good concluding sentences, setting, characteristics etc.)
  • Revise spelling words (especially commonly misspelled words), punctuation and grammar (SPG)
  • Practice writing according to the theme given in the time allotted. Expected composition length for an ‘A’ paper is 4 to 7 pages.
  • Take note of the perspectives of the writing – first person, second or third person.
  • Develop a few interesting introductions to story that will compel reader to WANT to read on.
  • Use WOW words (which are correctly spelled) to score well. Example: Just, then I heard loud footsteps that heralded the arrival of the old man and his companion.
  • Understand whether your child is a beginner  Higher marks in compo gives your child a better chance in scoring an A* in English. Aim to score (A* – 32 and above or A – 27 to 31 marks)
  • Avoid cliched sentences and the following pitfalls:
    • Bad handwriting
    • Extensive errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation and structures
    • limited or inaccurate use of vocabulary
    • gaps in the story (i.e. poor sequencing)
    • under-developed ideas
    • Run-on introduction (beyond a page is tooo long)
    • No paragraphing
    • Over-reliance on dialogues or none
    • Run-on sentences
    • abrupt, predictable and cliched conclusions
  • Remember your examiner has to mark hundreds of compositions of the same-theme. Try to make yours stand out.

I will like to end this post by quoting what I thought is a most encouraging advice from the teacher:

“Good writing is expressing one’s thoughts and ideas in a coherent fashion using the appropriate forms of the language. It is the result of much practice and hard work. This means that the ability to write well is not a privilege extended to only a few. Anyone can improve his /her writing if he/she is willing to work hard at it.

I hope this post is helpful to you and your child.

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Till then, love yourself, love your child, live strong and be free.

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