2017 is almost upon us, and that means kids going to primary school will soon be putting pen to paper to write compositions. Here’s help on how to start a composition, especially when you have no idea where to begin.

In the current PSLE format for compositions, three pictures and a theme are provided. Students must adhere to the theme and utilise at least one of the pictures.

This year’s PSLE theme was “a secret”. One picture was an envelope with the word “secret” on it, one featured a padlocked gate and one showed two girls whispering to each other.

Secrets of Scoring

How would you have tackled it? Here are six tips to keep as reference for future PSLE composition questions.

1. Select the number of pictures you will use

Knowing your own writing standard is important. If you generally need help with language-based tasks, just choose one picture and focus on it — that way, your composition will stay focused. But if language is your strong suit and you feel confident, incorporate all three pictures into your composition. This will add more depth and sophistication to your composition.

2. Show the theme in action

You may understand what the words in the theme mean, but your composition must also show an example of that theme in action. To take 2016’s PSLE theme as an example, the word “secret” implies that at least some people have not access to some information. This needs to be shown in the composition. Add details that make the fact crystal clear.

3. Determine which characters are affected by the theme

The theme should apply to at least one major character in the composition. So when you’re planning your composition, ensure that you know how the theme will be exemplified through the character’s actions. In the case of the 2016’s PSLE, at least one person must know the “secret” and at least one person must be left in the dark for the theme to remain relevant in the composition.

4. Evaluate the need for the situation to change by the end of the composition

For a theme like “the secret”, no change is necessary – the same people can be unaware of the secret through the whole composition. However, if you encounter themes like “a disappointment” or “a surprise”, then there must be a turning point in the story where a character will encounter disappointment or a surprise. This usually occurs at the climax. To keep the composition on track, mark out the characters that must experience the theme by the end of the composition.

5. Practice makes perfect

There’s no running away from practice when it comes to compositions, but be sure to practise mindfully rather than robotically. That way, you will develop your own writing style, and that will help maximise the language marks in the composition. That’s not to say you shouldn’t commit good phrases to memory, because a large vocabulary base always comes in handy. However, using the right word in the right place, rather than wantonly spraying bombastic bullets, will make all the difference.

6. Planning is everything

Take at least five minutes to plan your composition before starting to write. Develop your plot fully before committing to paper so you can focus on making the language lively instead of worrying about what will happen next in your composition. The time you will save by having a clear, coherent plan will more than make up for the time spent creating a plan.

Remember, you only have one shot at the PSLE. Why not plan and improve your composition structure instead of muddling your way through? These tips will make a huge improvement in the standard of your compositions. Try them out, and see the results for yourself!

This article first appeared on Yahoo’s Grade Expectations.

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