As you embark on your A Level General Paper (GP) journey, you may face difficulties in scoring for Paper 2, which is the comprehension section of the A Level GP exam. You will be introduced to new elements like the Application Question (AQ) section! New features, coupled with issues in time management may cause you to panic as you struggle to get on top of this new subject. However, fear not, as comprehension is actually the section that you’ll eventually find easier to score in, once you have mastered the skills to excel in it. To help you do just that, Zenith, a top Singapore JC tuition Singapore centre, has compiled the following guide of answering techniques for your perusal.
Paper 2 is worth a total of 50 marks, with a maximum of 35 marks being awarded for content, and a maximum of 15 marks for your use of language as shown in Fig 1.
Fig 1. A Level GP Exam Format
Content marks are awarded when your answers demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the passage(s). You will be judged based on your capabilities in synthesising, inferring, explaining, evaluating, and summarising the information presented to you. Language marks are awarded based on a holistic assessment of your language abilities throughout the script. Assessors will mainly lookout for clarity and fluency in your answers, and whether your answers, despite paraphrasing, are still able to convey the intended meanings of the text.
Paper 2 is split into 3 main sections: Short Answer Questions (SAQs), Summary, and AQ. SAQs, Summary, and AQ are allocated 17, 8, and 10 marks respectively for content. Given this mark allocation, you should plan your time accordingly. A suggested time allocation is 35-25-30 (total of 90 minutes). Knowing where your strengths lie (e.g if you are able to write quickly and ensure a top-quality essay, you may choose to do the AQ before the summary since the AQ section is essentially a mini-essay) will be helpful in determining which sections to complete, and hence score first.
1. Read widely. It is crucial that you read widely! You have a wide selection of content to choose from, such as the news, opinion articles, books, forums, magazines, tabloids, and more! You must consume international and domestic media (e.g New York Times, BBC, The Straits Times, Foreign Affairs, The Time Magazine), so as to increase your repertoire of examples and observable trends across space and time. Given the increasing complexity of our world, it is vital that you read widely to help you draw the links on how different global issues may relate to one another. This will ultimately lend a greater depth to your answers as a whole. You should also never ‘spot’ topics, given the arbitrary nature of examinable topics. Reading widely and consistently will also benefit you beyond your GP exam as you enhance your global perspective and engage in personal enrichment.
2. Consistently work on your language. If you know you are weak in certain aspects like grammar or sentence structure, put in the due effort to improve it! Trust us, it will pay off. As your master the ability to convey your ideas more succinctly and clearly, both your content and language marks will reflect this positive change. If you struggle with this, you can sign up for a free GP tuition trial at Zenith, the best GP tuition center to see how our tutors are able to assist you in this respect.
3. Read the question carefully. Students often lose marks due to improper analyses of the question, which could have been avoided if one simply read the question thoroughly. The question is king, and your answer must always seek to address the question requirements directly.
4. Always paraphrase your answers. Note that for every question, you should be attempting to answer in your own words, whether or not the question states so explicitly. Lifting chunks of the passage will cost you vital language marks! When paraphrasing, try to avoid word-for-word replacements.
It would help to understand the question requirements of every, if not most question types. Recognising these would make it easier for you to structure and adapt your answer. The list below details typical question types, their generic requirements, and how to go about answering them. This is just a starter list, and you should try to expand it as you encounter more types of questions!
1. Literal: Understand the literal meaning of the subject matter
- Extract answer directly from the passage
2. Inference: Derive and explain the hidden meaning of the subject matter
- Look for clues in the paragraph
- Paraphrase the subject matter
- Explain the subject matter contextually
3. Explanation: Understand the subject matter contextually
- Paraphrase the subject matter
- Explain what it means contextually
4. Metaphors/Similes*: Understand how the metaphor/simile creates an image in the reader’s mind.
*Metaphor: figure of speech that directly compares one thing to another
Simile: figure of speech that uses “as” or “like” to make comparisons
- Explain what the metaphor/simile means literally
- Explain how the metaphor/simile is then applied contextually
5. Purpose: Understand the effect of the author’s words
- Paraphrase the subject matter (…and they do so to emphasise, underscore, etc.)
- Explain the effect/why the author says that
6. Attitude*: Derive the author’s attitude
*Attitude is the way the author feels or thinks about something
- Identify the author’s attitude
- Explain why the author holds such an attitude
7. Tone*: Derive the author’s tone from their choice of words
*Tone is the way the author expresses their attitude
- Identify the author’s tone
- Explain how the author’s choice of words illustrate their tone
8. Punctuation: Understand the effect of punctuation
- Identify the punctuation used
- Explain the effect of the punctuation
9. Comparison: Understand how things have changed over time OR Understand how one thing is similar/opposite of another
- Identify the Point of Comparison (PoC)
- Explain how the subject matter has changed over time, with respect to that PoC OR Explain how the two subject matters are similar/opposite of one another with respect to that PoC
Beyond these common question types, combinations of such categories may also be seen, like language-inference or comparison-inference questions. As you familiarise yourself with these question types, it would also be helpful to make annotations, so that you can recognise the different layers behind each question.
Summary writing at the A Levels is largely similar to the O Levels, just that the length of your paragraph is longer (130 words). For summary writing, take note of the following:
1. Question requirements: How many tasks are there? Does my paragraph answer the question eventually?
2. Location: Where do you extract your information from?
3. Degree: Do your words convey the same degree of severity as the passage?
4. Connotation: Do your words share the same connotation as those in the passage?
5. Examples and Statistics: What is the overarching theme of these examples? What is the larger meaning behind these statistics?
The AQ tests your comprehension of the issue discussed. You will be expected to critically examine the level of application of arguments raised to your society/globally, and/or the relevance/validity of points made.
1. Application to your society/the world
For such questions, pay attention to the boundaries of possible examples. If it is a “your society” question, you can ONLY take examples from your society and be consistent with which “society” you are from. Always analyse the general trend and extent of application to your society/the world before citing examples. Your examples should never explain your trend but only exemplify it!
Example: Mary argues that euthanasia would undermine the commitment of doctors and nurses to save lives. How far are her views applicable to your society? Refer to the passage and your personal knowledge of your society in your answer.
2. Relevance/ Validity of arguments
For such questions, look at the basis of the arguments presented. Discuss whether the argument is an observable trend in the world/your society (depending on the question), and exemplify your evaluation with examples.
Example: Mary argues that euthanasia would diminish the sanctity of life, whereas John believes that euthanasia allows one to die with dignity. Which of these authors are you more in agreement with? Refer to the passage and your personal knowledge in your answer.
Some AQs may combine these 2 question types, so it is important to take note of the boundaries of discussion, and the question requirements.
The structure of an AQ is akin to an essay, as you are expected to provide a balanced and substantiated argument. For papers with 2 passages, you are required to examine arguments from both authors.
Your response should comprise the following:
Keep this concise! A quick summary of the arguments raised and your stance would suffice.
2. Body Paragraphs
Within each body paragraph, you must quote a line from the passage. These references should be salient points raised. Explain the meaning of the line (do not simply paraphrase), and how it relates to the question. You could state whether you agree with the line to a large/small extent, and explain why. This should be explained in terms of observable and general trends before citing your examples. End off each paragraph with your overall evaluation and a link back to the question. Your response must be balanced; you must provide a full-body paragraph for the opposing point of view! Your answer will be inherently skewed if you do not acknowledge conflicting points.
Summarise the arguments raised, and emphasize your stance. Keep this succinct as well.
Mastering A Level GP requires you to have extensive knowledge of current affairs, globally and domestically. It also needs conscientious practice, especially so for comprehension. There is no point in continuously “practicing” if you are not actively seeking out your blind spots, correcting past errors, and reviewing your work.
This may be daunting, especially if you have difficulties identifying your exact weaknesses, or if you are not sure of where to start. If you need assistance, know that Zenith offers high-quality JC GP tuition with free trials, where our experienced tutors will help you to pinpoint your pitfalls in Paper 2, and rectify them with you. If you found this guide helpful, and you want to learn more, join us here, and see yourself master A Level GP comprehension in no time. It’s never too late to start working on your GP skillset, and Zenith will be here to guide you every step of the way!