Choos­ing a com­po­si­tion topic in the exam

The Manica Post - - Education/Entertainment - Mor­ris Mtisi

(As pre­sented on The Ra­dio Teacher / Head -To-Head- With MM on Di­a­mond FM Ra­dio Thurs­day -3

May 2018.)

RULE num­ber1. Ig­nore any topic you have noth­ing un­usu­ally in­ter­est­ing to write about.

If you have no reg­is­ter (ap­pro­pri­ate language) to use in a soc­cer game, whether you are de­scrib­ing or nar­rat­ing, please dis­miss that topic. You have no ex­pe­ri­ence, pe­riod! You do not know what a shot is, a touch­line, a foul tackle, mid­field, brace, a hat-trick, at­tack­ing, drib­bling, hand ball, ball to hand, header, penalty kicks, set pieces, the list is in­ex­haustible, why choose a topic on soc­cer?

If you have no ex­pe­ri­ence or knowl­edge about the hospi­tal en­vi­ron­ment you will call wards rooms, pa­tients sick peo­ple, dis­pen­sary drug store, pre­scrip­tion tablets medicine, med­i­cal su­per­in­ten­dent the hospi­tal man­ager or some­thing like that and so forth and so on. You need to have the ap­pro­pri­ate language to write knowl­edge­ably, in­ter­est­ingly and in­tel­li­gently: more vo­cab­u­lary, In­ten­sive Care Unit (ICU), Pae­di­atric, Orthopaedic, Ca­su­alty De­part­ment, The­atre, Ma­jor / mi­nor op­er­a­tion, con­di­tion, ad­mis­sion / ad­mit, dis­charge, bed rest, chronic dis­ease, ter­mi­nal dis­ease, di­ag­no­sis. Why choose a ‘hospi­tal’ plot or story if you don’t have the ap­pro­pri­ate language?

You can think of more ex­am­ples of sto­ries in­volv­ing par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tions and en­vi­ron­ments: wars, wed­dings, var­i­ous sport­ing dis­ci­plines, at the beach, air­port, li­brary, mar­ket place, jail / cus­tody, courts, po­lice sta­tions etc.

Rule num­ber 2. Be care­ful that you do not stray away from the topic. Se­ri­ous ex­am­i­na­tion boards em­pha­sise this and urge mark­ers to pe­nalise go­ing off topic. It is sad many teach­ers pub­licly tell can­di­dates that there is noth­ing called ‘off topic’. “Mark the language of the can­di­date,” they say. Whether this is Zim­sec per­mis­sive­ness or pa­tri­otic mark­ing, call it af­fir­ma­tive, what­ever, this is a pa­thetic abor­tion of pro­fes­sional ad­ju­di­ca­tion. What are top­ics for if they can write any­thing they want the way they want? Isn’t this why some global aca­demic as­ses­sors un­der­rate Zim­sec stan­dards? Would you just pick up a book with­out a ti­tle from a shelf and start read­ing sim­ply be­cause they is some­thing writ­ten in it? Shame! And hope to make a com­pre­hen­sive en­gage­ment with the au­thor?

Rule num­ber 3. Choose a topic ONLY if you are sure about the fol­low­ing:

A. Its genre: ie. Is the story go­ing to be an ad­ven­ture, de­tec­tive, com­edy or tragedy?

B. Who are the main char­ac­ters (Only two or three) and what are their pro­files (de­scrip­tion of whom or what they are)? This helps to en­able you to be in­ter­est­ing and re­al­is­tic in your por­trayal of them: e.g. their age, ap­pear­ance, habits, jobs, traits, am­bi­tions, hob­bies, likes and dis­likes, mo­ti­va­tion etc.

C. Set­ting: Where you are go­ing to set the story: e.g. Is it at home, at school, in the re­serves, in a city, etc.?

D. Struc­ture: Make sure you have a clear Be­gin­ning, Mid­dle, Cli­max and End of the story.

E. Will there be a twist and turn in the story?

F. Are you go­ing to tell your story in a straight-line way (lin­ear),that is, your story or plot mov­ing for­ward nat­u­rally in time or through flash­backs?

G. What is the cli­max of your story, the boil­ing point of the story?

H. De­cide if the style of telling story is go­ing to be writ­ten in the first per­son or se­cond per­son. A first-per­son nar­ra­tor tells story from within the story. It is also called per­sonal nar­ra­tive. A third-per­son nar­ra­tor stands out­side the story.

I. Be orig­i­nal. This means choose a topic which brings out your abil­ity and per­son­al­ity. Don’t retell a story you heard in the ra­dio or read in a news­pa­per or a novel you came across. Be imag­i­na­tive. Cre­ate an orig­i­nal story. This is all about creative in­ge­nu­ity and not his­tory record­ing.

J. Choose a topic you are sure and con­fi­dent you can write an in­ter­est­ingly un­usual, cap­ti­vat­ing, grip­ping story.

K. Make sure you can be­gin (not in­tro­duce) the story with a no­tice­able style: Cre­at­ing At­mos­phere, Drama (di­a­logue or di­rect speech), Flash­back (ie be­gin­ning at the end and com­ing back to how story started or any point of mag­netic in­ter­est along the way), with an en­gag­ing ques­tion or ap­pro­pri­ate quote from some well-known writer, his­to­rian, politi­cian, preacher, mu­si­cian etc. Dis­tinc­tion com­po­si­tions of­ten earn the class or merit at the be­gin­ning and the end­ing. Make sure you choose top­ics you can be­gin and end in beau­ti­ful style. Not too long, brief but eye-catch­ing, grip­ping, hook­ing.

L. It is not fool­ish to set aside spe­cific ex­pres­sions and vo­cab­u­lary which you will use and choose a topic which will ac­com­mo­date these nat­u­rally and fit­tingly. You can as­sem­ble these dur­ing the plan­ning stage.

These are not the only tips and guide­lines on how to choose a topic, but if you fol­low these care­fully and ap­ply them in­tel­li­gently, you will not go wrong. The most ef­fec­tive way of mas­ter­ing these skills or rules, is to prac­tice, prac­tice and prac­tice.

You started writ­ing com­po­si­tions since Form One, didn’t’ you? Per­haps by now, in Form 4, you have writ­ten over one hun­dred com­po­si­tions. And the ex­am­iner asks you to write him or her only one be­fore you cross to over to Form 5; you get a D or E grade. Isn’t that un­be­liev­able?

Mind-bog­gling re­ally! You fail to write a sat­is­fac­tory com­po­si­tion after all these years at school? I can­not un­der­stand how this hap­pens, but it hap­pens. Surely an ex­am­iner is not ask­ing too much of you. You should have much more knowl­edge and wis­dom than ex­am­in­ers ask for in the ex­am­i­na­tion.

Fail­ing an English Language ex­am­i­na­tion, es­pe­cially Pa­per 1 is un­nec­es­sary. You need to put a lot of ef­fort to fail. You know why? Be­cause the exam script is al­ways leaked! You know ex­actly what is com­ing and you can pre­pare your an­swer(s) al­most word to word, phrase to phrase, sen­tence to sen­tence, para­graph to para­graph. You only need to ad­just here and there to suit the ex­act de­mands of the topic word­ing. I al­ways say to my stu­dents, “It is Pa­per 2 that must sur­prise you. You have no idea what pas­sage is com­ing, from what set­ting, and about what sub­ject. Even in this Pa­per 2, you only need to master sum­maris­ing tech­niques and sweep all the 20 marks, pick a few marks from the Reg­is­ters sec­tion and ran­dom ques­tions; and you are done. Very easy if you have been taught the tech­niques and de­mands of the rel­e­vant ex­am­i­na­tion board. Cam­bridge al­ways de­mands spe­cific abil­i­ties. Zim­sec is less de­mand­ing and strict, nat­u­rally and per­haps un­der­stand­ably in af­fir­ma­tive favour of can­di­dates. So it must be a clean sweep if you are thor­oughly pre­pared.

And yet what do we know? Can­di­dates per­form very badly in the English Language ex­am­i­na­tion. It is now on record that only be­tween twenty five to thirty per­cent of the an­nual can­di­da­ture pass with an A, B or C year in year out.

Why is there such a sorry state of English Language re­sults ev­ery year in Zimbabwe?

◆ Don’t miss the Di­a­mondFM Ra­dio ver­sion of these lessons on The Ra­dio Teacher as­pect of Head-To Head-With MM ev­ery Thurs­day night be­tween 8 and 9 pm.

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