Practical tips on how to be better at writing
PREPARING FOR THE EXAM
Tip #1: Don’t worry about making mistakes when you write.
Writing is a skill and learning to write well takes time. Most often than not, we worry about not using the correct phrases, spelling, or grammar and freeze ourselves into inaction when it comes to lifting the pen to write. But it is only simply by writing that we then begin to discover where we have gone wrong, and learn the necessary process of how to correct ourselves and write better.
The famous fantasy author Neil Gaiman discovered a story he wrote when he was twenty years old and on reading it, realized just how awful it was. However, when asked how he got past hating his own writing, Gaiman answered this way:
“Write more. And remember that everyone who writes anything good wrote a lot of bad stuff first. You are learning, be kind to yourself, just as you would be kind to anyone learning to do something hard, like juggling or ballroom dancing or surgery. Learn from your mistakes, and get better, and one day you’ll write something you won’t loathe.”
Tip #2: Practice and Learn
Not sure where to start? We recommend you get started with these two books:
Another place to start to improve your written English outside the classroom is www.writeandimprove.com. Topics are provided and you can choose a topic to write about, click to submit and it will check and suggest ways to improve your writing. Another free tool you can use is Grammarly's Free Grammar Checker. Correct all grammar errors and check for plagiarism - instant and free!
Tip #3: Understand the syllables
To clear any exams, the foremost thing to do is to understand how you will be tested and marked so that you can then prepare for it. Always check out the syllabus and pattern of the exam to get a whole picture. Suppose you are preparing for PSLE or ‘O’ Levels English Language in Singapore, here are the syllabus for the same.
IF TOMORROW IS THE DAY OF YOUR EXAM:
Tip #4: Don’t panic.
So you’re walking into the examination hall tomorrow. If you are only just reading this article now, ignore what’s written above because you cannot go back in time. Whether you have prepared earlier or not is inconsequential now. What you can do, is stay very calm. There is nothing worse than panicking during an examination. Tell yourself that you will do the best you can and make sure that you have some water before you walk into the hall. Physically, your mouth becomes dry when you are anxious. However, you can trick your mind into believing that you are not if your lips stay wet, and it will take away some of the negative sensations and help you breathe easier, stay calmer.
Tip #5: Start with what you ‘see’ or ‘hear’.
It is easier to get stuck in the beginning than at the end. However, with the clock ticking away, you will have to start somewhere and fast. One of the best kick-starters is to pen down with what you ‘see’ or ‘hear’ as an introduction. This will help to provide your reader the setting and background to your story. Examples:
“The house was very dark and vacant as I lay my eyes upon it…”
“Yellow flames began to lick up the curtains…”
“The lightning flashed, the thunder roared and a big fat drop of murky water landed in my newly highlighted hair..."
“Bang! There was an echo that sounded like someone had just hit their foot on a piece of metal…”
“Oohs and ahhs fluttered through the room of the girls as my Aunt Sara let everyone gaze upon her beautiful new wedding gown…”
Tip #6: Don’t worry about making mistakes (again!)
Don’t worry too much about making mistakes – you can catch them later when you are checking your work. If you spend too much time debating which word to use, use the one that comes easily to mind. Don’t use words that you don’t really understand because you may risk being misunderstood.
Marking schemes for compositions are usually split equally – 50% for content and 50% for grammar and language and organization. This means you won’t fail even if you get a couple of incorrect spelling and grammar. You will do well if you stay on course and finish your story (content) on the topic given. There are only so many marks a teacher can deduct for incorrect spelling and grammar. Don’t let your content suffer because you are afraid to write more sentences, for the sake of making fewer mistakes.
Tip #7 Check
Once you are done writing, check by reading it. However, the mind often tricks you into reading what is correct rather than what you have written. So mouth the words or whisper very quietly while you check because you will be able to catch errors more easily when you find yourself unable to ‘say’ the sentence fluidly or ‘hear’ something sounding incorrect. When you find yourself getting stuck reading a particular sentence, go back to rephrase the sentence and correct the error.
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