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  Certificate Tests: Passing Your Writing Test

At all levels, teachers use the writing results to judge whether a student is ready to move up to the next level. Use the resources below to help understand how to do your best!

How Teachers Mark Marker's Feedback Rules for Writing
Essay Problems (and Solutions) Information on the Paragraph  


How Teachers Mark Your Compositions

To mark your composition, teachers will look at four areas: Conventions, Form, Style, and Meaning. Each of these is worth 25% of your total score on any composition. 

Briefly, the four areas are defined as follows:

Conventions: These are the basic parts of your writing: the spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. Teachers look for the number of errors made and, more importantly, to see if these errors make it hard to understand your writing. (Go to our Quiz Page for practice)

Form: This is the order of your writing and how easy it is to follow your ideas. In an essay, for example, teachers examine how well your introduction, body, and conclusion work together and how logical your order of ideas is inside each paragraph. (See class notes with tips for good essays)

Style: Here, your sentence variety and knowledge of idiom and vocabulary are very important. How fluent is your language? Are your sentences precise? To excel, a student needs a good repertoire of sentence types, along with a strong vocabulary. (View the Advanced Composition Worksheet Archive)

Meaning: Teachers look here for signs of your developing voice in writing. The more individual (meaning your ideas are specific to your own experience and you have conveyed them well) the better. Are your ideas convincing? Are they mature? Originality counts here. Remember the rule: Show, Don't Tell! (Worksheet on Show, Don't Tell)


Feedback on Marking Test Essays

Marking forty student test essays was interesting for me this term. The application of our new essay marking system will certainly bring great benefits to PALC students. 

Many of you passed the English 10 level this term. I look forward to working with you at the credit course level next term. Those of you who have not yet passed, pay special attention to my comments below.

Each student receives feedback on four key areas of their writing: use of conventions; formal structure; sentence style; meaningful ideas and content. 

Make sure you pay special attention to your score in each area. Each of the four counts for 25 marks from the 100 total. If you score, for example, a 9/25 in conventions, then it is time to get out your Language Power Workbook and get to work on exercises!

Remember, you are not allowed to keep your tests, so be sure to write down your scores. 

As a general comment, I found many of the best essays were also the most personal. By "personal," I mean that the writer conveyed unique information in a concise way that reflected his or her own life experiences. Thus, these students wrote better essays that better reflected their our own thinking.

I greatly enjoyed reading all the essays and longer compositions this term. For those of you who shared the more personal details of your lives, I thank you. Each night, after marking many essays, my head was pleasantly filled with your experiences and unique ideas.


New Rules for Marking Writing at the PALC

In December 2001, your teachers met to discuss the recent certificate tests, especially the student writing. Since good writing skills are exceedingly important for successful study at our higher levels, we worked hard to make sure our tests would be fairly administered.

A number of concerns were raised by the teachers, the most serious being what to do if a student writes a composition (essay or paragraph) off topic. 

There were two ways students appeared to go off the assigned topic: one way was when the student had clearly misunderstood the given topic; the other was when the student had a "pre-prepared" idea of their writing and seemed to have "memorized" key sentences.

All of us noted essays and paragraphs that, for example, outlined the difficulties of learning the English language. The problem was that no topic given on the tests required such a response from the students! It became clear to us that students may have used the topic before and then tried to make it "fit" to the given topic.

Another serious concern was that teachers felt that a few students appear to have shared the assigned topics with friends who were writing later that day. 

In such cases, teachers found differences between their students "normal" writing ability and mismatches between writing in, for example, the body of an essay and its introduction and conclusion. 

In some cases, information given in an essay far exceeded the required number of words and was in more detail than an in-class essay would normally be (all of us have sketchy memories for facts, unfortunately!).

As a result, teachers have agreed that, in order to mark fairly all of our students, we will adopt the following rules for the next certificate tests in June.

Rules for Marking of Compositions

1. Writing "off topic" will be awarded a DNP (did not pass).

2. All writing topics will be on a separate sheet and given out at random (for example, five students come to get a topic; each topic sheet received will contain different topics)

3. To emphasize the importance of writing (and reading), marks will be weighted as follows: writing (40%); reading (40%); grammar (20%).


Student Essay Problems (and Solutions)

Restating the thesis is often not done or poorly done by students. Remember that the first sentence of the conclusion is RESERVED for the restated thesis.

Paraphrasing is the essential skill for this kind of writing. Two ways used in our worksheets for restatement of the thesis: 

use a different form (from a noun to adjective for example) of the same word OR

change the word order of the sentence.

Three BIG problems with conclusions: the first is NO restatement; second, the restatement is a new idea or different; third, the conclusion itself contains NEW ideas. (By the way, I forgot to tell you these ideas)

Make sure to carefully write your conclusion, checking for proper form BEFORE handing it in!

Three BIG problems with introductions: THESIS is placed in the first sentence in the paragraph (as in a regular, body paragraph); second, the THESIS is in more than one sentence; third, student tries to say TOO MUCH in the introduction (the introduction is as long or even longer than the body paragraphs that follow).

Make sure your thesis is the final sentence and that the main ideas are contained in ONE sentence. 

Save your details and examples for the body of the essay.


Finding Information on the Paragraph

Many students will need to write a good quality paragraph during the certificate tests. 

It is especially important as teachers want students to have good writing skills before advancing to higher levels (which, of course, they hope all of you do!).

Here are some of the resources available at the PALC Web site to help you with the paragraph:

Tazim's Weekly Feature: Writing Paragraphs

Brad's Teacher Writing: Writing a Good Paragraph

Louise's Paragraph Checklist

Brad's Sample Descriptive Paragraph

Eight Student Sample Paragraphs (An Important Person) (Includes teacher comments for each)

Student Tips for Writing Good Paragraphs

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Last modified: July 31, 2009