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8 Ultimate Tips To Excel in English Comprehension for Pri & Sec Students

The PSLE and O Level English Examination is undoubtedly one of the most integral parts of Singapore’s National Exams in testing a student’s proficiency in the language. Scoring well for the subject could make a difference in the schools and path students choose to take in the future. Comprehension aims to test students’ understanding of both visual and written texts through a series of questions. This translates into real-world skills and analytical reasoning, essential for students’ progress in academic and professional environments. Many students come unprepared when it comes to Comprehension, and that is because it might seem relatively easy to score, but unbeknownst to many, it has a stringent marking scheme.

According to SEAB, for graduating students taking O Level English, it is stipulated that Paper 2 constitutes the most marks, having a weightage of 35%. Split into three sections – Section A Visual Text (5 Marks), Section B Narrative Text (20 Marks) and Section C Non-narrative Text & Summary (25 Marks). The text in Section B and C alone total up to 1200 words long. Although on a lower level, this can also be said for PSLE English Comprehension (35 Marks).

Knowing this, parents have shown concern in their child’s ability to score well for this section, which has been a prevalent issue. Our English tutors have developed and introduced some tips and tricks firsthand to score well for both PSLE and O Levels English Comprehension component. In this article, we will be discussing these ‘hacks’ that tutors themselves have sworn by that will allow your child to ace their PSLE & O Level English Examinations.

Tip #1: Re-read the passage

Having a clear understanding of what each sentence in the passage is attempting to mean is half the fight won. English teachers and tutors alike have recommended that if students cannot comprehend the whole passage the first time around reading it, re-read it. Spend extra time on the more complex paragraphs if necessary. When you can finally understand the passage as a whole, it would be easier to know which section or paragraph to look at when looking for the answer. Re-reading the passage when attempting each question wastes more time.

There is no need to rush so far into reading the questions when you have not processed or understood the passage. It is more important to make sure that you have a good understanding of the passage itself, which will help you save more time later on! 

It is alright to skim through the passage during the first read and then annotate on the second read, which we will discuss later in this article. However, what if, even after reading the passage twice, you are still confused? Fret not, look at the questions to get a sense of which sections of the passage are relevant and spend some time getting to know those main components! Since the text is an unfamiliar one and will be something that students have most likely not come across before, there’s no wrong in doing this step. Starting off the passage positively will be beneficial for the student’s success in completing the paper!

Tip #2: Always Highlight & Annotate for Comprehension

Highlighters can be a great addition to have in one’s pencil case. In addition to the attractive colours available for choosing, highlighters serve an essential purpose in acing the English Comprehension. After reading both the visual and written text, students might be overwhelmed and will often miss out on important points. This, in turn, causes unnecessary loss of marks. As such, our English tutors, who have trained many primary and secondary students, would recommend that they make it a habit always to highlight and annotate while reading the passage and questions thereafter.

Having taught students poor in English comprehension, our English tutors are adamant that this will allow students to keep track of their feelings and theories! It is also useful when attempting to sort out challenging parts. 

Throughout the text, highlight unfamiliar words and phrases and circle the hints in the previous or later sentences that may provide some contextual or background information. Remember to connect these two ideas with the use of arrows! It is also crucial to write down the meanings of idioms and metaphors common in these English comprehension texts. However, take caution, not to over annotate. While it is beneficial, it can take up a significant amount of time. The rule of thumb is to annotate no more than 1-2 points per line. 

Our English Tutors made it a point for their students to emphasise these specific details in the questions asked to prevent careless mistakes. 1) What the question is asking (5W1H), 2)Tenses, 3) Paragraph/line number. With highlighting the key points in the passage, Zooming in on what precisely the question is asking for is a perfect combination to answering comprehension questions fast, accurately and concisely.

Improve and map out ideas in for comprehension paper

Highlight and Annotate when reading the English comprehension passage

Tip #3: Recap, Paraphrase and Summarise

Following tip #1, students should also try to recap, summarise and paraphrase wherever possible. After annotating, our English tutors recommend that students take 1-2 mins to recap the points to be clear of the text’s flow, especially for narrative texts. Mapping out the main ideas would allow the better manifestation of their thoughts and helps to pinpoint areas that needs further analysing. When reflecting and recapping what was being said/described in the story using their own words, paraphrasing is much easier to achieve.

‘Do not copy wholesale’ is something that many teachers have warned their students not to do when answering English Comprehension questions regardless of level. Questions asked can be straightforward, and it might seem simpler to lift from the text itself. However, unless the questions specifically ask to quote a phrase or sentence, students will lose marks if they lift. To score well, markers lookout for effective and to the point paraphrased answers. It demonstrates that the student comprehends the passage and questions well enough to respond on their own terms. Not everybody has the confidence to do so, and fortunately, there are ways to stop lifting. 

You can take a portion of a sentence from the passage, replace pronouns with nouns and omit superfluous adjectives or descriptions. If done correctly, paraphrasing can become a student’s best friend. This tip is also helpful for one of the most time-consuming parts of the Secondary O Level English Comprehension. For the summary component, students are required to summarise only the portions relevant to the question asked using no more than 80 words, excluding the introductory sentence given. You can read more about it here to help get started on writing summaries!

Tip #4: Infer From The Comprehension Paper

Inference is the act of drawing a conclusion based on existing facts and prior expertise and experience. Inference questions are the most common types of questions asked in English Comprehension. Students must make an intelligent guess, using hints from the text and their own experiences to draw a logical conclusion. Authors do not include very detailed explanations of a subject, context, character or case to keep their audience interested in their story.

However, what was explicitly written may be used to deduce or conclude even more than what was said. The majority of information that both PSLE and O level students gain by reading comes from inference rather than straightforward statements. It is thus through analysing the implicit meanings that words take shape. 

English Comprehension inference

Read between the lines and look out for hints!

Through years of teaching, our English home tutors have realised that students often make interferences without even being aware of it. However, doing simple inferencing is not enough. To distinguish an average student from an A student is one that can master reading between the lines. To gain a firm grasp of it, you can keep in mind the following:

  1. Answers must be supported by clues
  2. Clues must be supported to what you already know
  3. It is possible to have more than one answer

If possible, explain and justify the answers to your teachers or tutors to see if you are on the right track. Higher-level inference questions make students lose marks, especially the ‘what, how and why’ questions. Thus, constructing meaning is critical to good literacy. PSLE and O Level students have managed to score more marks when they can infer effectively!

Tip #5: Check Comprehension Spelling, Tenses & Punctuations!

“Please check your work” is something that we have all heard from our teachers in school no matter the subject. English comprehension is no exception. Students need to be mindful of their careless mistakes, and one foolproof way to ensure that they do not lose their precious marks over this is to check! Since accuracy is also something that PSLE and O Level markers look for, students need to make sure that their spelling, punctuation and tenses are in order. If there are words that seem unfamiliar and complex to read in the text, make sure to spell that difficult word correctly.

Also, be sure that the tenses for the answers match those of the text. Do note that answers should be in the past tense, but there are exceptions to this case, so do look for those! Lastly, make sure that answers are written in complete sentences. It is vital that sentences flow nicely and not written in point form. Complete sentences start with a capital letter, have a subject and verb, and finish with a full-stop.

Fixing these errors is an essential step, as well as the Comprehension falls under the English subject, and writing in proper English is something that PSLE and O levels markers look out for. Hence, this would maximise the chances of keeping and maintaining the goal that students aim to achieve for their English Exams.

Tip #6: Time Management

Both PSLE and O Level students will be given 1hr 50mins to complete the entire Paper 2. Although it might seem like ample time, students may often find themselves at a crossroad when taking the paper due to the lack of time they have left. As such, it is essential to manage one’s time wisely and never focus too much on one question. Preplan and allocate how much time to spend on which section.

For example, after studying, if students realise that they need more time for the Comprehension section, they can allocate 1 hour for that. It will also be ideal if students can complete each question in 2-3mins for those short open-end questions. Don’t spend too much time on one question, and be mindful to keep an eye on the clock to keep track!

Our English tutors have recommended that students focus on questions with more marks allocated to them as it would most likely be a higher-level order question. In turn, they would require some time to complete. It would be wise to do the most straightforward question first or feel the most confident answering. This is particularly helpful for English comprehension as students will more likely have more details to add to the difficult questions later on. Furthermore, if starting with the difficult questions first, students may run out of time. As a result, they might lose focus trying to rush and complete the paper in time, losing marks on questions that they would have gotten correct if done first. 

If you are feeling stressed before the big day, these examination anxiety tips for any major examination might help.

Tip #7: Visualise the information

Since English Comprehension passages come in both narrative and non-narrative forms of text, simply reading the words is not enough. If possible, try and visualise the information, forming a mental image/picture of the things that are being described in the passages. Writers are known for making words come to life. Students can read the content and unlocking their imagination by putting themselves in the main character’s shoes.

This tip is especially practical for students who are visual learners where they gravitate and learn best visually. Primary students especially enjoy this method the most as they can relate to the story better using their imagination, enriching their overall perception. Even those who are not visual learners, mastering this step would help them to relate and make connections from the passage. Our English Home Tutors have noticed that those who can effectively visualise have a better grasp of the story and can retain information accurately. 

English Comprehension visualisation

Use your 5 senses to try and visualise the story

Doing so also makes students feel much more confident in answering the questions and is more natural for the human mind to comprehend. After all, we process information better when we feel connected to it. This will prompt them to think deeper and analyse the text, to see and infer deeper meaning in the text. To find someone suitable to bring out this potential in students, you can click here to find out more

Tip #8: Pick up a book!

English is a test of language proficiency and understanding. Reading improves Comprehension skills and enhances students’ English fluency and competency level. Although, it is important to note that reading should not be viewed as something that needs to be done as a chore. 

Improve English Comprehension skills

Improve your comprehension skills by reading your favourite book!

To improve one’s proficiency is through practice and the best way is to at least have fun with it! As such, choose a book of your liking regardless of genre, find a quiet place and settle down for 30 mins to 1 hour day to read. By doing so, students can gain background knowledge, allowing them to understand better the contexts in which difficult/unfamiliar words are being used. It also bolsters their understanding and comprehension skills.

If not books, newspapers are also an excellent platform for students to enrich their vocabulary and learn about current affairs. The Straits Times reaches out to adolescent readers by publishing “IN”, a weekly magazine and similarly, “Little Red Dot”, for primary school children. Aside from English language literacy programs, values education, and critical thinking, the magazines often concentrate on content that appeals to millennial audiences. They have also come up with a news portal for students, “NewsEd” to keep their finger on the pulse on current affairs and think objectively about what they read. 

While reading, students can also apply the tips mentioned earlier, such as annotating and summarising the main concepts and plots of the story!

Conclusion – Consider engaging an English tutor

Understanding anything is described as ‘comprehension.’ The ability to read long passages, comprehend profoundly, and articulate our thoughts correctly in written words is necessary for progressing to a higher degree of intellect. Students will also enjoy books and the secret meanings of certain words and phrases if they have strong comprehension skills. After all, reading a novel is pointless if one does not understand its meaning.

MindFlex strives to help students in reaching their full academic potential as well as denaturing interest in English. Consider engaging an English Home Tutor (click here for the different tutor types available). Our private home tutors are well trained and will undoubtedly have the guidance your child requires and impart the above tips and skills to him for them to succeed.

Our tutors will not only be able to offer subject clarification each week, but they will also be able to work together with your child to make customised topical notes and set the occasional quizzes to ensure that your child does not fall behind. Please don’t wait till it’s too late! Having a catered teaching plan for your child each lesson, our dedicated tutors will ensure that they impart their knowledge in scoring A grades for PSLE, N & O Level English English Comprehension! 

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