HKDSE 2019: Exam tips from an expert for English language Paper 2: Writing

By Ben Pang

SKH All Saints’ Middle School’s English Panel Chair shares advice for the exam which counts for a quarter of your total English score

By Ben Pang |

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Some DSE candidates last year were not happy with their results in English because they didn’t get what they expected. If you’re worried that will be you this year, fear not. Young Post spoke to an expert – Danny Poon, English Panel Chairperson of SKH All Saints’ Middle School and a guest speaker in several DSE seminars – on how to better prepare for Paper 2 Writing of the DSE English exam, which makes up 25 per cent of your overall grade.

Paper 2 has two parts. Part A is a compulsory question which asks students to write 200 words in the form of a speech, letter to the editor, or article.

Poon tells Young Post that last year’s Part A came as a surprise as it required students to write a letter to their parents informing them of a school trip to Sky 100. This text type had not been seen in previous writing papers.

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“Writing a formal, factual, informative, and polite letter to parents would’ve been challenging if they weren’t careful about their own roles and target audience,” says Poon.

Poon advises students to be careful with the language they use, and to make sure they know the difference between formal and informal writing.

So how else can one prepare  for this year’s Part A of Paper 2? Poon says he has noticed a trend towards more questions relating to students’ school life experiences.  He recommends students also take note of school notices, bulletin boards, and parents’ letters.

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“There is no denying students are familiar with text types like speeches, letter to the editor and articles. But last year’s Paper 2’s Part A was very tricky as it tested students’ ability to be aware of their daily experiences and apply them to their writing tasks. They should read more of the materials typically seen in school, and be familiar with their word choice, sentence patterns, register, tone and style,” he says.

In Part B, students have to select one of eight questions to answer, and have to write at least 400 words.

Questions 2 and 9 in last year’s paper were particularly tricky. Question 2 required students to write a blog recounting their experiences in the Hong Kong Marathon and encourage others to take part.

This question could have been particularly challenging, Poon says, as most students didn’t have much experience of this sport. But they needed to imagine they were marathon runners and write about it anyway.

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He adds the question was not really asking students to write a creative story, so they should not have focused on plot development or characterisation. 

“Students should’ve briefly talked about what happened, such as having a cramp or getting hurt, and elaborated on how they managed to complete the race. Examiners would be impressed with what students learned from the Hong Kong Marathon – the ability to face adversity and persevere to accomplish their goal.”

Question 9 was challenging because it asked students to write a story from the perspective of a pet bird whose cage door was left open.

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“You would’ve needed to write with a lot of imagination but some candidates failed to do so,” Poon says. “And a sublime descriptive story rests upon the students’  ability to write in a subtle way.”

To do so, use these techniques. First, describe the five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Second, it’s best to write in the first person when you are crafting a narrative as it helps you express the character’s personal thoughts.

Instead of writing “It was a sunny day”, try something like, “I was flying high in the deep blue sky and there were no clouds in sight,” says Poon. “The latter sentence paints a picture which tells you a lot more.”

Students are also advised to try to convey a powerful message through their stories.

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“Rather than narrating the stories, students were tested if they could create a beautifully crafted story which gave examiners some thought-provoking messages,” Poon says.

Another reminder for Part B is to make sure your writing flows well.

Examiners are unlikely to be impressed with your work if the transitions between paragraphs aren’t smooth, Poon says. “Try not to start a completely new idea using stock expressions like ‘moreover’, ‘furthermore’, or ‘besides’.”