Helpful hints for comprehension

WE ARE now leaving Paper I behind. The next three lessons will focus on Paper II which is allocated 75 marks.  

Section A is completely objective and you should have no problems scoring the full 15 marks.  

Section B involves some writing, so you may lose marks through carelessness. Let me briefly remind you of the pitfalls to avoid in this section.  

Section C is a test on reading comprehension and summary, and is allocated 25 marks.  

Section D is the Literature in Language component which earns another 25 marks.  

However, the next three lessons will focus on areas where there are elements of writing involved and marking is subjective. Let us begin with Sections B and C. 


Section B: Information transfer 


The same tips, as for all examinations, apply.  

  • Read the question carefully. Determine what is required, and how many. 

    For example: “Name the place of interest that the following people should visit.” 

    Answer: Place. 

    Number of answers: One. 

  • Give only short answers as mentioned in the instructions – you do not need to write complete sentences.  

    For example: In which part of the Batu Caves are the Hindu legends displayed? 

    Answer: At the foothills 

  • Give only what is asked – not more, not less. 

    Question: Kevin is an architect visiting Malaysia. He is interested in the designs of buildings. 


    a. Mini Malaysia. (Correct.) 

    b. The traditional houses at Mini Malaysia represent the architectural styles of all the states of Malaysia. (Incorrect.) 

  • Check the spelling of all content selected from the stimulus. 

    If it is a proper noun, is the capital letter in place?  

    For example, Mini Malaysia. 

  • Is it a hyphenated word as given in the stimulus?  

    For example, a rock-filled hydro-electric dam; a colonial-style building. 

  • Lift from the stimulus 

    This is a reading test which requires you to transfer relevant information; there is no necessity to rewrite the information in your own words. 


    Section C: Reading comprehension 


    The passage to be read requires the student to do two tasks: 

    a. Answer comprehension questions – Questions 26 to 30. 

    b. Summary – Question 31. 

    For questions 26 to 30: 

    The length of the passage varies between 600 and 700 words. 

    There are five main questions with possible sub-sections. 

    Each answer usually merits only one mark. A one-mark answer would not usually require more than a one-line answer. 


    How to score in your reading:  

    (This section refers to the text found in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia 2004 English Language examination paper; the text is not included as the tips are self explanatory and do not require you to refer directly to it).  


    1. Signpost your reading 

    As with any reading comprehension test, you would need to read the passage at least twice to get a general understanding of what is going on in the text.  

    If you find that after one paragraph, the language is too difficult for you to grasp the meaning, look at the questions:  

  • Questions are constructed to suit the purpose of the text. So if we ask ourselves “Why did the writer write this passage?”, the answer is quite obvious.  

    The reader is meant to appreciate Mokhtar’s difficult life and hopefully draw inspiration from his success.  

  • Questions on the development of the content and ideas always follow the sequence of the passage. You will not get a question for paragraph six before paragraph five unless it is a question on the main idea or vocabulary. 

  • As this is a narrative written in chronological order, do look out for connectives and adverbial phrases of time to help you understand the development of the story.  

    For example: 

    After leaving school... 

    Not long after that... 


    During this time... 

    In the 1980s... 

    Then... etc. 

  • If questions are based on cause and effect, look for linguistic signals and makers to alert you to the answer, for example, so, because, as a result, therefore, etc. 


    2. Strategise  

    Train yourself so that you know where to look for your answers. Of course, the question itself is a great help because it can help to identify the paragraph which contains the answer.  

    However, you may spend precious minutes wondering whether the answer is directly in one line in the paragraph, or whether it comes from a number of lines and you need to extract this for your answer. 

    The questions asked are usually pitched at four levels: 

  • Literal: Right there in the text. 

  • Inference: Think and search for answers in the text. 

  • Evaluation: What you think and what the writer means to say. 

  • Appreciation: On your own – answer is not in the text. 

    If you analyse the 2004 question paper, you will note that questions 26 to 29 are all of the first level – the answers are right there and you can probably lift them off the text. 

    Questions 30(a) and (b) require candidates to think and search although the search is limited to the paragraph identified in the instructions. However, a favourite type of question is the one on main ideas. This type of question requires the candidate to infer as well as to evaluate and the answer will not come from one or two lines.  

    An example is: “Suggest a suitable title for the passage”.  

    However, the good news is, the questions are rather easy and there is no reason not to score. 

    3. Use language from the text 

    Since this is a test on reading skills, you are not required to display your writing skills unless specifically asked to do so.  

    So if you think your answer is readily contained in a word, phrase or sentence in the passage, you can “lift” that content and use it as your answer.  

    My advice is, if you have not been asked to write in your own words, then don’t!  

    You only risk losing marks.  

    Why do it? 

  • If there are too many grammatical mistakes in your answer, the meaning may be changed.  

    For example:  

    Question 26(b): From paragraph three, what did Mokhtar do as a gardener?  

    Candidate’s answer: He was cut by the lawn for keeping tidy. (Incorrect.) 

    (The lawn has cut Mokhtar so that he is tidy).  

    Correct answer: He kept a rich man’s lawn neat and tidy. (Correct).  

  • When using your own words, you may unintentionally change the meaning, thereby giving a wrong answer. 

    For example:  

    SPM 2004, question 26(b): From paragraph three, what did Mokhtar do as a gardener?  

    Candidate’s answer:  

    He cut the grass so that the garden is clean. (Incorrect.)  

    (“Clean” is not the same as “neat and tidy”). 

    Correct answer: kept a rich man’s lawn neat and tidy. (Correct.)  

  • Sometimes, you may need to change the grammar/words given in the passage to suit your answer.  

    However, if you are not confident about doing this, then don’t.  

    It is safer to lift only those words or that sentence where the answer comes from. 

    For example: 

    2004, question 26(b): From paragraph three, what did Mokhtar do as a gardener? 

    Correct answer:  

    kept a rich man’s lawn neat and tidy. (Correct.)  

    Other possibilities:  

    keeping a rich man’s lawn neat and tidy. (Correct.)  

    Later, he was employed as a gardener keeping a rich man’s lawn neat and tidy. (Correct.)  


    4. Read instructions carefully 


    For example: 

    2004, question 28: From paragraph five, which word has the same meaning as the word sell

    Candidate’s answer: to market them. (Incorrect.) 

    Correct answer: market. (Correct.)       Comment: The question asked for only one word. 

    For example: 

    2004, question 30(b):  

    From paragraph nine, Mokhtar said that the years of hard work and the sacrifices he made for his family had paid off.  

    Do you agree with him?  

    Give a reason using your own words. 

    Candidate’s answer:  

    No. He is proud of his children’s success in their careers. (Incorrect.)        

    Comment: The answer does not support the choice/stand made.        

    Candidate’s answer:  

    Yes. He takes pride in his children. One is a lecturer; another, a development project consultant; the third, a secretary and the youngest, a bank employee. (Incorrect.)  

    Comment: The answer in not in the candidate’s own words, it is lifted from the passage. 


  • Next week, I will include a reading passage so that you can practise your reading strategy as well as your summary writing skills.

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