July 13, 2024


Education, What Else?

GCE ‘O’ Level English Paper 1 Tips – Continuous Writing

6 min read
GCE ‘O’ Level English Paper 1 Tips – Continuous Writing

Are you preparing for your upcoming GCE O Level English Paper 1 Writing Exam?

We have Teacher Daniel with us, who will be giving us a few insider tips from his experience as an ex-MOE teacher.

If you want to increase your chances of getting good marks, do read on!


GCE O Level English Paper 1 – Continuous Writing Assessment Content

There are usually 4 questions for the candidate to choose from. The candidate only needs to do one of them. The number of words for continuous writing is between 350 and 500 words.

The 4 questions’ topics are usually set from the following text types :

  • Descriptive 
  • Personal Recount (very rare nowadays)
  • Exposition / Argumentative : One-sided 
  • Exposition / Argumentative : Multi-sided

There are no more Single-word topics – which was part of the previous 1127 syllabus.


Assessment Criteria

The marks for Free Writing are awarded, based on the following assessment criteria :

  • Accuracy of language in terms of sentence structure, grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Appropriate use of varied vocabulary
  • Clarity of expression and organisation
  • Relevance of content
  • Appropriateness of register and tone

There are 8 bands of marks, Band 1 is the highest band while Band 8 is the lowest band.

The marks range for Band 1 is between 27 to 30 marks.

Just a side-note, in my 16 years of teaching, I have only encountered less than a handful of students whom we teachers had awarded this Band 1 mark range. Most of our best local students tend to achieve Band 2 mark range. i.e. 23 to 26 marks out of 30, which is an A1 already.


Tips to score well in English Paper 1 – Continuous Writing:

In order to do well in Continuous Writing, a candidate needs to demonstrate proficiency in :

  1. Content 
  2. Grammar 
  3. Sentence Structure 
  4. Vocabulary 

(a) Content:

The Content has to be Relevant to the topic. For example, if the topic is asking the candidate to “describe the sights and sounds of a shopping mall” [GCE O Level 2021 December Paper], the candidate should not write about Orchard Road, that would not be relevant, even though Orchard Road has a lot of shopping malls. 

Another example of irrelevance is, for the same topic as above, the candidate should not just focus to write on a single shop inside a shopping mall as the topic requires candidates to talk about, in general, the sights and sounds of a single shopping mall, not just a shop inside a shopping mall.

A final example of irrelevance which commonly occurs when, using the same topic, a candidate turns the Descriptive Writing into a Personal Recount, for example, instead of focusing on the sights and sounds of a shopping mall, the candidate writes about her own shopping experience inside the shopping mall – what she bought, ate and drank, and so on while shopping inside the mall. This would be irrelevant and therefore considered “out-of-point”.

The next tip on Content is Planning and Organization. During an examination, too many students succumb to peer pressure.

When the examiner announces “you may begin now”, many students will begin to write as they see their classmates have already started writing. So they may feel pressurized to begin writing too. This is a wrong strategy!

A candidate should resist the urge to start writing but should plan his writing first. This is something that no one can remind a candidate to take note of in the exam. He/She should have the self-discipline to plan the writing first, otherwise halfway through the writing, the candidate may run out of ideas for content or the later part of his writing may not sound coherent with the earlier part of his writing. Then the candidate would lose marks.

Hence, planning and organization are something that many candidates dismiss as not important but ironically they are the most important thing before writing a composition.

So how do you plan? Schools would have already taught students how to plan their writing. It is not the intention of this article to show how a candidate can plan. This topic will be reserved in my English course if you are keen.

(b) Grammar:

Needless to say, by now, after ten years of formal education, with four years in secondary education, a candidate is expected to have some mastery of English grammar already.

He/She may have forgotten what a Noun or a Verb is but he/she should be able to construct a grammatically sound sentence. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for many students. When it comes to grammar, accuracy is key. For example, “Two years ago, this computer cost $4,000.” but some students will write “costed” which is incorrect in English. 

Similarly, some students will still mistakenly think that “alot” or “infront of” are grammatically correct when “a lot” and “in front of” are the actual grammatically correct forms. Hence, from these examples, a candidate needs to know his English grammar foundation very well if he/she ever hopes to achieve a Band 1 or 2 mark.

Although English grammar covers many topics, the topics are not something a candidate is unfamiliar with. Every year, the same English grammar concepts are revisited in their teaching curriculum over their ten years of formal education.

Granted that there are some English grammar concepts which are more difficult than others (for example, Subject-Verb-Agreement compared with Conjunctions), there are ways for a candidate to improve his / her grammar : Speaking, Reading, Listening, Viewing and Writing.

Hence, my advice is for students to keep a personal journal/diary and write daily, as well as develop the habit of Reading. 

Through Reading, students subconsciously learn the grammatical structures of sentences and become familiar with them, hence they are less likely to create ungrammatical sentences in their own writing.

Through Viewing news on the television, with subtitles, students also learn the grammatical structures.

Through Listening to other people speaking or podcasts, or BBC radio, the same effect applies too.

Hence, it is really up to the student’s own effort to improve his / her own grammar. 

(c) Sentence Structure:

It is not just sufficient to write grammatically correct sentences; in order to achieve high marks, a candidate needs to show his ability to vary sentence structures for clarity, expression and purpose/effect. What do I mean by these? 

For example, let’s compare the following sentences :

  1. She cried after hearing the news.
  2. Tears welled up inside her eyes as they began to stream down her rosy cheeks.

Both sentences mean the same thing but I am sure most would agree that sentence (ii) achieves a better, if not, more dramatic effect, right?

Most schools, unfortunately, do not have the luxury of time to teach students to write in the style of sentence (ii) and it is understandable – teachers need to cover curriculum, set and mark assignments and test papers within a certain fixed time frame.

Hence, for students to acquire and learn such techniques, most of them would go for enrichment classes outside schools. A cheaper alternative is to borrow books from the library to read.

Through Reading, students subconsciously learn the styles and techniques of the authors (e.g. Stephen King, Sarah J Maas, George Martin etc) how the author uses foreshadowing, humour, other literary devices among dozens of other techniques to grip a reader to their books. Students can therefore learn a lot through Reading to improve their own Writing.


(d) Vocabulary:

Appropriate use of varied vocabulary means Choice of Vocabulary must be Precise. Consider the following sentences as an example:

      (i) John ate his dinner quickly and hungrily.

      (ii)John wolfed down his dinner within minutes.

Again both sentences similarly describe the way John ate his dinner but sentence (ii) uses the Phrasal Verb “wolfed down” to give a more vivid and clearer picture (Imagery) of the way John ate.

Vocabulary can be improved (but not limited) through the following methods :

  1. Choice of words
  2. Use of literary devices 
  3. Use of stylistic devices
  4. Specific Denotations / Connotations 
  5. Degree / Strength of words



While it may not be possible to achieve a full 30/30 marks for continuous writing, unlike other content-based subjects like Maths and Sciences, it is possible to practice and harness the skills needed to become an accomplished writer.

Hopefully, the tips that i have shared can help you to tackle your upcoming  O-level English Paper 1 examination with confidence!

For more detailed information about the GCE O Level English Paper – Visit the official MOE website




Teacher daniel has opened up an online LIVE 1:1 session for students who need help for their upcoming 2022 O/N Level Exams.



Other articles by Teacher Daniel that might be of your interest.

Oral Exam Tips for O-Level Students in year 2022

Oral Exam Tips For Parents




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