Here are my humble answers to some key concerns raised by you (whether intentionally or through your work) about the much lauded application question.
1. I don’t have enough time to write the AQ!
That’s because you are artificially segmenting the AQ as the last ’30min section’ of your comprehension paper. I would argue that the AQ is actually a 90min paper where doing questions one to nine primes you and gives you ready-to-use text arguments to analyze for that last half an hour. Read the AQ first, attempt the short answers and summary, then come back to the AQ. If all else fails, check your writing speed.
2. Why can’t I ever score beyond 2 or 3 marks?
Two words: Question Requirements. Failing to address any of the stipulated requirements is your ticket to AQ slum. Do yourself a favor and label the requirements as R1, R2, R3 and so on and make sure that your evaluation and substantiation address all the requirements explicitly. For instance:
In this article Patricia O’Sullivan describes some current issues around the subject of food. How applicable do you find her observations to yourself (R1) and your own society (R2) ?
Note: Many of you tried to ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with the text when the question is asking about applicability (Is the same thing happening in your society? Should your society then adopt/apply the author’s recommendations, if any) to Singapore. Also, many failed to refer to personal experience (R1) for this AQ.
Anna Banatvala thinks an understanding of history is essential, whereas Lee Min Yen thinks history has no value. How important is an understanding of history for you (R1) and your society (R2), and how far has your view been challenged or confirmed (R3) by these two passages?
Note: Many of you again tried to ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with the text when the question is asking about how your opinion on the value of understanding history and how this is confirmed or challenged by the passages. Also, many failed to refer to ‘your society’ (R2) for this AQ.
3. How do I select points to use?
Basically, the points must be ideas and/or arguments that ideally support the author’s overall thesis, and not random detail. A good place to start could be the summary. It is imperative that you know what the author’s overall argument (if there is one) so you pick out clear points that support it. For instance,
Passage A highlights that too much weight is given to our fears, while Passage B claims that society would benefit if it was more fearful. Drawing from your own experiences and knowledge (R1), which view is more applicable to your society (R2)…
Many interpreted the texts as being broadly ‘fear is good vs. fear is bad’ contrasts. No they weren’t. Passage B’s argument that society needed to fear more was based on the observation that society was too optimistic. Many did not catch that and therefore picked points and interpreted them in a slightly incorrect light.
4. How do I actually evaluate an author’s point then? Why do you keep saying I restate/rehash text ideas?
The main evaluation is where you go on to address the main question requirements after mentioning the author’s point. I highly advise you to reuse the words in the question to help you frame the evaluation.
Q: Who are you more in sympathy with, Who do you agree with more? Who is more convincing?
A: I am more in sympathy with / agree with / more convinced by because…
Q: Whose view is more reflective of / applicable to / relevant to your society?
A: I find Passage 1’s view reflective / applicable / relevant to my society given how…
So how do you make your evaluation ‘original’ so to speak? How do you provide original reasoning to tell me WHY your evaluation is true? There are two main ways: (1) Logic and (2) Relevance of context.
You can evaluate based on general logic and reasoning for questions that only ask you who is more convincing without reference to any specific context. For questions that do call you to evaluate the applicability or relevance of the text ideas based on your society / your generation (there are more common), argument by relevance/context is the best way. How do you do that?
Couch your evaluation in the traits of your society (or whatever context is specified). I’ve suggested in class that a helpful of doing is simply adding in the tag phrase “given how my society is…” . For instance,
Banatvala points out how history has value as it helps us to “learn from mistakes”. I feel that an understanding of history is important for my society. Given how Singapore is a fairly young and inexperienced country, learning from the mistakes and obstacles of similar nation states before us is essential for helping us progress in an informed and cautious manner. Thus, Banatvala’s view confirms my assessment of history’s value for my society.
The ‘given how…’ tag will help to ensure that your reasoning is not a mere rehash or restatement of the very same generic reasons stated in the passage. You could try to list down broad characteristics of your society or your generation on the comprehension question paper before writing the AQ (E.g. Given how Singapore is small, vulnerable, multiracial, cosmopolitan, pragmatic, young, secular, fairly developed, knowledge economy etc.). Do note that the tag ‘given how…’ does not automatically make your reasoning original. A fair bit of accompanying explanation is also needed to make it thorough and sensible.
4. Mr. Foo, do I have to address all the requirements in one point?
You could. By one point I simply mean that you should try to address all the requirements based on one passage point. This is a purely practical tactic to help make it easier for you to handle the flow and coherence of discussion.
For example, based on O’Sullivan’s observation that food has religious significance, I will evaluate how food has religious significance on a societal level before then discussing about how it also applies to my family and I.
4. Mr. Foo, how do I come up with examples!
Conjuring up examples really isn’t rocket science. Yes, a good grasp of the trends and events of your society will be great help but even if you can’t cite statistics or reports that is not a problem. For example, if you simply want to provide examples to illustrate the popularity of fast food, you don’t need to cite reports or statistics to prove that. Simply citing its ubiquity in malls and shopping areas (and maybe throwing in a few restaurant names and how they are fairly crowded at all times of the day) is evidence of its high demand. In other words, you can provide observations of trends, incidents and events and make reasonable generalizations and inferences from them to support your evaluation.
Remember to provide a range though, and provide relevant details and explanations.
5. Mr. Foo, I can write a decent argument, but how do I achieve balance?
For a single passage, you can show balance by not completely ‘supporting’ the passage. For example, you can provide two to three points that find O’Sullivan’s views applicable, and maybe one point where it is not so applicable.
For a double passage, referring to both passages is already somewhat indicative of balance. If the passages are opposing, supporting one passage and refuting the other would make for a coherent stand. If the passages are not opposing but just discussing different aspects of the same topic, you can support both or support one/not support the other etc.
Feel free to try and tackle both passages in one paragraph ONLY if you think you can find a common point of contention between the two. If not, just tackle one idea from each passage in separate paragraphs.