Essay Skills Digest 1/11/11

Do give Ms. De Souza blog a visit and take a look at the really helpful entries concerning choosing the right question and the analysis of the different essay question types appearing the past year papers.

Two key criteria that are fundamental for choosing a question are (1) content/issue knowledge and (2) understanding of question angle (i.e. nuance of terms, value words and so on)

For (1), if you can’t list off-hand what are at least two or three broad issues why people are asking this question in the world today, then don’t do it. For (2), make sure you can understand and handle the approach required, considering the value words etc.

Here are some brief notes from my consultations over the past few days or so.

1. Dealing with ‘important’, ‘useful’, ‘necessary’ etc.

Many students are still not giving in-depth explanations for their points. The key elements must be addressed: (1) the peculiar traits of the subject being discussed and (2) the traits and needs of the context 

For instance, if I’m going to say movies are fun and yet educational, I will consider

(1) Peculiar traits of the movie as a medium: Roughly 2 hours long, fairly accessible, visually engaging, dramatized 
(2) Needs of the context and audience: Increasingly educated and aware,  living in a media-saturated world, hectic pace of life makes books and learning media less appealing, increasingly visual learners

Considering (1) and (2) will then give me good reason to speculate why movie producers produce such movies (e.g. documentary films) and there is an audience for them–thus reflecting how movies precisely serve this need of society.

2. Dealing with paragraph structure and evaluation

If you really want to show depth of thought and balance, all your arguments should contain some level of evaluation. Where it occurs really doesn’t matter as long as your paragraph is coherent.  Remember how I suggested that all your essay points should be tension areas?

BUT (sigh), if you really want some kind of template, the common ones I’ve seen are:

A. The 2 paragraph per point model: (Point-Explanation-Examples-Link) + (Opposing view-Rebuttal-Explanation-Examples-Link)

B. The counter argument as topic sentence model: Opposing view-Rebuttal-Explanation-Examples-Link

C. The PEEEEL model: Point-Explanation-Examples-Evaluation-Examples-Link

3. Dealing with context

You can basically assume that the context for any essay (unless specified otherwise) is the modern world. Too many of you are writing in complete vacuums and your arguments sound too hypothetical/generic/theoretical/brochure-like.

Look at this post for incorporating context in your explanations.

So get clear about the broad trends in the modern world, similar to how you need to get very acquainted with broad trends and traits of Singapore for a Singapore question or AQ.

Some key global trends: media-saturation, liberalization, political/social/economic interdependence and interconnectedness, secularization, increasing use of science and technology, relativism (especially moral and cultural), individualism, consumerism, democratization, capitalism and trade, welfare states, environmentalism, diversification of work, increasing emphasis on knowledge economy etc.

Some key traits of Singapore: multi-racial/cultural/language, ‘kiasu’ (scared to lose), competitive, conservative yet liberal, traditional yet ‘western’, afraid of failure, collective mindset, educated, vulnerable, densely populated, foreign immigrants, business friendly environment, high income disparity, largely educated, focus on maths and science (increasingly arts), large tourism and service sector, communitarian democracy, human rights issues (capital punishment, ISA, assembly, media freedom), increasing green focus, campaign fatigue, high cost of living, low on happiness index, ageing population, not really welfare/work-fare mentality etc.

Basically, the key is knowing how you can strategically employ the use of global/local contexts to help provide the conditions that help a certain relationship (i.e. A causing or correlating to B) to exist. The revolutions in the Arab Spring were not solely the work of a few activists, but they operated under certain conditions (e.g. connected society, democratic ideals from the west). Similarly, explaining posters to discourage littering may not work in Singapore need to consider a campaign-fatigued society and fairly large foreign immigrant population unfamiliar with local languages and cultural norms.

OK that’s it I’m tired. More tomorrow! 

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