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O Level Chinese Singapore – The Full Guide to O Level Chinese

One of the subjects students tend to struggle most with at O Levels is Mother Tongue, most noticeably Chinese. This is due to the simple fact that many families speak English at home, providing students with limited opportunities to improve their language skills organically.

However, the O level Chinese paper does not have to be an intimidating foe.

When you put in sufficient hours of practice each day and are committed to improving your linguistic skills outside the classroom, you can be sure of being well-prepared for the final hurdle.

One way you can build up a stronger foundation is by engaging Secondary school tutors who specialise in Chinese.

At school, your teacher may not be able to give you the individualised attention you require due to the large class sizes. When you engage a tutor to conduct one-on-one sessions with you or even in a smaller group, you can be sure that they are familiar with the latest MOE syllabus and have the relevant experience to help you achieve the grades you want!


The Importance of O Level Chinese

chinese exam

In Singapore, students receive a bilingual education in English and their Mother Tongue. In the case of Chinese, the world’s most spoken language, gaining proficiency comes with many more benefits besides scoring well in O Levels. For one thing, it can open up more doors at the higher education level as well as in later life, when students eventually enter the workforce. This is not to mention the larger range of media and reading material that students will be able to peruse for their own enjoyment and education.

Just like with any other language, becoming proficient in Chinese is a long journey. Starting from primary school, students will need to build a strong foundation before progressing to more advanced linguistic skills at the secondary level. The O Level Chinese paper aims to test that through a few different components: from Oral and Listening Comprehension to the Essay and Comprehension component. It also differs from the other O Level subjects in that students can opt for a second attempt at the end of the year if they are unhappy with their results at the first attempt, which takes place around midyear. However, this isn’t an ideal situation as students will have less time to focus on revision for their other subjects.

To maximise the chances of you or your child getting their desired grade at the first round, engaging an experienced Chinese Language tutor will go a long way, and here is where Tutor City can help you out!


Components of the O Level Chinese Paper

There are three main components to the O Level Chinese Paper, and they each set out to achieve a different objective as stated below:

Paper 1: Writing (写作)
The purpose of Paper 1 is to test students’ abilities to communicate in a clear, concise and effective manner. Being able to express an opinion and provide examples with which to back it up are crucial skills that will be required here. Students will also need to familiarise themselves with a few different writing formats, from letters to emails.

Paper 2: Comprehension (语文理解与应用)
One important skill students will need to possess to ace Paper 2 is that of reading comprehension. After understanding what the text is trying to convey, they will then be tested on their ability to make inferences and apply their critical thinking skills in the answering of various questions. Their answers must also demonstrate an ability to apply the proper grammar, vocabulary terms and punctuation marks.

Paper 3: Oral and Listening Comprehension (口试 / 听力理解)
Besides the ability to read and write, a large part of language proficiency is being able to listen and communicate well. Here is where Paper 3 comes in. Students will be required to watch a video and engage in a conversation with their examiner. This will test their skills when it comes to developing an opinion on a subject and knowing how to express it in a clear, coherent manner. However, being clear and articulate won’t be enough; students have to make sure that the ideas they express are relevant, well thought out and backed up by examples.  


Paper 1: Writing (写作), 2 hours, 60 marks

Part 1: Functional Writing (实用文)

Students will have the choice between two questions: one that entails writing a more formal report and the other a casual correspondence with an acquaintance or family member. A minimum word count of 150 is expected, and students will also have to pay attention to the formatting.

Part 2: Essay Writing (作文)

Here, students can take their pick from three questions, with an expected word count of 300 and above. The questions will typically cover a range of narrative, argumentative and situational essays. Regardless of which question has been chosen, students will need to demonstrate their ability to utilise the relevant vocabulary terms and sentence structures as well as adopt a tone that matches the intended audience. 

Tips for Scoring Well in Paper 1

One big reason students struggle with Paper 1 is due to the open-endedness of essay questions. Students who struggle with developing an opinion and presenting an argument can find it particularly challenging. On top of that, they will need to possess the necessary language skills to come up with a well-written essay. Time management can also be a problem here as some students find that they struggle to complete their essays on time.

Below are some tips and tricks to help you score well in Paper 1:

- Read model essays: The best way to get an idea of what’s expected of you is to read a variety of model essays. Chances are, your teacher has already gone through some in class, and you can find more in assessment books or with the help of your tutor.

- Practice: Simply reading will not be enough. The only way to get better at writing is to start practicing more. Admittedly, this can be tough if you do not have someone experienced to give you feedback for every essay you write. If your teacher doesn’t have the time to do that for you, consider hiring a tutor who can give you the individualised attention you need.


Paper 2: Comprehension (语文理解与应用), 1.5 hours, 70 marks

Section A: Fill In The Blanks (综合填空)

Students will be given a passage to read, with several blank spaces interspersed throughout. From here, they will have to come up with the most suitable word or phrase to fill in the blank.

Section B: Comprehension (阅读理解一)

The passages provided in this section can be anything from news articles and reports to flyers and advertisements. After perusing the content thoroughly, students will be required to answer a series of questions.

Section C: Comprehension 2 (阅读理解二)

Just like Section B, students can expect to find two to three essays in this section and answer questions according to the content.


How to Score Well in Paper 2

The only trick for doing well in Paper 2 is consistent practice. First of all, students need to have a sufficient vocabulary bank to understand the words and phrases they are likely to come across. This will aid in the comprehension of any passages and essays provided. The next step is to become proficient at picking out the right information to answer questions and being able to phrase these answers coherently. The best way to get better is to practice with past-year papers and assessment books, preferably under the same time condition that would be present at O Levels.


Paper 3: Oral & Listening Comprehension (口试 / 听力理解), 45 minutes, 70 marks

Part 1: Oral (口试)

  • Reading Aloud (朗读短文)

The purpose of this section is to test students’ abilities to communicate clearly and fluently in Chinese. The provided passage can be a short news report, announcement, speech or narrative. Students are expected to vary their tone according to the context and they will be assessed based on their fluency and accuracy of pronunciation.

  •  Spoken Interaction (会话)

Students will be provided with a visual stimulus in the form of a picture. They will then be required to engage in a conversation with the examiner around the main topic of discussion depicted in the picture. Students are expected to provide an opinion on the topic and back it up with examples, whether from their own experiences or reports they have heard from other outlets, such as the news. Students will also be graded based on their accurate use of grammar and vocabulary, fluency and their ability to keep the conversation going.

Improving Oral Communication

It comes as no surprise that Oral is the component many students struggle most with. This is especially true if they do not speak Chinese at home, which can result in difficulty recognising and pronouncing certain words. On top of that, they may have trouble coming up with something substantial to say about the topic within the short time they have to prepare. That’s why it’s crucial for any weaknesses to be identified and rectified early through lots of practice.

If family members are unable to practice with you because they do not speak Chinese well themselves, it is recommended that students seek out classmates and tutors to practice with. A tutor would be the best option as they would know what examiners are looking out for and be able to provide tips on how to improve. Another important thing to take note of is the limited time you will have during the oral examination.

Part 2: Listening Comprehension (听力理解)

For this component of the O Level Chinese paper, students will listen to three short dialogues followed by three longer passages. From there, they will have to answer a total of ten MCQs. The recordings can include any combination of casual daily conversations, announcements, news reports and more.


Tips for Acing Listening Comprehension

Some students make the mistake of overlooking the Listening Comprehension component of the paper as it only accounts for 20 marks. However, these 20 marks can be valuable in pulling up your overall score. Unlike Comprehension passages in Paper 2, which can be read over and over again to extract the right answer, students need to listen attentively and pick the most suitable answer within a short time. The key here is learning how to identify subtle differences between two options that may seem really close at first glance.

Carrying out regular practice can help students to improve their listening and analytical skills, which will put them in good stead to pick out the correct answers at the final hurdle.


Top Tips and Recommendations

reading materials

Make Speaking, Reading and Writing a Regular Practice

As with every other subject, trying to cram everything at the last minute will not work. Students who wish to score well at O Level Chinese will have to start preparing early. This includes speaking, reading and writing in Chinese as often as possible. By doing practice papers and engaging in conversation with a tutor, students can improve their linguistic skills over time. This can also be achieved by doing practice papers regularly and keeping up with local and international news via Chinese media outlets. Why not start with listening to news reports in Chinese at your own pace?

While reading and writing more will definitely be advantageous, students should also grasp as many opportunities as possible to speak in Chinese. Whether that is with friends, family members or even a tutor, the only way to get better at pronunciation and articulating ideas verbally is to speak more often – there’s simply no shortcut around it!


Practice Under Timed Conditions

When first starting out, students may choose to complete practice papers in their own time, especially if they are only able to snatch a few minutes here and there in between other commitments. However, the only way to know whether they will perform well when the final hurdle rolls around is to carry out timed practices. Even if a student has all the necessary skills to score good marks, this will not matter if they are struggling to complete the paper on time. As such, simulating actual exam conditions will come in really helpful. This will allow students to work under a certain level of pressure and improve their speed if necessary, which will prepare them well to take on O Level Chinese when the time comes!


Adopt Strategies that Will Help

If you are feeling particularly nervous about a certain paper in O Level Chinese, have you learned of any useful strategies from your seniors, peers or teachers? For instance, have you tried highlighting any key words or phrases while reading Comprehension passages? Do you take the time to plan out an essay outline before going straight in and starting to write? Have you thought about keeping a notebook of useful vocabulary words and phrases?

If you don’t already make use of any of these strategies, give them a try and you just may find them beneficial! You can also pick the brains of seniors and classmates to find out if they have any useful strategies to share with you.


Tap On Resources Available to You


Besides the past year papers and assessment books provided by your school and which you can purchase from bookshops, there are a wide range of resources available to you. For instance, you can try asking seniors for model essays, borrow books from the library or listen to a Chinese radio channel.

If what you struggle most with is listening and speaking instead of reading and writing, you may find that that doing practice papers again and again may not be that useful to you.

When considering what you can do to improve your grades, think about your areas of weakness and start working from there!


Engage Additional Support

Sometimes, it can be the case that no matter how much time you dedicate to revision or how many practice papers you do, you still aren’t seeing the improvement you want to see. This can be because you have no one to provide you with feedback after you have completed these practices. Here is where you should look into engaging additional support.

You have two main options: signing up for classes a tuition centre or hiring a private tutor to give you one-on-one sessions. Depending on your needs and learning style, one option may be better for you than the other, and we will share with you more about how to determine which will work best for you below.


Choosing the Right Tutor or Tuition Centre for Your Needs

Every student wants to do well for their O Level Chinese paper, but each student may have different weaknesses that need addressing. When looking to engage a tutor or tuition centre, it can help to get recommendations from peers, but that’s not all you need to consider as your classmates can have different strengths and areas of weakness from you.

Let’s take a look at some other factors which can determine the type of tutor or tuition centre you should go for:

  • Location: After a long day of classes and CCA, you may not have the time, inclination or energy to proceed to a tuition centre. When that’s the case, you may want to consider a tutor who can come to your place of residence and work according to your schedule instead. Start by requesting a tutor from us at Tutor City, and we will do our best to match you with one who ticks all your boxes.
  • Class sizes: If you aren’t getting enough individualised attention in school, this may be what you are looking to get out of tuition. Considering a tuition centre? Be sure to take into account how big or small their class sizes are and factor that into your final decision. If possible, sign up for a trial class to get a feel of how sessions are run before committing. Of course, opting for one-on-one sessions can be the easiest and most straightforward solution for many students, in which case engaging a private tutor would be the best way forward. You can see our top 30 recommendations for best chinese tuition centres.
  • Reputation: Definitely, one thing you will want to make sure of is that the tutor or tuition centre you choose has a track record of good results. Most tuition centres should have this information readily available, and any reputable tutor will always be happy to provide you with their track record or testimonials from previous students when asked.
  • Experience and qualification: Making sure that any tutor you work with has the relevant experience and qualifications is paramount. After all, they will need to be familiar with the O Level Chinese syllabus, which can even include Higher Chinese if you are taking it as well. At Tutor City, all our applicants undergo a stringent vetting process before they can register as a tutor with us, giving you full peace of mind. 
  • Teaching style and methods: You may be looking for a little something more than repeatedly doing practice papers, which you may already be doing in your own time. Our tutors can provide you with news articles and analyse them with you, offer recommendations for reading materials, go over your essays with individualised feedback and so much more!


Get Ready to Ace O Level Chinese

Acing O Level Chinese isn’t something that can be achieved in a day. Many students who end up scoring As take years to build up a strong foundation, continuing to keep it up when they are near the finishing line. As tough as it may seem, scoring your desired grade isn’t an impossible task, especially if you start early and engage the help you need at a critical time.

Some students even opt to take Higher Chinese at O Levels, especially if they intend to progress to JC, as scoring a passing grade will mean being able to bypass H1 Chinese at A Levels! You may not be thinking that far ahead, but think about how much time you can save to focus on doing well in your other subjects.

Regardless of whether you are looking to pull up your Chinese grade in general or improve a specific skill, such as your oral communication skills, an experienced tutor can identify your areas of weakness and help you do just that. To get started, contact Tutor City today and let us match you with a tutor who can help you!


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Top Tips for taking on the O and N level Chinese exams

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About Author

Tutor City's blog focuses on balancing informative and relevant content, never at the expense of providing an enriching read. 

We want our readers to expand their horizons by learning more and find meaning to what they learn.

Resident author - Mr Wee Ben Sen, has a wealth of experience in crafting articles to provide valuable insights in the field of private education.

Ben Sen has also been running Tutor City, a leading home tuition agency in Singapore since 2010.