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Top Tips For Taking On the O and N Level Chinese Exams

The most unique aspect about the O Level Chinese Paper is that unlike the other subjects, it is taken around midyear, and those who wish to are offered a second attempt to improve their grade at the end of the year. Because of this, it is critical for students to start preparing as early as possible. Doing well at the first attempt will free up valuable time to focus on the other subjects in the second half of the year, ensuring that you can focus fully on your areas of weakness and maximise your grades.

Getting your desired grade on the first try would be the most ideal outcome, and to this purpose, we have compiled some tips from our experienced Secondary School tutors who specialise in teaching O Level Chinese.

How to Ace Paper 1: Professional Tips by Experienced Tutors

There are two components to Paper 1, and students are allowed two hours to complete it. Accounting for 30% of the overall grade, the maximum score is 60, and students are permitted to use e-dictonaries or paper dictionaries which fall under the approved list.

It is critical for students to get a good night’s sleep the day before the exam and ensure that you have your dictionary packed and ready to go. If you are using an e-dictionary, you may want to consider bringing a set of along spare batteries.

Part 1: Functional Writing (实用文)

Students can choose between one of two options for this component: either an informal email or a more formal write-up. You can take your pick based on what you are most comfortable with writing, or the topic assigned. The minimum word requirement is 150, and this is usually divided into six paragraphs

Tip #1: Understanding the Purpose

Before you get into writing, take a few minutes to go through each question and identify the main purpose of each. Assuming that you have chosen the Informal option, below is an example of what you will need to include in your write-up:

  1. Report: Share about the situation ‘you’ are in, the main discussion topic of the question
  2. Introduce: Go into the event or objective indicated by the question
  3. Advise: Prompt the other party towards a course of action
  4. Encourage: Reassure the other party that the recommended course of action is the right way forward
  5. Opinions – Chime in with your own opinion regarding the event in the question

Once you have understood what is required of the question, you can start writing it based on the requirements stated in the marking rubric. Regardless of what the topic is, below are some standard requirements:

  • Identify the various pros and cons of the different options provided
  • State your opinion on which option is the right course to go for, how you have reached this outcome and the effects of choosing
  • Make references to similar news and offer your prediction on what will happen if the recommended action was carried out

Tip #2: Getting the Format Right

No matter how good your content is, you will need to make sure you get the format right or you will end up losing a significant number of marks. Do not let something that can easily be mastered cost you valuable marks! Below is an overview of how you should structure the content of your email.

  1. Introduction – be sure to make your purpose clear and provide a bit of elaboration if possible.
  2. Body of content – this should include the five points stated in the above section, structured into five paragraphs. Make sure you don’t miss out any one of them!
  3. Be sure to conclude by adding in the names.

Part 2: Composition (作文)

Again, this section consists of three questions you can choose from, which will include a combination of informative, argumentative and narrative essays. Some students choose to perfect their technique in the first two types of questions, but this may not always be the best strategy if the topic turns out to be something you are unfamiliar with. When that’s the case, your only choice is to go for the narrative essay question, which involves writing about a fictional event or experience.

The minimum word requirement for this section is 500 words, with the maximum score being 70. Some students struggle with writing an essay that ticks all the right boxes within a limited time, which is where practice is critical. Below are some top tips to keep in mind when writing a top-scoring essay:

Tip #1: The Importance of Starting with A Writing Outline

Ahead of the big day, you should already have familiarised yourself with the applicable writing template for each kind of question. It’s recommended that before you plunge straight into writing, that you take 5 to 10 minutes to prepare a writing outline. Informative and argumentative essay questions will call for you to provide an opinion and justify it with examples.

Take this question as an example: 家庭教育是塑造孩子良好品德的关键。试谈谈你的看法 (Translation: Family education is the key to shaping a child’s moral character. Discuss your views on this). With this question in mind, our experienced Secondary School Chinese tutors have come up with the following outline:

  1. Introduction – Elaborate on the main topic of discussion (for instance, you can bring up other factors that have an impact on a child’s moral character and state your opinion on whether family education is the most important out of them all).
  2. Second paragraph – Discuss the provided factor (family education) and the effect this has on a child’s moral character, concluding with whether this is the most important factor out of all the others you have mentioned.
  3. Subsequent paragraphs – Bring in the other factors you have mentioned in the introduction and one by one, discuss the impact they have on shaping a child. You can also make a comparison between these factors and family education, highlighting the advantages or disadvantages of the latter. 
  4. Conclusion – Here is where you need to bring all the factors together and mention that while they each play a part in shaping a child’s moral character, one stands out as the most important. Tie this back to the argument presented in your introduction.

Understandably, being able to write a good essay outline takes practice, and here is where you may need to engage the help of a professional tutor. At Tutor City, we have many tutors who specialise in various O Levels subjects, and finding one to match your requirements is easy.

Tip #2: Engaging in Daily Reading and Reviewing

In order to be adequately prepared to score well in 作文, engaging in daily reading and reviewing will come in highly useful. Most secondary schools have a mandatory subscription of 联合早报 and 逗号 for students, and teachers will usually pick up a few noteworthy pieces of news and go through them in class. However, there’s only so much that can be done in class time, and you may need more individualised attention and practice to bring up your grades.

Reading widely is an essential step that cannot be skipped when it comes to confronting this part of Paper 1 – if you do not, you will be limited to the narrative essay question, which is not ideal. You want to be sure you can choose from all the questions available. Daily reading will help you pick up on different styles of writing as well as the phrases you can use, allowing you to improve your language skills.

When you next receive your weekly newspaper in school, be sure to try out these tricks:

  1. Have a notebook ready to write down any new words and phrases you come across. Find out their meaning at the earliest opportunity and if you can use them in your writing, even better.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. Taking one of the news articles as a reference point, write a practice essay discussing your opinions and justifying your argument. Be sure to prepare a writing outline before you start. When you are done, you may present it to your tutor for feedback – that’s one benefit of having a private tutor!

Our Secondary Chinese Tutors can also help you review your own compositions and highlight to you on what can be improved for your future essays! If you would like to know more about the tutors that we can recommend to you, send a request through the form above, it is absolutely free!

Understanding Tips and Tricks to Acing Paper 2

In Paper 2, the components students will have to tackle include one MCQ close passage (综合填空), one MCQ Comprehension Passage and an Open-Ended Comprehension passage (阅读理解). Students will be given 1 and a half hours to complete this component, and the total weightage will amount to 35%, with a maximum score of 70.

The main purpose of Paper 2 is to test the reading comprehension of students as well as their ability to string together responses using the proper syntax. Our O Level Secondary Chinese tutors have put together some tips that will put you in good stead to score well in Paper 2.

Tip #1: Brush Up On Your Chinese Vocabulary Word Bank

As they always say, the early bird catches the worm. With something like building up your bank of vocabulary, you cannot start at the last minute and expect to get great results. That is why if you know you are weak at the subject, or at least in this particular area, it’s never too early to start. While doing practice papers is the natural first step, this may not always be enough.

One way you can help yourself with memorisation is to create notecards that are easy to bring around with you. As and when you have a spare moment, such as when you are travelling between home and school, you can simply take them out and start committing them to memory. As a bonus, you may even get your friends to quiz you on them and vice versa! Over time, you will find that your word bank starts to expand, and answering close passage questions will not be as challenging as before.

Tip #2: Familiarise Yourself with Different Question Types

There are a few different types of Comprehension questions you will come across in Paper 2. In order to obtain the highest score possible, the best strategy is to familiarise yourself with the various types of questions that can be asked. Below are the six common types of questions you may encounter in Paper 2:

  • Explanation questions (解释题): With this type of question, you will be required to explain what a certain phrase or sentence means. Before answering, take some time to reread and analyse the sentences before and after the phrase or sentence in question. Even if you don’t know the exact answer, you will be able to glimpse something useful and put some clues together from this analysis.
  • Evaluative question (评鉴题): It can be a bit trickier answering an evaluative question, as you will need to provide an answer in your own words. The purpose of these questions is to test your inference abilities by getting you to evaluate certain actions or personality traits of the characters in the passage.
  • Creative questions (创意题): Because the answer to a creative question cannot be found in the passage, you may think that makes it easier to answer. It’s true in the sense that you have more room to structure and formulate your own answer, but it also means that you will have to tap on your own bank of vocabulary to answer, which can be tough if you are weak in this area.
  • Extending questions(伸展题): After reading the passage, do you understand the message the writer is trying to convey, or the main objective behind it? This is what an extending question will require you to understand.
  • Repeated questions (复述题): Although repeated questions require an answer that constitutes more than one part, the good news is that they can be found in the same paragraph. All you need to do is read it carefully and pick out the keywords in the question, which is very likely to lead to your answer.
  • The parts of the answer usually lie together within the same paragraph. Read the paragraph carefully and pick out the important content that is needed to answer the question. Moreover. some questions also contain the same keywords from the paragraph, and thus students can lean to pickup and recognise to use the keywords to identify the correct paragraph
  • Reformation questions (重整题): This type of question differs from a repeated question in that the answer lies in a few different paragraphs. In order to hit on the right points, you will need a close understanding of the entire passage. The number of points you need to make usually coincide with the maximum score you can obtain for the question.

As with anything else, the best way to get better at answering comprehension questions is through practice. Get your hands on a couple of assessment books or past-year papers, and make it a point to integrate it into your daily revision schedule. This will ensure that you are able to identify the different question types quickly and know the information you need to gather for an answer.

Mastering the Ins and Outs of Paper 3, By Secondary Chinese Tutors

For some students, the oral exam can be the most intimidating part of the O Level Chinese paper. Besides a listening comprehension component, Paper 3 also consists of an oral examination, where students’ ability to read and converse in Chinese will be tested. After reading a passage out loud, you will engage in a conversation with your examiners. As for the listening comprehension component, you will be asked to answer questions based on an audio recording that will be played.

If you are someone who gets especially nervous about the oral component, our experienced Secondary School Chinese tutors have compiled some top tips to help you:

Tip #1: Speak Whenever You Get the Opportunity

Do you speak Mandarin with your family at home? Students who do will have an edge over their peers, so if you don’t, you will have to find the opportunity for practice. At least an hour of speaking every day will go a long way in helping you obtain fluency as well as practice your tones. Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to improving your communication skills.

Short of having someone to practice with, why not listen to news videos in Mandarin? These can be easily found on YouTube, and are sure to contain many terms you can repeat to improve your pronounciation. If you spend a significant amount of time travelling to and from school, why not make good use of that time and tune in to this Chinese radio channel? If you are someone who has trouble making out what’s being said during listening comprehension practices, you may just find that taking the time to listen to audio when you get the chance will improve your skills.

Tip #2: Understand the Requirements of the Oral Component

Do you get tongue-tied during mock oral examinations? Unsure what to say during practices? A big reason students get points deducted in the oral component is due to a lack of information provided as well as an inability to keep up a conversation with enough content. To practice giving a well-rounded answer, take some time to formulate an opinion about the practice video shown and come up with some points you can elaborate on.

Try to think about any relevant experiences you or anyone you know may have had pertaining to the topic and bring in the pros and cons of the event in the video. Next, think of the consequences the event may have and provide some suggestions to conclude with. Just be sure that you are conveying your thoughts and opinions in a coherent and logical manner!

The tricky part can be finding someone to practice with – even if you have friends who are willing to do so, neither of you may be familiar with what an examiner is looking out for

We often hear complaints from students about not having someone to practise Mandarin conversation with daily and it is embarrassing to do it with their friends as they are not confident to do so. A good solution would be to seek help from experienced O Level Chinese Tutor to help you with speech and conversation practice. Many of our tutors have helped their students to maintain good conversational skills and this has translated into their Chinese exam results.

Doing Well in O Levels Chinese Is Not Impossible

If you are someone who has always struggled with Chinese, especially if you don’t speak it at home, you will need to put in additional effort to be adequately prepared for O Levels is essential. A key indicator that you may not be doing so well is if you have been struggling with Chinese since primary school. When that’s the case, you may consider engaging Chinese tuition to help you improve your language skills and confidence. Whether you are weak in one specific component of the examination or need help with them all, there’s a tutor out there who can help you.

In addition, be sure to practice doing test papers and questions when you get the opportunity. This is on top of broadening your knowledge bank by reading newspapers, listening to audios, and speaking when you get the chance to. All these combined will ensure that your grades start improving in time for the final hurdle. The best part is that if you score your desired grade the first time round, that’s one worry off your list when the rest of the O Level papers roll around! Those who are strong in Chinese may even consider taking on Higher Chinese to challenge themselves and be exempted from the subject at A Levels. Grades aside, being proficient in the language is sure to open up many doors in future.

If you are looking for an experienced O Level Chinese tutor who can help you improve and build up the essential skills you need, contact Tutor City today and let us help you with your search!

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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.