Gearing up for Secondary 4 English - 5 tips to make a good transition

As you cross over from Secondary 3 to Secondary 4, it is never too early to start preparing for your English ‘O’ Levels. Knowing what to expect in your ‘O’ Level year and what gaps you need to close could spare you a lot of trouble in the year ahead.

Here are 5 tips our upper secondary teacher, Tr Rachael, to help you make a smoother transition to Secondary 4!

1. Know your essay structures and situational writing types by heart

Do you know what makes a captivating narrative? Do you know the differences between a discursive essay and an argumentative essay? What if your Secondary 1 junior came and asked you what distinguishes a speech from a feature article – would you know how to advise him or her?

If you’re wondering about the answers to these questions, then it’s time to haul out the notes on your essays (narrative and expository) and situational writing! Start revising and finding the answers.

You could also sign up with Thinking Factory for our Secondary 4 class where you can start keeping pace and close these learning gaps.

2. Brush up on your vocabulary – for the summary and IYOW questions in which you are required to paraphrase

Do you find yourself at a loss for words – I mean, during the English Language paper, when synonymous alternatives are asked of you? Think of the summary where you need to find word substitutes for multiple points, and the IYOW questions in which that 1 mark could hinge on your ability to find that best word substitute. If you have a weak grasp of vocabulary, it’s going to be quite a gamble – putting down alternatives that you unsure of.

Start a vocabulary bank and/or make a conscious effort to remember close synonyms of common words! This will really help you to “retrieve” alternative words/phrases more easily.

3. Practise some paraphrasing techniques – word substitution, sentence restructuring

Following from the previous point, don’t fret if you don’t currently have a wide range of vocabulary at hand. While you work to build it over time (it’s never too late to start as long as you keep up the momentum), there are some smart and effective ways to paraphrase.

Have a look at this post (points 2 and 3) for examples on how to paraphrase by changing word order and substituting words. You can also watch a series of video lessons to learn more paraphrasing techniques.

4. Practise speaking clearly and confidently – for the Oral exam

While most of the English Language paper is written in nature, the Oral examination can make or break your A grade – all within the span of 10 to 15 minutes. Perhaps the Spoken Interaction stumps you, because you run out of ideas, get nervous, and end up rambling. It pays to start practising how to express yourself in standard English.

Pick some practice questions and record yourself giving a response – voice-record or take a video so you can play back and check for clarity of speech. Speak in front of a mirror and notice your verbal and body language. Practice makes perfect, and this is certainly true for speaking – as long as you keep it up!

5. Journal regularly and keep reading widely

Nothing beats constant practice when it comes to brushing up your English language. Frequent practice attunes you to the language, so that when it’s put to the test in the examination, expressing yourself becomes second nature.

Keep reading widely:

  • Newspapers – The Straits Times, opinion articles, Top of the News and World News to keep abreast of happenings in Singapore and abroad, the Forum page to widen your perspectives on issues; TODAY’s Commentary, Big Read or Voices sections
  • Educational magazines that your school may have subscribed for you
  • Novels on topics that interestyou (make it a pleasurable activity for yourself!)

Journal regularly:

This can just be penning down your thoughts and reflections on happenings in your life or that of others. Use standard English as much as possible, and avoid lapsing into Singlish or otherwise, so that you get yourself comfortable with the language. This also helps to reinforce what you may have read/seen in the news; writing something down always helps to consolidate your thoughts as you go through them again and translate them into words.

Language is a lifelong pursuit. You may think that you don’t have a flair for English or that it’s too late to brush up on it, but there are sure ways to improve and “study smart” for the ‘O’ Level English paper. If you don’t have a good foundation, now is the time to build it – bit by bit. After all, it’s an asset you are bound to need in the workforce.

If you need more help from Tr Rachael, come join our English ‘O’ level small group class on Sundays 3.30pm!

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Upper Secondary English tuition class schedule

DayStart TimeEnd Time
Sec 4 - Sunday3.30 pm5.30 pm