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CARI BB E AN

E XA MINA TIONS

C OUN CIL

REPORT ON CANDIDATES’ WORK IN THE CARIBBEAN SECONDARY EDUCATION CERTIFICATE EXAMINATION

JANUARY 2014

ENGLISH A GENERAL PROFICIENCY EXAMINATION

Copyright © 2014 Caribbean Examinations Council St Michael, Barbados All rights reserved.

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GENERAL COMMENTS Performance in January 2014 compared favourably with the results in earlier years. As has come to be the norm, there was neither an outstanding improvement, nor significant decline, but the results continued to be skewed towards the lower grades. The incidence of candidates being wholly unprepared for the examination was again relatively small, yet most responses tended to fall into the category of being ‘adequate’. Teachers are urged to make use of the various guidelines and aids to learning being developed by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), to help students be more comfortable with both language and literature, and to improve language through the skills acquired in studying literature. One resource is the syllabus document, in which there is a large section which helps with interpreting the syllabus objectives and requirements, and suggests a variety of activities which can help in developing the appropriate skills. Taken as a whole, there is some improvement in the performance, but individual questions as expected, show fluctuations in quality. Candidates seem to lack strategies to help them use their time and skills to the best advantage under examination conditions. At the start of each question there are instructions and cautions to which examination candidates need to be encouraged to give thoughtful and careful attention. The following advice was among several pieces offered to instructors in 2009, and is still very relevant today: Students should come to the examination with a well-rehearsed procedure for tackling each question…they should have deeply ingrained in them the procedure for identifying the topic, jotting down points, doing a rough copy and producing a fair copy. This is especially important in writing a summary, in doing a description, in writing a story and in producing a cogent argument. Teachers should advise each student, based on the student’s ability and speed, about the best way to move from a rough copy to a fair copy under examination conditions.

DETAILED COMMENTS Paper 01 – Multiple Choice Performance on Paper 01 was good. Approximately 84 per cent of candidates received Grades I–III. Exercises on word choice, sentence completion and equivalent sentences were well done. The area in which greatest weakness was evident was usage where candidates experienced difficulty recognizing sentences which contained clichés, misused metaphors or redundancies, and sentences that were incorrect grammatically.

Paper 02 – Free Response
Section A: Writing Reports and Summaries This section of the paper — summary — tests skills which people generally use daily in summing up responses to life’s experiences. It is an academic activity therefore which has practical value, and

3 students might respond better to the challenges of summary if teachers remember to teach for the transfer of skills. Discussions with persons approaching tertiary level academic pursuits, and with many in the work sector, indicate that there is a strong tendency to confuse the strategies — paraphrasing, quoting and summarizing. There are also observations that while secondary level students are required to research and produce scholarly evidence, the manner of presentation accepted is very often sheer plagiarism. The plagiarized presentation delivers the impression that the student is low in understanding. For this reason teachers are encouraged to explore with the students the Skills and Abilities to be Assessed as presented in the syllabus document: Understanding (a) and (b) (i) to (x), and (d) (i) and (ii); Expression (a) and (b). Question 1 Among the comments which examiners and assistant examiners made on the passage and task were:     The instructions given to the question clearly indicated what was expected of candidates. Candidates seemed able to relate well to the passage as the issues addressed were within their experience. The level of vocabulary in the passage was not unduly challenging. The length was suitable to the time frame allowed.

Comments made on the candidates’ responses included the following: Strengths  General understanding of the passage  The ability to identify key points  Organization of material Weaknesses  Using transitional devices  Creating accuracy because of some inability to interpret or express relationships  Far too much lifting of phrases and sentences rather than using their own words  General expression The points expected in the summary were:       The 1990s widespread encouragement of lower income persons to enter university has led to disappointment and frustration. Governments cannot maintain the costs. Students entering university have unrealistic hopes and expectations from the degrees. Students entering university require remedial help. Falling standards have resulted from lower level entry requirements. When universities seek higher fees students are frustrated.

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  There are too many graduates in areas which are not vital to national development. Jobs formerly held by those without degrees are now claimed by the high numbers of graduates, thus causing employment and job dislocation.

Section B: Understanding Questions 2 and 3 The passages in this section followed the established pattern: one literary piece, one expository piece. Examiners were happy with the length and degree of complexity/simplicity in both passages. The first passage was an extract from God Bless the Child, published in Essence, September 2006. The issue dealt with homelessness and the impact on children. The examiners’ overall assessment was that most candidates attempted all questions, and interpreted them satisfactorily. The major problems came from questions that required skills of literary analysis. Such questions included:  Why does the writer use the expression…?  List two ways in which the family was affected by the mother’s decision.  What is the narrator’s attitude to the situation described in the passage? The expository passage was less well handled. Its subject was Yoga in the Caribbean. Though the language was well within their reach, it was observed that some candidates appeared to be unfamiliar with the term Yoga. Most of the candidates’ difficulties arose from inadequate vocabulary, and a weak response to the written expression, that is, weakness in analysing the written word. The questions offering most challenges were (b) and (c), which asked for recognition of contrast; (e), in which the word “complementary” appeared to be unfamiliar (it was frequently interpreted as meaning ‘free’); and (f), which required an appreciation of connotation and denotation, indicating that there is still some inability to distinguish between literal and figurative language. Teachers and students are again referred to the Skills and Abilities to be Assessed section of the syllabus and encouraged to pay attention to Understanding (c) — grasp insights from reading literature. Other persistent problems are the failure to use quotation marks when asked to quote, and the use of full sentences when asked for phrases. This becomes a problem when the sentence used contains ideas that are opposed to the answer required.

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Section C: Writing Stories and Descriptive Essays For the January examination, candidates were given more details in the instruction to encourage them to be conscious of their task. This seems generally to have brought good results. Problems continue, however, in the ability to distinguish between narrative and description. Question 4 It was noted that candidates were better able to respond to the picture stimulus. Though there were responses which were expository, these were fewer — an improvement over the past. Question 5 For the most part, responses were satisfactory. Candidates in instances were able to use the stimulus to develop interesting story lines and characters. Stories were generally effectively organized. The areas of weakness were in most instances weak language structure and mechanics. Question 6 This question continues to produce answers that make heavy use of narration rather than description, but there has been improvement in the number and quality of the descriptions. Section D: Argumentative Writing Question 7 As with Section C, examiners felt that the expanded rubric worked to the candidates’ advantage. Several approaches to the dialogue seemed possible, but candidates successfully responded to a selection of aspects given in the stimulus. Valid points were made and correct arguments and strategies employed. Question 8 This was the more popular choice of stimulus. Again, there was scope for several interpretations or reactions, as there was some scope for addressing some social issues. Responses suggested that candidates identified with the topic. Weaker scripts demonstrated:       Inability to develop points rationally Poor organization Limited vocabulary Weak sentence structure Misuse/overuse of the rhetorical question Inadequate linking of points/paragraphs

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Assistance with this part of the syllabus is found in the document, under the heading Expression. The section with suggested activities, in particular Expression (c) and (d) contains many suggestions. Recommendations  Planning: The rubrics which introduce each section of the examination paper invite candidates to plan their longer responses. This was often interpreted as ‘write the essay, then copy it’. This double-writing affects time negatively, and many answers showed the hurry to complete. Some candidates also failed to cross out the unwanted answer. The preparation for the examination should include the skill of outlining, so the candidate can make maximum use of the time. Language Use: The quality of language generally, but particularly in the questions which demand longer continuous answers (Questions 1, 4/5/6; 7/8) raises some concern: shifting tenses, lack of discrimination in past tenses, lack of subject and verb agreement, basic punctuation and spelling errors are all persistent problems. Very often, rereading reduces the number and type of errors, and students should be taught how, and encouraged to reread critically. Examiners advise that much more effort should be put into helping candidates to improve their stock of adjectives and adverbs, and to providing opportunities for studying and emulating good descriptive pieces. Most candidates are exposed to the visual through television. This can be used constructively to help develop the skill of descriptive writing. Candidates may be invited to role-play, to be the camera or camera person. They should become familiar with the concepts of foreground, middle distance and background; with the techniques of panning and focusing; and helped to distinguish between concrete and abstract words and phrases. It was observed that some candidates seemed to have been prepared to write their argumentative essays along specific lines with particular techniques. Experienced examiners caution that while some students do benefit from such a strategy, teachers should use it with caution, as there is the risk that competent and even superior students will be forced into a mould which affects their expression and development negatively. It is highly preferable to teach them how to reason, and provide them with a variety of ways to open, develop, and close their arguments.







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