Mr Adjei Agyei-Baah
Answering Literature-In- English Right (Time with WAEC Examiner, Adjei Agyei-Baah) As Amended Through His Mail Received By Us On 16/2/2014
Dos and Don’ts in Answering Literature-In-English Questions
a. A candidate must note that knowing a poem is one thing and how to respond to questions set on it is another.
b.Candidates must note that knowledge of the selected poems is the basis for a good response.
c.Candidates who often excel and make high scores are those who have read the poems well and recognized the demands of the questions.
Summary of Candidates’ Weaknesses in Answering Poetry Questions
Candidates’ weaknesses include the following:
1. Unnecessary account of author’s background (from teacher’s note and circulating commentary books). It’s funny at times how many candidates spend most of their precious time writing a paragraph or a page on the background of the poet. Hardly or never will a question be set to explore such as an area. Candidates must bear in mind that, they get nothing or no mark for such an ‘adventure’ or effort made, and would be advised to go straight into the demands of the question.
2. Candidates narrating poems when they should be discussing, analyzing, examining or explaining specific notions, occurrences, opinion and assertions etc. Candidate must note that narration and discussion are not the same. Narration is to give an account of something whereas discussion means to consider or examine by argument, comment, etc.; talk over or write about, especially to explore solutions, debate etc. Candidates who have often narrates instead of discussing end up mentioning key points in a pass without giving it a detail treatment and end up attracting a low mark or nothing at all. However, narration is accepted only when used to illustrate, prop or buttress points made. But many time, candidates are to examine, discuss or comment on issues, topics with appropriate support from text or poem etc.
3. Poor presentation of work. Candidates must note that every examiner wants a clean and presentable work. The eyes always feed better on attractive things rather than those repulsive and ugly. Systematic/ logical presentation of ideas or materials can compel or deceive an examiners to award good marks especially when hard-pressed with time. Most examiners under limited time duration have often marked ‘strategically’, point by point, paragraph by without scrutinizing scripts to the core. And a candidate who work is jammed, unkempt, and unreadable or disarrayed in flow of thoughts is likely to suffer. And quick to add, candidates must strive to present their points in paragraphs rather than jamming them up in a long ‘thesis’. Candidate who does so is likely to attract more marks. In addition, candidate must note that they have the right to request for unlimited number of answer sheets and must not feel shy to request.
4. Poor Language. Candidate must have it in mind that Literature-in-English is the advance form of English Language and hence language counts a lot when examiners are marking. Examiners do not only mark points or ideas alone but the language use to express thoughts are also considered. Examiners look out for grammar, concord, sequence of tenses, spelling etc. A candidate may capture all the good points in the marking scheme but poor language can still make a candidate acquire a low grade or fail entirely. Literature-In-English and English Language are two bed fellows and candidates must take note of that.
5. Lack of familiarity with poems. The blunders (unpardonable mistakes) that abound in candidates answers often confirm unfamiliarity with the poems. For instance most candidates swap the name of poets or at worse confuses one poem with the other. Many at times have not taken pains to read the poems themselves and have probably relied on commentaries which have not been approved by their instructors. Teachers cannot be left off the hook as some may not teach the poem at all due to lack of time or in their quest of to be selective to save students from committing so much into memory.
6. Failure to focus on questions and their demands. At times candidates show extensive knowledge of the poem but may fail to chain thoughts or ideas properly to respond to questions. Candidates should look for key words such as themes, devices, imagery, diction, mood, tone, setting etc. in questions and respond them appropriately. These are the key words that the examiners frame their questions around. Going outside or beyond these key words often lead to a candidate’s failure.
7. Sketchy Response. At times response from candidates may be shallow, hollow, scanty and sketchy. Here a candidate displays knowledge of the poem but fails to substantiate (support) the points made from the poem. They fail to quote or paraphrase from poem to support points made. In extreme cases, some candidates have itemized/bulleted their answer in response to questions rather than analysing, discussing and commenting.
8. Over-reliance on commentaries and sample questions. Instead of candidates reading, appreciating and enjoying the set poems themselves, several candidates have preferred the shortcut method by solely relying on commentaries and sample answered questions. The candidates sometimes reproduce the exact materials from commentaries without tailoring it to meet the demands of questions.
9. Use of Unintelligent Language and Bad Handwriting. To be honest, bad handwriting puts examiners put off. They mark not for the joy of it but for the meagre money. Sometimes the scripts allotted to them are many and speed and accuracy is needed to meet deadlines. So they may not have the time for the poor hand even though she/he might have written something good. Low or an assumed mark is often given to such a candidate.
10. Adding of extraneous/ irrelevant materials. Candidates many times in their attempt to impress examiners tend to be verbose (wordy) by citing unnecessary examples as support. At times some may veer off to discuss the question in its generality by making references to similar happenings instead of making specific references from the poem in question as support. By doing so, they discuss out of context. Examiners want candidate to refer from the ”poem only” as support but not to see candidates beating about the bush.
11. Deviation or digression from question. This has often resulted from candidates who fail to understand the demands of the question. Most candidates have fallen into this trap as a result of trying to give a complete account of the poem when specifically asked to comment on an aspect such as theme, devices, tone, diction, imagery, setting, mood etc. Candidate must note that they can even be asked to comment only on a dominant device employed, such as personification, contrast, simile, metaphor, irony etc.
1. Candidates must write briefly on introduction and background of poem/poets relevant to the question asked.
2. The specific demands of the question must be the point of focus, merely recounting the event of the novel or poem barely an answers the question which calls for a detailed analysis and appreciation.
3. Candidate should strive to improve their language through reading to better express themselves in their writing and presentation.
4. Acquisition of he selected poems for study. Schools and teachers must ensure that ‘Literature’ students acquire and read the textbooks.
5. The need to raise the standard of teaching literature in schools. Since the standard of literature ought not to be lowered, it is a must that teachers live up to expectation. Teachers need constant orientation and supervision. Besides, teachers who have not interest in poetry should not be allowed to handle it.
6. Teachers should give constant assignment, mark and discuss with their students. They should study the current papers and chief examiners’ reports to enable them to raise students’ standards.
7. Teachers should guide students on the use of commentaries especially the ubiquitous Exam Focus. Teachers must convince their students that their classroom teaching comes before commentaries.
8. Candidate must try to present their ideas in systematic and logical order. Poetry appreciation should be displayed in such a manner that convinces the examiner that they have read and enjoyed studying the poem.
9. The use of apt incidents or experiences of candidates to illustrate, support and buttress points in discussion must be shunned, since candidates are fond of repeating them in their write-ups.
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