What, exactly, is personal voice? What distinguishes a compelling argument from a perfunctory one? What does it mean to address the question’s requirements? Why are some examples given greater credit than others? What is “scope” and why do teachers sometimes mark down essays for failing to provide “scope”? What is “balance” and how can one weave counter-arguments, concessions and rebuttals into one’s essay?
GP teachers from top schools like RIJC, HCI and VJC demand a lot from students, and for good reason—Cambridge examiners have expressed their desire to see more of the things I’ve just mentioned. To score well, it is not enough for a student to “display critical thinking,” “demonstrate a good standard of English,” or “utilise many examples.” A-grade students must have an in-depth understanding of the issues discussed, be conversant with key ideas discussed in academia and the international media, and be able to develop responses that go beyond stock arguments taken from model essays and run-of-the-mill newspapers.
Cambridge examiners are no longer content to read mundane essays churned out to satisfy exam requirements. They are looking to be charmed, persuaded, and even entertained. The best training a student can have is to discuss their ideas with someone who has participated in the cut-and-thrust of international debate, who understands the international media circuit, and who has personally spent years writing at a professional level. Still, our classroom discussions involve a fair amount of brain-racking and whiteboard scrawling.
An essay is fundamentally a tool of communication—between the student and his reader or examiner. To communicate, both people must understand each other. The best way to understand the examiner is to read the same things they read, discuss the same ideas they discuss, and speak the same language they do. This is by no means an easy task, but it is excellent preparation for undergraduate studies and beyond.
It is, of course, also important for students to master basic techniques associated with answering comprehension questions, writing summaries, and writing responses to the application question. We will cover these skills, but doing well for these components requires so much more than “practice, practice, practice.” In fact, blind practice is the surest way to dull a student’s intellect and guarantee that he/she never advances beyond mediocrity.
Practice should always be coupled with thorough (not pedantic) feedback that helps students become confident, creative thinkers and writers. This feedback should therefore build students up, not put them down; enlighten, not stump; inspire, not bore. To achieve these goals, we have developed our own set of learning resources to help us pursue specific aims such as building conceptual understanding, honing argumentation skills, and developing writing abilities.
One need only look at a few comprehension papers to divine their origins. They come from newsmagazines like The Economist and The Atlantic, the opinion pages of newspapers like Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The New York Times and The Guardian, and from contemporary books (usually authored by the same people who write on the aforementioned sites). Sometimes, they even come from weightier sources like Foreign Affairs and Aeon. Therefore, to understand these passages well (and understanding is comprehension), students must familiarise themselves with the ideas they discuss. It is not enough to live on a diet of light news articles that bore the mind and impoverish the soul.
Readabee was designed with this very purpose in mind. Every two weeks, students receive a set of readings, called “Readabee”, that are designed to enrich and provoke. Students may then raise the ideas they encounter in discussions or utilise the knowledge they acquire in essays. Readabee may seem like a heavy diet, but all students need to do is nibble a little every day. There is no doubt about what students might achieve if they only try. The most driven of mine made it from the bottom of the school cohort to the very top in just one and a half years. It is possible with a little verve and a whole lot of practise.
Check out Readabee here.
We sincerely believe that every student has the potential to become an excellent writer. It may take some time and a whole lot of effort, but we believe it is possible. This, together with our desire not to deny needy students the opportunity to learn, means that we charge reasonable fees and do not impose entrance requirements. For more information about our fees and class schedule, please check here.