“How do I gain an edge over my peers?” Imagine this. 

Teachers in Singapore grade about 100 to 200 scripts (if they’re lucky) on average during any given exam periods. So, venture an imagination with me on this. Assuming 1/3 of the cohort attempted on this topic “Recount an incident where you witnessed someone being kind.” 

Now, how many of you had this scene pop up in your head, where a young and able-bodied student helped a hapless elderly with her spilled fruits, or cross the road? Or even a student plugged in with his headphones giving up his seat for a pregnant lady on the train? Then now, imagine marking 33 scripts of the same scenario. I mean (really) think about it. How many different versions of grandmothers or pregnant ladies can there possibly be! And worse, what if your script is the 33rd version of this notoriously popular grandmother? Goodness.

I often get this question from my students, “why is it that I answered the topic, but I still don’t get high marks?” My short answer (or question) to this perplexity is, “insight?”

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This is assuming that the fundamentals (grammar and syntheses) of your writing are not in question, the trick to busting the 20/30 marks barrier is in providing an insightful read. English teachers (or at least for me) are suckers for essays that are insightful and/or authentic. Being authentic is not merely in coming up with another version of grandma, but in challenging the conventional. What if you wrote about an elderly helping a seemingly able-bodied youth? Or that a pregnant lady did something selfless for somebody else in need? There are a million ways to go about piquing one’s interest, and my students love this segment of my classes. I love them too!

“What about expository essays? Aren’t they open-ended questions that I answer with my views?” Well, they are, and beyond. Many students assume that expository topics are like 30 marks open-ended question, and they end up getting only 17 to 19 marks for what they thought were within range. Slightly similar to narrative writing, there are many other methods to go about adding value in your writing.

Your points in your essay should not merely be what you think, or what you feel should be, but rather, what you have observed and what connection does it have with the topic. If let’s say, we have this controversial topic, “Abortion is good for society. Do you agree?” What is the instinctive response that most students will give? No!

What if, you venture a “Yes” essay? That’s a huge risk. I get that. But surely there are pockets of benefits that might have gone over-shadowed by the No-camp all these years? Could there be a plus if you argued about the availability of the technology, rather than the righteous morality of it? Could there be another plus if you expounded on the medical benefits for the foetus, instead of the ethics of the parents?

In any case, and for every topic, there will be insights that students can provide for their readers. That, to me, is one of the key factors when I decide if I should award an A for this essay. Does it add value to the reader? Insights are hidden connections revealed. The “I didn’t see it that way before” moment.

For instance, let’s try this as our first exercise, and you can feel free to comment in the comment section below. 

I will save you the hassle of writing a full essay, but let this be a simple thought exercise. Assuming you are planning to augment your views with 3 points. What would your 3 points be?*You are free to employ the “counterargument-rebuttal” strategy, or the “cause and effect” strategy, or the good old linear presentation of your points.*

“Love is an action. What are your views?”

Don’t cheat. Have a little brain exercise before reading the one below which I thought was pretty interesting. It is pertaining to the above topic on love.

Age old wisdom have guided and moulded our understanding of love as an emotion that promises the flutters in our stomach, or the guaranteed smile on our faces before we go to bed each night whenever we reminisce of a certain ‘lovely’ incident with our loved one. That love is of a consequence, where we do therefore we love, rather than a decision. If the former is true, then it is nothing but mere narcissism, where self-serving desires are met through the guise of “loving someone”. This is also assuming that “loving someone” is an action, not a state of mind or emotion. In this paper, I challenge the notion and would argue that love is an identity, where we love therefore we do. 
Firstly, on the premise of love being a relationship between two people, one can envy another’s relationship style or flair, and another could boast of how often and openly they declare their love for one another. However, love isn’t just about the act of it, or worse, a showcase for others to envy. Love is an identity, where you love because you simply do. Love does not demand anything in return, but humans do. Love does not demand attention, where acts of love are often “caught on social media”, but it is the narcissism of humans who serve themselves in the guise of “loving another”. Love is an identity and the act of love is done to another with no intention of getting something else back. Take the mother’s love in the animal kingdom. The lioness mother is almost not guaranteed any form of gratitude when their cub grows up and leaves the pride, but the mother gave because she loves her cub, not because she wants the cub to repay her with gratitude. Despite and in spite of the lack of returns, the mother loved because it was her identity as a mother that empowers her to do so. Not that of a transaction, where I give to get, but one premised on identity, where I give because I am. Upon her identity as a mother, love is consequentially displayed as an action, where she would provide for, nurture, or even die for her loved one. Hence, love is an identity, and actions are mere by-products of it.
Secondly, many may argue that love is an action because without actions, one is merely expressing words of admiration, and words are cheap. This seems to be a fallacy because it connotes that action adds gravity to love, but it doesn’t. Love can come in two spheres, one who loves others, and the other themselves. Both of these spheres demand actions, but the intentions behind their actions are vastly different. Let’s take the same example of the lioness mother. If the lioness was self-loving, she would love her cub for others to see, so that others would give her the accolade of “Best Mother of the Season”, and she might even get thousands of likes from the great savannah. But if she loves simply because it is her identity, she would still wake up in the middle of her sleep to see to her cub’s needs behind the limelight. Action only adds gravity when the lover intends for it that way to gain something out of it. Actions are nothing but a call of duty to another whom he/she identifies herself as.  Actions facilitate the transference of love from one to another and nothing more. Therefore, love is an identity, and actions are mere conduits of it.
Last but certainly not the least, love is infinite and actions are finite. So it is foolish, if I might suggest, to box up an infinite with finite boundaries. Love is many things, but demands nothing. Actions on the contrary, demands everything. If I act on something, I hope it is for the better. For the betterment of my reputation, my family, my communities, or even humanity. But actions demand something in return, a betterment or accolade of some sort. Whereas love, is anything but. Love comes in many forms, though human eyes see most of it expressed in actions, increasingly in words in this modern society deeply entrenched in the expectations of social media. A pastor is expected to love a certain way, a teacher in another, and a sweet lover in another. These identities are unfortunately imposed on the idea of love by the expectations of others. Actions are a direct meeting of expectations, but love transcends that. Love happens simply because it does. Not to prove a point, nor expect something in return. Therefore, love is infinite and the magnitude of it should not be assessed by actions.
I would argue that love is an identity, whereas actions are by-products, conduits, and even benchmarks of it. It is narrow-minded to assume that love can be assessed through actions, or worse, equating love to actions because love is an identity. And more often than not, our identities embolden us to act beyond the understanding of this infinite identity called, love.

How would you improve the essay above? Presentation of points? Weak points? 

I am covering the various methods of embellishment in my classes, as well as how plots can be interesting and worth reading. I’m excited to hear the perspectives of my students and looking forward to incorporate their sharing to our learning.

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