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O Levels English Syllabus

O Levels English Syllabus

Basecamp O Levels English Syllabus (GCE 1128 & 1190)

Paper 1 (Writing)


  • Key Understanding Points
    • Identification of general tense of the passage
    • Understanding grammatical rules and possible variations
    • Different tips on spotting errors and testing of potential answers
  • Key Exam Focus
    • Using the rules to your advantage and how to achieve the full 10 marks in any given editing exercise


  • Key Understanding Points
    • Familiarizing the formats of different situations
      • Newspaper Article
      • Report
      • Procedural Writing
      • Email
      • Speech
      • Proposal
      • Formal letter (Proposals, reports, etc)
      • Informal letter
    • Analyzing the situation
      • Identification of the purpose, target audience, tasks, and format required
      • Using the 5Ws 1H model
    • Writing
      • Using embellishing techniques to go beyond what is required of the situational tasks
  • Key Exam Focus
    • Writing an appropriate piece for communicating to the relevant audience group what is required and what is beyond in order to show depth in understanding and thoughtfulness


  • Key Understanding Points
    • Different writing styles for narrative pieces (Story Arc)
      • Personal Recounts
      • Creative Writing
    • Different writing styles for expository pieces (TEES & PEEL)
      • Definition essays
      • Comparison and Contrast
      • Cause and Effect
      • Argumentative
      • Discursive
  • Key Exam Focus
    • Translating thoughts to paper using various techniques that will be explored and taught during lessons
    • How to provide insight for readers in order to “stand out” from the rest of the cohort


Paper 2 (Comprehension)


  • Key Understanding Points
    • Context of the visual
    • Distinction between purpose and message of the visual
    • What is the purpose of the visual
    • 5Ws 1H
  • Answering the questions accurately
    • How to identify key words of the questions
    • How to provide answers based on the needs of the questions
  • Key Exam Focus
    • To be a media literate, and how to discern through the nuances of the visual via the questions provided in the paper


  • Key Understanding Points
    • Reading techniques
      • Deep reading
      • Spot reading
      • Active reading
    • Answering techniques
      • Identification of key words from the questions
      • Extracting ALL answers from the passage and then applying the answers based on what the question requires
    • Summary
      • Identify key themes of the question
      • Identify at least 10 points for the summary
      • Paraphrase 8 of the 10 points identified into a cogent paragraph answering towards the summary question
      • Editing towards an efficient economy of 80 words
  • Key Exam Focus
    • Answering the questions accurately
    • Identifying answers from the passage accurately
    • Understanding the different types of comprehension questions and their respective requirement


Paper 4 (Oral Examination)

  • Reading Aloud
    • Rubric on how to ace this section with ease and confidence
    • Pace, rhythm, stresses, etc
  • Spoken Interaction
    • 3-Circles Model to structure personal sharing
    • How to identify themes to focus sharing on with relation to the picture

English: Hybrid Essays – The best things in life…

English: Hybrid Essays – The best things in life…

Hi, welcome to another instalment of our complimentary English tuition resource. This week, we look at writing Hybrid Essays. Our teachers create unique and engaging resources for our English tuition students every week and this is a fine example of the high quality materials that our students enjoy. To download the student's copy, click here.

Teacher's Copy Preview

Teacher's Copy Preview

To download the teacher's copy, follow the link below:

To download the teacher's copy as a PDF, click here. (desktop only)

Lesson Objectives:

  1. To explore what price do best things in our lives come at
  2. To learn about the types of essays and how to plan for them
  3. To understand the different elements of crafting a hybrid essay

Sentence Structures Makeover!

Sentence Structures Makeover!

Lesson Objectives:
1. To practise editing exercises
2. To explore different broad themes of the passages
3. To attempt makeovers for expository paragraphs using TEES model

The following English worksheet is used for our Secondary 4 English tuition classes. To download the worksheet as a pdf, click here.

After you have finished the worksheet, take a look at the teacher's copy:

To download the teacher's copy as a PDF, click here. (desktop only)

Ending Essays: What impression lasts?

I came across this essay topic for a Sec 3 Express End-of-Year (EOY) exam by one of the top schools in Singapore. And my student attempted this question. With some of my edits and his permission, I will publish his paper for our learning purposes.

Honestly, I was very impressed with his attempt when I first read it. But I thought there are some room for improvement. Leaving language features aside and invest some time to ponder upon: 

  • what contributed to the good impression of this essay?
  • how were the 5 senses employed in this essay?
  • are dialogues and author's inner thoughts useful?
  • how would you have improved this piece?

I will cover these questions and techniques in class. Students, ready up for a mind-blowing session!

*Hint: the title of this post gives a big clue.

Describe your best friend and explain what it is that endears him/her to you.

Where I studied, everything was white. Spotless white walls, pristine white furniture, even a majority of white classmates. This was an elite school in upscale Bukit Timah, where apparently the children of the who’s who study at. It was a common sight for student councillors to witness their schoolmates alighting from their premium continental cars, sometimes even complete with a chauffeur. For some unknown reason, I find myself like a fly in the milk. Taking the bus as my daily commute to and from school, I often had to walk the pebbled pavement lined with manicured bushes where the often dusty bus stop is. I can only assume that it is dusty because I was probably the only one using it.
The common canteen chatter would often circle around the topics of the brands they recently acquired. “Oh, I managed to buy the limited addition Air Jordans online last night at a steal of $2,000. I finally have something to wear for my weekly basketball training now” I overheard one of them saying and remember thinking to myself “what my family of 5 can do with that money!” I often reminded myself that I have no business here and all that I should do is do well enough to graduate and I’m done with this premature aristocracy.
Through my first year, I kept largely to myself, minding my own business and skilfully avoiding awkward conversations of material gains. Partly because I have no knowledge nor experience to talk about any of those. However in my second year, James started to befriend an oddball like me. With great skepticism, I maintained my distance and kept our conversations to mostly school related. Slowly, he got me hooked on soccer and we would play ball after school for hours on end. Others would talk about their favourite soccer players and how they want to dress and play like them, James was genuinely in love with the sport and wants to share his passion with me. That, I really appreciate. “Finally, a decent friendship”, I remember thinking to myself as we played “one-touch”.
James would come to school every morning in his father’s BMW and his well-worn soccer ball. He refused to buy a new soccer ball simply because “there’s no need as it can still be used”. To me, that was extremely refreshing, coming from this excessively abundant school culture where people buy things just because they can. We got to know each other better, and naturally, we paired up with each other for our projects. This was where I dare say, he is my best friend. When I was certain enough that he would not judge me, I invited him to my house to finish up our projects, he not only did not scoff at my tiny apartment, but even offered to help my handicapped parents clean our house. 
I was humbled by how down-to-earth he was, that despite his super wealthy family background, he even bothered to befriend a nobody like me, and even offered to get his hands dirty to help my family when he could easily have asked his one of five maids at home to do it. James taught me that it doesn’t have to be what we are that defines us, but who we are that ultimately makes us all humans. Apart from being born differently, we are made equal. He showed me what it means to be not just a friend, but a better human being as well.

Media Literacy: What it means to you?

Though this is a 5-marks component in your English Paper 2, media literacy remains a critical skill for us to get around. Studies have shown that city-dwellers are exposed to easily 4,000 advertisements a day. They are literally everywhere, from mobile phones to MRT stations, posters at bus stops to posters in front of urinals in the gents (check out Cineleisure or Marina Bay Sands toilets). Hence, it is important that we know what the creators of these advertisements mean. Sometimes, they are not explicitly told!

In this resource, I will be explaining 3 different types of questions that are commonly found in your exams.

Qn: Who are the intended target audience that this webpage is likely to appeal to? [1 mark]

Ans: People who are planning their holiday travels [1] OR People who are shopping around the different travel sites for the best deals [1].

Many students get complacent when they see this question because it is worth only 1 mark and it is assumed to be simple. Well, it is not rocket science, but nonetheless, it requires accurate discerning and phrasing of your answer. Answers like “Travelers” or “People who wants wifi on the plane” will not get the mark because the answers are inaccurate. Many a time, teachers do get the rough idea what the student is implying, but getting the idea is not convincing enough to award a mark. Answers have to be clear and explicit.

Further, “travelers” are not the target audience because if they have already decided on their travel plans, they will likely not be interested in seeing what the airline has to provide. Hence, the target audience for this webpage is none other than people who are looking for traveling options.

Qn: With reference to the main banner in yellow, what is the objective of this webpage? [1 mark]

Ans: To entice/attract potential customers to fly with them because they provide internet connectivity onboard the flight [1].
Unaccepted: To entice/attract potential customers to fly with them. (Inadequate reasoning. Student should allude their call to action to the banner picture in the webpage for accuracy)

Again, this is a favourite question for the exam because this is the clearest way to sift out discerning students from the cohort. This question requires students to identify the “call to action” of the advertisement. ALL, and I repeat, ALL posters or commercials or webpages have an objective that they want the customers to catch. Either to attract customers to buy their products, to inform them of an event, or to persuade them of a certain lifestyle that they are advocating. No advertisements are made for nothing. I mean, it costs a lot of money to design, print, publish, distribute, etc. Why would it be for nothing?!

In this case, the action that Scoot wants their target audience to take is clearly to sign up with them. Not just that, but also in view of the perks (internet connectivity and power source in flight) that they hope to entice on-the-go internet users. Most students lose marks even though they stated the correct call to action because their answers are incomplete. Students’ answers must be as precise as possible, supporting their answers by various features of the webpage to show understanding.

Qn: Other than ‘in-flight Wi-fi and in-seat power outlets’, identify another phrase that would attract potential customers as well. [1 mark]

Ans: The phrase is ‘onboard the new Boeing 787’ [1].
Unaccepted: “Connect to friends in high places.” (This is a sentence, complete with punctuation, not a phrase)

Students often ask, “do I have to state the reason to support the phrase chosen?” You don’t have to. The question doesn’t require that of you. Hence, the identification of the phrase would suffice. Although this question is seemingly rudimentary, it is a question that many students lose because they are either unsure of what a phrase is, or they simply couldn’t identify the other phrase accurately.

All phrases should be tested to see if it does fulfill the objective of attracting potential customers. Also, students must learn how to only give the necessary words to form the phrase. Singaporean students tend to give too many words for the phrase, and end up losing the mark due to excess. Tip: remove the words at both the ends of the phrases but retain the meaning. The moment the meaning of the phrase changes, you would likely need that word back in the phrase. For example, “the new Boeing 787” and “onboard the new Boeing 787” means entirely different things. The former doesn’t promise potential customers that they will be onboard the new Boeing, but the latter does. So keep the word “onboard”. Test your phrases and keep the marks!

Qn: With reference to the sentence “Connect to friends in high places”, how is the language used effectively? [2 marks]

Ans: “Connect to friends in high places” can be both understood as friends with people who are famous and/or powerful, as well as interacting with friends through the internet while you are high in altitude [1]. This language used is effective because both meanings of the sentence can be appealing to the potential customers who flies with them [1].

Language use questions are often the bane of students. To put it simply, students are required to identify the meaning of the phrase (that will give you 1 mark), and apply the meaning to the context of the phrase (that will give you the other mark). Many students stop short at a generic answer like “there is a word play on the phrase high places”. This is incomplete because it doesn’t show the application of the meaning to the context of the phrase.

This type of question will enable teachers to identify students who truly understand the nuances of the language used for certain effects. Most good and effective advertisements use very little words, hence, it is paramount for students to be able to identify the double meanings (if any) of the phrase or by-line, to be able to glean fully from the advertisement.

English O Levels Oral: From Your World

To ace the Spoken Interaction (20 marks out of the full 30 marks) segment of your Oral exam, many students grapple with brain block, either due to exam anxiety, or that the examiners are too charming! In my own world, I’d like to think it is the latter. *awkward silence* Anyway!

To download this article as a PDF, click here.


In this resource, I will be sharing with you on how you can structure your spoken interaction in an orderly and complete method. I call it the “Tri-circle” model, just because it sounds scholarly. As referenced above, your sharing can be done in 3 parts, starting from your most personal experiences (in relation to the activity or key theme you’ve identified in the given picture), and building towards your worldview.

Essentially, teachers are assessing students for their ability to identify key themes from the picture, and relate them to their personal experiences and opinions. The most skilled students will weave their experiences with the activities shown in the picture, as well as their personal opinions on their observations and their ideals.


You should start your sharing off by giving a brief description of what can be observed in the picture. This is also an opportune time to hint of the theme you will be homing in during your sharing. For example, a picture of a young school boy helping an elderly cross the road, the themes you could try homing in are “helpfulness in youth”, “respect for elderly”, “gratitude for seniors and their contributions to this country”, “rapid development in this fast-paced society”, etc. You would realise that the themes are often broad. Hence, when you share through your personal experience pertaining to the picture you observed, refrain from being too myopic on that one activity/experience, but keep in mind that you’re building your sharing towards a theme.


This segment is a build-up from what happened to you, or what you observed first-hand to what you observe about your communities in general. Your communities are basically any groups of people you belong in, or you find a sense of belonging to. Your communities are for instance, your school, your neighbourhood, your group of friends, your country, your religion, your race, etc. So, if you had picked a theme to focus on earlier, say, “respect for elderly”, you can now zoom out and share about how your communities respect their elderly. Are there any pertinent differences in the way different communities show their respect for elderly? Note that you are still in the theme that you have discerned from the picture. This is important for you not to go out of point and share about something interesting yet grossly out-of-point. The most competent students will show how the theme that they’re sharing about is in-line with the picture. Teachers want to see how the picture relates to the student, and vice-versa.


The last segment of your sharing is often the part that leaves the longest after-taste, the impression of how well you shared. Here, you would want to zoom out to the larger scheme of things, the world as you see it. Riding on the same theme of “respect for elderly”, you can explore sharing in general what is the world like today in this regard. Do we respect our elderly less often than we should. Did the developments of this rapidly advancing world consider the well-being of the elderly, or are they conveniently left behind for the social work agencies? Most competent students will provide an insight to the gap between their observations and their ideals. Beyond whether can the world do better, but how it can do better. Students might even suggest solutions that they hope to see, or that they are planning to do in contribution to the grander scheme of things.

Try these!

In my lessons, I will be walking through with students techniques on identifying the themes, how to weave them into their sharing, and how to identify the gap between observation and ideals. Students in my class, be ready!

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

English: Embellishing Essays

“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?”

To download this article as a PDF, click here. (desktop only)

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.

To download this article as a PDF, click here. (desktop only)