Secondary 3 English Composition Singapore – How to practise using appropriate tenses for telling anecdotes in informal speech

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Calling all Secondary 3 students!

Have you wondered why it is difficult to get high marks in your English compositions?

Have your English composition grades been always stuck at the B or C range?

Are you sick and tired of seeing all those red marks on your English composition paper? 

It just seems to go on and on does it not?

I know there are many English composition workbooks and guidebooks with pages of instructions on how to avoid low grades.

It must be tiring to wade through all of that and come up with very little in the end. 

It may be helpful but if you are concentrating on your other subjects, do you have time to spend on so much reading?

Let us face it. 

Time is short and you need a reliable and quick fix to this everlasting problem of low English composition grades.

There is a really good fix that can be done almost immediately but this way is mostly applicable to English compositions where you want to use an anecdote as an example.

You will have to follow my steps seriously and not balk at the work involved.

english composition

I have 2 English composition methods that you can use to eradicate the low grade and red marks problem almost immediately. 

Method #1 – How to tell an anecdote using informal speech

As you know, all anecdotes delve into the past. 

You will have to switch to a new situation that has nothing to do with your present narrative. 

The anecdote is meant to embellish your point. 

It adds that ‘secret sauce’ to your recipe which you are delivering to your examiner. 

So, you will need to switch to a different tone.

Why should it be informal? 

The speech should be informal as you are recounting something which happened a long time ago or maybe a short while ago. 

Whatever it may be, you should use indirect speech. 

“He was aghast when it happened and stood there staring for a while and after which he mentioned that help was on the way.” 

This is an example of informal speech where you deliver the impact without using dialogue.


It weaves into the story in a more natural way and sounds more professional. 

The anecdote can be mentioned at any point in the narrative this way. 

Using informal speech means that you can switch back and forth from the main narrative to the flashback example without much trouble.

With practice, this can be done quite fluidly and the entire point of your narrative will be boosted when you use powerful anecdotes to bolster the main content of your composition.

Please note that most anecdotes are recounted using informal speech and this makes it easier as you will have fewer grammar mistakes. 

However, it is also possible to use open dialogue in English composition but I will advise against it for these reasons:

I) I have already mentioned the use of present tense and it will be bothersome to switch to different tenses. You may forget to switch back.

II) The open dialogue suggests that you remember every word which was said. You will have to prove that you knew this through close encounters or that it was a daily practice so you need to memorise it.

Method #2 – Using appropriate tenses when using Anecdotes

It is best to use the past tense when recounting an anecdote or you could use the past continuous where the situation could be continuing in your present time.

It is best to revert to the past tense when you are recounting an experience that happened for example, two years ago. 

Most students will have no problem doing this but the trick is to revert your present narrative by using appropriate words to suggest that your story is now in the present.

For example, the anecdote –  “My tenancy at Yusof residence hall 5 years ago was fraught with difficulties. I had to use only one master key to let myself in and I would invariably forget it which meant having to get to the office which was only open till 6 pm.”

Now the switch to the present narrative.

“I felt glad knowing that I had come a long way from those problem-riddled teenage years of mine. My career at Pathfinders Green Company was promising and everything looked rosy for me.”

Both are in the past tense but you know the anecdote is over when you mention that you were working now and that your tenancy took place 5 years ago. 

This sort of mention of the past using a particular time frame is useful in English composition. 

It avoids confusion and sets the story in the appropriate time frames.

Both methods are really easy to do. 

You can use them straight away and it will be effective immediately. 

And the best part is that you can use anecdotes for all composition genres. 

Anecdotes will help to spice up your composition and it adds content. 

Just remember to follow these 2 simple rules when you do it. 

Use informal speech and the appropriate tense. 

You will be amazed at the rate your red marks will reduce and how your grades will start shooting up! 😊

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