Best Tips for O Level Comprehension Papers in Singapore

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The O Level Comprehension paper is a rigorous exercise in several skills and writing within a specified time duration. Students typically take about 4 years just to prepare for this paper. 

Firstly, there is the Visual Text component which has only 5 marks in O Level Comprehension.

The main weight of the O Level Comprehension paper lies in Text B and C. They are demanding comprehension passages in their own right.

And these are the 3 reasons why:

1. The narrative parts of the text rely on literary devices and students need to be tuned in to those.

2. The inference questions rely on the students to find their own answers which are based on only bits of textual evidence.

3. Students must be able to answer in their own words.

o level comprehension

The Demands of O Level Comprehension Text B

Text B has several portions of dialogue. It is a narrative text with questions which allude to the author’s intention and reason for necessitating an action. These are common questions in O Level Comprehension.

The only way to answer these without falling into the trap of simply copying down what the text has, is to read between the lines.

Eh? Read between the lines? How do I do that? You may very well say this. 

What reading between the lines means is that you have to look out for clues about what the character’s position in the text is.

The character’s thoughts, aspirations and focus on actions should be studied while reading through the text. This is the tricky part.

Several literary devices are used in text B so that means being conversant with similes, tone, metaphors, ironies etc. 

“Ionil was swept off her feet. She had never expected to hear the seven figure which she had just heard. Her thoughts recoiled as she sensed a trap ahead but….8,000,000! That was out of the blue. Gestad’s long grin etched the edge of her scope of sight but she did not want that man to unsettle her thoughts. Not today. She picked up the blue Cross pen tremulously as she fanned her fears away with a brisk, businesswoman type smile.”

This is a typical passage from Text A in O Level Comprehension. It has dialogue and focuses on the protagonist’s inner-most thoughts and has literary devices. 

Q1: What was there to ‘sweep’ Ionil ‘off her feet?’ 

The answer should be about the eight million which she had been offered and the answer should include that it was a sudden offer.

Q2: Pick out 2 metaphors which reveal Ionil’s unsettled frame of mind.

The metaphors “her thoughts recoiled” and “fanned her fears away” reveal that she is firstly, in a state of shock and secondly that she is trying to gain control of herself.

The answer should not only pick out the metaphors but explain it as well to show how unsettled she is.

Q3: What is the sort of effect which Gestad generally has on Ionil? 

This is an Inference question as there is no mention of Ionil’s relationship with Gestad and how they could be related. 

The answer should mention that it is an unpleasant or negative relationship as she refused to look at Gestad and that he unsettled her usually.

One should pay careful attention to the inference question to see what it is really asking you to do.

The words should be read carefully and the slightest change in tempo or dialogue are important.

The Demands of O Level Comprehension Text C

The O Level Comprehension questions in Text C rely on assimilation of details and being able to paraphrase them to suit the question. Choosing the correct answer may be confusing if the student has not understood the passage properly.

“The global race to get access to vaccines can be described as one based on token multilateralism, with hoarding and every-country-for-itself as the real manifestations. Many countries have signed up to Covax, the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access initiative under the World Health Organisation, for 92 poorer countries to get access to two billion doses by the end of this year”.

The B texts refer to facts based on news articles and even speeches. The ability to wade through all that information and understand the main thrust of the argument will be the most exhausting part of this paper.

With a subject like the Covid vaccines not really reaching the masses, it is not really the easiest piece of information to digest. There will always be statistics and projections in this text.

A typical O Level Comprehension question could be:

Q1: What is implied by the author with the way the vaccine reaches people? Answer in your own words. 

This is an inference answer as the word ‘implied’ is used. And it is also a vocabulary type of question as your own words must be used. It means that you cannot copy the words.

The answer must reveal how it does not reach all people as each country tries to hoard the vaccines instead of allowing it to be distributed to everyone. 

Text C in O Level Comprehension is sometimes regarded as being more difficult as it has chunks of facts which must be understood. 

However, some students feel that Text B is the more tricky one due to the liberal spread of literary devices and descriptive phrases.

To add to this, the author’s ‘state of mind type of questions’ also take a centre stage in this paper. Therefore, a certain degree of intuitive capacity is required to answer such questions. 

The only way to excel in the O Level Comprehension paper is to take note of the various difficulties mentioned and to practice doing those questions which are tricky. After all, practice makes perfect right? 😊

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