English is possibly the most prevalent language on the globe and yet, it’s only an exclusive official language in a handful of English-speaking countries: Australia, New Zealand, the UK and USA.
However, much like South Africa, there are plenty of nations who recognise English as one of their official languages. And here in South Africa most of us can either speak English as a second-language if not as our mother-tongue.
Studying English as an academic subject at school is beneficial for anyone, especially for a learner who is eager to spend time studying, working or travelling abroad in the future. In fact, even many prominent South African universities recognise English as the dominant language of instruction and admissions take your English language proficiency into account.
Not to mention that within the world of business English is required because it’s recognised as the international language of commerce.
Even if you aren’t a native-speaker, keep your options open by taking English as your home-language in high school. This can help you to avoid having to take either the TOEFL or IELTS language course which is necessary for admission at a university in an English speaking country if English is not your home-language.
However there are a number of other requirements to take into consideration if you plan to study abroad, but having a strong foundation in English is a great start!
Once you are ready to register as a Matric candidate you will have reached a degree of proficiency in English that should allow you to achieve a minimum score in your finals. But test-takers still have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with practice exams and invest in tutoring in order to prepare for the test of their lifetime – and do better than just the minimum requirements!
The English home language CAPS syllabus for the FET phase (Grade 10 to 12) covers three major areas and these are represented by the three language exams:
Paper 1: Language and Comprehension
The language and Comprehension paper consists of five sections consisting of various question types that challenge a learner’s English skills and language proficiency:
- Visual literacy
Possibly the best way to prepare for your Language and Comprehension paper is by practising English language past exams. It’s essential that you have the memorandum so that you can mark your own answers and see where there might be weaknesses in your English language skills.
Although this is a paper based test there are still plenty of free practice tests available online for English language learners to make use of as they ready themselves for their finals.
Learners can also refer back to an English language test they may have written throughout the year for the sake of revision.
The biggest problem is that many Grade 12 candidates dismiss the importance of preparing for language exams because it’s a different kind of preparation that doesn’t involve rote learning. It takes concerted effort in order to master the language skills necessary to pass this challenging exam.
In order to master academic English one must spend time speaking and writing, reading and listening and then studying the rules of grammar and syntax until they become second nature. This is especially important if English isn’t your native-language.
Paper 2: Literature
The literature section of English during the FET band is divided into three basic genres:
- Drama (Shakespeare)
Academically, the purpose of studying literature is to improve your reading comprehension skills as well as learning how to analyse a text.
It’s advisable to do plenty of exam preparation and answer questions from a practice exam or do online practice by listening to full-length explanations on Youtube of any of the literature you don’t understand (like Shakespeare!).
When Analysing Texts We Look at Specific Aspects:
Setting helps us to understand the context of a particular text. If a piece of literature is taken out of context it will make absolutely no sense. Setting deals with the physical place (geographic location) and time (past, present of future) as well as the events that contribute to the setting.
This refers to the main idea being represented within the given piece of literature. Sometimes there can be more than one theme that takes equal precedent throughout the story.
Some examples of commonly identified themes are: love, power, money, freedom, relationships, and reality vs. appearance etc.
Characterisation and narrative voice
Understanding how a writer uses various devices in their writing that helps to build a description of a character and allows the reader to get a feel of what this character represents. Learners need to realise that it isn’t merely a physical description of the appearance of a character that reveals who they are but even more so their interaction with the other figures within the story as well as their reaction to their environment.
When it comes to the narrative voice it’s essential for learners to have the knowledge and skills to identify how the story is being conveyed: first person, second person, third person or third person omniscient.
Language and structure
Of course language refers to the actual word choice and phrasing but even more so it is about recognising literary devices, language techniques and the types of words (nouns, adjectives, adverbs etc.) that a writer chooses to use. How do these choices impact the overall tone of the story?
Structure refers to aspects such as sentence types and length, paragraph structure, change of tense etc.
There is a strong emphasis on language devices and structure when studying poetry.
Responding to a Fictional Text
As learners study various literary works they will need to learn how to respond to excerpts from a fictional text and put these excerpts into context. This will involve recognising characterisation, themes and literary devices. During the paper based literature examinations learners will be required to answer many of these types of questions.
The examiner will be assessing whether you have sufficiently mastered the skills necessary for appreciating and understanding literature and that you have a firm grasp of the English language.
It’s highly recommended to answer practice questions from past papers when preparing for the Literature examination. It will give you a clear understanding of what’s expected from you.
The literature section is an intensive English program and should not be underestimated.
Paper 3: Creative Writing
Not everyone gets excited about the prospect of reading and writing but these essential language skills play a huge role in assessing English language ability.
With the right mentoring and guidance even the most hesitant penman can master the language-arts!
When it comes to the creative writing aspect of English there are a number of formal and informal writing formats that learners must master in order to prove their competence in their final exams.
The creative writing paper is divided into two sections. In the first section a candidate will be required to write an essay of approximately 450 words. The second section deals with transactional texts and a candidate will have to choose two different forms of transactional writing each consisting of approximately 200 words.
Writing an Essay
There is a strong emphasis on planning when it comes to creative writing and it’s essential that you provide evidence of all your planning when writing paper 3 (but be sure to draw a clear line over all planning so that it isn't confused with your final draft!).
Begin your essay by taking time to plan such as jotting down a mind map and notes. If you have time it’s best to write a rough draft that you can then edit before writing your final draft.
A well crafted narrative essay should build up to a powerful ending or conclusion. Learners should strive to wrap the story up cohesively.
Of course learners should have plenty of test preparation throughout the year and receive instruction on all the various styles of essay writing:
Narrative essay: the writer tells a story.
Descriptive essay: this is the most poetic option of essay writing and leaves room for vivid and imaginative descriptions that evoke the senses.
Discursive essay: a matter-of-fact style of essay writing that lends itself to comparison and contrast as well as how-to topics.
Argumentative essay: Now it’s all about personal opinion and the writer can play on emotions and use highly charged language to convince the reader to accept their point of view.
Reflective essay: A reflective essay leaves room for the writer’s own personal ideas and thoughts about a specific topic.
Every essay needs to be well structured with a clear introduction, body and conclusion. English learners must remember that the key to a good essay is originality. If your essay isn’t engaging then it’s not going to earn you good marks.
Part of the trick to good essay writing is also understanding paragraph structure. Paragraphs need to have a topic sentence and when there is a change of topic then it’s time to start a new paragraph. All of this leads on to the importance of grammar and sentence structure.
It’s important for learners to realise that English language arts, such as creative writing, also functions as a type of language assessment and is one of the best ways to really gauge fluency.
There are techniques one can learn in order to write intriguing compositions but the only way to properly improve your ability with the finer details of good writing is to practise your writing skills until writing becomes second nature.
The second section of the creative writing exam deals with shorter transactional texts and learners will be tested on their competency when it comes to formal communicative writing. In this section there is a very big emphasis on structure and educators are responsible for ensuring learners’ readiness for this section by providing ample opportunities throughout the year for learners to practise all the different forms of transactional writing.
It helps to have a clear rubric and writing sample for each form of transactional writing when preparing for this portion of the creative writing language examination.
Longer Transactional Texts
Learners will be required to understand the difference in structure and tone when it comes to formal and informal letter writing. Usually test questions on letter writing require a candidate to write a “letter to the editor” or a “letter of application” or how to write a CV with a cover letter.
The focus on this portion of the written test is assessing a learner’s ability to recognise the difference between formal and informal writing by using the correct tone. Learners must be able demonstrate that they understand how to write for different audiences.
Other examples of longer transactional texts include:
- Newspaper articles
- Agenda and minutes of a meeting
- Review (book or movie)
Apart from the challenge of remembering the specific rubrics for each form of transactional writing, linguistic skill is challenged by testing whether a candidate can differentiate between formal and informal writing.
Here are some tips for the longer transactional writing test questions:
When it comes to writing letters it’s all about structure! From the date to the address and the body of the letter, every detail counts. Remember that the first paragraph should outline the purpose of the letter and closing paragraph should act as a summary for all the points discussed in the body.
Writing articles requires finding a balance between writing factual arguments but adding enough colour to engage the reader and keep them reading to the end. Remember to include a powerful heading and always have a clear beginning, middle and an end.
For each section of the transactional writing test the challenge is to communicate precisely and effectively while still keeping a necessary amount of creativity in your writing in order to avoid sounding dull.
Shorter Transactional Texts
These texts also focus on structure, register and tone. It’s advisable for learners to have an up to date study guide on hand containing clear rubrics when doing their test preparation for this portion of the exam as there are a number of important factors to think about and each text requires very different skills.
Some examples of shorter transactional texts include:
- Diary entry
- Writing an email
- Flyer / Advertisement
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Ace your English exams with the help of a knowledgeable tutor who can prepare you for your finals because they know what to expect. You’ll end up with a higher proficiency level in English for your exams and beyond!
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