The English language portion of the school-based assessment (SBA) is worth 15 per cent of your total DSE score, which means it can be the difference between passing and failing – or achieving a top score. Young Post asked English teacher Ansley Lee Kwan-ting from Kiangsu Chekiang College and Hazal Wong, a tutor from Modern Education, for useful tips on how to make your answers stand out.
Get to know your SBA for English
Unlike the liberal studies Independent Enquiry Study (IES) that requires you to produce an in-depth written report, the SBA for English is an oral assessment. It’s divided into two parts. Part A is based on the reading and viewing programme, whereas Part B rests upon one of your previous elective modules, such as social issues, debating, or poems and songs. Only two marks will be reported: one on presentation (7.5 per cent) and one on group interaction (7.5 per cent).
Wong recommends treating your SBA as a speaking test. The marking scheme for the SBA consists of four parts: pronunciation and delivery, communication strategies, vocabulary and language patterns, and ideas and organisation. Each part is worth six marks.
“Don’t forget, the SBA is a speaking assessment,” Wong said. “So pay more attention to things like pronunciation, stress and intonation. You don’t need to be eloquent, but you should show communication skills, such as making eye contact or taking turns in group interaction.”
Lee is well aware of these problems, as her students always look at their note cards during the assessment. “Sometimes a group discussion with four students can be very stiff because it’s like four different individual presentations,” said Lee. “It lacks authenticity.”
Rather than rehearsing your whole speech, Lee suggests exchanging ideas and sharing your personal thoughts on the texts. “When a candidate asks a question, listen carefully first,” she advises. “Then respond to their questions; state if you agree with their viewpoints and explain why you make such a judgement. Be natural and spontaneous. Instead of hearing you recite everything you’ve prepared, your teacher prefers to hear how a text has inspired you.”
Don’t get too casual
Lee stresses that because the SBA is an assessment, you should not use overly informal language. “A friendly presentation is different from a casual speech,” she says. “Treat it as a serious assessment and avoid using inappropriate language, such as slang or colloquial expressions.”
For vocabulary and language patterns, instead of repeating words like “friendly”, “polite”, and “happy”, Lee recommends you to use a variety of expressions when describing a character in a novel: “He has a gentleman-like manner, with a cheerful smile on his face.” Try to use a greater range of vocabulary, although it’s not recommended to use overly difficult words or idioms.
The SBA tests your language ability, so grammar matters. Lee noticed some students only use one tense during the assessment. “Your presentation can get very confusing halfway through if you use present tense to describe your past experiences or historical events in a biography,” says Lee. “Use different tenses to show a clear time frame so your teacher can easily follow. If you’re talking about a plot or a character in a text, use present tense.”
Share your own ideas
As for content, Wong says there is no need to repeat the plot. “Highlight the messages the text wants to convey, because your teacher is interested in your reflections on these messages,” she says. “Do they give you a moral lesson? Do you agree with them when compared to your life experiences? When talking about the characters in a text, what do they mean to you?”
Wong suggests the following approach: state your inspiration or idea first, then elaborate and give examples by citing an event or a character in the text. Keep everything succinct, and choose a text that is related to your life experiences or something you are interested in.
“You won’t score extra marks for choosing a difficult poem or a boring biography,” says Wong. “If you don’t understand any words in a poem or which literary devices are used and why, your SBA won’t be impressive. You should choose the set texts that match your ability and are relevant to your experiences. The answers will be more convincing if the text can give you an insight.”
Lee adds that your teacher will be able to tell the difference between your own reflection and copying – and plagiarism is a serious offence. You will be heavily penalised or awarded no marks if it is reported and proven that you copied.