If you’re still scratching your heads over how to ace Paper 4 of the English Language DSE, read on. We asked Danny Poon, English Panel Chairperson of SKH All Saints’ Middle School and King’s Glory Education Centre tutor Alan Chan to give us their top tips on how to score high in the Speaking section of the exam.
In your group discussion, you might come across a fellow student who takes part very reluctantly. This can be frustrating, but don’t act too annoyed when it happens. “Some might ask ‘What do you think?’ [to the quiet students] with impatience. This won’t impress the examiners even if you’re an eloquent speaker,” Poon says. If they don’t want to speak, that’s their business, but Poon says you can use their silence to show off your questioning skills. You should take these steps:
1. Ask a question that requires a simple “yes” or “no” answer. If the discussion topic is related to fast food, ask “Do you agree?” or “Do you like fast food?”.
2. Ask a question that gives the person you’re asking options, like “What would you choose when ordering in a fast-food restaurant – hamburgers, chips, or ice cream?”.
3. Ask why or other questions that encourages the other person to say something longer. Don’t try to pressure or force them into giving you a long answer, because this will make you come across as aggressive, unfriendly, and hostile. If you do this, the examiners will judge you negatively for Communication Strategies.
“The point of the group discussion is to reach an agreement on something,” Poon says. “But because there is a time limit, many students will try to rush to a conclusion.
A discussion [is full of] negotiating. To make sure a conversation flows properly, use a phrase like, ‘Let’s see what we have so far. At this point, we all agree … ’. When nothing new is added, you can move on to another topic.”
In terms of question types, Chan said there are seven main categories: activity (planning or organising an activity, such as a charity event); creativity (coming up with interesting and innovative ideas, like a new app); opinion (observations on recent social issues); decision-related (discussing and agreeing on the best places for a school trip); project-based (discussing ideas using relevant sources, followed by a presentation); commentary (talking about famous people); and debates. The last topic is the most difficult because many students fall into the trap of stating their stance without using arguments.
“You might struggle with organising points and applying them in your argument,” Chan says. “Also, you might not have enough exposure to debate-related topics as they only make up 10-20 per cent of questions on practice papers.”
According to Chan, most students overlook Paper 4 when revising – but you shouldn’t. Treat it as seriously as you do all your other exams. Even though this is a verbal exam,
not a written one, you should spend one or two hours practising it every day, he says. Out of the four components in the marking scheme – vocabulary and language, organising of ideas, presentation/pronunciation, and conversation strategies – you’re unlikely to improve your presentation and pronunciation skills by much in a short period of time. Instead, he says, you should focus on making the other three aspects better – especially the way you talk to the other candidates.
Chan suggests that you brush up on your “conversation etiquette” and study different ways you can deal with candidates who try to take over the discussions. “You need to know how to make compromises when you disagree with someone. Rather than go straight into arguing your point, try to rephrase or summarise what the other person has said before presenting your argument.” If someone is talking for too long, you can end the lengthy discussion and move on to another topic in a polite way by summarising their ideas, and saying: “Excuse me, perhaps we can discuss it later, if we have time?”.
The start of any new conversation should, Chan adds, include a constructive comment or reference to what has just been mentioned. Don’t just say “I agree with you”. Make sure you compliment other candidates if you think they make a valid point. This will impress the judges. This can be as simple as saying “That’s great!”.
Do you agree with Chan and Poon on their advice? Let’s discuss.