Tag Archives: exam skills

It’s not every day I sing the praises of a “crib”…

9781741253474-2T … but I am prepared to laud Maya Puiu and Lisa Edwards for their Pascal Press Study Guide for “Belonging” and Peter Skrzynecki’s Immigrant Chronicle. It really is a thorough and extremely intelligent guide.

It is in fact so good it could be dangerous for some students, if they were to draw on it too closely. Nonetheless, I do commend it and have used it myself – after my own efforts on this site, I should add perhaps. Learn from it, but after reading them search out your own quotes on “belonging” and your own supplementary texts. Use the material on the poems as part of a wider mix, including your class discussions and your own insights. Avoid the exact wording of this very helpful book, lest you and thousands of others begin to sound as if you have been cloned!

Even so, this gets a 10 out of 10 from me. It is that good!

I haven’t seen the other guides in the series, but it has been a good idea to publish comprehensive guides for each set text rather than a catch-all approach in one book.

Maya Puiu is no stranger either to ESL teaching or to Skrzynecki’s work. Some years ago she co-ordinated a book rap on the subject where there is some valuable material, even if not all the current set of poems are there.


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ESL for Law and Accountancy: ideas and help wanted

I currently have a student enrolled in a tertiary course in Accountancy. Now let’s be frank here: this takes me beyond my usual comfort zone as an English teacher. Do any of you out there have any suggestions for resources, or any ideas at all?

I have found the following:

1. At a very introductory level, but a plus is that the material is Australian, is the site Discovering Democracy.

2. There are some useful links, even if in a US context, on For example:

  • the creation, structure, and interpretation of the legal text
  • sample legal texts from throughout the ages (wills, deeds, writs, trials, etc.)
  • 3. TransLegal together with Cambridge ESOL has a page of downloads related to the International Legal English Certificate. See also:


    Any more ideas?


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    More good educational/English Studies blogs

    Just had this email:

    I am a regular reader of your English/ESL–and more! blog and I have found your site to be an inspiration. I am a teacher of high school English at Katikati College in New Zealand and I have been blogging for about nine months…

    So I checked them out. I suggest you do the same.

    This one is for Year 13 students (New Zealand):


    This one is for other years, the majority of students at Katikati College.


    Students here will find many relevant articles and links.


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    Tutoring site

    Emma’s English Tutoring is a Sydney site that is partly commercial, in that it offers services. However, her background is certainly interesting. I am quite flattered that she has chosen to reproduce, with acknowledgement, How can I improve my essay grades, especially in exams, without learning “model essays” off by heart? from my pages here. There are some good pointers appearing on other posts on Emma’s site.

    As you will know from my About page, I also do some tutoring, but not through these pages directly. If you want more information on that, use the contact page.


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    Do you believe this?

    Before we start, I should confess this blog is in Trebuchet MS. I like it on the screen. However, Does Your Choice of Font Affect What Grade Your Essays Get?

    According to that you are better off choosing Georgia or Times New Roman if you want good grades in your essays! Serifs are seen as more academic than sans-serifs it appears.

    Could Ancient History look better in Papyrus, I wonder, or English studies in a nice script?

    Leave a comment

    Posted by on January 11, 2008 in student help, study skills, writing


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    Improving handwriting

    There are two aspects here: 1) appearance and legibility; 2) speed.

    I have to confess that my own handwriting is not the most beautiful in the world, though I can make a fair effort at calligraphy with the right equipment and plenty of time. I was taught handwriting way back in the day’s of steel nibs and inkwells! I also was taught Copperplate! Ball point pens, back then, were considered evil.

    Read the rest of this entry »


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    Is this a lost art? Is it ridiculous to have HSC students — with a few exceptions for special circumstances — writing their answers by hand?

    ABC Radio National’s Life Matters has recently raised these questions: listen to Death of Handwriting (MP3).

    Guests: Maryanne Fahey –Writer and comic; David Loader — Technology and Education Consultant; Dr Marie-Louise Ayres — Curator of Manuscripts, National Library of Australia

    Now I am going to do a bit of googling to see what I can find on this…


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    How can I write faster in exams?

    Mr Whitfield, do you have any tips on how I could write faster in exams? I push myself to the point where my writing becomes almost illegible yet I still struggle to write any more than 3 pages in a 40 minute essay and that’s excluding the time thinking about what to write.

    1. Go to Study Skills Self-Help Information and click on “Seven Strategies for Improving Test Performance”. It may be your problem is here. Look too at “Exam writing tips from one who’s been there!”

    2. Go to Writing Essay Exams (Online Writing Lab of Purdue University) for some good advice.

    3. Test Anxiety will help you control that panic by taking you to lots of sites with good advice on that.

    4. And if that is not enough there is even more on Test Writing Tips.

    5. Quantity is not everything; sometimes a very concise three to four page answer can be more successful than a wordy long answer.

    6. Occasionally the problem of short answers may have to do with difficulties the student has with the act of writing, or with concentration, and these may be caused by factors that merit special consideration. If you feel this is your case, consult your Year Adviser and your School Counsellor.


  • Practise with real questions from past papers, ones your teacher gives you, or even ones you make up yourself.
  • Frequently practise analysing questions. Ask yourself: “What does this mean?” “What would be relevant in an answer?” “How would I approach it?” Even five minutes spent doing this is valuable. Question analysis should become almost automatic, so you very quickly know what you are doing in any situation.
  • Frequently go one step further: jot down the three or four MAIN POINTS you would wish to make. Write a practice introduction based on those main points. Again, this may take only five or ten minutes, but will make you a much more efficient exam writer.
  • Less frequently (but often), write TIMED whole answers in 40 minutes to an hour. Either share them with your study group, if you are in one, or submit them to your teacher for feedback. Even if you don’t show the resulting essay to anyone else, you may benefit from it by putting it away for a week and then taking it out and looking at it critically. How successful do you think you were?
  • Read other students’ successful essays. What did they do to score that good result? You can find some published NSW HSC ones in the Library or your bookstore, or from the NSW Board of Studies.
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    Posted by on December 19, 2006 in esl for students, HSC, questions asked, student help, study skills, writing