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Why an English examination is not a good measure of writing competence?


By Paul Andrew Bourne


Kirszner and Mandel (1998, pp.3-20) in an article titled Writing Essays, posit that writing goes through a series of interrelated processes: “planning”, “shaping”, “writing”, “revising”, “editing” and “proofreading” before there is a finality of thought.  Without planning, the writing process is oftentimes a maze to which the writer has no end in sight. The prelude to any form of effective writing is the planning stage.  It is at this stage that the idea is born and developed from infancy to a work of art.  This final piece is exhibited in a museum.  This museum is a good idea that makes for delightful reading.


The idea is captured in what is termed a thesis.  The thesis is a concise but comprehensive sentence.  It gives the essence of the body of work to come. Some authors write their thesis at the beginning of the first paragraph.  Other authors place it at the end of the first paragraph and some use subtlety of this thought throughout the essay without ever penning a sentence of the sort. The latter approach is not recommended for infant writer but is primarily a tool used by established authors.


Apart of the planning stage is the brainstorming process. It is at this stage that the writer uses his audience’s characteristics as the basis for drafting the appropriate style of writing.  Here the purpose of the writer is to ensure that s/he is using suitable language that is easily understandable by his/her target group. A good writer cannot write constantly at one level even though his/her audience is at another level.  A good writer is dynamic and easily adaptable to his/her social setting. S/he must be able to pen his/her thoughts that are vital and fits the profile of the target market.  It is at this stage that the author decides all those characteristics in order to meet the specificity of the writing process.  Appropriate style writing is a paramount ingredient for good writing. 


Without a thesis statement in the planning stage, the author runs the risk of becoming overly indulgent in one thought or by supplying irrelevant ideas.  The thesis sentence, therefore, guides the body of work.  All the thoughts must be logical and contributory to the thesis. Otherwise the author is not writing in a structure, coherent and synchronized manner.  The writer is indulging in what is called irrelevant writing.  This type of writing is poor for academics; and any individuals who write for an examination.  In this case, the author is guilty of a substandard script. 


On completion of a good formulated thesis sentence, the writer is given a guide thereafter. If a thesis statement is followed in its entirety, the author is guided along a path of logical thinking.  This is possible if and only if the writer subdivide the general thesis into sub thesis throughout the essay.  Although this is so, a writer oftentimes does not pen his/her final thoughts at once.  A properly constructed thesis sentence may take an experienced author a long time to formulate and so can we imagine the extent of the problems faced by new writers?  Because of the importance of this sentence, it may be a hindrance to amateur writers.  Is the thesis, the final aspect to an essay?


Writing a composition goes through a process of shaping, and reshaping of content before it approaches what seems befitting for its intended purpose.  The intended purpose of the writing must satisfy the audience desire for information while fulfilling their characterization within the context of good grammar. It is by the constant revising and editing, and proofing reading of an initial essay that the writing gradually emerges into a masterpiece. 


Notwithstanding the continuous process involved in writing, an author may want to substantiate his/her present position by the use of other peoples’ works.  He/she can do so by direct citations and-or paraphrasing the essence of another writer’s ideas.   If an author, however, borrows from other authors’ works, he/she must acknowledge the source from which those perspectives were taken.  Otherwise, he/she runs the risk of intellectual fraud (or “plagiarism”).



Therefore, good writing is not only writing.  In order for writing (essay) to be classified as good, it must beginning with a good and relevant ‘attention getter’.  After this characterization has been established, the author should write two or three other sentences inclusive of the thesis in the introduction.  Within this stage (drafting), the writer is only penning ideas as they merged within the thought process.  The planning stage is used to reanalyze those ideas.  The author will edit and revise the concepts for appropriateness and relevant of content before he/she is able to move from the introduction to supporting paragraphs.  He/she will follow this with a sub-thesis in each proceeding paragraph.  Hence, the thesis becomes the skeleton of the essay.  The writer is embodying all other thoughts after this sentence as justification of the initial idea.  At the beginning of each paragraph, he/she will return to the thesis sentence in order to “reguide” the new set of sentences. 


After the author has written the first draft of the composition, editing and revising of the initial thoughts would have taken an exorbitant time to complete and as such no time is left for proofreading.  A good essay in an English examination is not adjudged based on end product’s finality but on the quality of the product.  Therefore, if the writer wants a relatively good grade in an English examination as a measure of his/her competence in the discipline, s/he must spend time proofreading the draft.  This process is another aspect of editing and revising before the final essay is ready for submission.  As such, no 2-hour English examination with more than a question will adequately test the quality of the pupil’s competence in the discipline.  Instead, this measure is but a system of repeated incompetence from the education system.  In order to unearth quality scripts from students and not just penning words, English examination needs to radically overall itself. Hmmm!





Paul Andrew Bourne, BSc. (Hons) Economics and Demography; Dip. Edu.

7F Cambridge Street

Franklin Town

Kingston 16


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