Sunday, October 4, 2009

Guidelines for answering question on the novel

Know your novel well. Pay attention to plot, themes, characters and characterisation, moral values and messages conveyed.

Knowing the plot means understanding events and the sequence of events. Some students take the easy way out by just reading a synopsis of the story. Knowing the synopsis alone is not enough. You need to know details: the order in which events occurs, what causes them to occur, whether an event triggers other events, and the effect of an event or events on characters. This means that one reading of the novel is not enough.

Knowing the plot also means knowing the characters and characterisation. Characters are the people in the text while characterisation refers to their character traits. Just writing about a character’s physical, emotional and mental attributes alone is not enough. You need to be able to provide relevant and accurate information to support the points you make.

Always read the question carefully. Spend a couple of minutes asking yourself what the question is about.

Structure your answer properly. An answer which is well thought out is well organised. Points are clearly advanced and the line of thought or argument is easy to follow. There is no irrelevant information or deviation from the question. A well-structured answer should have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. Do pay attention to paragraphing. You may leave a line between paragraphs.

Display a sound knowledge of, and engagement with, the novel. Provide relevant details to support your answer. Many students make the mistake of merely retelling the story. To answer the question, you need to engage with the text and display maturity of thought.

As this is a language paper, focus on using correct language. Use simple sentences. What is important is that you convey your ideas clearly. Do pay attention to spelling and punctuation, and write neatly and legibly.

Remember, when we respond to literary texts, we usually use the present tense but if this is not possible, you may respond in the past tense. The important thing is to be consistent.

Be careful when answering questions on moral values. Many students confuse characteristics with values. If a character is brave, the value is bravery. Likewise, if a character is wise, the value is wisdom. Remember to use adjectives for character traits and nouns for values.
Do not mistake negative values for moral messages. Students have been known to say that one of the moral values or messages in The Pearl is greed. The value/ message conveyed is not to be greedy.

Let’s take a look at a sample question.

The writer presents the main character as someone who is not perfect. Using details from the novel that you have studied, write about: the strengths of the character, and his/her weaknesses.

To answer the above question you need to ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who is the main character?
  • What are his strengths? What evidence is there to support these traits?
  • What are his weaknesses? What evidence is there to support these traits?
    (Remember, the protagonist usually displays more strengths than weaknesses).
  • How many points must I provide?
    The answer to the last question is relative. Due to time constraints, I suggest you provide at least three to five points.

“The Pearl” – Sample answer A

The main character in “The Pearl” is Kino, a poor Mexican Indian pearl diver. Kino, like most people, has his strengths and weaknesses.

Kino is a man of immense courage. He does not allow circumstances to weigh him down. Although his people have been oppressed and suppressed by the colonial powers for five hundred years, he plucks up enough courage to protest when the conspiring pearl buyers try to cheat him. His courage is also obvious when he single-handedly takes on the trackers who have been trailing him. Armed with only a knife, Kino manages to outwit them and kills all three although one of them has a rifle.

Another sterling quality Kino has is his determination. He does not give up his dreams and desires even though he is attacked by unknown assailants, not once but three times. As if this is not enough, he is further tormented when his brush house is burnt down and his canoe is destroyed. Any other man might have succumbed to the pressure to give in but not Kino. These challenges only make him more determined to sell the pearl in the city so that his family can have a better life and a more promising future.

Kino is also a selfless man. When he and Juana flee the village, he offers to lead the trackers away so that Juana and Coyotito can be saved although he knows for sure that these ruthless killers will definitely kill him. His willingness to die for his wife and son are commendable.
However, Kino has one major weakness. He is unable to control his anger. When he discovers that Juana has taken the pearl and is about to fling it out to sea, he hits out at her, punching her in the face and stomach. He is so consumed with anger that he fails to see Juana’s reason for wanting to get rid of the pearl. Some people may feel that his anger is justified but I beg to differ. He should have remained calm and rational. After all, Juana is a perceptive woman who is able to see the destructive effect the pearl has on them.

Another weakness is his greed, his lust for the pearl. Despite being advised by Juana that the pearl is nothing but evil, he refuses to part with it. His refusal to give up the pearl and his dreams has dire consequences. It jeopardises his family’s well being and eventually results in the death of his only child, Coyotito.

It is clear from the evidence above that Kino, the protagonist of “The Pearl” has some good qualities as well as some weaknesses. After all, no one is perfect.

Let’s consider the strengths of the above answer:

  1. The answer is well structured. It has an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
  2. The name of the main character and the title of the novel chosen are introduced in the introductory paragraph.
  3. Also mentioned is the fact that the character has strengths and weaknesses. In this sense, the candidate is answering the question directly.
  4. In total, five points are provided in the body of the answer – three strengths and two weaknesses.
  5. Each paragraph begins with a point made, either about Kino’s strength or his weakness. This immediately connects us with the question. Ample textual evidence is provided to support each point. This style of writing makes the line of thought clear and easy to follow.
  6. The transitional marker “however” is used to show a shift in argument – from strengths to weaknesses.
  7. The writer’s feelings and opinions are also included (Any other man might have succumbed to the pressure to give in but not Kino / Some people may feel that his anger is justified but I beg to differ) showing that the writer has engaged with the text on a personal level.
  8. The conclusion is precise and to the point. The writer has once again made a connection to the question by restating that Kino has strengths and weaknesses.
  9. However, the last bit stating that no man is perfect sort of tones down his weaknesses.

Sample answer B

In the novel “The Pearl”, the main character is Kino.

Kino is a poor Mexican Indian pearl fisher. He lives in a brush house with his wife, Juana and son Coyotito. One day, Coyotito is bitten by a scorpion. Kino takes him to the doctor’s house but is turned away because he has no money. Kino goes pearl fishing to find a pearl. Kino is willing to do anything to save his son because he loves his son very much. He finds a big beautiful pearl.
Kino is a brave man. He is not afraid of the colonial powers. In the mountains, he kills the trackers to protect his family.

Kino is also a loving man. He takes his son Coyotito to the doctor’s house to seek treatment because he knows the doctor will not come to the settlement. The doctor is a greedy man. He is only interested in money.

Kino also becomes greedy. He refuses to throw the pearl away although Juana tells him it is nothing but evil.

This answer has several weaknesses:

  1. The second paragraph is a mere narration of part of the story. The details are irrelevant to the question as the writer do not identify any of Kino’s strengths or weaknesses.
  2. We may argue that what the writer is saying is that Kino is a loving man in the line “Kino is willing to do anything to save his son because he loves his son very much.”
    Well, the writer cannot just pick out a sentence and say that is the point. The writer needs to consider what is stated before and after the sentence. What the writer is just saying is that Kino has gone pearl fishing because he loves his son very much. We cannot make sense for the writer by saying “Ah, this is what youn are trying to say.” I know what the writer is trying to say but has the writer said it clearly?
  3. Another weakness is the lack of details to support the points presented.
    Let’s look at paragraph three. Here, what the writer is saying is that Kino is brave because he kills the three trackers. Does killing them make him brave? Not necessarily so. The writer has to look at the circumstances under which he fights and kills them. Remember, there are three trackers and he is alone. They are out to kill him for the pearl whereas he has to kill them to protect his wife and son. The trackers are also armed with a rifle while all Kino has is a knife.
  4. Paragraph four is an example of a point presented which is not supported by relevant and accurate details. Yes, it is true that Kino is a loving man but it is not his idea to take the baby to the doctor. It is Juana’s. She makes the decision to go to the doctor when she learns that he will not come to the village.
  5. The evidence provided in paragraph five is inadequate to support the point that Kino is greedy. As stated earlier, you must show a good understanding of the text. Skimpy details in this paragraph only point to the student’s lack of textual knowledge.
  6. The abrupt ending is another shortcoming.

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Collection of SPM English Language Question Papers

Terengganu Trial [Paper 1]

Johor Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Terengganu Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Pahang Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2] [Answers], Melaka Trial 2007 [Paper 1] [Paper 2], TIMES [Paper 1] [Paper 2] SPB [Paper 1] [Paper 2]


Terengganu Mid Year [Paper 1] [Paper 2],
MRSM Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], SBP Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Kelantan Trial [Paper 1 & 2], Terengganu Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Kedah Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Pahang Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Johor Trial [Paper 1 & 2], Perlis Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Sabah Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2], Sarawak Trial [Paper 1 & 2], Melaka Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2]


Terengganu TOV [Paper 1] [Paper 2] Terengganu Mid Year [Paper 1] [Paper 2]
Melaka Trial , Johor Trial , Sabah Trial , Kedah Trial , Perlis Trial , Times , SBP , Pahang Trial [Paper 1] [Paper 2]