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Tips for Comprehension Open-ended
Reference Questions

Posted on: 25 Aug 2019

Comprehension Open-ended is the last section of Paper Two in the English Language examination, and carries 20 marks. In the PSLE English exams, this section works out to be about 10%. In this article, we share a former PSLE marker’s perspective on how to answer reference questions accurately.

What goes through our minds when we read a comprehension passage? Apart from answering comprehension questions, we also form opinions about characters and incidents that take place. As we do that, we start making connections between different parts of the text. Our prior knowledge and experiences help us relate to the text at a deeper level.

So, how do we know what the writer is referring to when pronouns or ambiguous terms, like ‘something’ and ‘the situation’ is used? As mentioned earlier, it is our ability to make connections that assists us in understanding what is being referred to. The following are some simple tips to help you answer reference questions better.


1)    Be clear

 

·         Avoid using pronouns that make your answers vague or ambiguous.

 

·         Determiners like ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘those’ and ‘these’ may also make your answers confusing.

        Let us look at the following excerpt from a comprehension passage.


 

What does the word ‘this’ refer to?

Clear Answer

Vague Answer

It refers to the woman’s husband explaining to the woman about the mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

·         This answer is clear because it is obvious what the pronouns are referring to.

It refers to her husband explaining to that woman about the mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

·         The sentence is less clear because ‘her husband’ and ‘that woman’ do not make clear reference to the same woman. There could be two women referred to here.

 


2)    Be specific

 

·         Pronouns may make it difficult for the marker to know who or what is being referred to if the person or object in the story is not mentioned earlier.

 

·         The use of articles ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’ is important to ensure that the answers are specific.

 

o   ‘a’ and ‘an’ – they are used refer to an object or person for the first time, thus lacking specificity

 

o   ‘the’ – it is used to refer to a particular object or person that has already been mentioned

        Let us look at the following excerpt from a comprehension passage. 


Specific Answer

Vague Answer

It refers to the woman’s husband explaining to the woman about the mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

 

·         This answer is specific because the use of ‘the’ makes it clear which persons and item are being referred to.

It refers to a husband explaining to a woman about a mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

 

·         The sentence is not specific because the phrase ‘a husband’ can refer to any husband. By using ‘a woman’, it can refer to any woman. By using ‘a mirror’, it can refer to any mirror.

 


3)    Avoid changing the original meaning of the text when rewriting in your own words

 

·         It is a good habit to write your answers in your own words.

 

·         However, when choosing synonyms to do so, ensure that the meaning of the original text does not change.

        Let us look at the following excerpt from a comprehension passage.


Same Meaning as the Text

Change in Meaning 

It refers to the woman’s husband explaining to the woman about the mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

 

·         The answer is clear and specific, and does not change the meaning of the original text.

 

 

It refers to the woman’s husband telling the woman about the mirror and telling her to take great care of it.

 

·         The sentence is clear and specific. However, the word ‘telling’ has a different meaning from the word ‘explaining’. Thus, the meaning of the sentence has changed from the original text.

 


The core skill for comprehension Open-ended is critical reading. Nevertheless, a disciplined answering technique ensures that students address all aspects of the questions, with neither missing nor additional information.

Many of our students have already benefited from our programme and seeing marked improvements in their comprehension results. To find out how your children can excel in Comprehension Open-ended, go to http://www.cognitus.edu.sg/Registration or call us at 83218252 to sign up for a trial lesson today!