Tuesday, 24 July 2012


KENYA EXAMS ONLINE KCPE RESOURCES: A GUIDE ON COMPOSITION WRITING: A GUIDE ON COMPOSITION WRITING                                                           By James Nguri Njuguna, INTRODUCTION Com...

Monday, 9 July 2012


                                                          By James Nguri Njuguna,
Composition writing is an important component in the KCPE examination Primary English Paper. In fact it constitutes over 40% of what a candidate gets in the English paper.   It goes without saying that highlighting on the various skills, principles and challenges in writing a composition would be very useful to KCPE examination candidates
What is a Composition?
The answer to this question varies from person to person depending on theme and areas of specialization.  But as for our case, based on K.C.P.E examination, a composition is a combination of thoughts and ideas put down in a logical manner. A composition can either be fictitious or factual depending on the title given (rubric).
Types of Compositions.
There are a number of composition types covered under the primary school curriculum.  The main ones include;-
(i)    Narratives
(ii)   Stories
(iii)   Letters- friendly and official
(iv)   Recipes.
(v)    Reports
(vi)   Minutes
(vii)  Dialogues
(viii)  Filling forms.
NB:-  In all the themes covered in the English syllabus, the last exercises introduces a learner into articulating what he or she has learnt orally into continuous writing. This dictates the need for proper teaching and syllabus coverage to enhance the acquisition of language and writing skills

When does a child begin writing a composition?
The answer to this question is not fixed.  It all depends on the interpretation.  But one thing is certain. That composition writing begins as soon as child begins to think critically and recall what he or she sees, learns, hears and feels. This should tell us that a child begins ‘writing’ composition even before joining a formal system of education.  In formal education, a pupil is introduced to letters then to words and subsequently sentences.  It is the combination of sentences that bring about a paragraph and many paragraphs bring out a story.  Of course the paragraphs should be centered on a given goal lesson or subject. They should also make sense to both the writer and the reader otherwise the whole process could be futile. The writers thoughts should come out strongly, in fact show me a piece of good writing and I shall tell you the mind of the writer
Writing a Composition.

Writing a composition depends on a number of factors some of which are answers to the following questions
1.      Is it a guided composition?   
This is mainly done in class 3,4 and 5
2.      Is it a topical composition?
This type of composition is some what restrictive in that the pupil is expected to develop the story from a certain angle or point of view - Much is expected since the facts are known
Examples of topical compositions, given in form of a composition title are;
·         The August Holiday
·         A wedding Ceremony
·         A tree plating day
·         Soil Erosion
3.      Is it a started composition or an ended composition?
This has been the mode of K.C.P.E testing of composition since its inception.  I don’t wish to suggest that a change is impossible.  All what is stipulated in the curriculum is examinable and therefore candidates should practice on all the areas.
NB:- In most of the K.C.P.E composition tasks, the topic is often open ended.  This means that a learner has a wide scope of what to write about.  Below are the beginning of compositions for various years in K.C.P.E.

These and many other questions dictated how a composition should be written.  However, one major factor in writing a composition is one’s preparedness.  Think critically on what you have to write about and list down the main points.
This may sound unusual but unless a person on a journey knows where he is, where he wants to go and how far it is from his initial position, the journey may not take place.  The writer can ease the writing of a composition if an attempt is made to answer questions such as what?, where?,when? How? and so?  as relates to the composition to be written. For instance if one was to write a composition on the topic A Wedding Ceremony, the following questions can go a long way in making a pupil focus on the topic,  
1.       Who is wedding?
2.       Where is the wedding taking place?
3.       When is the wedding taking place?
4.       How are the preparations before the wedding?
5.       What is your take or involvement in the wedding?
6.       What were the emerging issues during the wedding?
7.      So how did it end and what was the day like?
A good composition should therefore have the following notable characteristics:
(i)                  An interesting introduction – one that captivates the reader and acts as a gateway to the writers thoughts. It should be short, clear and interesting.
(ii)               A body – that brings together the writers thoughts and ideas logically and must be explicit/ elaborate.
(iii)             A conclusion - This captures the lesson experienced in the whole plot.  It brings out the writers feeling about the whole story or sums up the story. At times it leaves the reader to guess the outcome of an episode.
 Basing on the title – A wedding ceremony – the introduction should be such that it touches on the people wedding, the place or venue and the preparation in place.
The body should concentrate much on the ceremony itself- from the service, the officiating, and the signing of the certificate, the cutting of the cake, the eating process and the giving of gifts.
The conclusion should highlight the general feeling of the ceremony and the departure from the venue.  The attitude of the writer is felt here. Where need be, a proverb is best placed to conclude a story.

 Below are a number of skills necessary in writing a good composition.
(i)                 Legibility
First and foremost, a piece of writing must be appealing to both the writer and the reader.  The teacher for that matter looks at the level of legibility as a merit.  An illegible (one that cannot be read) composition is bound to score less compared to the former.  Let your lettering be correct. Some pupils do not write certain letters correctly which bring about some confusion. For example a pupil can write letter a look like letter Q, letter r   that looks like v. Let your letters be very clear. The rubbing of any letter or word should be such that the marks do not overlap causing illegibility of the intended word. Avoid crossing a word and writing another one above it.
The spacing of words should be uniform and not too close neither too far apart.  The letters if possible should follow a particular pattern preferably erect and should be large enough.

(ii)                Fluency
A script should be such that ideas tend to flow in a logical manner.  Many candidates find themselves mixing up ideas. For example, what should have been the introduction comes last and what should have been the conclusion comes first.  In the case of events, we would expect a certain sequence of proceedings that do not seem to overlap.  Fluency is also affected by ideas that do not seem to fully develop or come in quick successions.  Such a composition is termed as being “jerky”.
For example, in reference to a composition on A wedding ceremony, it is not in order to have the arrival of bridal team coming first, then followed by writing about the venue and then jumping onto the party and then the signing of the certificate.  In such a case the flow is hampered.  Another element that hampers flow in composition writing is the mixing of tenses and wrong structures that tend to confuse the reader.  Punctuation is yet another area that affects the fluency of a composition as we shall see later under challenges in composition writing.
(iii)             Accuracy
This includes all the other elements of language in terms of word agreement, correct use of words, phrases, proverbs, paragraphing, and punctuation and so on.  What hinder accuracy are the numerous errors displayed in the scripts.  These will be highlighted later.
(iv)              Creativity
This is a skill that has to be developed through interest and being dynamics while interacting with the course content as well as the immediate environment.  It involves coming up with a unique composition that use correct but unfamiliar words, expressions and creates suspense - You keep yearning for more when the story ends.  Involvement of all the senses in a composition makes it interesting, varied and the reader relates well with it.  Creating scenes within a scene but still keeping the flow can be one way of expressing creativity.- for example on a composition on sports, a writer could create a scene within  the main scene about sports where perhaps  a player is about to score but a mad man dashes into the field as if from hell and picks the ball after which he runs with it into the maize plantation, or The guest of honour in a harambee meeting thanks the audience and volunteers to pray for the hefty collection only to find the money gone after.

(v)                Originality
Our learning environment has become affected by an attitude of laxity. Most learners have a tendency of copying work or cramming or memorizing passages, stories or paragraphs from the many sample composition in textbooks in order to impress the teachers.  This hinders originality of a composition.
This is a practice that should be avoided at all cost. Candidates should realize that those who mark KCPE composition are teachers who have come across all those compositions in revision books. They can therefore tell when one writes such a composition that has been crammed from books.


(a)    Mother tongue influence
 A learner first interacts with his or her language before getting introduced to English.  This has an effect on the writing of the child unless thorough work is done to alleviate this.  A good example is:- ‘today is today’  from the Kiswahili saying Leo ni leo msema kesho ni mwongo.  It may sound proper English but that is far from the truth. Other examples of instance where mother tongue interference occur are;
-              My brother removes job in Nairobi, instead of, My brother works in Nairobi
-             The tisha told us to go out, Instead of The teacher told us to go out
-             We ate lice rast night, Instead of, We ate rice last night
-             Where is my pook? Instead of Where is my book?

(b)  Spelling errors:
This is a very common problem with most pupils. Some words such as tomorrow, surprised, beautiful, received, until, writing among other are often not spelled correctly. Teachers can give dictation to pupils as a remedy to this problem. Pupils on the other hand are advised to read widely.  Looking up new words in a dictionary is another sure way to arrest the problem.
(b)   Mixing of speech
For example, When the teacher came in he asked us  are you going to the show?  We said Yes and we boarded the bus.  The underlined words were to be punctuated. The correct way of writing it would be- When the teacher came in, he asked us “ Are you going to the show?”  We said “Yes” and we boarded the bus. Alternatively, it can be written as a reported speech to read- When the teacher came, he asked us whether we were to go to the show.  We told him that we were interested and we boarded the bus.
Pupils should learn how to write in the correct speech. This is only possible if they practice writing compositions which should be marked and errors noted by the teacher corrected.
(c)    Use of short form
This is another area that challenges a number of pupils.  KCPE candidates are advised to be careful when writing short forms of the following words among others
Word              short form
Cannot            can’t               
Shall not          shan’t
                        Is not                isn’t
Will not           won’t
Could not         couldn’t          
They are           they’re                                   
Would not       wouldn’t         
 Here is an example of a sentence with short form of some words. We couldn’t go home so the teacher asked us to remain in class.  He wouldn’t let us play.  Unless in direct speech, contracted form of verbs should be avoided.

(d)   Wrong use of vocabulary, expression, phrase
I will use the example below to illustrate wrong use of vocabulary, expression and phrase.
I occasionally without wasting time left the hall and went straight to the office.  Within a snitch of time, I was holding a convocation with the principal.
 In the above example, the word occasionally refers to frequency and therefore does not sound well with the sentence which is on time.  In a nick of time, within a stitch of time or in a fraction of a second would be the right expression to use. The writer must have held a conversation with the principal or rather a dialogue.

 (f)  Omission and commission
Some errors are mastered and unless revision is carried out, they will keep recurring year after year.  Such errors are such as return back, enter in, discuss about, congratulate for reached at among others are common.  The additional prepositions are wrongly placed which distorts the rule of the English language.
Another challenge here is joining words that should not be joined. For example
 Iam  instead of  I am
Infact instead of In fact
Infront instead of  In front
Or separating a word that one for example
Can not instead of  Cannot
every thing instead  of everything.
my self instead of myself
There are also errors of omission such as in the two sentences below
1.      My uncle lives in USA. 
2. The monitor put some on the table
The correct way of writing the sentences would be
(i)      My uncle lives in the USA.
(ii)   The monitor put some books on the table.
The underlined words were omitted

(g)  Tenses

This is a major concern in the writing and speaking of English.  We more often than not write what we speak and with a lot of broken English carrying the day, remedial measures must be put in place.  It is not surprising to find a writer with the kind of writing shown below :
-          My mother take coffee and I took tea.
-          We eat ugali and meat and then we go home.
-          My uncle said that we can go swimming that afternoon.
-          She wake up hurriedly and shout for help
-          I likes eating rice and meat
The correct way of writing the above sentences is as shown below. Note the underlined words which were not correctly used earlier.
-          My mother took coffee but I took tea. took but to
-          We ate ugali and meat and then we went home.
-          My uncle said that we could go swimming that afternoon.
-          She woke up hurriedly and shouted for help.
-          I like eating rice and meat. I like eating rice and meat.

(h)  Poor sentence construction:
A sentence is NOT a sentence unless it fulfills the grammatical rule.  It would be ridiculous to say:
Me I always come to school early, the correct way should be-  I always come to school early.
  We are see that is not easy to go  back home. The correct way should be- We realize that it was not easy to go home.
All visitors they could not believe.  The correct way should be- All visitors would not believe.
That was the episode day to recall until I kick the bucket. The correct way should be- That was an episode to recall until I kick the bucket or That was an unforgettable episode
NB:  It is wrong to have two pronouns or a noun and a pronoun in a sentence following each other.
(i)   Punctuation errors
Many candidates either do not know the use of punctuation marks in writing or they simply ignore them.  Emphasis need to be put in order to alleviate the vice.  Some common punctuation errors involve wrong punctuation such as
-          What a great day it was?  Instead of What a great day!
-          My brother’s wives are coming today.  This might sound ambiguous but reading through a composition, the   writer might be referring to his two or three brothers’ wives. To correct this, the apostrophes should come after (s)   so that the sentence reads- my brother’s wives are coming today.
Mr. Nguri our teacher of English is absent today.  Commas are, missing to separate the main idea from the additional statement. - This is very common.  The correct way of writing is  -Mr.  Nguri, our teacher of English, is absent today

(j)     Irrelevancy
This comes about when the writer deviates from the subject matter and goes on to write a story that has no relationship with the topic one supposed to write about. For example if one was writing on the topic Sports, it would be a grave mistake to go a head and ignore the subject and instead write about a kidnap ordeal or wedding.  This is usually common among candidates who cram a given sample composition from books prior to a test.

 Once again I would like to discourage this. There are instances where a whole class crams a given composition which they reproduce during the examination. If this happen during KCPE examination, chances of all the candidates being penalized is very high.

In conclusion, I wish to state that for a learner to be able to write an elaborate story, a lot of preparedness has to be done.  The teacher has to inculcate the discipline of wide reading, research, use of the dictionary and the speaking of English.  This enhances confidence in the learner which in turn creates a sense of determination in composition writing.
To the teacher,
The evaluation or making of composition should be objective. A teacher should target what to look for in a given composition.  If for instance your aim is to look for spelling errors, do so without putting much emphasis on writing or any other aspect of language.  This should be alternated every other time with emphasis on a different area. Since practice makes perfect, pupils should be made to write as many compositions as is practical.
As for the candidates, I wish to advise that you desist from lifting passage, stories or extract from past papers, newsletters, revision composition books or any other source but rather be creative in your own way.  This does not mean that you should not borrow words, expressions, phrases, but copying a whole story hampers your own intellectual capability

Read  the story below and underline the errors discussed earlier. There are more than thirty errors!
I wake up very early in the mourning and headed to the bathroom.  I took a cold shawer that left me as fresh as a cucumber.  I took a few minutes at the dressing table before emerging looking elegant.
            The table has been set.  I sat comfortably and served myself.  Their were all sorts of delicacy ranging from sausages, bacons, egg not to mention tosted bread. In no time, I had grulped my scrimptions breakfast and washed it down with a glass of worm water.  I was set for the long journey that awaited me- a tour in Tsavo National park.
The journey was to comment shortly before eight thirty.  I walked the short distance from home to the local market centre where the Moi primary school bus was to pick up.  To my  utter amazing, Ochola, the moniter of our class, was already their.  I joined him and congratulated him for his early arrival.
By quarter past eight almost everybody had arrived at the place except  Kasuve who, as long as I could remember has never arrived to school earlier than eight.  He was a reknowed latecomer.
The bus negotiated a corner from the far end of the end of the market and halted at the bus stop area. we filed in as the classteacher Mr Nguri called the register. It was not until the driver ignited the engine that Kasuve was seen running towards the bus.  As soon as he entered in the bus it set of.
You may ask questions if you wish, the teacher said as the bus drove on and on.  With it’s windscreen glittering as the sun shore on it was surprising to find that what seem a days journey took us not more than two hours to be there.
This work has been written by James Nguri Njuguna, an experienced teacher of English in Nakuru Municipality.  He has not only taught in different districts but has also conducted seminars and workshops in the field of English and science in many parts of the country. He is currently in pursuit of a Bed.  degree In linguistics in Kenyatta University.
Contact:-  njugunajamesnguri@yahoo.com or  info@Kenyaexam.co.ke. Cell phone 0725 964390 www.kenyaexams.co.ke


By Teacher Isaac Gitogo

Dear candidate,
Let me start by wishing you success in the forthcoming 2012 KCPE Examination. You are capable of performing well enough to enable you to be admitted in the secondary school of your choice. This is possible if the following is given serious consideration by you as a candidate as well as your teachers.

First, it is important that you cover the syllabus well before the time of examination. Most teachers ensure that this is done. As such you may not need to worry much about this. However should you find that your class is lagging behind in any given subject, the best you can do is to read ahead. Seek assistance of your friends in different classes or schools who may have already covered what you are reading. Your teacher may also be of great help. Most teachers go out of their way to assist pupils when approached politely.

 Covering the syllabus is not enough though, you need to read and understand what has been covered in class. Do not read to memorize what has been learnt. This is called cramming. The reason is that even if you deed, which is not very possible, you would   be likely to get only half of the questions correct. This is because KCPE Examination is set by experts who seek to find out whether candidates understand what they have learnt not whether they can recall what they have read or heard from their teachers. A good number of questions therefore will require you to apply the information you have learnt in new situations. This is only possible if you understand what you have learnt.

Practice on Sample KCPE Examination Test
Once the above has been done, the next step is to practice on sample KCPE Examination tests. There are many commercial tests available from bookshops, however, before you buy one, seek the opinion of your teacher or somebody with a good knowledge of primary school education syllabus. This is the only way you can pick an examination that may be of help to you. With a good examination at hand, you need to choose an appropriate time to do the test. The best time is after you have done some revision in any subject of your choice.

It is very important for you to do the test under conditions that are as similar to the real KCPE examination as possible. Choose a time when you are relaxed and have no other pressing things such as assignments to do. Also find a quiet place where you are not likely to be disturbed before you finish the test. Inform your parents or any other person who may be likely to interrupt you on what you intent to do in advance. Ensure you have a watch to time yourself. Do not keep looking at your watch every time now and then though. The best way would be to do half the work and find out how much time you have taken. You can then adjust your pace accordingly.

 Answering Multiple Choice Questions
Before you begin doing the examination, ensure you enter all the information regarding your identity as required.  This will include your name, school name, code and your index number.  If you are so eager to start that you forget to enter your name and index number in the real KCPE Examination, you will not get results
Read any instructions given carefully and ensure you understand them before you start to answering the questions.
.  Read every question quickly but carefully. Read the question more than once and be sure that you understand the question before choosing the correct answer. Underlining the key words in the question may help in understanding exactly what is required of you.  Pay particular attention to questions that indicate that some choices may be partly correct in which case you are required to choose the most corrent answer.  Differentiate such questions from those that require you to choose an answer that is not correct among the choices given.  One is likely to choose the wrong answer despite knowing the correct one if you answer the questions in a hurry without understanding the question well. Remember that some choices may be correct statements in themselves, but not when joined to the question being asked.
Start with question you are sure of the answer.
Begin by answering those questions you are 100% certain of the answer.  If you cannot answer a question within a minute or less, skip it and plan to come to it later.  However mark it so that you can easily identify it from those that you have already answered. You should not get worried if you find that there are some questions you are unable to come up with. An answer of such questions may occur to you simply as a result of being more relaxed after having answered other questions.  At other times, later questions may trigger something in your thinking that will enable you remember the answer of an earlier question you were not sure of.
 Always remember that well set examinations have questions of varying difficulty.  A few may seem just too simple.  Take them at face value and appreciate the easy mark rather than trying to find a trick behind them.   Remember that some questions that may appear easy to you may appear difficult to others.  A few questions may seem to be really demanding.  See them as a challenge, attempt them but do not let them consume more than their share of your time.

Have a second look at the challenging questions
After going through the whole fifty questions or ninety for Social Studies go back to the beginning and have another look at the questions you had left un-answered.  Answer those that you are reasonably sure of the answer without spending too much time on one question.  Finally study the remaining questions and attempt to answer them.  If you are unable to come up with the correct answer, then guess but do not leave any question not answered.
If you must guess, do so from a small number
 If you must guess, then do so from among a small number of choices as possible.  This can be done by eliminating the choices that you know are clearly know are wrong.
Approaches of answering multiple choice questions
This approach of answering multiple-choice questions is called elimination method.  It involves looking for clearly wrong answers and cross/canceling them out.  This is followed by making a careful selection among the two or three remaining alternatives. When using this approach, chances of arriving at the correct answer can further be improved by reading the question with each of the remaining choices separately.  Take advantage of the correct sound or flow that correct answer usually produces. Alternatively, read the question and option A as a true –false question and decide whether it is a true or false statement. Then do the same with thing for the question and choices B, C, and D. Choose the alternative that is true or false depending on what is asked.
It is of utmost importance to bear in mind that when confronted with a true/false question, a statement must be 100% true.  If one word in the statement is not true, then the whole statement is false. A true/false statement assumes the idea that “This is always true”.  True/false statements that provide reasons are therefore more likely to be false because there may be other reasons or other addition ones.  Such reasoning can be used to eliminate a choice when one is in doubt. This should however not be treated as a first had rule as there may be exceptions.
Another approach of answering multiple choice questions is the answer –search method. It involves reading the question and trying to answer it in the mind without at the choices. This can be done by treating the question as   filling-in question. When you come up with the answer, search for it among the choices given. If you see it, then choose it but make sure that none of the other choices is a better answer. The answer search method relies heavily on one’s recognition memory which can be very impressive.  However, if one is tense, there is interference with recognition memory well, a candidate has to be fairly relaxed and distant from the questions and wait for the correct answer to “jump out” at them. Once you decide on an answer, stick to it. Whatever method you use, once you decide on an answer, stick to it.  Change answers only if you are sure it is clearly wrong.  More than often one changes from the correct answer to the wrong one.
               There is no strategy that is better than the other.  The best way to approach multiple choice questions is to choose the method that is more comfortable with your natural way of doing things.  To impose a new foreign approach that do not agree with already well established approaches to examination writing can cause problems.  To come up with a strategy that works for you, look for books and try the different strategies to see which best works for you to gain confidence and enable you enter the examination room relaxed.  This will enable one to focus on the questions rather than the strategy.
   Some candidates prefer to mark the correct answer on the question paper and then transfer them to the answer sheet later.  The reasoning is that if you try to do several things at the same time, you increase the probability of making a mistake.  Saving the relatively easy job of marking the correct answer on the answer sheet until the last step reduces the probability of making silly errors.  Other candidates would prefer to mark the correct answer directly on the answer sheet.  Choose the method that is most comfortable with you. Make sure you fill the appropriate eclipse carefully in pencil.  The invigilator will probably never take a close look at your answer sheet.  So if you fail to fill in the eclipses completely or if you make stray marks, only the computer will notice and you will be penalized.  Be sure to erase any accidental marks outside the required spaces completely and you keep the answer sheet clean
Each time you do a test whether in school or on your own, take note of the questions you have failed. In which topics are these questions you have failed? If you find that there is a specific topic you are failing to score as expected in most of the tests you attempt, then know you have to seek help in that specific area.

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