o level comprehensive guide

How to Overcome Common Challenges When Preparing For Your O-Level English: A Comprehensive Guide

Hello everyone! Whether you have just graduated primary school or are in the midst of your secondary school education, I am sure you already know that English is one of the most important subjects to score well in at the O Levels. After all, the grade you achieve for O Level English contributes to your L1R5 or L1R4 score as your first language (L1)—you cannot replace that L1 score with any other subject except for Higher Mother Tongue (and not everyone is skilled enough to excel in Higher MT). Hence, it is definitely essential to prioritise mastering O Level English as you prepare for your second national examination! Today, let’s go through three essential tips on how to overcome common challenges faced when you are preparing for—and later sitting for—your O Level English papers.

1. Be Familiar with the O Level English Syllabus

The O Level English Language paper as a whole can be overwhelming and challenging for most students because of the sheer number of components—as well as the large variety of possible question types that can be tested within each component—that you can end up being tested on. It is thus essential that you are very familiar with the four O Level English papers that you will need to sit for:



As seen from the above table, there are a lot of components you need to prepare for, and master, before sitting for your O Level English paper! In order to effectively master all these components, you must thus first be familiar with each of them, and what could be possibly tested.

In particular, Paper 1 and Paper 2 hold the highest weightage. Both also contain sections which can test you on a large variety of question types which you must be adequately prepared to answer, as it will be impossible to predict which question type will arise. For each of the components, we have listed down the possible question types as well as a link to a blogpost where you can read up more on these question types should you wish to do so:



It can take time to familiarise yourself with these components, so be patient with yourself and remember that consistency is key. Make time to constantly review each of the O Level English components—as well as what the variable question types that you can be tested on are—and you will be one step closer to mastering O Level English! 🙂

If you want some guidance as you try to familiarise yourself with these components, consider checking out our O Level Toolkit here (which offers examples of each component), or our blogpost on the overview of the O Level components here. All the best!

2. Manage Your Time Well — BEFORE and DURING the Exam Period!

It goes without saying that being a secondary school student is not easy. You have to juggle the revision of 7—10 subjects (depending on your subject combination), your extra-curricular responsibilities, making time for family and friends, as well as your own leisure so you do not burn out. This is a lot for anyone to have on their plate, and it is easy to become overwhelmed or experience a lack time for certain aspects of your life if you do not have proper time management.

So before any examination period, make sure you manage your time well. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Get yourself a diary or scheduler to write down your existing commitments and plan out each week. You may also jot down what you wish to spend your remaining time on. For instance, I will jot down that I have Swimming CCA on Monday and Wednesday afternoons (3-6pm), and tuition classes on Thursday and Friday afternoons (3-6pm). In the remaining time I have in a week, I can schedule various revision sessions for my different subjects. Perhaps I will schedule an hour of English revision every Thursday night (8-9pm) to make sure I do not lose touch with the O Level English syllabus.
  • Be realistic with your time management. It is natural to be ambitious when we are setting goals for ourselves. However, sometimes it is just not feasible that we can squeeze in the revision of the entire English syllabus in 3 hours on a weeknight—and we end up feeling overwhelmed and unable to revise properly as a result. A more realistic goal could be to plan to revise just two components of the English syllabus (e.g. perhaps Editing and Visual Text Comprehension) during that same time period instead!
  • Set focused, specific goals as you plan your time. To add on to the previous point, keep your goals focused and specific so that they seem less daunting and more manageable for yourself. For instance, instead of simply jotting down “Revise English” for Tuesday night (8-10pm), jot down “Complete a Narrative Comprehension practise and mark it!” This will make your goals seem more doable and also provide you with a clear task to focus on. I promise you that if you do this, you’ll feel very accomplished every time you complete and tick off each specific goal on your to-do list! 🙂

Now, what should you do to manage your time during examinations? Do consider the following tips:

  • Before every exam, be aware of the time given and plan out how you wish to use the time. For instance, the O Level English Paper 1 (Writing) lasts 1 hour 50minutes and has three sections: Editing, Situational Writing, and Continuous Writing. If I know that I am strong and quick at completing Editing and Situational Writing, but require more planning and thinking time for Continuous Writing, I may plan to spend 10 minutes on Editing, 40 minutes on Situational Writing, 55 minutes on Continuous Writing, and the last 5 minutes on checking. Going in with a plan of how you want to use the given time in examinations will be extremely useful and makes sure you do not run out of time for each component!
  • Don’t linger on components or questions which you feel very stuck on. For instance, the O Level English Paper 2 (Comprehension) has a large number of questions you need to tackle. When students feel stumped by a difficult question, they may end up wasting a lot of time on it. As such, they end up with reduced time to complete the other more manageable questions, and losing precious marks they could have easily obtained in the process. This is why some students end up being unable to finish the Comprehension paper at times. So remember to move on quickly if you find yourself stuck—you can always return to the challenging question when you have completed the other questions. A good guide is to move on from a hard question if you have been thinking about it for 5 minutes and are still unable to find an answer. If you are afraid that you might forget about these questions, you may want to circle or put a star next to the question number to remind yourself to come back to these questions when you have completed the rest.

3. Grow a Bank of Exam Strategies to Use!

Given that there are so many components to O Level English, develop a bank of exam strategies to use over your secondary school education. Here is just a list of a few that our english tutors Singapore teach at Lil’ but Mighty’s O Level English Tuition:

  • In Paper 1: Writing (Section A: Editing), write down the acronym SPCA Will Save The Very Poor Cats so you can keep track of the different editing errors that may arise in the text. Have a look at this blogpost for an explanation of how you can use the SPCA acronym and other useful editing tips!
  • In Paper 1: Writing (Section B: Situational Writing), always analyse the Situational Writing question, label the task requirements so you can keep track of them, and plan out an outline using these task requirements.
  • In Paper 1: Writing (Section C: Continuous Writing), annotate on the essay question so you can identify the essay type and understand the key terms thoroughly. This will prevent you from writing out of point!
  • In Paper 2: Comprehension, always label the question types for yourself before you attempt them. This will help you understand the question requirements and ensure you answer them accurately. For instance, a literal question tells you that the answer can be found directly in the passage, while an inferential question tells you that the answer must be deduced (and is not explicitly stated) in the passage. Again, if you are curious about the types of questions in Narrative or Non-Narrative Comprehension, you can read this blogpost and this blogpost respectively.

This list is in no way exhaustive, but just provides an overview of some of the most important exam strategies that can be used to tackle O Level English. If you are curious about any of these strategies that our english tutors singapore tech, why not consider checking out our lessons here?  There are many more of such tips and strategies that we teach in our classes. Alternatively, if you want a self-paced revision handbook, check out our O Level Toolkit here!

And there you have it. Three essential tips that can help you overcome the challenges all students face while preparing for the O Level. All the very best, and do remember to make time for breaks amidst all the revision!

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