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Summary writing: Sentences WASSCE, NECO want from you (1)

Another West African Senior School Certificate Examination is almost here. So, largely in solidarity with the students/candidates who will be sitting for WASSCE and NECO (National Examination Council), our lesson today will address an important segment of the English Language paper: summary writing. Specifically, we will examine what it takes to write acceptable and winning sentences in summary writing.

This is very important because the chief objective is to be able to reduce a whole passage into meaningful, concise and error-free sentences, depending on the number required. The candidate may be able to read and understand the passage. He may be able to identify the points needed, but can he or she write out the ideas or points in sentences in the acceptable form? Can the sentences match what the examiner wants based on the marking scheme? Below are some guidelines in this sense.

First, each sentence must be in your own words. This is crucial because the examiner does not pardon anyone who lifts sentences from the given passage. The marker abhors (hates) the syndrome so much that he dubs it ‘mindless lifting’. You lift the sentence and he (or she) hits you with zero. ‘May that not be my portion,’ I heard you mutter, and I say, ‘Amen.’ However, note that it is one thing to be able to identify a particular idea or point you are asked to bring out, it is another to be able to state it in your own words. So, you do not waste your time and mark by stealing the writer’s own construction. You must construct your own sentence expressing the same thing already said. Let’s assume that this is a sentence from the passage:

Unemployment is one of the major factors worsening insecurity in Nigeria and many experts, including Professor Julius Okena, have stressed this on many occasions.

We assume that, in the passage, the writer presents five factors fuelling insecurity, and you are asked to identify and write them out. Now, the above is one of the points as offered by the writer. You are lucky if you are able to identify it but returning it verbatim will earn you nothing. Instead, you can say:

A major cause of insecurity in Nigeria is unemployment.

Or

Unemploy-ment remains a major cause of insecurity in Nigeria.

Secondly, the sentence must be a complete one. It should not be a phrase or a subordinate clause. You should know that the idea of a complete sentence is the one with a subject, verb and object – if the original sentence has an object. If you write an incomplete sentence, you can be sure that you are going to get an incomplete mark. Consider this:

Unemployment

Lack of jobs

Unemployment in Nigeria.

Don’t be deceived by the full stop at the end of the last statement. It does not turn it into a complete sentence. As a matter of fact, the mark is like a fool’s stop there, not our own cherished full stop. Of course, the other too are also fault because, although they capture the points in the given clause, they are not complete sentences like ‘Unemployment remains a major cause of insecurity in Nigeria.’

Thirdly, the sentence should capture the required point and nothing else. This means that you have to remain focused, without presenting a half-truth in terms of what the examiner wants, which is what the passage’s writer has stated. Close to this is that you should not add your own idea to what has been said. Don’t add your opinion. Don’t exaggerate it and don’t criticise or discuss it. If you are eager to do these, go to essay or letter writing. That is where your experience, opinion and creative prowess count. Here is an example of a bad sentence in this regard:

Unemployment and unemployability is a major factor fuelling insecurity in Nigeria.

Unemployment is a major cause of insecurity and armed robberies in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

Master Too Know, did the writer mention unemployability? Did he talk about heaven and earth, now that you are including the world in your own scope? Although you think you are helping the writer to expand the scope, you are only helping the market to punish you in a way that is most painful. I believe you know how!

To be continued

Source: PUNCH

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