Wednesday, August 29, 2012



Bahasa Inggeris narrative essay writing tips for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM)

A view through a former student's eyes

read, understand, practise and apply


Hey, I was a Form 5 student in a boarding school (Sekolah Menengah Sains Seremban in 2010) and being around with intelligent friends sometimes can be very stressful to keep up with. I admit that I also was struggling with my essay writing in Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) bahasa Inggeris paper 1 in section B for a long time. Although I got an A for my Penilaian Menengah Rendah (PMR) bahasa Inggeris, it was different from the SPM bahasa Inggeris because most of the questions are subjective questions and in paper 1 we have to write two essays; one Directed Writing essay and one Continuous Writing essay which carry maximum 85 marks out of 160 marks in total. In this blog I will be discussing on Continuous Writing and giving emphasis on narrative essay. Continue your reading to find out why I am giving such emphasis on narrative essay.


SPM bahasa Inggeris paper 1 consists of two sections; Section A and Section B.

Section A is where you are applying your knowledge on writing a talk, a speech, a report, a dialogue, an article, a letter and so on. You are given 45 minutes to answer this section. This section is compulsory for you to answer because only one question is given that brings a total of 35 marks. How the examiner marks the directed writing: from 35 marks; 3 marks awarded for format; 12 marks for content points and 20 marks for language (grammar).

Section B is where you are applying all your knowledge in writing skills. This section is where the rules of grammar take their roles. Therefore, prepare yourself with adequate amount of grammar and how it works. Now, lets take a bird's view on this section.
You are given five questions and only to answer one.
You are given an hour to read through all questions, to choose the question you feel most comfortable with, to plan for the points, to write and to check for any grammatical error. That’s seriously a lot of tasks to do within 1 hour. So my suggestion is that you must determine your chosen or most comfortable type of written essay (either narrative, reflective, descriptive, argumentative/persuasive or factual/expository). For me, I rather avoid choosing reflective, descriptive, argumentative/persuasive or factual/expository essay because these types of essay require a lot of knowledge on current issues. Thus, I choose narrative essay.
This section carries 50 marks.

How the examiner marks the continuous writing: they mark the essay based on impression which means there is no fixed formula to mark your essay, but they will judge your essay based on your tenses, vocabulary, sentence structures and so on. From there they will determine your marks. Later in this blog I will be discussing on ways to earn high marks for your Continuous Writing.


Firstly, let us explore the pattern of continuous writing essay questions from 2002 to 2010.

- (Descriptive) a teacher who has great influence on you
- (Factual/Expository) good result at school do not guarantee success in the future
- (Descriptive) how I can help to make the world a better place to live in
- (Open essay) colours
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) a day wished never happened
- (Factual/Expository) country to choose and why
- (Descriptive) an invitation that cannot live without
- (Open essay) friends
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) a festival celebrated
- (Factual/Expository) ways to promote tourism in Malaysia
- (Descriptive) my ideal school
- (Open essay) clothes
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) biggest challenge in life
- (Factual/Expository) ways to keep oneself healthy
- (Descriptive) who would you be if you were given a chance to be anybody
- (Open essay) music
- (Narrative) unexpected visitor
- (Descriptive) an enjoyable weekend you had
- (Factual/Expository) ways television help students in studies
- (Descriptive) your life in the next ten years
- (Open essay) food
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) an embarrassing experience
- (Factual/Expository) giving opinions whether teenagers today are only interested in entertainment
- (Descriptive) my early years
- (Open essay) tomorrow
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) a hard-working person who succeeded in life
- (Argumentative) examination - good or bad
- (Descriptive) perfect future husband or wife
- (Open essay) stars
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) unforgettable incident seen on way home
- (Argumentative) school children should not have long holidays
- (Descriptive) favourite day of the week
- (Open essay) beauty
- (Narrative) completing a story
- (Descriptive) most popular student in school
- (Argumentative) internet mostly a good thing - do you agree?
- (Factual/Expository) ways to save the environment
- (Open essay) home
- (Narrative) completing a story

We can see that every year narrative essay question is asked and it is about completing a story either given the beginning or the ending of the essay except in 2005 where the question stated clearly on what is the main event of the story. The rest of it, you can determine your own plot of story. Easy hah?

Now I will explain why I am so excited about narrative essay.
you are only write the essay in past tense; therefore no confusion on tenses
it lets you to imagine a situation; allowing to express creative ideas
if you lucky enough, the question given is plot-free (its you who create the plot fitting to the question given)
you can use wide vocabulary
easier compared to open essay, factual essay and argumentative essay
need not to remember current issues around you
These are lists of benefits that I can think of when writing a narrative essay. Continue reading my blog as I will bring you on how to produce a good narrative essay.


To produce a good narrative essay, first you need to brush up your grammar. It does not work if your grammar is not that good. Get help from your friends and english teacher especially because they know what they are doing; plus that is what they do - teach you!

Buy if you can afford to, if not borrow grammar books, example of english essays, and anything that is related from friends or library of your school because by reading it will improve your english skills.

There is always a friends that 'master' a certain subject and for this identify your friends who have the highest marks in Continuous Writing among you. Read his/her essay and try to relate his/her writing to yours. It is not a bad thing to copy the way they write the essay as long as it involve study and education.

Try to find time to write an additional essay (which is your own personal essay; not homework) for two or a week times and asked for your teacher's comments. As for me, I started to write additional essays after finishing my trial examination because my bahasa Inggeris grade was the lowest among the 10 subjects that I took. I started a bit late, but you should start NOW while you have the time. Believe me it helps a lot because for my trial I got a B but for the SPM examination I got an A+ for bahasa Inggeris and English GCE-O an 1A. English GCE-O is the marking standard of British English and it only takes the marks of your Continuous Writing. See how important it is for you to excel in Continuous Writing.



There is nothing more important than having a good grammar skills. So, language must be taken into consideration when writing an essay. Refer to the above writing practises.


Unlike the other types of essays, a narrative essay requires you to have a wide repertoire of vocabulary in the story you wrote. This is to avoid a dull story to be presented to the reader; in this case the examiner. From my previous writing, I wrote that the marking system for continuous writing is based on impression. Thus, to give good impression to the examiner on the essay you wrote, you must include a wide range of vocabulary and some interesting phrases. Study the examples given below:

Example 1
"It was a boring weekend. We were lazy to read books and study, so we planned for a camping trip. After gaining permission from our parents, we brought necessary camping things and food for the camping trip. Then, we went to Mount Tahan."

Example 2
"It was a mundane and lacklustre period after the school final examination. Danny, Erik and I had had enough of reading books and studying, so we all set on going a camping trip. After getting the green light from our parents, we equipped ourselves with the necessary camping gear and enough food to last us for the two-day camping trip. Then, we embarked on our journey to Mount Tahan with high spirits."

Between both examples, Example 1 depicts a dull story but Example 2 depicts a colourful story although both are mainly telling the same idea. Why? Here are the answers:
Example 1 lacks of vocabulary.
Reading Example 1 does not portray sense of maturity in writing unlike Example 2.
Example 1 lacks of details but Example 2 has an adequate details in the writing that added the value of interest.
The use of word/phrase like mundane and lacklustre, green light, camping gear, embarked and high spirits added more sophistication to Example 2.

So, how to make your essay more interesting to read?
Find words or phrases that can replace a common word that you think can be used for every essay you want to write. For example happy can be replaced by cheerful, cheery, merry, joyful, light-hearted, jovial, gleeful, buoyant, carefree, blithe, glad, elated, ecstatic, euphoric, overjoyed, exuberant, in seventh heaven, propitious, auspicious and fortuitous. Actually these replaceable words for happy just only a portion of it. A thesaurus may come handy for this job. Try searching for sad, shocked, scared and so on.
Insert at least two idiomatic expressions in your essay like Example 2 that uses the idiom green light which means giving permission and high spirits which means happy. From Example 2 which is a complete paragraph there are already two idiomatic expressions. So, imagine if there are five similar paragraphs!
This next tips could be very ambitious. Try to insert common words and phrases from Latin and modern languages which had been accepted and used in English Language. Such words like ad initio (Latin) meaning from the beginning, esprit de corps (French) meaning team spirit, genre (French) meaning style and so on. These words can be found in english dictionary.

Here is another important part in narrative essay writing. Plot. A good narrative must have a strong plot. Beginning with an introduction, then there is rising action, a climax, then falling action and lastly a resolution.

Example of a narrative essay:

From Terengganu 2010 Trial Examination; beginning with "I could not sleep throughout that night..."


I could not sleep throughout that night. Not even a minute. It was just because I might miss the ships or boat that passed by the island. I was shivering in cold even it was just a gentle breeze. I thought to myself that things would have been different if I did not take part in that vacation. Never in my wildest dream that a spectacular vacation on a cruise ship at the beginning turned out to be a nightmarish affair.


The day before was a joyous one. I embarked on a three-day vacation trip on a cruise ship. The vacation was amazing. The scenic view was splendid across the horizon of the sea as far as the eyes could see. The sea water was crystal clear and the sky was a magnificent azure. My blissful day did not stop there. The dusk thrilled me as I sat on a chair. The sky gave its golden appeal and the Sun looked like it was sinking into the sea as night began to unfold. Then, the golden yellow background of the sky changed to twinkling stars. I was staggered to see the view of the opulent God's magnum opus.

As the night grew older, something totally different started to appear up to the sky. The sky was too dark. It darken so much as the glimmering stars started to disappear. To my instinct, something bad would happen any time soon, but I just could not figure it out. I went into my room and soon dived into a deep slumber.

Raising action


"This is your captain speaking. Abandon the ship! This ship is about to sink!"

The loud ringing sound really woke me up from my comfort bed and I was taken aback to hear the announcement. To my horror, the ship was in topsy-turvy. High jinks enshrouded the air. Then I realised, there was a storm happening outside. To my flummox, I dragged myself outside and saw people running higgledy-piggledy as they did not know what to do. As for me, the only thing I could remember is that a huge wave came crushing upon the ship and then everything seemed to darken.


Streaks steaks of light awaken me found out that I was on a beach. At last I thought that my misery had ended. But a little exploration did not bring much hope. There was no one there. So, being an optimistic person, I built up a settlement near the beach. I laid upon my leaves bedding. I wondered. Could I survive? Did my family know that I loved them? For how long did I have to wait?

Out of the blue, an abrupt siren was heard from afar. Swiftly, I arose from my leaves bedding and ran nearer to the beach. I shouted for my life while waving my hands up on the air.

"Help! I'm here! On the island! Help! Help! I'm here!"

Falling action

Then, the siren became louder and louder. At the moment, I knew they had noticed me. Unexpected, tears of joy started to drop from my eyes. Before I even thought my life was over, now the door back to my life was widely opened. By the moment I stepped into the rescue boat, I know that it was the time for me to go home.


That is the example of a complete narrative essay written by me within a week time after my trial examination. This essay earned me 45 marks out of 50 marks.

Note: the underlined words or phrases in the essay really help in earning me a high marks.

Now back at the title above which is about a fixed plot. What is the meaning of fixed plot? A fixed plot is the plot that you will be using during your exam. How to do that?

The example essay above is from the question; beginning with "I could not sleep throughout that night..."

But, what will happen if the question says; ending with "...It was truly the experience of a lifetime." My suggestion is that you keep on using the same plot, NOT the same essay by means memorising word by word, but change either the beginning or ending with respect to the question given.

This an example for changing the ending with the same plot:

"...Then, the siren became louder and louder. At the moment, I knew they had noticed me. Unexpected, tears of joy started to drop from my eyes. Now, looking back to what had happened to me I realised that I am surviving alone at a deserted island. Not everyone could say that they slept on leaves bedding and have the sky as the roof. It was truly an experience of a lifetime."

Now, can you see what I am trying to make point here? By practising two or three times, you can easily remember the plot. When writing the essay, try as much as you can to relate the plot to the question asked. This is what I did for my examination.

Note: the benefit of having a fixed plot is that the time that you usually used to plan for your essay can be used to write. By the way, it is the written part is submitted to the examiner, not the planning part, right?
Give a title to your essay (refer to the example essay given above; it has a title) . The title itself must be relevant to the plot. So, does the title 'Stranded' relevant to the plot? Yes it is because the plot is about a person was trapped in an island after a tragedy on a cruise ship. The title of an essay can be anything as long as it fits the story.
Must write more than 350 words. But, the essay must not too long. Remember this; the longer you write, the more mistakes you write. An ideal essay should be around 350 to 400 words.
Use only one hour to write the essay and the same for Directed Writing; only use 45 minutes. Be fair when writing the essay;
Include wide range of sentence structures, vocabulary and must have at least one dialogue (MUST HAVE - one of the characteristics of excellent essay). Why you should have dialogue in your essay? When you include a dialogue in your essay, it shows that you have the knowledge in punctuation. This is what is special about narrative essay because there is no dialogue in factual essay, right?
At least include a word that plays a specific sound. In the example essay I include the word 'RIIIINNNNGGGG!!!!!!'. In english, it does not mean a thing, but it gives the reader a feel to the story you wrote.
Include a wide range of vocabulary to your essay to keep the interests of the readers.
Check for any grammatical error after finishing the essay. Make sure it is grammatically correct in order to get high marks.


My teacher used to tell me that narrative essay is relatively a little bit easier that the other types of essays; but it depends on the question itself! If your do not understand a word or a phrase for a particular questions; DO NOT even try to write about it! For example you are given this question:

Write about your most propitious moment.
See the underlined word? Most of us do not understand the word "propitious", some may guessed that it means sad, surprise and so on where the real meaning is happy. Avoid to write something that you do not sure.


Continuous Writing is very related to Directed Writing in terms of language. The quality of language you portray in Directed Writing reflects the grammar knowledge that you have because in Directed Writing the is no specific question to be asked. It can be anything of any format. Unlike Continuous Writing, students tend to memorising an essay.

How do the examiner even know that a student was memorising an essay or not? It depends on the language on Directed Writing. Let say R got 6 marks for language in Directed Writing but in the Continuous Writing R's language band stands for A. By that time the examiner know that R was memorising an essay. Thus, R's Continuous Writing essay will fall to the lower band. Directed Writing does play a major role here.

Therefore, it is crucial for you to have a strong knowledge on basic grammar.


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