Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer
IMAGINE going through a whole sermon of three hours at church and walking away without a clear picture of what exactly the preacher, priest, pastor or prophet meant, or spending hours in the library and still leaving none the wiser.
Just imagine waking up in the middle of the night, sweating and your heart pounding, aware that you were jolted from a bad dream, yet none of the details still click in your head.
That is the nature of the human brain, it grasps and loses, which is the reason why we keep on revising our work, especially so before examinations.
We dream every day and our dreams are usually linked to our experiences.
During a single night we go through many separate dreams, yet by the time we wake up we would have forgotten 95 percent of them.
We only remember those dreams that really have a bearing on our lives, and the rest are just meant to keep our brains conscious; they are not the main details of our lives.
So, as we go through our books, it does not mean that everything that we read is important to us, neither does all that is said by the pastor or prophet have a bearing on your lives; which is the reason why he or she cannot quote whole scriptures to drive home his ideas. Only a verse or two will suffice.
No single book can give you all that you need to be ready for your examinations, and not all that you come across every day is important to your own unique experiences.
This is the reason why the art of summarising is important to you.
You should learn to pick opportunity from experience, grain from chaff and honey from bile. Summarising is a life skill, which is not only confined to your study of English Language. Remember English is a language first and a subject second.
The summary writing task
Before you engage yourself in summary writing, you should know what exactly you want to achieve from the task, as this will help you in picking out the main points. Since the question on this task is worth 20 marks, you should aim for that mark. You cannot just let that slip because of mistakes that you can avoid.
Although the tips we are going to discuss today will help all those who want to hone their summary skills, they are especially meant for those preparing for the ZIMSEC English Language Syllabus 1122/2.
The Cambridge syllabus 0500 also follows a similar scope, although it varies now and again. The Cambridge 1123 syllabus, however, follows a different scope as the question will be divided into two parts.
Steps to follow
The following steps will help you in sharpening your summary writing skills.
Go over them carefully.
Read and understand the question: As we discussed in our lesson on comprehension passages, a question understood is half way answered, so it is important that you read the question carefully and underline key words. The question may also be divided into two or three parts, so you have to be very careful here.
Identify the summary boundary: The summary boundary refers to the relevant paragraphs that you should use to answer the question. This will be indicated in the question, so what you simply have to do is to indicate it using a pencil. Using information outside this boundary renders your answer irrelevant.
Read the passage underlining the main points: Now read the passage within your boundary, underlining key points and numbering them. Do not underline in textbooks. You can use a faint pencil to underline or you can write them on a separate piece of paper provided.
NB: Please take note of this; for the ZIMSEC syllabus it is not necessary to use your own words (Cambridge 1123/0500, insists on this) because you are likely to lose the points; that is why you should pick them as they are given. Your points should be free of elaborations, examples, explanations and direct speech. Your tenses should be consistent. Try to pick more than 15 points.
Make sure there is a subject and a verb in your points: Every point that you underline should have a subject and a verb, as this will help you to pick relevant points. Assuming that the question is about Nicole’s feelings, thoughts and actions, the subject is Nicole and not Munashe or Tariro, which means whatever is not related to her is irrelevant. The feelings, thoughts and actions are the verbs. Note also that this question is divided into three parts.
In some cases a question may have more than one subject, and in such instances you should not mix them up. You may also be asked to imagine yourself as Nicole, the narrator or the writer, which means you substitute Nicole or the pronoun she for “I” and the verbs will remain the same.
Link your points in continuous writing in a rough draft: Time permitting, it is important to write a rough draft first. The space provided in your paper may be inadequate, so you should ask for separate blank sheets. If it is not an examination you should write your draft in your exercise book.
You may have been told that you should link your points using conjunctions, but this may expose you to grammatical mistakes, and besides it wastes words. If you decide to use these discourse markers (conjunctions) like however, furthermore, moreover, meanwhile, notwithstanding, although, despite, whereas and many more, you should bear in mind that they should be followed by a comma, immediately or at the break of the contrast.
When linking points simply use capital letters and full stops to separate them, so that you do not make mistakes. DO NOT use conjunctions, especially those you are unfamiliar with. You may join two points using “and” and no more.
Count the number of words used in the rough draft: Now count the number of words used and check for any grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors. If your draft is more than the required 160 words, reduce them through careful editing.
Write your final draft and cancel out the rough draft: You should write your final draft before you cancel out the rough one, because you may run out of time. Your final draft should be free of any errors discussed above. Make sure that your final draft is within the required number of words. It should not be more than 160 words and it should not be less than 126 words if you are aiming for 20 marks. Indicate the number of words used in brackets.
Awarding of marks
Marks are awarded as follows: 15 marks for points and five marks for mechanical accuracy. For every correct point you will be awarded a mark up to a total of 15. The mechanical accuracy mark is awarded based on the number of words used on a sliding scale.
However, you lose half a mark for every grammatical, spelling, tense or punctuation error up to 10. Which means if you make 10 mistakes then you lose the five marks on mechanical accuracy, but your points still score regardless of the errors as long as they are clear.