Tips on comprehension passages (Part 1)

Elliot Ziwira Senior Writer

There is something about examinations that is rather puzzling; in that the closer they get the less prepared we feel, and the more panicky we become.

The panicky mode is exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which has disrupted traditional classroom interactions. Much ground has been lost, yet June examinations are just around the corner, and the November session is not that way off either.

If you feel like that you should not worry, because you are not alone in that predicament. That is what makes you human.

However, Covid-19 or no Covid-19, it is always wise to be well-prepared in advance, and not wait until you get to the bridge to determine how to cross it. You should not be swayed by what you have been doing, instead look closely at what you have not been doing, for it is this that will go a long way in bringing success to the table.

The June Ordinary Level examinations may be a couple or so months away, depending on what authorities have in mind in these new coronavirus times. You may be feeling panicky, which is understandable anyway.

This may not be your first attempt, even, as you may have sat examinations for many seasons; yet that dream you so much cherish has remained etched on the ever receding horizon.

Do not allow your spirit to be dampened by past failures, as each season is always a new one. Just look carefully at your seeds before you sow them, and determine whether what you are doing now is not what you have always been doing.

As you prepare yourself for the English Language Paper 2 for both Cambridge and ZIMSEC syllabuses, you should bear in mind that your handwriting may be your undoing. If you have not been writing for close to a year or so, you may want to blame it on the Covid-19-induced lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly contagion. Nonetheless, you should write legibly; shape your letters well.

In this instalment and the one next week, we will be looking at comprehension skills, so you should make haste and grab your jotter.

Did you know that failing English Language is really difficult?

The comprehension task

What really is comprehension? How does it help us after school? Is it only confined to English Language as a subject? You may find yourself asking these questions and more.

To comprehend is to have a thorough grasp of something—to understand. Understanding a passage will help us in a lot of ways, because if we fail to understand single passages how then would we expect to get a grasp of whole chapters in other subjects like History, Literature in English, Geography, Science and Biology. Life itself is a learning process where a lot of questions are thrown our way, and we should be able to interpret and answer them effectively.

There are different types of passages that you should prepare yourself for; narrative, descriptive and expository. Narrative passages are easy to follow, but questions on them are usually tricky. Expository ones are factual and may be challenging to grasp, but in most cases the questions on them are straightforward.

Before we look at how best we can tackle the comprehension task, we need to look at the reasons why most learners fail to respond to questions, yet all the answers will be in the passage.

Reasons for failure

The following are some of the reasons why most candidates fail to answer comprehension questions:

· Failure to understand the passage

· Disregard of instructions

· Failure to understand the questions set

· giving less than adequate information

· giving more than adequate information

· Lack of vocabulary depth.

The solution

Let us now look closely at how the above shortcomings may affect your result and how best you can avert them. The first thing that should come to your mind each time you are given a passage is that reading is a task calling for different skills. Your task for reading in an examination set-up is critical or mastery, which tempts you to read the questions first.

However, you should not read questions first as this will cloud your understanding of the entire passage, since attention will be drawn to those sections that will answer the questions. It will be like watching a movie that you have already been told about.

Even under examination conditions, treat the passage like any other article that may be read for enjoyment or entertainment. After all, the passages will be excerpts adapted from novels, geographical or other expository books, magazines or newspapers. Forget about the questions asked, just read and ask yourself your own questions. Try to answer your own questions as you go along, as this will help you to reflect on the passage.

To be continued next week . . .

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