These notes have been updated to take into account the changes in the new syllabus

ZIMSEC English Language Examination Structure

In the unlikely event that you don’t know, you should know that the English Language Examination from ZIMSEC consists of two papers. Each paper has a total of 50 marks giving a total of 100 marks for both papers. As a result, this is perhaps the only Ordinary Level examination where the mark you get results in a linear increase in your total percentage that is one more mark for you in any of the papers results in a single percentage increase in your total percentage.

Paper 1 [50 Marks]

It has a total of 50 marks: 30 marks in Section A and 20 Marks in Section B.

Section A

In this section, a candidate is supposed to write a “freestyle” essay of between 350-450 words based on one of the 8 set topics numbering from 1-7. The compositions are set on a variety of topics requiring the candidate to write a single composition of their preferred type from a list that includes: Argumentative essays, Narrative essays, Expository Essays, analytically essays and various combinations of these.

Although the questions change from year to year there is an underlying logic to it all. For example, the first question (number 1) is always a descriptive essay asking you to describe a scene, event, person/character. Number two is made up of part a) part b) with the candidate required to choose one part and produce a narrative essay that brings out the sense in a given statement expressed in the chosen part and there is always a one-word expository essay question for example music.

Typical Paper 1 Section A structure.

1) Descriptive essay (Almost always begins with the words describe.)

2) Write a story based on either one of the following:

Either       a)

Or              b)

You are free to write your own story here. It could/should even contain a lot of descriptions making it a narrative-descriptive composition but it still has to be a story that fully brings out the meanings of expressions made in the part of the question you chose. Do not answer both questions only answer a single part and make sure you number the answer you give correctly. The answer you give must clearly make sure the expression is an integral part of the story and not some afterthought. For example, if the question was given as below:

Either a) If only I had been an adult

Or        b) All hope was lost

For a) the key incident in your story must clearly show what happened could have been averted had you been an adult or it could have turned out differently at the very least. You could talk of, for instance, of how you had an abusive father who abused you and your mother regularly, resulting perhaps in her untimely death and a life of hardship for yourself all which can be traced to that period.

Clearly, you could have stopped this had you been an adult, but it is all wishful thinking! You cannot write a story where you are an adult and seek revenge because that is not what you are being asked to do. It is an unreal conditional here. Nor can you write some other story and tack the statement either at the end or somewhere in the story. We will look in more detail at these essays in a later dedicated post.

3) An argumentative essay where you are supposed to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of something or weigh on the validity of a certain assertion based on practical examples. For example, pregnant students should be allowed to continue with school as usual. Discuss.

4) Expository essays for example: Love, Repentance, etc. It is important that you note these need you to define your own parameters of what you intend to cover in the introduction as the topics tend to be vast, all-encompassing and overwhelming.

5) Analytically essays: These require you to take an analytical approach to a given problem topic for example: How can the government of your country improve food production in your country?

Some of the topics are repeated to give 7 questions and since question two is actually made up of two separate topics there is a total of 8 topics in Section A. The nature of the questions is exactly the same for number 1-3 although the order of the last 4 tends to be shaken up all the types of essays looked above have topics on them set.

We will take a detailed look at each type of question in later chapters for each type of question. Please go to the English Notes Home to Check the list of complete notes.

Section B 20 Marks

This is made up of a guided essay worth 20 marks. While it is impossible to get all the marks in Section A it is pretty much possible to get almost everything correct in this Section. The candidate is given a topic and a list of relevant points/notes to use and they are required to expand on these using their knowledge and experience to include more detailed material they deem necessary.

The essays should usually follow a prescribed form. These can either be a speech, report, formal/informal/semi-formal letters,  or a magazine article. The notes could be a list or in the form of information presented as a simple diagram like a chart, graph or map so beware of these and brush up on your basic Maths skills.

Paper 2 [50 Marks]

Often referred to informally by candidates and teachers alike as the comprehension paper, this can be more accurately called a Reading paper. Candidates read and their understanding is tested in all manner of questions in this paper. The paper is made up of two major sections: Section A with 40 Marks and Section B with 10 Marks.

Section A

In section A the candidate is presented with a reading passage usually an extract from a novel, magazine or newspaper and asked questions on these. The questions can be literal, vocabulary or interpretive. There is also a summary question worth 20 marks. Go To English Notes Home to learn more about Comprehensions.

One change brought about in exams is that this is now a gap-filling paper. You will have to write answers in provided slots even for the summary. This makes it easier to gauge the number of words in a summary.

Section B

Comprises of 5 two mark questions on Register. The candidate is naturally required to understand these before answering them- that explains them being part of the comprehension paper.

Go To English Notes Home to access more topics