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Confusion between Summary Writing (Preci's) and Paraphrasing in secondary schools and junior colleges

by Ganesamoorthy Subramaniam

Traditionally, the term used for teaching Summary Writing Skills in schools and junior colleges the world over has been the term ‘Preci’s‘ that literally means ‘Precision’, ie “to say in fewer than one-third of the words what’s intended by the author of the passage.” It’s ironical that in recent years, our schools and junior colleges have been using the term “Paraphrase” to mean “Summary Writing” that literally means “state in other words what the author is stating or implying.” This has been the source of confusion in the minds of our students and teachers.

The disconcerting concern is whether the Ministry of Education (MOE) has unwittingly altered the concept of Summary Writing in both secondary schools and junior colleges to the level of causing a collosal confusion in the minds of our students and teachers.

On 18 Jun 2019, Ms Irene Wong of the MOE (Corporate Communications) responding to my inquiry on this matter asserted that “paraphrasing is only one part of the skills assessed.” But she did not clarify which part of the ‘Paraphrasing’ skills are assessed and which are not. She also did not state the extent to which ‘paraphrasing’ would contribute significantly to students attaining greater clarity in Summary Writing. She further asserted that the following skills are assessed in relation to Summary Writing:

  • Ability to understand the comprehension text and select relevant information to answer a given question
  • Ability to synthesise the information, using own words as far as possible
  • Ability to organise the synthesised information, and
  • Ability to summarise within the given word limit, using correct language.

However, a micro-examination of the skills that are assessed under the Section on Assessment Objectives of both the A Level General Paper (GP) and O Level English Language syllabi revealed that the Paraphrasing Genre does not feature as a skill that is examined in Summary Writing in both these examinations.  It is imperative that this Section on Assessment Objectives must make abundantly clear all the important core skills that are assessed in the examination; there is no room for any doubt in the mind of the examiner or parent or student regarding the critical core skills that are assessed. This is indeed the role and function of Assessment Objectives in the first place. To insist on expending much time and effort on “Paraphrasing”,  as articulated in her letter to me by Ms Wong, when this genre is not even listed as a skill that is assessed, , casts some doubt on the validity of Assessment Objectives and their usefulness in these examinations for students, parents and their teachers.

I also did a check to explore the frequency of occurrence of the genre of “Paraphrasing” in the list of Assessment Objectives examined in both the A Level GP and the O Level English Language Syllabi, and I was surprised that in both these examinations, there is zero (0) frequency of occurrence of the genre of “Paraphrasing” itself, and I would submit, therefore, that the genre of “Paraphrasing” is a non-issue in both these examinations, and subjecting our students and teachers to this very futile and needless labour of paraphrasing, in addition to Summarising per se, is manifestly futile; suffice it to note that the time could be better employed in cultivating in our students consistently effective and efficient habits of seeking out greater sense of precision in Summary Writing within the already stringent time constraint. Now that our students are being prepared to sit the English Language ‘O’ Level and the ‘A’ Level GP examinations at the year-end, the MOE is obliged to communicate this important distinction between Preci’s and Paraphrasing to all secondary schools and junior colleges so that our students will have more than probable chance of performing well on this compulsory component of the examinations.

I await the Ministry’s esteemed response to this critical matter so that our students and teachers are not confused between Summary Writing (Precis) and Paraphrasing both of which require distinctly different skills. The confusion stems from the more than frequent use of the term ‘Paraphrase’ currently in vogue during the process of teaching Summary Writing in both secondary schools and junior colleges.


Ganesamoorthy Subramaniam
Cert-in-Edun (Singapore),
MEd (University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK),
PB, PBS, Chief Innovation Officer, EDUXELL 21 Consultancy

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