Exam Writing Tips

Go off-topic in a writing exam and lose marks

A large part of writing well has to do with knowing what not to write.

This is much harder than it sounds: students who lack good training tend to write whatever comes to mind. They tend to include even more irrelevant material when they are working under the time pressure of an exam: with adrenaline pumping through their veins, they are more prone to jotting down jumbled thoughts.

The solution, then, is for students to take the time to weed out ideas that are out of place when they’re practising writing. This way, when they’re sitting in the examination hall, their good writing instincts will kick in and help them sharpen the focus of their scripts.

Below is the first few paragraphs of a student’s response to the essay topic “Are video games with violent content bad for kids?” Further below is my rewrite of his copy. Compare the two versions, and immediately you can see why going off-topic is one of the easiest ways to lose marks at exams.

Student’s copy

Advancements in technology have made it possible for video game design companies to come up with more and more complex games. These days, people no longer play simple games like chess, snakes and ladders; we play Minecraft, Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, Cyberpunk and more. The first video game, a table tennis game, was created in 1958. It had simple graphics, but it managed to fulfill its one purpose: to get its users hooked. Since then, video games have evolved to simulate real life. In GTA, players enjoy the illusion of living in a city called Los Santos. The more technology improves, the more realistic video games get. However, some parents are unwilling to buy video games for their children if they contain violent content. So, do violent video games have a negative impact on kids?

What is considered a violent video game? I remember the time when I started gaming. I was playing Gears of War on an Xbox 360 when I was about six years old. It was a game in which the task was to kill the beasts and compete to get the highest number of kills. It was very addictive, and the pressure to get a highscore was overwhelming. Granted, there were violent elements like blood and other gruesome visuals probably unsuited to a six year old. Another time I was playing Minecraft and my mum asked me whether the game contains scenes of bloodshed. That is what violence games mean. If the game has blood and other “too realistic” features, it is called a violent game.

Are violent video games as bad as they seem? We have heard stories of children stabbing or killing someone in real life because they thought they were in the world of games. In 2005, a man called Devin Moore killed three people because he confused GTA with reality.  But I have seen a lot of my friends play the same game and they are completely normal. I therefore think child psychologist David Walsh is right when he says “Not every kid who plays a video game is going to turn to violence.”

My rewrite

When the noted British scientist Ian Beveridge came across an ancient Greek historian’s curious account of a stream that would change temperature throughout the day  – it was lukewarm at early dawn, much cooler in the afternoon, and reverted back to being lukewarm after sunset – his gut instinct told him that the historian had committed the error of misattribution. 

“In all probability the temperature of the water remained constant and the change noticed was due to the difference between water and atmospheric temperatures as the latter changed,” Beverdige observed.

I am reminded of the Greek historian’s mixup every time I hear people claiming that video games with violent content will make impressionable teenagers become more brutal in thought and manner. The poster child for this theory is Devin Moore, an obsessive player of Grand Theft Auto, which allows gamers to lose themselves in a fantasy underworld where they can steal cars and kill cops with impunity. Anti-game advocates never tire of retelling how Moore returned to real life and thought nothing of gunning down three police officers when he was accosted for having appropriated a car.

Yet is it valid to jump to the conclusion that violent games lead to violent acts? My intuition tells me no; I’m speaking as a teenage boy who knows scores of diehard GTA fans who are polite and considerate in their daily interactions with others. Renowned child psychologist David Walsh supports my hunch with scholarly findings. GTA alone didn’t push Moore over the edge: Moore’s troubled family background –  as a child he was ping-ponged from one foster home to another – played a much more crucial role in shaping his behaviour. “Not every kid who plays a violent video game is going to turn to violence because they don’t have all of those other risk factors going on,” notes Walsh.

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