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General Paper Notes

Paper 2: Comprehension

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GP Paper 2 Techniques for Structured Questions:

Language Questions

Irony, Paradox, Contradiction

Use of intensifier (even, tremendously, etc.)

Use of a phrase

Use of qualifier/hedging (maybe, somewhat, perhaps, etc.)

Final line of conclusion effectiveness

Rhetorical questions

Parentheses ()

Ellipses (...)

Inverted Commas “”

Comparison questions

Application Question (AQ)

Consciously or not, many students realise there is a structure when answering certain questions. There is often a ‘template’ to adapt to suit multifarious question types. Schools usually do not lay out such ‘templates’ in black and white, but I have typed them out for those still grappling with even the most rudimentary forms. I am not an advocate of templates as GP is a subject of reason, not rote-learning. Do not memorise and apply the ‘templates’ blindly.

Such lists can never be extensive enough. Cambridge has taken many by surprise with peculiar question forms every now and then. Always write the answer that makes the most sense, and be ready to adapt the following. Of course, I have tried to cover as much ground as possible.

-Aalden Tnay

GP Paper 2 Techniques for Structured Questions:

Language Questions

Language questions typically involve the use of a metaphorical or complex word. Try breaking down such words into the following form:


For some questions, where a ‘complex word’ is used, the main marking point is the variation in meaning between the complex word and its simplest form (core meaning). Asking why the word ‘leap’ is used is essentially asking why the word ‘leap’ was used instead of just ‘jump’. Asking why ‘sprint’ was used is to indirectly ask why ‘sprint’ was used instead of just ‘run’.

Complex word = Core Meaning + Variation in Meaning

Let’s take the word ‘leap’ as an example. At its core, it just means to jump. What makes ‘leap’ and ‘jump’ different? Maybe it is that the former involves greater strength, or greater distance reached (variation in meaning).

Let’s check out this text:

The word ‘empathy’ is only a century old, but people have been interested for a long time in the moral implications of feeling our way into the lives of others. Two recent books, ‘The Empathic Civilization’ and ‘Humanity on a Tightrope’, make the powerful argument that empathy has been the main driver of human progress, and that we need more of it if our species is to survive. The authors want us to emotionally join a global family and make the leap to global empathic consciousness.


Explain the author’s use of the word ‘leap’ in line 6.


(leap = jump + large distance/more strength)

(Literal meaning) Just as a leap entails having to make a large (variation in meaning) jump from one place to another, [1] the author is emphasising that it is immensely difficult for us to develop/we are far from developing (variation in meaning) empathy for the global community. [1]


The answer may at times be phrased more simply, like for the question below:        

The 1950s saw America start a massive campaign of urban renewal to obliterate old buildings. The planning utopians were enchanted by the idea of “socially meaningful communities”. Real communities were bulldozed to make way for the virtual.


Explain the author’s use of the word “bulldozed” in line 28. [2]

(bulldozed = destroy + ruthlessly/aggressively )

The author wants to emphasize that the destruction of real communities was done in a ruthless manner.                                

In other words, your answer may just be “The author used ‘complex word’ to emphasise the (variation in meaning) (in context).



Of course, some questions are really all-out figurative questions and you cannot simply do the above technique.

Figurative Word (cocoons)= characteristic/function (protect) + in figurative context (caterpillar)

E.g. Cocoons = protection + for caterpillars to morph into a butterfly

        Sponges = absorb + water

        Brakes = slow down + vehicle


General format of answer:

“Just as (characteristic/function in figurative context), (characteristic/function put into LITERAL context).”

...Content as some may feel in their ready-made acoustic cocoons, the more people accustom themselves to life without unwanted sounds from others...

Explain the author’s use of the word ‘cocoons’ in line 44. Use your own words as far as possible. [2]                

Just as a caterpillar uses a cocoon to protect (characteristic/function) itself while it morphs into a butterfly (the figurative context)[1] , these products help to protect/ shield us (characteristic/function) from noise from our surroundings (LITERAL context) [1].        

...How do we begin to apply the brakes in our lives when the world around us seems to be stomping on the gas pedal?...



(we apply brakes = we slow down + vehicle) when (world around us stomping on gas pedal = everyone else speeding up + vehicles)

To slow down a car when other cars are accelerating is difficult.

In context (life) → to slacken pace of life is difficult when the world around us is hectic


What is the author implying in the last sentence of paragraph 8?  (2) NJCPEQ8

Just as it is difficult to apply the brakes to slow down a vehicle when everyone else is accelerating, it is also a challenge for us to slacken our pace of life when the world around us is so hectic.


Irony, Paradox, Contradiction

(look for somewhat contradictory ideas)

(expectation), however (reality).

Use of intensifier (even, tremendously, etc.)

Note that there are many reasons the word ‘even’ may be used, and thus the correct answer varies a lot. Ultimately, the aim is usually to show some sort of ‘extremity’. The following are some possible forms of the answer that shows a certain ‘extremity’, but are only valid depending on the context.  



Words like ‘mere’ also emphasise an extremity, but in this case, of how extremely small or insignificant something is. To ask why ‘mere’ is used is to ask why the author decided to emphasise the extent of insignificance. Most of the time, it is to ridicule or emphasise the absurdity of that.


Use of qualifier/hedging (maybe, somewhat, perhaps, etc.)

The author uses the word “somewhat/maybe/perhaps” to express his reservations of (whatever is being hedged/qualified).        

Look at the BBC, that somewhat excellent beacon, which was accused yesterday of “disenfranchising” elderly licence payers by following a tacit new rule that their voices should be kept off the air.

Why does the author use the word “somewhat” in line 24? [1]

The author uses the word “somewhat” to express his reservations of the BBC being an exemplary institution.

Use of a phrase

If some phrase you did not prepare for is used, just explain what it means in your own words in context, and what is implied or assumed when such a phrase is used. E.g. if they ask why the phrase ‘even as’ was used, then it’s obviously not the typical ‘even’ question and you would just explain the meaning of ‘even as’ in context (the same meaning as ‘while’/ ‘at the same time as’).                        


Final line of conclusion effectiveness

In what two ways is the final sentence an effective conclusion to the author’s argument?

The author ties back to the (something) referenced at the start of the passage.
This acts as a neat summary (of …)

The use of a call to action prompts the reader to…

He conveys his (whatever view that is important/reiteration of stand)


For all punctuation related questions, remember to contextualise.

Rhetorical questions

What is the purpose of the rhetorical question in the opening statement?  (1m) NJCPEQ1


It is to provoke our thinking of/ draw our attention to

(Context) the issue of how cities may be damaging to our health/ have adverse effects on our health.

Parentheses ()

The use of parentheses is to

Ellipses (...)                                                

Inverted Commas “”

Comparison questions

Application Question (AQ)

In a typical single passage AQ where you are asked for the extent you agree with the author’s sentiments on a certain topic, you simply need three body paragraphs with either two agree + one disagree or two disagree + one agree paragraphs. Each paragraph tackles a different line/notion put forth by the author.

Another common form of AQ would consist of two passages by authors who hold slightly/very different views on the same topic. You will be asked who/which view you agree with more. In this AQ, your answer should have at least two paragraphs for one author, and another paragraph for the other author (i.e. total three paragraphs split between two authors). Typically, if asked which author you agree with more and you agree with the AUTHOR A and disagree with AUTHOR B, you can have two paragraphs supporting AUTHOR A’s two points on the topic, and one paragraph opposing one point from AUTHOR B. Alternatively, you can have two paragraphs opposing two points by AUTHOR B and one paragraph supporting one point by AUTHOR A.

Points made by the author which you choose to agree or disagree with should be relevant to the topic in the question (e.g. if the question asks about how far you agree with the author’s views on the effects of technology, the point you choose to tackle should be about that).

Of course, formats should never be blindly followed and there is no fixed format. For the 2018 ‘A’ Levels, for the first time, the AQ was framed around a quote to argue for and against instead of the conventional AQ that gets students to pick arguments from the passage to evaluate. Those who lacked adaptability and stuck to the normal way of answering an AQ would have failed to answer the question.

It is important to remember that the AQ is an application question. In other words, even if you put forth an incredibly logical, mind-blowing argument to counter that of an author’s, if you do not make any applications (links to our society), you will barely score any marks. As such, it is paramount to make references to examples and characteristics of Singapore (or whatever society you belong to).

How to agree:

*Relevance/Applicability to your society

 How to disagree:

* Relevance/Applicability to your society (or at least which contexts it does not hold true). Finding sweeping statements would make this easier to tackle.

Illogical/slippery slope

Overly optimistic

Underlying beliefs are debatable

Note that it is possible to agree/disagree on multiple counts. You may agree with a statement via multiple perspectives at a go, or disagree with a statement using more than one argument. This would strengthen your point.

Characteristics of Singapore

Small; less travel distance; higher density; land space restrictions

Diversity and harmony (racial, religious, cultures)

Emphasis on education

“Smart Nation”

Financial hub; globalised and connected

Wealth; disposable income; high cost of living; inequality

Long working hours



Ungracious/inconsiderate (?)


Ageing population

Almost authoritarian government (media censorship; strict law enforcement)

The AQ topic can be very unpredictable. In 2019, the passage was on zoos. What is worth noting, though, is that we usually end up linking to characteristics of Singapore, such as those listed above. If you have examples and insightful thoughts that back up various Singapore characteristics, you probably will have an easier time tackling any AQ. This is something that can be prepared for in advance. It is important to avoid writing sweeping statements and overly broad examples.

Note that it is fine to insert some highly apt personal anecdotes into an AQ (although the bulk should be concrete examples).  A lot of our local teachers do not seem to favour these though. Nonetheless, the Cambridge marker’s report says the following: “an apt personal anecdote can add a different dimension to what can so often be an impersonal, unengaged response.”


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