IGCSE First Language English Paper 2: Descriptive Writing

The Cambridge IGCSE First Language English Paper 2 is title Directed Writing and Composition. Section A tests both reading and writing skills. You can check out our previous post on genres to learn more about that. Section B, though, tests only the student’s writing skills.

Section B of Paper 2 gives the student four options to choose from: two descriptive prompts and two narrative prompts. This post will give some suggestions for succeeding in the descriptive writing.

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Below are sample descriptive prompts:

  • Write a description with the title ‘The playground.’
  • Write a description with the title, ‘The factory’.
  • Write a description of a place where animals are kept in captivity, such as a zoo, wildlife park or
    sea-life centre.
  • Describe the inside of an interesting shop.
  • Describe waking up to find the scene around you has changed.
    Describe a group of tourists outside an attraction.

Mark Scheme

24 marks are given for style and accuracy: Precise, well-chosen vocabulary and varied sentence structures, chosen for effect; consistent well-chosen register suitable for the context; spelling, punctuation, and grammar almost always accurate.

16 marks are given for content and structure: Many well-defined and developed ideas and images create a convincing overall picture with varieties of focus.

Descriptive Skills

  • Metaphors: Compares two dissimilar things saying it is something else
    • “He was a beaten dog.”
  • Similes: Directly compares two dissimilar things.
    • “He looked the way a beaten dog might look.”
  • Sensory details: words that stir any of the five senses: touch, taste, sound, smell, and sight.
  • Personification: Speaks of concepts or objects as if they had life or human characteristics.
    • “ I saw a crowd, / A host, of golden daffodils; / Beside the lake, beneath the trees, / Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” -“I Wandered Lonely….”, Wordsworth
    • “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land” -The Waste Land, by Eliot
    • “Her heart was divided between concern for her sister, and resentment against all the others.” -Pride and Prejudice, Austen
  • Adjectives: words that describe the qualities or states of being of nouns (enormous, silly, yellow, fun, fast).
  • Hyperbole: exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.
  • Juxtaposition: placing two elements close together or side by side. This is often done in order to compare/contrast the two, to show similarities or differences, etc.
Photo by Flash Dantz on Pexels.com

Varied Sentence Structure

  • Simple: has one independent clause.
    • I read the novel.
  • Compound: has two independent clauses.
    • I read the novel, but I did not like it.
    • I read the novel because it was homework.
    • I read the novel; it was amazing.
  • Complex: has one dependent clause joined to an independent clause.
    • Because I was lucky, I did not get caught.
    • Whenever I study, we don’t have a pop quiz.
  • Compound-Complex: has two independent clauses joined to one or more dependent clauses.
    • While I was studying, Tom was gaming; however, he already knew the material.
  • Variety of sentence openings:
    • The biggest coincidence that day happened when John and I ended up seeing each other.
    • Coincidentally, John and I ended up seeing each other that day.
    • In an amazing coincidence, John and I ended up seeing each other that day.
    • Guided by some bizarre coincidence, John and I ended up seeing each other that day.
  • Short and long sentences

Some points to keep in mind

  • Show don’t tell.
  • Point of view movement; zoom in on different objects of focus.
  • Think of a photograph.
  • There will be some components of narration (action and movement), but avoid writing a narrative.
  • Complex and effective, but not difficult for your reader; instead, it shows thought-out organization and progression.
  • Engaging and interesting.

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