How to achieve A-grade happiness
Wednesday 07 July 1999
In a three-year research project, linguists decoded GCSE papers that had beenawarded grades A, C and F to discover what makes good writing. The study examined pupils' spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocabulary and concludes that only A-grade candidates make much use of abstract nouns (happiness, sadness etc), are also more likely to use short sentences without verbs and less likely to use finite verbs (I walk, she walks etc).
While F-grade candidates string together extremely long sentences mainly by "and" and "then", C-grade candidates tend to produce sentences ofequal length. A-graders, by contrast, are not afraid to use one and three-word sentences but still produce fewer sentences for every 100 words. Even A-grade candidates make basic spelling errors such as "desparate", "adress" and "differcult".
The study by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority looked at borderline scripts for the three grades and counted, such things as the number of incorrect spellings, the use and abuse of commas, the number of subordinate clauses and abstract nouns.
Sue Horner, English team leader at the authority, said: "Once you know the commonest errors you can correct them. You can make a game of it and ask for four abstract nouns in a piece of writing. It isn't a question of teaching them rules they cannot transgress but of giving them more options to choose from."
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