ZIMSEC O Level English Language Notes: How to write a summary

  • Summary writing forms an integral part of the English paper 2 examination.
  • It contributes a hefty 20% towards your final English Language grade which is pretty substantial.
  • That makes it as important as the Guided English composition found in Section B of Paper 1 of the English Language Examination.
  • It is a wonder therefore how most students (and a lot of teachers out there) tend to ignore the summary writing skill.
  • The Paper 2 examination is all about comprehension (understanding) and the summary question reflects that.
  • If you work on your summary writing skills there is no reason why you shouldn’t get the entire 20 marks in the examination. I used to get all the marks on my summaries as a matter of routine

Steps to writing a good summary.

Required skills and materials

  • You will need to be fairly proficient with you English Language skills including reading and writing.
  • Especially important are the following skills and topics: discourse markers, conjunctions, spelling and punctuation.
  • You will need to bring a ruler and a pencil into the examination.

The steps

  1. Read and understand the summary question a couple of times so as to make sure you are not missing anything important.
  2. Pay attention to the instructions in the question (The English Language Examination is all about instructions).
  3. Pay close attention to the summary boundary i.e. the portion of the passage from which you are supposed to draw the material you will use to write your summary. For example a question might ask you to include only material from paragraph 9 to the end of paragraph 13. Take care to only include material from within the summary boundary. Including additional material even if it fits the criteria (see below) will not help you much as it will not be credited.
  4. Determine the criteria that you are going to use to determine the material you are going to use. For example if you are asked to summarise the writer’s thoughts and actions after a certain event make sure you only include the material from after the event.
  5. Using your ruler and pencil underline the phrases that meet the criteria in the passage.
  6. In most questions you should be able to come up with about 15-25 phrases( points) that meet the criteria.
  7. Once you are done underlining the phrases extract these phrases and list them in the order in which they appear in the passage.
  8. Link the phrases using discourse markers, punctuation and conjunctions. You might have to rewrite some of the tenses so that they fit into the summary. Punctuation marks such as the comma might be very useful when combining words and ideas that are related. For example: He woke up, turned his head, screamed and then started crying as he realised help was not coming. This is more economical than say:The narrator woke up after. He turned his head gingerly and felt a pain in his neck. He screamed for help and started crying hysterically as he realised help was not coming.
  9. Write your summary. Take care to incorporate the words, if any, that you were asked to start with. For example a question might ask you to begin your summary with the words: When the narrator fell off his horse and landed in a ravine ….
  10. It is always advisable to take a peek at the words you are supposed to begin your summary with as your style, tone and tense should match that of these words.
  11. Revise your summary and correct the mistakes you would have inevitably made when writing your first draft.
  12. Using your draft fill in the Summary words into the question paper. Make sure to put one word and one word only into each box.As a general rule of thumb (with most English Language summary questions requiring you to write a summary of 150-160 words in length) a summary length of 140 words and below means you have omitted important details and a summary length of 170 means you have included irrelevant material. In inequality terms your summary should be  145 ≥x ≤ 165 where x is the length of your summary in words.

NB Most points/phrases can be used verbatim as they are in the passage but some might need a little tweaking and rewriting.

To access more topics go to the English Language Notes page