How to do spectacularly well in General Paper (GP) with 6 tips

by | Jul 19, 2021

I think most of us can agree that General Paper (GP) is a daunting subject, especially if you’ve only done narrative writing or if you believe language is your weakness.

Well, dispel those thoughts! Contrary to these preconceived notions, you can do well in GP, even if English isn’t your best subject.

As someone who scored an A in the A-Levels, doing well for GP boils down to how well you can argue and get your point across to your readers in Paper 1.

And for Paper 2, it’s about how well you understand what is being conveyed in the passage(s).

This article will provide you with 5 tips (in no order of importance) so that you can do well in GP and study/prepare for it the right way!

1.) Pick 3–4 topics you’re interested in

This tip largely applies to Paper 1. Even though GP is a test of your general knowledge, it’s simply impossible to study so many topics in a short amount of time.

Don’t spread yourself thin or wear yourself out. Since GP does have some broad topics, just pick those which truly interest you and focus only on those.

As someone who’s once been in the position of trying to study every topic that could come out, I realised that it’s counterproductive because what happened was that I had knowledge for almost all topics, but I lacked depth.

Quality beats quantity

Your teachers have probably told you “quality over quantity”, and I agree with them.

Writing one well-elaborated, well-substantiated paragraph will always beat three paragraphs that aren’t properly explained with lacklustre examples.

Another good thing about this GP strategy is this: topics can overlap!

Topics like science and technology, the media, and globalisation do not exist in a bubble of their own, and this is definitely not the case in real life either where they intertwine and influence one another.

So what does this mean for you?

Less memorising!

For example, certain examples you have in mind for science and technology can also be adapted to fit questions about the media (especially social media) and globalisation.

This isn’t a free pass, however, to blindly use an example as you see fit. Remember to orient your example to the question requirements!

2.) Build a word bank

For those of you who struggle with paraphrasing or worry you may be too repetitive in your essays, I recommend building a word bank.

But, don’t just compile a list of words somewhere and never let it see the light of day again. To be proficient, you have to practise using these new words.

Construct at least 3 sentences using the word you just learnt, and strive to use them in your essay next time. This will also improve your paraphrasing skills.

Use the active recall and spaced repetition techniques to solidify your learning of vocabulary!

Building a word bank with a dictionary

Speaking from experience, I tend to prefer learning new words for verbs (action words, e.g. to see) rather than nouns (people, places, things, e.g. fish) as I find that most keywords in Paper 2 that require paraphrasing are verbs.

For example, learn new ways to say “to worsen” so that you don’t have to repeat that something “worsens”.

You could say that a situation has “exacerbated”, or that it “escalated”.

You don’t even have to use word-for-word replacements!

You can even say something like the situation became “unmanageable”. Even though “unmanageable” doesn’t necessarily mean “worsen”, it does make sense in certain contexts and doesn’t change the overall meaning, so you will still be awarded marks.

Basically, use words fluidly and interchangeably, and this should be a relatively fast process.

For Paper 1, use new words either to negate repetition or add sophistication.

For Paper 2, it’s to build your confidence in paraphrasing.

3.) Do timed practices

I don’t know about you, but time management was a serious problem for me back in the day. At my worst, I never finished my essays and could only write a single page.

For the comprehension section, I didn’t have time to attempt the AQ (application question).

As you can imagine, I never scored higher than an S for the longest time.

It doesn’t matter if you have an excellent command of English—none of that matters if you can’t even complete your exam!

The only way to overcome this is to do timed practices. Sit down for the duration of that paper and train yourself to think quickly.

You’ll find that the more timed practices you do, the better you become at thinking under pressure.

You can also opt for just doing short 5–10 min bursts of essay outlines instead of writing one essay whenever you want to practice.

General Paper notes

This was how I did my outlines! You don’t have to write in full sentences like I did;
this is just for illustration purposes

Choose any question you’d like to attempt and jot down 2 pros and 1 con as your main points, along with examples to use for those points.

You could do 3:2 if you wish, but I find that 2:1, excluding the introduction and conclusion, is sufficient.

Before the actual exam, you need a game plan. Paper 1 lasts for an hour and a half. Set aside 5–10 min for skim reading the questions, defining keywords, and drafting an essay plan.

You absolutely must not exceed 10 min for planning, otherwise, you’ll end up with a rushed essay.

That leaves you with 1h 20 min to do the actual writing. If you’re prone to making grammar and spelling mistakes, leave 3 min to skim your essay!

4.) Grammar is key: Be aware of common mistakes you tend to make

Where you may fall short in vocabulary, you can make up for with grammar.

Grammatically correct essays are much easier to read and you certainly don’t need big words to impress people or get your point across to do well in GP.

Are you guilty of spelling weird as ‘wierd’, independent as ‘independant’ or mistaking ‘stationary’ for ‘stationery’ and vice versa?

If you’re aware you tend to misspell certain words, pay close attention whenever you want to use said words!

I know most people avert the stationary/stationery spelling problem by remembering that stationery refers to pens and pencils, whereas stationary refers to standing still.

Use similar GP strategies like the above to avoid common spelling errors.

Another more uncommon but minor grammatical mistake is to omit hyphens on words that should be hyphenated.

This doesn’t make your essay unreadable, but grammatically speaking, it’s incorrect.

For example, words like left-wing and right-wing have hyphens in them.

Depending on the context, the hyphens can make a difference. Are you referring to a right-wing political party or the right wing of a bird?

Also, hyphenated words only count as a single word and not two separate words! It’s great for reducing the word count for the summary section.

5.) Analyse model essays

Model essays are a treasure trove of good examples to use, as well as argumentation strategies.

When you read a model essay, here are some things to keep an eye out for:

  • Analyse how the writer argues, the kind of structure they use

More often than not, you’ll be able to notice that all of them follow some semblance of the PEEL structure. Similarly, you should apply the PEEL format in your essays as it’s the most effective method for essay organisation.

  • Observe the kinds of examples they use, and how they use it

Model essays always use the latest, most recent example for whatever point they are making. After all, GP is a test of your knowledge of current affairs.

Avoid using examples that took place a long time ago (unless the question somehow is related to history) or using anecdotal examples (i.e. examples derived from your personal life).

If you are skilled enough, sometimes, it’s possible to weave your explanation together with an example, and some model essays do use such techniques.

This is a good way to write efficiently, but do be careful to ensure your paragraph isn’t example-driven!

Analyse the way model essays always end up arguing for their point rather than letting an example be the focus of their paragraph.

6.) Answer the question

You’ll be surprised at the number of people who don’t answer the question, even when they think they are, especially for Paper 1.

Case in point, I’ll use this question from the 2018 A-Levels paper:

“People today do not work as hard as they did in the past.” How true is this of your society?

Student A writes:
“People today do not work as hard as they did in the past because technology has allowed them to work more efficiently.”

Student B writes:
“People today do not work as hard as they did in the past as the improvements in technology has reduced the time it takes to complete tasks, as compared to in the past where they did not have advanced technology that could enhance their productivity.”

Student A did not answer the question fully, but Student B did.

This is because the question implies that there is a difference between ‘people today’ and people ‘in the past’.

In other words, you’re required to compare and contrast these two groups of people.

Student A has only given half of the answer in their statement but failed to include a comparison while Student B provided both the reason and comparison.

Always ensure that the points you make directly answer the question. And to do this, you need to be very familiar with the different types of questions there are and how to properly address them.

As a tip, I always avoided questions like the one above because there was a possibility of not answering the question even though it seemed like I was.

Instead, you could stick only to questions that have “to what extent” or “how far” in their phrasing as these are the easiest to directly answer.


GP isn’t a subject that you can see an instant improvement in if you just write endless notes of content for it.

It requires plenty of practice as making a coherent, cogent argument is a skill that develops over time with more writing and analysing your own mistakes, as well as examining closely the way others argue.

Similarly, being able to paraphrase with ease is a skill that takes time to develop.

With more practice, you should be able to spot that some words tend to appear more than others, making it easier to paraphrase as you’ve already done it before.

I hope this article has helped you in avoiding the common mistakes students tend to make and has provided you with tips for studying and preparing for GP—the first great step in doing well for it!

JC can be a stressful time where it isn’t just GP you have to worry about doing well for.

Do read our articles on project work tips and our interview with 90 rank pointers for their secrets on coping with the rigour of A-Levels!

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