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Sam Vidambu
San Vidambu

English subject can be compared to that sibling with a master’s degree in a household. Every other family member thinks they have already made it in life hence do not need anybody’s help.

Truth be told, nobody looks down upon English but everybody overlooks the importance of English subject.

If you are a Director of Studies look at the mean score of your school in KCSE 2021 then look at the mean score of English in the same exam. Something close? If you are a parent, take your time and look at the mean grade of English in the end of term exam of your kid then look at the overal mean grade. They are so close.

English determines the mean score of the school. In my study room I have 2021 hard copy KCSE results from over 300 schools. One thing is clear, the mean score of the school is close to the mean score of English. When English improves the school improves, when English drops the school drops.

Without loss of meaning, most a times we put so much emphasis in Chemistry, Biology, Physics and Mathematics and there is nothing wrong with that but we always forget the elephant in the room, English. No matter how big in terms of deviation Sciences improve, if English drops then the school is likely to drop.

English determines the mean score of a school and the mean grade of a student because English is the testing language which commands the highest number of subjects. Someone can easily fail Mathematics because they don’t understand numerical grammar.

As a matter of fact I know of schools which missed A plains because of English. In these schools some students got A minuses of 80 points. The students just missed a point to get an A plain. If you look at their grades per subject you’ll see in English their mean grades were B plains.

Languages are compulsory, they are cluster subjects in most careers and they are used in calculation of weight cluster points in university course selection.

English has three papers; Paper 1, Paper 2 and Paper 3. Paper 1 has 60 marks and it contains functional writing with 20 marks, cloze test with 10 marks and oral skills with 30 marks. Paper 2 has 80 marks and it contains comprehension with 20 marks, excerpt from a compulsory play or novel with 25marks, literary appreciation poem/oral narrative with 20 marks and grammar with 15 marks. Paper 3 has 60 marks and it contains creative/imaginative writing with 20 marks, compulsory set text essay from play/novel with 20 marks and optional set text essay from play/novel/anthology of short stories with 20 marks.

In total, before putting it to percentage, English has 200 marks. The individual area with the highest number of marks is setbooks. In paper 2 it has 25 marks while in paper 3 it has 40 marks. Setbooks alone has 65 marks out of 200 marks.

To pass KCSE we must pass English, to pass English we must pass setbooks, to pass setbooks we must read the setbooks.

How do we handle English? In this article I’ll give insights, tips and hints on how to study and pass English. Kindly read to the end if you want to benefit.

It is very true that the top schools in the country are also the top schools in English. It is also true that many schools have English as the subject with the fewest number of A plains in KCSE. Mathematics is always one of the subjects with highest number of As, English is mostly the subject with fewest number of As.

How should students study and pass English?

The first thing a student needs to do is to make a workable personal study timetable. In the timetable, the student can dedicate 6 hours for personal studies in English in a week. 1.5 hours on Tuesday evening, 1.5 hours on Thursday Evening, 1.5 hours on Saturday and 1.5 hours on Sunday.

Let us assume the student is joining form three in January 23rd 2023. Let us also assume that in their school they will do ‘A silent song and other stories ‘ as the optional set text. For them, ‘Father of nations ‘ is the compulsory novel and it has 185 pages. ‘The Samaritan ‘ is their compulsory play and it has 139 pages. ‘A silent song and other stories’ has 109 pages. The three setbooks have 185+139+109=433 pages. The next thing is to calculate the number of days they will be in school until KCSE, excluding holidays. Successful students count the days then make the days count. From January 23rd 2023 until November 1st 2024 we have a total of 646 days. Within the same period, the students will be at home for holidays for a period of 175 days (2023 April holidays + 2023 August holidays + 2023 November holidays + 2023 December holidays +2024 April holidays + 2024 August holidays).

646- 175= 471 days. This means the form threes of 2023 will be having 471 days in school until KCSE from the time they open school in January 2023.

Success is a game of numbers.

In our timetable, every week English appears four times. This means out of every seven days in school, English comes in four days during personal studies i.e Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. If out of every seven days English comes in four days, how many times will English come in 471 days? The answer is 269 days. This means English will have appeared in the student’s personal studies timetable in 269 days.

The three setbooks add upto 433 pages. Most students do not know how to read these setbooks. There is no way a student can place experts in their immediate contexts without reading the setbooks, they will not know the styles, themes or characters without reading the books. Consistency and organisation is important. A student needs to ‘assume’ that the three books are one and the book has 433 pages. The student will them ask themselves if they want to read the book (433 pages) once how many pages should they read whenever they have English on their timetable. If 269 days is 433 pages. 1 day will be how many pages? The answer is 2 pages. This means if the student wants to read the setbook (433 pages) once they should ensure they read 2 pages whenever they have English on the timetable consistently. Like I said, success is a game of numbers. The more the number of times the student reads the setbooks the better the understanding of the book. If to read one time until KCSE the student should read two pages when English is on the timetable, how many pages should be read when English is on the timetable if the student wants to read the book ten times until KCSE? The answer is 20 pages.

Whenever the student has English on the timetable, the first thing they will do is to read 20 pages of setbooks in an organised way. On Tuesday they read ‘The Samaritan’ page 1 to 20, on Thurdsay ‘The Samaritan ‘ from 21 to 40, on Saturday ‘The Samaritan ‘ from 41 to 60, on Sunday ‘The Samaritan ‘ from 61 to 80, the other Tuesday ‘The Samaritan ‘ from 81 to 100. The student will do this until the last page. They will then begin on ‘Father of nations’ and then ‘A silent song and other stories’. After the student has read all the books once, they will begin reading them the second time, then the third, fourth, until the tenth time. As they read the 20 pages, they should also do analysis of those 20 pages. This program needs consistency.

English does not have setbooks alone

It also has Oral literature, oral skills, functional writing, poetry, grammar, comprehension, creative writing and cloze test. These are 8 areas. English comes in 269 days in the personal timetable. We need to know each of these areas will come how many times in 269 days. 269÷8= 33 times. Each of the eight areas listed above will have been revised 33 times by the time KCSE comes.

As earlier said, the student needs to be organised and consistent. In the personal timetable, English has 1 and a half hours (90 minutes). On Tuesday, the student reads ‘The Samaritan’ from page 1 to 20 within the first 40 minutes, the remaining 50 minutes the student studies ‘oral literature’. On Thursday, the first 40 minutes the students reads ‘The Samaritan’ from page 21 to 40, the remaining 50 minutes the student studies ‘Oral skills’. On Saturday the student read ‘The Samaritan ‘ from page 41 to 60 within the first 40 minutes. The remaining time the student studies ‘Poetry’. The program goes on progressively.

Oral Literature

Let’s keep in mind ‘Oral literature’ has three main areas i.e oral narratives, oral poetry and short forms. Oral narratives includes fables, parables, tricksters, why stories, ogre stories, explanatory narratives, myths, legends and dilemma narratives. Oral poetry/songs has lullaby, love songs, wedding songs, praise songs, circumcision songs, religious songs, political songs, work songs and war songs. Short forms include proverbs, riddles, tongue twisters, puns and jokes.

Oral skills has 5 main areas i.e pronunciation, sound patterns in poetry, mastery of content, etiquette and nonverbal skills in listening and speaking.

In pronunciation we have sound, homophones, silent letters, stress and intonation. In sound patterns in poetry we have assonance, consonance, alliteration and rhyme. In mastery of content we have debate, interviews, speeches and discussion. In etiquette we have turntaking, use of courteous language, telephone etiquette, appropriate choice of register, interrupting and disagreeing politely, negotiating skills and paying attention skills. In non verbal skills in listening and speaking we have facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, bowing/curtsying, appearance and grooming. Other areas in oral skills include techniques in story telling, showing directions, giving and receiving instructions.

Functional writing areas include Biography, CV, Questionnaire, Reports, Book review, Speech writing, Letters, Recipe, Memo, Minutes, Notification of meeting, Agenda, Argumentative essay, Things to do list, Shopping list, Packing list, Reminder, Congratulation note, Synopsis, Advertisement, Dialogue, Diaries, Inventories, Email, Personal journals and Public notice.

Grammar compiles nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, phrases, sentences and clauses, among others.

I will repeat again, organisation is key to passing English. Each of the eight areas (Oral literature, Oral skills, functional writing, grammer, cloze test, poetry, creative writing and comprehension) is coming 33 times before KCSE. I will use the example of Oral literature. Oral literature comes 33 times but it has three main areas I.e Oral narratives, oral poetry and short forms. This means each of these three areas will have been revised 11 times i.e 33 ÷3= 11. But again remember, short forms has 4 main areas (proverbs, riddles,tongue twisters, then puns and jokes). We want to see each of them will have been revised how many times and the answer is 3 i.e 11÷4=3.

This program helps us to leave no stone unturned. Many students fail English because they don’t study every area. This kind of a program helps a student to be organised.

So on Tuesday in the personal timetable when English appears (for 1 hour and 30 muinutes) the student reads ‘The Samaritan’ from page 1 to 20 within the first 40 minutes. For the remaining 50 minutes the student studies ‘puns and jokes’ in short forms in Oral literature.

On Thursday in the personal timetable when English appears (for 1 hour and 30 muinutes) the student reads ‘The Samaritan’ from page 21 to 40 within the first 40 minutes. For the remaining 50 minutes the student studies ‘Stress and intonation’ in pronunciation in Oral skills.

On Saturday in the personal timetable when English appears (for 1 hour and 30 muinutes) the student reads ‘The Samaritan’ from page 41 to 60 within the first 40 minutes. For the remaining 50 minutes the student studies ‘CV’ in functional writing…and so on and so forth.

By the time the form threes of 2023 will be doing KCSE in November 2024, they will have read all the three setbooks over 10 times each. They will have revised each of the other areas over 33 times.

With this kind of an arrangement when Mr Machogu will be announcing KCSE results at 12:20PM on December 20th 2024, English will be among the most improved subjects in the school.

Teachers of English, I understand the pain of not receiving that 1k per A plain when KCSE results are out because none of your students got As. I know how it feels to see some subjects scooping 60 As or even more while you only have 1 A or even none. With right study programs for your students, English will move from being the laughing stock to the bench mark.

To achieve what you have never achieved start doing what you have never done.

It is possible.



Vidambu is an Academic Mentor with over 2200 high schools in Kenya running his academic programs.
His Academic Mentorship Programs revolve around Syllabus Coverage, Syllabus Understanding Strategies, Content Mastery, Content Retention, Content Delivery, Proper Revision Techniques, Time Management Strategies, Working Timetable, Study Book, Classroom/Staffroom Intercordination, Academic Cultures, Study Habits, among other great topics.
He is a Trainer of Principals during KESSHA conferences and teachers.
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