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13/4/2010 How to write an Evaluation in AQ?


Muse the World

A not-necessarily politically correct view of the world…

How to write an Evaluation in AQ? (updated 26/5/09)

with one comment

*This is a major revision from my earlier AQ page. This is how I understood answering an AQ. So, just take
it with a pinch… okie, maybe a sack of salt. Any errors committed are mine.*

Imagine if you are the mother in the comic – do you think you are answering the question by your daughter?

One of the hardest question to answer in GP Paper 2 is Application Question. I know… cos I myself have
problems doing it, let alone teach it. For people of my generation, this is entirely new as we did not have any
AQ in our A’level GP paper.

There are four marking components in AQ – Requirements, Explanation, Evaluation and Coherence (REEC).
Marks are awarded according to a banding; 1-2 (D-grade), 3-4 (C-grade), 5-6 (B-grade), and 7-8 (A-
grade). It is a holistic marking, meaning that you need to do well in all categories before you get the marks.
For obvious reasons, students should try to pitch themselves around the high-B to A-grade.

That said, realistically speaking, as a teacher marking an AQ response, I would have my students concentrate
on the Evaluation part of the answer. Most of you in school would have been told that the bulk of the marks
will be awarded in Evaluation. Your Examples, relatively speaking, carry fewer marks overall, compared to

Unlike the SSQs (short-structured questions) where you zoom in for the answers at the line numbers
provided, AQ requires you to read the entire text, select key arguments and offer your reasonable evaluation
in response to the selected key arguments with appropriate examples from Singapore. Your AQ response
should not read like another Paper 1 essay, even though the skill-sets are the same. The point about AQ is
that the examiners want to see your response (ie your evaluation) to the authors’ arguments.

At its heart, AQ is really about an educated, well-supported critique of the author(s)’ points of view.
It is really about how well you know the issues of the day, and then applying it to the passage. I say
again in case you missed it – It is really about how well you know the issues of the day, and then
applying it to the passage.

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Did you miss it? I say it one more time – TO THE PASSAGE. Need me to repeat it one more time? No?

The reason why I am so anal about it is because it is freaking irritating to mark students’ AQ response THAT
A5SWER TO THE PASSAGE. For some reason, I had the ‘fortunate’ experience of marking absolutely
clueless answers by ignoramous students during exams. Their answers were written as a form of free
response (ie. the ‘I think’ answers… unfortuately, it is not the answer) to the AQ. People, Cambridge has
specifically warned students in the last few years that Singaporean students who write an AQ without
any attempt to link to the ideas of the passage will be given a low grade. Meaning, you are looking at
your usual 1-2 marks… or what I like to call marks for participation.

Now, before you can tackle the AQ, you have to know what type of AQ you are likely to face in the
A’Levels (note – this is generally for the A’levels. remember school papers don’t necessarily follow A’level
standards… but at least for our school, we try.)

There are 2 types of AQ you are likely to face. They are:

1. General AQ – ie. AQ that asks you to evaluate arguments found in the main body paragraphs from
the entire passage (s). (eg. 2008 History paper)
2. Specific AQ – ie. AQ that asks you to only evaluate arguments from specific paragraphs from the
passage(s). (eg. 2005 Choices paper)

You can get this information from the leading in phrase – you know, the usual “blah blah blah” by Cambridge
before the question? Most of the time, you ignore those stuff? Bad idea….

Now that we know this, lets look at how to do an Evaluation.

So what is an Evaluation if it is not an ‘I think’ answer? Let’s have a look at the November 2006 A’Level
Paper. (available as a PDF, in case you don’t have a copy. Right-click to save.) The AQ reads

“In the final sentence, the author writes that ‘by giving up all claims to individual freedom, we will
discover the best way to achieve it.’ How far do you agree with his view? How free do you want to
be? In giving your views, explain where and why you agree or disagree with the author.”

If you read the question carefully, you would have realised this is a general AQ – you have to go back to the
passage and find out why he said that we have to give up all claims to achieve individual freedom.

What are the Requirements of the question?

There are 2 requirements in this question.

1. You need to tell me (the marker) how far do you agree with the author’s view. Are you in total
agreement? Or, is your agreement a qualified one – meaning, you agree with the author up to a point.
2. You need to tell me (the marker) how much freedom do you want.

Now, your next problem is finding the key arguments in the passage(s) that you can critique reasonably. How
are you going to find the author(s)’ key arguments?

Note – most of you are familiar and comfortable doing a double-passage Paper 2 where there are 2 (usually)
contrasting passages for you to critique. Usually (again, I use this word cautiously), one of the passage is the
‘moderate’ one, while the other is ‘extreme’. Hence, it is easy for the candidate to pick out the extreme

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arguments to critique, and balancing off your AQ by selecting some arguments from the ‘moderate’ passage.

However, since 2005, there is a trend that Cambridge sets single-passage (roughly 1200 words in length) for
Paper 2. This, in my opinion, makes it more challenging for the student to find some extreme arguments within
a single passage to critique. Here’s an exam tip straight from Cambridge – your SSQ and Summary
question prepare you for the AQ. The answers in SSQ and Summary lead you to answering the AQ. Just
look at the 2006 Summary – it asks you to “summarise what the author has to say about why people accept
the authority of the State, the justifications sometimes given for limiting its authority, and the problems
associated with some of these justifications.” Compare this with the AQ and you will see that the Summary
prepares you for the AQ by selecting out the key arguments.



Let’s try answering the question. Again, my answer might not be the best way, nor claim to be the best. This
is my attempt to show what is Evaluation using the PEEEL structure. (My comments will be in bracket and
words in blue.)

Point: Cobley mentioned in line 20 that “to obey laws made by us, not for us, is an increase rather than a
dimunition of our freedom.” (You must remember to make direct reference to a point made by the author in
the passage. Please do not just say ‘the author mentions that…’ and don’t tell me where it comes from.)

Explanation: According to Cobley, people living in “civilised societies” have come to recognise that their
own personal freedom is only possible if there is a strong state to provide for it. Cobley explained this by
saying that, because people recognise this, the society is willing to give up some, or all, of their own freedom
to the state who has the authority. He contrasted the situation between states whose rulers either siezed
power via violent means or inherited kingdoms, and democratic states whose rulers are elected by the people.
Only in democratic states, where rulers are answerable to the electorate, that the laws created by the state on
behalf of the people to protect the people are seen to be just. Hence, to the author, this is an increase in
people’s freedom. (Notice that I am essentially paraphrasing the author here. You don’t need to re-invent the
explanation because the explanation is provided by the author. What you need to do is to understand where
the author is coming from because this is when you have to start evaluating.)

Evaluation: Certainly the author has a point that, if the state is not democratically elected, there is no reason
for the rulers to feel beholden to the people. Rulers might just oppress the citizens by enforcing laws in an
arbitrary manner without rhyme or reason. This might go on to create fear in the citizens because of great
uncertainties, which might cause them to lose their freedom – the freedom from fear. (Merely agree/disagree
with the author is NOT evaluation just yet. While it is important to tell me, the examiner, what you
agree/disagree on as per the 1st question requirement, to stop here is not enough to answer the question
because the question is a ‘degree’ question – you need to tell me ‘how far’.)

However, Cobley might have been overly optimistic to believe that rulers in a democracy will create rules that
will protect people from dangers within and without the country all the time. While rulers in a democracy are
expected to fulfill the wishes of the people who elected them, this is no guarantee that rulers will enact laws
that guarantee citizens’ freedoms all the time. There are cases where rulers in a democracy have enacted laws
that restrict freedoms or removes freedoms, under the guise of security or welfare for all. Initially, the citizens
might agree to the enactment of such laws because they might not realise the implications of such laws. Rulers
might give good reasons for enacting such laws to the citizens, and citizens believe them because of the social
contract between the people and the state. This is when abuse might take place because people are ignorant
of the implications to their freedoms, if the trust in their rulers is blind. This is something that Cobley failed to
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consider. (This is when evaluation REALLY takes place. You have to critique the POV of the author by
explaining why it might be wrong/where is might not happen/how it might not happen/what is really
happening/who might disagree/when is might not happen. The “5Ws and 1H” questions are good starting
points in helping you to craft a critique. Again, your critique must anchor on the passage. Notice how I am
actually taking his POV and considering where is the loophole. Again, this is NOT the only way to evaluate.)

Example: A good example of the above is the enactment of the Patriots’ Act in the USA after September
11. The Act was passed in order to protect US from future terrorists’ attacks by giving sweeping powers to
the law enforcement agencies to monitor people within the US. While this might have certainly prevented a
number of potential terrorist attacks from happening, the sweeping powers given to the law enforcement
agencies to monitor people have led to abuses when the agencies invaded the privacy of innocent Americans
or foreigners. The Act has also been used to unfairly detained innocent American Muslims simply on the
grounds of their religion. (see (This is where
you have to demonstrate your knowledge of the world outside and how it can be used to answer the

Link Back: Hence, Cobley’s assertion that “to obey laws made by us, not for us, is an increase rather than a
dimunition of our freedom” is not absolute. It is a reduction in our freedom if the people blindly follow rulers
without questioning the consequences of enforcing laws.

By the way… so far, I am only attempting to answer “How far do you agree with his view?” You must be
wondering ‘Gosh… so MUCH just to answer ONE part of the question?’ And… you still have to generated
at least another 2 more paragraphs of critique. Whee…. how fun….

How would I answer the 2nd question requirement “How free do you want to be?“

Answer: In so far as protecting my personal safety and general well-being, certainly I would concur with the
author that I would need to give up some of my freedoms in exchange for security. In Singapore,
Singaporeans do allow, by and large, the state to closely monitor our citizens and tolerate some form of
invasion of privacy, in order to protect us. However, as much as I want to be free from fear, I do not think
that the state should have absolute power. As the cliche goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely. While our
government has been prudent in the exercise of its powers, Singaporeans cannot be complacent in our trust in
our government. I would want to be free. However, it cannot be at the expense of encouraging a police state.
(Again, I tried to link my answer back to the passage. While this question allows a certain degree of personal
response, this is not a blanket license to go totally off-tangent in your response. I think some people who are
more prone to anti-government ranting will go off their rockers in blasting the government on the use of ISA –
Internal Security Act, and how the state oppresses the opposition… which is not answering the question. So,
be careful. This is not the only, or best way to answer the 2nd requirement. This is my understanding on how
to answer the question.)

That’s a lot of things to do… but do, you must.

Since you have to evaluate reasons of the author(s), what reasons should you evaluate then? Obviously not all
paragraphs are useful for your AQ answer. You have to select the right paragraphs. Now, how do “bad” or
“extreme” reasons look like?

(Note: there are no “extreme” reasons, ie. arguments by the author that are definitely a lie. Cambridge is not
that stupid to give you free marks. Rather, the reasons are “opinionated“, ie. arguments that are not
necessarily wrong. Just that the author is looking at the issue from another perspective… in the immortal
words of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of

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“Extreme” arguments can appear in 3 forms:

1. The author’s reasoning represents the view of the minority with regards to the issue,
2. The author’s examples used to support his reasoning is the exception, and not the norm,
3. The author’s definition of the issue is biased.

How will Cambridge present these “extreme” arguments in a single-passage Paper 2? Usually, the pattern is
the good/strong arguments will come first. Then, closer to the end of the passage, the writer will try to give
you the “extreme” arguments. It is up to you to be able to spot them.

Suppose if you can find them. What can you do to evaluate? Here are some possible ways:

1. Suppose if you have to agree with the author’s point, you can show evaluation by telling me how is
this applicable, or how is this applied, according to the question requirements. Remember, the
examiner is always interested to see the “WHY“.
2. If you can spot any of the above-mentioned problems in the arugment(s) by the author(s), then you can
straightaway attack the problematic arguments,
3. If you have problems finding the flaws in the author(s)’ arguments, you can simply evaluate using either:
Ideal vs Practical perspective
Individual vs Group perspective
Long Term vs Short Term perspective
Change vs no-Change perspective (usually applicable for values or beliefs type of arguments)
Implications of the author(s)’ suggestion – ie. if we really follow what they author suggests, as
according to his/her reasoning, do you think you will like the end result?

Ultimately, you have to remember that there is no one-standard answer format for AQ required by
Cambridge. They just want you to answer the question. Period. The above mentioned ways are just
suggestions to help you to do evaluation.

So, earning the 8 marks is not that easy, eh?

Bottom line – you need to practice on answering AQ. Just like SSQ, writing good evaluation comes with
practice. Once you’ve learnt how to ask the essential questions in finding loopholes (5Ws, 1H) for author(s)’
POVs, it doesn’t matter if it is a single-passage, or double-passage Paper 2. You have to practice until it
becomes second-nature to you because your Paper 2 is only 1.5 hours long. To give yourself a good chance
in scoring well, you should try to give yourself at least half an hour for your AQ. The more the merrier.

Good luck!

*This page is developed with help from Mr Yee Tong, and the good folks from the School of Thought.*

Written by musetheworld

February 2, 2008 at 10:25 pm

One Response

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13/4/2010 How to write an Evaluation in AQ? (upd…
1. Hi, I would just like to ask if i should give an example after every point of evaluation i have, or just give
one? Thanks…


October 22, 2009 at 2:22 pm

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About Me and How to use the Blog

How do I do essay selection? (updated 26 Jun 09)
How to do well in GP (Part 1)?
How to do well in GP? (Part 2)
How to write an Evaluation in AQ? (updated 26/5/09)
How to write well?
Taking a defensible stand in your answers (updated 5 Jun 09)
The little red dot you call home (created 19 Oct 09)
Writing a coherent essay – What is the question?
Writing a coherent paragraph
Writing a logical paragraph
Writing an effective Introduction (updated 25/5/09)


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