Why Students Write Poor Composition

Writing Skills

Writing is a complex task involving many component skills, some of which students may lack completely and some of which they may have only partially mastered. Some of the skills involved in the writing process are:

  • Reading  and comprehension skills
  • Analysing ideas
  • Planning strategies and writing concepts
  • Writing mechanics such as grammar, sentence structure, spelling and accurate vocabulary usage
  • Using a writing strategy
  • Communicating ideas clearly and concisely
  • Using of literary devices effectively (Hyperbole, Similes, Metaphors and Alliteration)
  • Organising ideas effectively and cohesively

When students lack skills in these areas, their writing may be unsatisfactory in various ways—from having poor grammatical usage to a lack of cohesion and coherence when expressing their ideas.

Reasons why students do poorly in compositions

There are several reasons to explain the weaknesses inherent in students' writing. Firstly, it could be likely that they lack the critical background skills as the ones mentioned above. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. Secondly, many students have misconceptions about what constitutes an excellent piece of writing and what examiners look for when they grade the compositions. Most students and even parents believe that it is a simple linear process when in fact, it is complex and iterative.

Thirdly, students usually assess their writing at or below the sentence level. Some common questions they may ask themselves are:

  • Are there spelling mistakes, punctuation or grammatical errors?
  • Have I written enough?
  • How does my composition sound?

However, they should instead ask more relevant questions such as:

  • Is the plot relevant to the composition question and does it have all the essential components of a complete plot?
  • Does each supporting paragraph help to build up the plot?
  • Are the descriptions accurate and detailed enough to support the plot outline?
  • Does each paragraph follow logically from the last one?
  • Are the transitions between the paragraphs and sentences cohesive?
  • Is the main theme of the story illustrated clearly and portrayed accurately?
  • Are the literary devices applied adequately and accurately?

How students feel about compositions?

Students who rarely score well in their compositions may find writing unfamiliar and intimidating. There are also students, who have received harsh criticism, unhelpful feedback, and grades that appear arbitrary may feel less confident when writing compositions. These students may believe they are “just not good at writing” or that “the grading is just subjective anyway” and as such they approach writing assignments and examinations with the expectation of failure. These students’ anxiety or sense of fatalism about writing may impede their ability to perform effectively.

However, with guidance and a structured approach in learning to write well, students can overcome their fears and weaknesses. Coupled with substantial practice and constructive feedback, such students can become confident and accomplished writers and scoring well in compositions will not just be confined to the 'talented few'.