Directed Writing and Composition

Unlock the Secrets to High-Scoring Descriptive Essays: A Comprehensive Guide.


A:”I am blind. How would you describe this owl?”

B:”Er, it’s a bird.”

A:”Okay, what does the bird look like?”

B:”It’s very beautiful.”

A:”…How exactly is it beautiful?!”

That’s essentially the conundrum that examiners face when they look at many descriptive writing essays written by students – the essays are often not detailed enough, they do not present sufficiently complex content, and they do not allow the person who is reading the essay to deeply and distinctly visualize the thing that the writer is trying to describe.

Well, this is what we’re going to address today!

IGCSE First Language English (0500) students often find descriptive writing for Descriptive Compositions to be a challenging yet rewarding aspect of the curriculum, specifically in Section B: Composition of Paper 2 of the IGCSE First Language English exam.

The thing is, crafting vivid and engaging descriptions requires a unique set of skills – it requires you to see details in the things that you look at, to be able to craft word pictures for people with great facility… And… You guessed it, it requires a deep understanding of the mark schemes!

In this blog post, we’ll share essential tips and strategies to help you excel in descriptive writing, ensuring that your essays align with the marking criteria and at the end of the day, contribute to your long-term development as a writer.

We will once again be examining the Cambridge sample mark scheme provided for Paper 2 on the Cambridge International website, focusing specifically on the criteria for Descriptive Writing, referencing Table A, Composition: Content and structure, and Table B, Composition: Style and accuracy as we think about what it means to write well according to the overlords of the IGCSE!

For each piece of advice, we will provide a justification that correlates with the band descriptors used to assign marks to your descriptive essays, helping you understand how to elevate your writing and achieve the highest possible marks through consistent practice, reading, and improvement.

Let’s get started!

  1. Create a Vivid and Convincing Picture:

A high-scoring descriptive essay presents a series of well-defined and developed ideas and images that create a convincing overall picture. Use sensory details, metaphors, similes, and precise vocabulary to paint a vivid picture of the scene, object, or person you are describing.

Another way to say this is also that you must learn to see a vivid and convincing picture. This is not a one-day process or something that you can achieve just by sitting down and thinking about things – rather, you must take the time to actually immerse yourself in the world around you and to ask yourself: What can I see in a flower? What can I see in a bird, a building, a tree? If you can only see that these things are merely the words that they code, then you may be missing a good part of narrative writing – for these things are exactly what you are being asked to look at, and then to describe.

These are two different skills:

You must first see an imagined reality that is convincing, beautiful, and consistent, then you must learn to communicate it. These are two separate skills, but they are both important.

Justification: According to the mark scheme, a top-scoring essay (14-16 marks) must have “content [that] is complex, engaging, and effective.” Creating a vivid and convincing picture fulfills these criteria by immersing readers in the world you have described and evoking strong emotional responses.

What this means in many cases is that you must go into detail.

For example, let’s suppose that you are describing a river as it flows down a mountain.

Do you simply describe the direction of the water, as in “the water flowed down the mountain, wetting the rocks as it moved swiftly downwards, pushing the grass aside as it coursed through towards the forests below”? Nope. You talk about its “sinuous reflectivity”, describe how it “almost seemed as if it was alive”, and you even move beyond that to talk about how the water “splashed about the rocks playfully”.

No sorry, that will not cut it.

To get a 6, you need to say something more along the lines of:

“A torrential cascade of crystal-clear water surged down the steep mountainside, its forceful currents carving intricate patterns in the rock face. As it rushed downward, the river’s glistening tendrils playfully danced around boulders and twisted through vibrant green grasses, leaving a mesmerizing trail of glistening droplets in its wake. As it approached the edge of the dense, verdant forest below, the water’s relentless momentum carried it through the shadows of the towering trees, their leaves shimmering as they swayed to the rhythm of the river’s eternal song.”

Why? Because it’s complex, engaging, effective. It allows you to immediately visualize the river as it flows down the mountain in a way that is unmistakable and truly vivid – It develops multiple different sentences in ways that allow the viewer to immerse themselves in the painting of words that’s been created – it creates something that’s distinct, absolutely clear to the memory, and that creates a strong impact in the reader.

Let’s move on to the next point! When you are describing…

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