Free IGCSE First Language English 2021 Sample Essays! (Narrative Composition)


Hello everyone! I’ve been in Singapore this week meeting up with Mensa Singapore and also attending Singapore’s most prominent technology event, ATxSingapore.

With Cerventus and Johann from Malaysia
With Mensa Singapore (we went to Korea together!)

It’s been a wonderful time of learning and experiencing, and needless to say, it’s been a busy time, but this week, it’s also been a pleasure to welcome a few of you into the group class that I’ve been conducting; I’ll speak more about that later, and look forward to welcoming more of you soon!

Anyway, here are two free narrative essays for you today, reflecting as always a deep emphasis on what is needed for you to succeed according to Cambridge’s criteria for excellence, which I hope you’ll find is very much aligned with the process of creating an engaging and entertaining story and which I hope you’ll remember to look at as you practice.

The first essay is provided on a free access basis to every single one of you, and to read the second one, you’ll need to have a free or premium site membership; do sign up, and enjoy the benefits!

Premium membership provides you with full access to essay samples published on the site. To sign up for premium, click here!

If you’d like to purchase our extremely well-reviewed book of essay samples (encompassing 2021 and 2022 narrative and descriptive essays), feel free to pick up your copy here 🙂

Meanwhile, enjoy the essays!

Prompt: Write a story which involves a mistake in the sending or receiving of a message.


Amidst the cacophony of the bustling train station, Clara clutched her telegram with a fervor that turned her knuckles white. Time slipped like sand through fingers as the weight of the ink-laden paper bore into her soul. An unforeseen error in the telegram she sent to her brother, Anthony, during the Great War had summoned him to this very platform, moments away from embarking on his final mission.

Fleetingly, Clara recalled the hours spent crafting her message, each word imbued with love, comfort, and hope. A rogue tear traced its way down her pale cheek as she pondered the cruel twist of fate that a typographical mistake could wield such a devastating consequence.

Through the throngs of soot-stained travelers, a familiar silhouette took form. An ethereal beam of light seemed to crown Anthony’s war-weary head as they locked eyes. Embracing, the world around them momentarily faded into oblivion. His coarse uniform stood in stark contrast to the warmth of his presence.

“I’m here,” he whispered. “Your message, it brought me back.”

Clara’s heart throbbed painfully against her ribcage, each beat a plea for time to halt. The shrill whistle of the departing train gnawed at the air, and as they parted, she pressed a small envelope into his hand. “My heart goes with you,” she murmured.

Months later, a letter arrived, clad in military regalia. Her hands shook as she read the words of her brother’s comrade: “He spoke of you every night, and your letters were his sanctuary.”

As she clutched the envelope Anthony never opened, Clara realized the profundity of her unintended message. It had summoned him back to the tender embrace of love, if only for a fleeting moment.

Days turned to weeks and weeks to months, as Clara felt a part of her soul cleaved with her brother’s absence. In her room, the air heavy with dust and memories, she penned letters, one after the other, like laying bricks in the walls of a house she would never live in. They remained sealed, addresses blank; these were letters she could never send.

In the tapestry of her heart, each thread was woven with echoes of their last goodbye, and how an error, a mere butterfly, had sent ripples through their lives.

As the first snow of winter settled upon the graves of the soldiers, Clara stood before Anthony’s grave. She finally felt that the weight she had been carrying for months had lessened, as if the snow was taking some of it upon itself.

In her hand was the last letter she would ever write to him. She buried it there, with him, and whispered to the wind, “Wherever you are, find peace, for in your heart, I found mine.”


The content (W1) is engaging and has depth, portraying the emotional journey of Clara. The additional details such as “letters she could never send” add layers to her character.

The structure (W2) is secure and well-balanced, with the addition of Clara’s life after receiving the military letter and her final act, providing a complete arc.

Precise vocabulary (W3) is used, such as “the tapestry of her heart”, evoking imagery. The register (W4) is consistent with a historical and emotional tone. Spelling, punctuation, and grammar are accurate (W5).

To improve, the essay could delve into the moment of the error to enhance suspense. The phrase “the air heavy with dust and memories” could have included more sensory details.

A book such as “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr could be an invaluable resource for the writer. The novel’s use of intricate imagery, rich character development, and its ability to weave emotions through the tapestry of war could be especially beneficial. Emulating Doerr’s writing, the writer can further imbue the narrative with textured descriptions that breathe life into each scene.

Mark awarded for content and structure = 15/16
Mark awarded for style and accuracy = 23/24
Total marks awarded = 38/40

How To Learn From Excellent Writing


I thought to make this post this morning for those of you who are reading this blog and taking in the advice that has been included here, which is the fruit of many years of writing and reading, and learning how to develop rhetorical skills from intensive practice.

This post will be a bit more informal and is dedicated to those of you out there who have lots of great examples in front of you – but somehow can’t really make the transition towards writing. 

There are no theories in this post, and it is not specific to IGCSE First Language English – these are just simple suggestions that I’ve picked up from my own experiences.


Let’s go!

First off… What is excellent writing?

I think that often, people have a limited sense of what ‘good’ writing is. They confine themselves to an understanding of writing as something that’s siloed into sample essays and the things that they read in school.

In reality, many students would benefit from taking a wider perspective to what excellent writing is and where they can learn from. After all, it ’s not just embodied in sample essays – it’s also embodied in the writings of your favorite columnist in the New York Times or New Yorker, the most gripping pages of your favorite book… 

But it’s not that limited – it also encompasses the lyrics of your favorite song, the plot of your favorite manga, and everything in between. 

I call all of these types of writing excellent writing because in some way or another, they appeal to you in a deep, visceral way; they call out to you and say to you: Read me, keep reading me, and don’t stop!

Even better – you don’t have to be persuaded to keep reading – why? Because you just keep on going subconsciously because it’s interesting to you! 

That said, I acknowledge that people do have vastly different preferences and that people may not know what’s best to learn from. 

Second of all… Where do you find excellent (English) writing?

As I mentioned in my previous point, you can look to the New York Times and The Guardian for good journalism. I would have liked to cite The Star, but a recent article about the students who were admitted to Harvard from Malaysia in 2023 has left me questioning this.

The Economist, The Edge (Malaysia), and Nikkei Asia are incredible if you like business and economics news, and Time Magazine and The New Yorker are wonderful if you like long-form journalism.

There are numerous other examples that I can offer you as well, but I think that these are good to start.

I’ll include many more examples in the resources page when I get the time to write (work and teaching has been busy lately!)

On a more literary note, good non-fiction and fiction books most often serve as good sources of writing inspiration and are a joy to read as well; most of the sample essays that I post in the narrative and descriptive composition bank come with book recommendations attached to them to encourage the writer to level up by means of learning how to write well. Check that out here!

We will soon create worksheets and notes for sale that will help you practice these as well – stay tuned!

Okay, enough advertising!

Let’s dive in!

How do you learn from excellent writing?

Two people can read a book and then come out with vastly different insights, thoughts, learnings – why? It is often because they used different strategies to understand what was written within. You will know this to be true if you discuss a book with someone who has read it effectively – they will recall quotes, ideas, characters, and things that you may not even remember while you are struggling to recall the events that occurred in the text!

How can you level up to make sure that you can do this in your own life?

Well, let’s begin!

Here are eight tips to learn from good writing!

1. Look for good writing.

Perhaps this should be obvious, but if you don’t actively look for good writing or have a habit of seeking it out, you’re not going to find any. Try to develop a habit of looking for things that interest you and that you think can help you learn in some small way.

Don’t try to just start reading like crazy towards the days before the exam, because that’s not going to work. You are looking for a slow burn – a situation whereby you have a good habit of reading and learning about things that you enjoy. There are many good things out there that you can learn from, and what you need most is not to look for the ultimate source of reading – what you need to do is to just start reading.

Incidentally, since you’re still reading this piece, would it be too much to say that this blog post itself is an example that you can learn from?


2. Ensure that you understand what was being said before you progress.

…Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa!

Hold up!

I understand that the temptation to read is great for you and you deeply want to progress because you’ve read this site, but before you move on…

Do you understand what the author is saying? If not, then please go back and read it again. That’s what you have to do when you’re learning anything – if you don’t have a strong foundation of understanding, you will suffer in the process of moving forward because you do not know what is happening in the first place and you will take more time in the future to try to understand it.

Do yourself a favor and try to clarify what was being said, and if necessary, enlist assistance from your teachers, tutors, or parents.

It may take a little extra time and you may in turn find yourself asking even more questions about the text, but that’s totally normal and completely fine – the more questions you ask about a text and the more you find yourself able to answer, the better you are going to be at dealing with texts in general, and the more your speed will increase. You may not enjoy hearing this, but it takes time, patience, and diligent effort.

Okay, now armed with that unpleasant truth, let’s head on to the next part!

3. Constantly learn vocabulary.

We spoke about the importance of foundations in the last point. Well, what’s more important when you’re reading a book, a paragraph, or even a sentence than the words that make them up?

An example.

If you read a lot, you won’t be a stranger to the fact that authors can use many different forms of words, sometimes in different contexts that require you to think about what they mean, and even occasionally in special ways that reflect their particular understanding or sense of the word itself.

While it’s true that the onus of creating an effective piece is ultimately on the writer, it doesn’t change the fact that you as the reader need to do your part by learning words constantly.

Make it a habit rather than something that you just think about doing intermittently or when you’re under pressure; do it the moment you see something that doesn’t make sense. Over the course of days, months, and years, you are going to observe dramatic improvements that will come into your rhetorical abilities that you won’t even realize until they arrive.

4. Actively analyze the structure of what you are reading.

Once you’ve come to understand the basic meaning of what the author is trying to say to you, take the effort to step back and see if you can appreciate the wider picture – to see the forest for the trees, rather than to appreciate an individual tree as the embodiment of a universe unto itself.

Partly inspired by a student of mine who also reads this site. You know who you are!

Often times, people simply mindlessly consume what has been placed in front of them.

I encourage you not to take that approach.

Take some time to understand the structure of what you are reading – how it is organized, where the key information and points are (if it is an argument), or how the plot progresses (if it is a story). How is it held together? What are the different parts of the text? Ask yourself if you can tell the direction of movement of the text.

5. Ask yourself questions.

Do ask yourself questions as you read.

What did the author say in the first paragraph? What was his conclusion? How did he support that conclusion? Did it make sense? 

Thinking about these things from a distance can be very helpful in terms of helping you to understand how texts are structured, and in turn assist you in developing a larger picture about a text that is infinitely more all-encompassing than the words on a page alone.

As you ask questions, you’ll perhaps come to see that knowledge is not just those printed words – rather, it is like a tree that grows from a foundation with interconnected branches that link different parts of your understanding together in a coherent and unified conception or picture of things. As a reader, it is your duty to maintain the conditions that will allow the tree to grow, by stimulating it with questions and thoughts that facilitate its growth.

As you ask yourself questions and reflect, there is one thing that you must absolutely do, and that is to…

6. Reflect on the author’s purpose and intended audience.

Recognize as you read that every single piece of writing is a piece of communication that is directed towards a specific purpose.

Yes, even comic books and manga.

Their purpose is to entertain you so that you will buy the books or continue reading.


Alright, that was the clearest example right there – the rest should be pretty simple to get across.

As you can see, writers can persuade you to keep reading by entertaining you, but they can also persuade you (perhaps to accept a certain point of view?) by educating you, or perhaps aim to argue a certain point, or convince you of something that you didn’t believe before.

If this all seems to dovetail together, it’s not a coincidence.

All effective communication is purposive – it aims to achieve specific outcomes, and it will manage to do so if it targets the right audience and manages to persuade them in the correct ways.

This isn’t just to tell you, please learn how to write a persuasive essay, structure a good argument well, learn how to reason correctly…

But it is also to tell you, every single piece of writing in this world, including this post, is an example of language with purposive communication.

Don’t just accept it straight away or take it as fact. Rather, critique it. See if you understand it. See whether even if you understand it, whether what it’s saying is true or not as you develop a consciousness of how you are being influenced by it – do not take what it is describing as reality, but rather integrate it into your own reality and your own understanding of how the world works.

7. Practice writing.

Congratulations! You have come to the end of this piece (almost!)

Now please don’t just let the advice within flow out of your brain – rather, put it into practice.

Look at your favorite pieces of writing, and see if you can try to recreate the style in your own words, if you can integrate some of the structures, if you can appreciate the themes and what the authors were trying to get across and formulate the arguments in your own words.

Let’s be realistic: You won’t be able to imitate your favorite writers completely – but then again, you shouldn’t try to.

I don’t know who you are (anyone could be reading this) or how you feel about writing… But if you are anything like me, you may feel sometimes that you are fighting a battle to become more eloquent, more rhetorically inclined, better at expressing things that feel like they come from somewhere unknown but yet are fighting to seek out a pathway towards existence.

By practicing and learning from good examples, you will create words upon the page, moving forward with each letter that you type; you will converge closer and closer to your unique style.

Is that your goal? I have no idea. But that’s why the last tip is important.

8. Find your why.

Here is a quote from the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche that I’ve always found fascinating, and thought to share with you today.

“He who has a why can endure almost any how”.

– Friedrich Nietzsche.

I’d like to contextualize that to writing.

Writing well is hard.

To learn how to write well, you will have to learn many, many different things, many of which may be far beyond the current scope of your abilities and many of which you may never have even thought about before; many of you, even upon reading this, will experience a brief burst of motivation but later declare that you have given up – only to come back to this page many years later and recognize that there was a certain truth in what I had said – the thing that had caused you to return here somehow to these words that had somehow occupied a space in your memories and to reflect upon what I had said.

In these moments, I hope that you will remember why you read this post, and why you felt the necessity to become a better learner.

Were you just looking forward to a better grade on the IGCSE, perhaps just to meet those A01 and A02 assessment objectives? (You should, and you will!)

Or were you looking forward to something even greater than that?

What was your goal?

Your purpose?

Let’s move away from the past tense.

What is your purpose now?

What do you want to achieve by becoming a better writer?

How can learning how to read and write higher level elevate your life, your ability, your vision to see the world as you contemplate how to express the multitudes of experiences, colors, and people who will enter into it as you build up the conditions for a better life through your thoughts, words, and actions?

As you ask yourself these questions throughout the course of the years, know that these questions are what will power you through the difficult times and that will give you the strength to direct your efforts continually towards improvement.

As you think about these things, allow me to close.


Learning from good writing is a lifelong journey. It requires you to look for good writing, to analyze what you are reading, to learn the words that are being used, to analyze the structure of what you’re reading so you can understand how it fits together, to reflect on the author’s purpose, to practice assiduously, and finally, to know why you are doing this, on a level that is beyond what your parents have said, what society has told you about learning to write or to read, on a level that is distinctly, wholly, uniquely, and personally yours.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece on learning how to write well; if you found it valuable, do consider sharing it with others as well. I look forward to seeing you in the next post!


The Magic of Examiner Reports


Examiner Reports are released by Cambridge International after each examination session. These reports summarize the general performance of students, highlight common strengths and weaknesses, and provide constructive feedback for both students and teachers.

Put simply?

They’re awesome, and if you want to do well on the IGCSE, you should read them.

In this blog post, we will discuss the immense value of reading Examiner Reports for the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination and how they provide invaluable insights into what examiners are looking for.

At the same time, they reflect the overall judgement of examiners for the essays of students for particular examination sessions and therefore provide key insights into the way that Cambridge as an organisation evaluates different scripts, which in turn can help you to better contextualise the marking criteria that has been provided in the mark scheme documents that you have no doubt seen so far.

“But Victor!!!” you might be saying…“I don’t want to spend my time reading dumb stuff like that!!!!”

Well hold on, hold on.

What if I told you that this ‘dumb stuff’… Was actually one of the master keys towards unlocking excellence on the IGCSE First Language English exam?

Unlocking the Marking Criteria

One of the difficulties of understanding how to do well in a language-based exam for students is that there are various ways to operationalize excellence in language. While it’s true that for other exams such as mathematics and science exams some degree of creativity and insight can lead to novel approaches and answers, it remains true that the possible sample space of excellent responses for First Language English and other exams is much wider, and it also remains true that it is more difficult for students to understand how to operationalize excellence through their work just from reading the marking criteria.

Here is where the \magic/ 🪄 of examiner reports comes in!

Examiner reports are absolutely invaluable in helping you to unlock the marking criteria for the IGCSE First Language English exam, because they offer comprehensive and actionable steps for you if you’re practicing for the exam, and they serve as a wonderful practice aid for you to check whether you are able to do well in particular practice exams.

Let’s look at the first part of the examiner report for the June 2022 IGCSE.

Observe here that there are key messages for each paper, and also general comments about what constituted excellence for the paper. We won’t discuss the entire thing, but there are also specific analyses on a question-by-question basis.

I won’t go into everything here today (more resources will be provided to our Premium members soon).

Here’s one sample:

…And here’s the next:


As you can see, the report specifically breaks down these questions.

Think about that and the value that it’s offering – in the first case, it is telling you exactly how the best candidates did question 2d) and how they came to deliver responses on Writer’s Effect.

In the second example, it is literally breaking down Question 3 for you by telling you the ways in which the candidates approached the question and the way that people thought about the question, which you can in turn reference as you write your own exam responses; you could implement a routine of practicing a past paper, following that up by having your essay graded (submissions for essays to our essay bank(s) are open!)

To sum up, why are examiner reports valuable to you?

(sorry to be annoying, but you’ll have to sign up for a free or premium membership to read the next bit c: – reminder that purchasing the book gains you access to premium member privileges… For now!)

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I hope I’ve shown you that Examiner Reports for the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination are a powerful tool for students seeking to understand what examiners are looking for in the context of the marking criteria, and also that they are something valuable to look at in your quest for mastery or for convergence towards writing stellar essays that fit the marking criteria while at the same time helping you to excel.

By analyzing these reports, students can gain invaluable insights into the expectations of examiners, avoid common pitfalls, learn from real examples, and fine-tune their writing techniques to achieve the highest possible marks.

As the saying goes, knowledge is power, and in the case of the IGCSE First Language English 0500 examination, Examiner Reports are a key to unlocking that power – they are not the only key, but are definitely something that you should consider as part of your repertoire!