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How to Excel in ICAS English Examination?

The (ICAS) International Competitions and Assessments for Schools conducted by the University of New South Wales in Australia has become an internationally accepted standard test that measures a child’s competence in English, Mathematics, Science and Digital Technologies. A good score is truly an achievement for a student since it reflects his real capability in the particular subject, and may well be an asset in future university admissions or winning scholarships. Only the top 1% scorers are awarded a high distinction, the next 10% get distinction, and the remaining 25 and 10 percent get credit and merit respectively.

ICAS English assessment: Reading question types

1. Understanding of the writer’s intention

The writer of a particular text uses words to convey particular meanings. Their choice of a particular word conveys meanings that would not have been conveyed by any other word. Thus, one of the questions at the ICA English paper is to find out why the writer used a particular word.

For example in the lines “suddenly I was underneath a galaxy of glow-worms,” why does the writer use the word ‘galaxy’ to describe the glow-worms? The answer is that the writer wanted to convey that the glow worms were as abundant as the stars in the galaxy.

As you can see, you need to look at the characteristics of the key word (in this case ‘galaxy’) and apply it to the passage.

2. Figurative language

Often, there are questions in the ICAS English examination that tests students’ knowledge of figures of speech in English. Therefore, it is essential to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of figures of speech. Some common figures of speech are as follows:

(1) Simile: A simile is a stated comparison between two dissimilar things that have certain characteristics as common. It is usually formed with the words ‘like’ or ‘as’. Example: ‘Selina’s cheeks turned red like hot coals in embarrassment and shame’.

(2) Metaphor: An implied, not directly stated, comparison between two dissimilar things that have some common characteristics. Example: ‘John was the shining star of the class’.

(3) Personification: Personification is a figure of speech in which an inanimate object is assigned human qualities. Example: “Coconut trees swayed gracefully in the wind.” In this case, coconut trees are thought of as dancers who can sway gracefully.

(4) Onomatopoeia: This figure of speech refers to the use of words that closely imitate the sounds associated with an object. Example: ‘Bees buzzing in the hot afternoon’. The word ‘buzzing’ is very much like the sound the bees make.

(5) Irony: This figure of speech refers to the expression of meaning by the use of words that mean the opposite. This gives rise to a humorous or emphatic effect. Example: ‘The butter is as soft as a slab of concrete.’

3. Vocabulary questions

Questions on word meanings are a part and parcel of any English test, and ICAS is no exception. Here, meanings are to be found in the context in which it appears in the text. For example, if the text contains the sentence, ‘The coming generations will find textbooks to be obsolete, as they can get the same information from a lightweight tablet’, the question asks for the meaning of obsolete as used in the sentence. Is it ‘outdated’, ‘unwanted’, or ‘unused’? Even though obsolete can mean ‘outdated’, in the particular context of this sentence, it means ‘unwanted’.

Thus, the ability to find meanings in context is a skill that the ICAS English examination tests.

4. Use of textual devices

Writers often use textual devices such as capital letters, apostrophes, brackets or italics for special effects. Inferring the reason for the use of these devices is a common question in ICAS English examination. Example: “My ‘mouse’ is being very naughty today”. Why is the word ‘mouse’ placed in inverted commas?

The answer is that ‘mouse’ here refers to the unusual meaning of the word - a computer mouse, not the animal.

5. Knowledge of parts of speech

It is absolutely essential for an English learner to understand a very essential part of English grammar, known as the parts of speech, to do the ICAS English exam well. The parts of speech are a) nouns b) pronouns c) preposition d) verb e) adjective f) adverb g) conjunction and h) interjection. The eight parts of speech should be known to all English learners. A typical question could be as follows:

“An emergency situation arose at the hospital soon after the surgical mistake was found out’.

In the sentence above the word emergency is used as a (1) noun (2) adverb (3) adjective (4) verb.

The answer is (3) adjective, because it describes what kind of a situation it was.

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