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What Examiners Look For When Marking Your English Composition

Updated on June 11, 2014

How Examiners Mark English Language Compositions

In this article, we are going to take a look at the important things that English Language examiners look for when marking the composition or essay that you write for them.

When you write an essay or composition in an English Language examination, there are four major areas that examiners look at when marking your work. These areas are: the content, the organization, the expression and the mechanical accuracy.

Typically, examiners mark the composition over 50 marks. The marks are shared among the four areas mentioned above. Marks awarded are normally in this manner:

Content – 15 marks

Organization – 5 marks

Expression – 20 marks

Mechanical Accuracy – 10 marks

Let us now take a look at these areas one after the other and see what each of them entails.

The Content

Under the content, you are fighting for 15 marks from the examiner. A very good candidate can score between 11 and 14 marks here. When examiners are awarding marks for the content, they focus their attention on whether the candidate has written about the topic that they were asked to write about or not. A candidate who is able to thoroughly grasp and understand what the question is all about normally does very well here. Examiners are quick to reward candidates who tackle the topic of the question. These same examiners are also very quick to penalize candidates who deviate from the topic of the question. According to many English Language marking schemes all over the world, examiners are expected not to award even a single mark for content when a candidate deviates from the topic or writes about something that is irrelevant to the question.

This is the more reason why candidates should make sure that they have fully understood the question given them before they begin answering it. Here, for every point that you bring, there is the need for you to explain it in a great detail to further increase your marks.

For example, if a candidate is given the following question: “Write an article suitable for publication in a local newspaper discussing at least three causes of road accidents in your country”, and the student goes ahead to write about the effects of road accidents on the country, the candidate will be awarded zero for the content simply because they have deviated from the topic.


Here, the examiners are basically checking whether the candidate properly organized his or her essay. The candidate fights for 5 marks here.

The examiner basically checks to see the following very important things:

  • Are the facts, ideas, and points arranged properly?
  • Is the opening suitable?
  • Is the paragraphing of the work good?
  • Are the links between the paragraphs good or is there a smooth transition from one paragraph to another?
  • Are there balance, unity and coherence in the composition?

Another important thing that examiners look for under the organization is whether the candidate used the appropriate format for writing the essay. There are so many types of essays and each of them has a specific format. For example the format for a debate is not the same as that of a formal letter. So if a student is required to write a formal letter but goes ahead to write it using the wrong format, then he or she is severely penalized.


Basically, what the examiners are looking for here is the candidate’s expressions. Did the candidate use the right expressions in his or her composition? This part carries 20 marks. A very good candidate can score between 16 and 19 marks here. If you score between 16 and 19 marks here, then it means your expressions are very good.

Some of the things that examiners look for under expressions are:

  • How the candidate strings his words together to form good sentences.
  • The candidate’s sentence structures.
  • The candidate’s control over the vocabulary.
  • How the candidate used his or her words – both literal and figurative.

Also, under expression, the examiner looks at the type of essay or composition that the student writes and judges accordingly. For example, the expressions used in an informal letter should differ from that used in a formal letter because the two letters are not the same. In an informal letter, the examiner expects the candidate to use a great deal of conversational and informal expressions. If the candidate goes using very formal expressions here, then he or she gets penalized. The same applies for a formal letter. We all know that formal letters require formal language and expressions. It therefore means there is no room for colloquialisms, slangs, contracted words and what have you. If your expressions become informal or colloquial here, you will be penalized.

Mechanical Accuracy

Under mechanical accuracy, examiners are mainly looking at the candidate’s ability to use the mechanics of the English language. Here, the examiners are looking at things such as the proper use of punctuation marks, correct spellings, good tenses, etc.

Here, the more spelling errors, punctuation errors, etc that you have, the more marks you are going to lose. Examiners take a critical look at your overall grammar when checking the mechanical accuracy. They make sure that your tenses are sound and that your subjects agree with your verbs all the time. They also check the use of capital letters for proper nouns and the beginning of sentences.

It should be known that very grammar mistake that you make you will be penalized by the examiner. Some of the very common grammar mistakes or errors that are committed during composition writing include the following:

  • Use of wrong tenses
  • Wrong tense sequence
  • Subject-verb agreement mistakes
  • Misuse of article or omission of articles (a, an, the)
  • Wrong use of prepositions
  • Wrong comparisons of adjectives. For example: I am more happier today
  • Issues of dangling and misplaced modifiers

Apart from the above, another thing students should know is this: Any candidate who writes below the number of words that he or she has been asked to write will be penalized. For example, if the essay question asked you to write the essay in at least 500 words and you go writing below 500 words, you will be penalized under mechanical accuracy.


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      Helen juma 23 months ago

      Good to learn this...

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