• Answer all questions using your own words as far as possible.
  • Mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar may be penalised in any part of the test.
  • Dictionaries are not allowed.

TASK 1The Haze Is Back: Five Ways To Stay Healthy In The Haze


Study this infographic from The Straits Times and answer questions 1–4.

  1. Refer to the information in the shade box at the top left of the infographic. What characteristic of the haze phenomenon is illustrated by the phrase “now you see it, now you don’t”?
  2. With reference to #1 Know Your PSI, state any two ways in which knowing the PSI on a given day might benefit the reader.
  3. How does the photo of a lady wearing a mask reinforce the information in the accompanying text #2 Keep A Mask With You?
  4. What effect does the information in the shade box at the bottom right of the infographic, under the sub-heading How Long Has The Problem Been Around?, have on the reader?

TASK 2Not The Best But For The Better


In this article from The Straits Times, the author reflects on the nature of competition and competitiveness. Read the article and answer questions 1–11.

  1. Refer to the portions “… ate one grudging slice and locked myself in my room to study” and “… and coveted his prize. It was a red tin tray with the sponsor’s logo” in the article. What do they suggest the writer was feeling?
  2. “I don’t remember wins, I remember losses and second places.” What is unusual about these lines, and what is the effect on the reader?
  3. “Children’s rivalry for adult attention is a primal urge.” What is the writer trying to convey about children in this sentence?
  4. The writer uses similes to draw a comparison between child-parent interaction and ancient farmers’ relationship with their gods. Find two instances in the article and explain the comparison being drawn in each instance.
  5. Pick out a word that means the same as “competed” from the paragraphs “There are two kinds of competition. … within adult hearing.”
  6. “I grew up with six cousins and a younger brother, was loved and disciplined by whichever set of parents was in charge…” Describe any characteristic of a strong family life conveyed in this statement.
  7. “… competition was a fact of family life.” Give one example of how competition was part of the writer’s family life, using information from the paragraphs “There are two kinds of competition. … within adult hearing.”
  8. Explain how school life can be both “deeply reassuring” and “deeply frightening” for a child whose identity is still being formed, using information from the paragraphs “School, of course, … an external reward.”
  9. Identify an expression which suggests random selection from the paragraphs “School, of course, … an external reward.”
  10. In the paragraphs “Then there is the competition … new things about yourself.” the writer recalls an incident where she witnessed a 10-year-old girl continuing to skip rope long after she had been beaten the “class record,” and the teacher had called out to her to stop. What two possible reasons does the writer give as to why the girl continued to jump?
  11. The structure of the article takes the reader through a discussion of motivations for competing. Complete the flow chart below with suitable descriptions to summarise the main motivations described in the article. Write NO MORE THAN SIX WORDS in each blank, using your own words as far as possible.
a need (a) ....................
a need (b) ....................
a need (c) ....................
a need (d) ....................

TASK 3Melbourne Turning Food Rubbish Into Food For Gardens


In this article from The Straits Times, the journalist reports on a successful scheme to turn food waste into fertiliser. Read the article and answer questions 1–9.

  1. In the first paragraph (“In a narrow alleyway … gourmet restaurants.”) the writer uses the phrase “ducking into.”
    (a) What does this tell us about how the patrons feel about entering the cafes, bars and restaurants?
    (b) Explain why they duck in.
  2. The writer describes Degraves Street as “Nestled between two busy roads…” What does this tell us about the writer’s view of the position of Degraves Street?
  3. How has food waste recycling changed the ambience of Degraves Street?
  4. Below is a part of a conversation between two students, Emma and David, who have read the article and are discussing the paragraph “Australia has high rates … landfills.”
    — Emma: Most Australians actively recycle.
    — David: They can do more.
    (a) Identify an example Emma can use to support her statement.
    (b) What evidence can David use to support his statement?
  5. Why are council schemes to encourage food waste recycling unsuccessful?
  6. Why is the country of origin of the dehydrator machine mentioned?
  7. What tone is the writer creating when he refers to South Korea’s former food waste recycling process as having a “devastating impact on the environment”?
  8. Why would schemes like using the Degraves Street machine be popular in high-rise buildings?
  9. Summarise why the pilot food waste recycling scheme in Degraves Street has been welcomed by residents and businesses, using information from the paragraphs “Cleaning and closing the cafe … spokesman Jem Wilson.” Write no more than 90 words. Your summary must be in continuous writing (not note form).

TASK 4The Struggles of Creating An Equal Society


Read the following text and answer questions 1–8.

David Johnson considers the struggles of creating an equal society.

[1] The cause to create an equal society is undeniably a noble one. After all, all of us are endowed with one transient human life which deserves every right to be lived to the fullest. Yet, all societies, seem to be obsessed with separating people into groups and labelling them—blacks and whites, working class and upper class, female and male, etc. Such labels are rarely neutral. One is superior while the other—or in fact, all others—inferior. Forcibly imposed on people, these labels divide society and create misery.

[2] Inequality is dangerous. An unequal society is inherently unstable because the unhappiness felt by the disadvantaged is brewing beneath the surface and will seek an avenue to be released. Workers who demand better working conditions from their employers may go on strike, groups disadvantaged by government policies may go on mass protest, while citizens who are displeased with a corrupt government may stage an uprising. Some of these forms of resistance do nothing more than disrupt the daily rhythms of society, but others can cause serious injuries and deaths. It seems that the more serious the disadvantage, the more violent the method used to show unhappiness will be. Events as recent as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements are painful reminders of social inequalities which still exist in even the most developed parts of the world.

[3] The social movements of the 1950s and 1960s which took place in many countries in Europe and North America have arguably achieved more equal rights for minority races, women, handicapped people, and to a smaller extent, non-heterosexual individuals. But are these societies truly equal? It was only in the last decade that many countries celebrated the election of their first female heads of state—German Chancellor Angela Merkel, South Korean President Park Geun Hye and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, to name a few. However, men still occupy nine in ten positions in corporate boardrooms worldwide. That means that important decisions on issues such as transport and environment are still made without adequate consideration of the female perspective. The fact that the feminist movement is still very much alive today is testament to how far away societies are from gender equality.

[4] Among the various forms of social division, there is perhaps none which separates a society further and cuts a deeper wound than that which is drawn across the lines of race. Despite the fact that scientists have found no genetic markers for race—or to put it in another way, that minority races do not have any genetic ‘defects’—and the removal of many official policies which are racist in nature by many countries, especially with the end of apartheid in South Africa, relic attitudes and manifestations of racism are still putting minority races in disadvantaged positions. Until today, police officers in the United States are still more likely to suspect a black man of being responsible for a violent crime and African Americans still have lower levels of educational attainment than Anglo Americans. The latter trend is likely to stem from differences in access to educational resources.

[5] Furthermore, inequality gets reinforced through daily social interactions. When people from the dominant group encounter someone from the minority group either in school, at work or on the streets, the way they treat the ‘other’ socially usually reasserts systemic inequality. Intentionally avoiding someone because of their race while walking through a busy street or implying unintentionally that a colleague is an unreliable worker because she is ‘too emotional’ only serve to make the receiver of such actions or remarks feel less worthy. At the same time, when such actions or remarks are not called out as discriminatory, members of the dominant group reinforce the attitudes that breed inequality. Until such behaviour is completely eliminated, our society cannot be equal.

[6] One solution which many societies have adopted to ensure equal opportunities for all is meritocracy. People are assessed and offered opportunities based on their abilities rather than their race, sex or any other social categories. As a theoretical concept, meritocracy offers the perfect solution. But as it becomes implemented, subjective human judgement inevitably recreates bias in other domains. In one study, it was found that when two job candidates were equally qualified for a position, interviewers were more likely to offer it to the one who was physically more attractive. This puts the fairness of a meritocratic system into question.

[7] Perhaps we can consult some of the greatest philosophers in history to gain some insight on ensuring equality. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said that “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.” Indeed, no two persons are created equal. Even identical twins have different personalities, which will lead to a difference in the way people engage with either of them. Instead of thinking about how we should treat everyone equally, we should think about how we can embrace individual differences and celebrate them. Everyone has their unique strengths and weaknesses. If we allow people to harness those strengths and work on their weaknesses, they will be able to live their lives to the fullest, which is the broader goal for creating an equal society.

[8] Creating an equal society seems to be an elusive goal. While there is no doubt that social systems and structures that institutionalise inequality must be removed, ensuring complete equality is not so straightforward. This is especially so when considering that people are different in many ways. They should all be given the ability to lead their individual lives. No one should be made to feel worse due to any social difference. In that way, society may then truly be considered equal.

  1. What are the consequences when disadvantaged groups seek “an avenue” (paragraph 2) to release their unhappiness?
  2. Explain the author’s use of the word still” in the final sentence of paragraph 3.
  3. Explain what the author means by “relic attitudes and manifestations of racism” (paragraph 4).
  4. Why has the author written ‘defects’ in inverted commas (paragraph 4)?
  5. What differences in the method and motivation of social interactions that can be used to reinforce social inequalities is the author presenting in paragraph 5?
  6. In paragraph 6, how does the author support his idea that “subjective human judgement inevitably recreates bias” in a meritocratic system?
  7. Using material from paragraphs 2–4, summarise what the author has to say about the problems inequality may bring to society, as well as the ways gender and racial inequalities still affect society. Write no more than 130 words. Your summary must be in continuous writing (not note form).
  8. David Johnson argues that despite much progress made on bridging inequality, it still exists in different forms throughout society. How far is this true of your society? Write your response in at least 350 words.

TASK 5The Value of Technology


Read the two texts below and answer the questions that follow.

Text 1

Charles Donovan discusses the value of technology.

[1] Technology is one of those terms for which pinning down a definitive meaning is so difficult because it penetrates so many aspects of our lives. By virtue of morphology, technology implies something technical, something based on evidence. But technology is also the creation of something new which solves a problem that humans face. Taken as such, almost everything around us is, or at least was, a technological invention. The chair which we are sitting on, for instance, which solves our need to rest our legs, was once a new idea using physical and ergonomic principles. It becomes apparent, then, that technology has provided immense value in our lives.

[2] Without technology, we may never have survived. Early hunter-gatherers developed stone tools which facilitated the hunting and gathering of food. They mastered the art of starting a fire for preparing food. To protect themselves from the cold weather, they made clothes. As they settled down and began setting up permanent settlements, houses, were built, animals were domesticated and weapons were refined. Freed from the hassle of constant movement, humans had more time to focus on developing better ways to live in the bid to prolong their own lives as well as that of their species. Technology advanced in leaps and bounds with the establishment of ancient civilisations, which eventually led to modern ones characterised by an exponential increase in the prominence of technology. Wheels, paper, compasses, then roads, bridges, central heating, and so on were invented. Such inventions have gone beyond merely ensuring personal and communal survival to providing comfort, convenience and efficiency for humans.

[3] Most technologies were invented for the purpose of improving productivity. People want to do things faster and better—or even not do them at all—so that they can achieve more within the same amount of time. Previously laborious processes have been replaced or are aided by technology, producing greater output than has ever been possible with purely manual work. Nowhere is this more apparent and critical than in agriculture. Despite rapid population growth and increasing land scarcity, the use of technology; such as the use of irrigation, insecticides and, more recently, genetically modified crops; has increased yield with the added bonus of improved nutrition. The Malthusian catastrophe, which warns of widespread famine as a natural form of population control, no longer seems relevant with the use of technology to increase agricultural productivity.

[4] At the turn of the last century, humans ushered in the information age which was made possible only through technology. With the invention of computers, which were later connected through the internet, information became digitised and was exchanged and accumulated at record speed. With easier access to information, people could and can make better decisions, feed their intellectual curiosity and create new knowledge more rapidly. On a more general scale, information technology has been the enabler for a globalised world. Transactions performed in one part of the world can be effected in another part of the world almost instantly. Project teams with members located in different countries can meet through video conferencing, saving the need to travel. Indeed, information technology has provided us with all the conveniences we could have ever imagined and even greater possibilities can be seen on the horizon.

[5] Much of the progress made by human beings throughout history can be attributed to technology. We would not be where we are today if not for it. Technology has tremendously improved the quality of human life and it remains to be seen what new potential it can unlock.

Text 2

Wilhelm Markus criticises modern society’s obsession with technology.

[1] Every time corporations unveil new technology, it is met with heavy anticipation and high expectations from the public. There is an aesthetic value tied to new technology due to the way it is packaged and marketed. Positive qualities are overwhelmingly emphasised, with familiar claims of it being the next big thing which holds great promise ringing across headlines. But we should never confuse novelty and marketing with practical assessment. A look back at the history of technological inventions would remind us that we must never be blind to the problems that new technology brings.

[2] Throughout the 20th century, there had been a great deal of excitement over the possibilities brought about by the invention of a class of machines generally referred to as time-saving technologies. These were mainly household appliances such as the rice cooker, vacuum cleaner and washing machine, which make housework less taxing and time consuming. Yet, with more time to spare, people wanted more things to do. Women, being liberated from the domestic sphere, participated in paid employment. People were no longer satisfied with their basic standard of living and demanded a higher quality of living. They became pressed for time in the pursuit of excellence. The ‘time-saving’ technologies have resulted in modern people enjoying significantly less leisure time than their hunter-gatherer ancestors. And that comes at a cost—the average human lifespan now is shorter than the hunter-gatherers of before despite modern advances in medicinal science.

[3] Then technology fails us. As technology becomes more complex, it becomes what the scientific community terms a ‘black box,’ meaning that people only understand how a technological system or gadget should be used but not how it works. When a technological system which people constantly use breaks down, the users become completely lost because they do not know how else to perform that function. A classic example of today would be when one’s smartphone stops working because of a technical problem. One may require some time to figure out another way to contact one’s family, especially for those who have never known about public payphones, and the navigationally-challenged may require even more time to find their way home without their global positioning system (GPS) device.

[4] It is likely that not many people truly enjoy the current information age heralded by the proliferation of information technology. Previously, when information was lacking, people learnt to trust their instincts, within acceptable limits, to make decisions and to take leaps of faith. With the present overload information, decision-making is always deferred because one will never be done processing all the relevant information and evaluating all possible alternatives. Patience also become a lost virtue. People demand information to be available at an instant. If a webpage lags for even a few seconds, tempers may flare. To think that barely a century ago, people still spent up to a week on board a ship just to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

[5] The way modem society embraces technology without giving due consideration to all that it has given up as a result of adopting new technology is appalling—or to put it in a language familiar to the technology geeks, not enough cost-benefit analysis has been done. Instead of becoming a master of technology, modem society has become a slave to it. As American politician Mark Kennedy rightly summarises, “All of the biggest technological inventions created by Man—the airplane, the automobile, the computer—says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.”

Answer the following questions with reference to Text 1.

  1. Explain how the chair demonstrates the three qualities that define technology described by the author in the first paragraph.
  2. In what ways were the hunter-gatherers’ abilities to develop technology constrained by “the hassle of constant movement”?
  3. In the third paragraph, how does the author explain his argument that the application of technology in the field of agriculture is “apparent and critical”?
  4. Explain why the author believes that the Malthusian catastrophe “no longer seems relevant” in the third paragraph.
  5. Using material from paragraphs 2–4, summarise what the author has to say about the value of technology to the individual and to society. Write no more than 130 words. Your summary must be in continuous writing (not note form).

Answer the following questions with reference to Text 2.

  1. What does the expression “ringing across headlines” in the first paragraph suggest about the introduction of new technology?
  2. What is the author implying about the status of women before the introduction of household technology by using the word “liberated” in the second paragraph?
  3. Why has the author written the word ‘time-saving’ in inverted commas (paragraph 2)?
  4. Identify and explain two consequences of the “proliferation of information technology” (paragraph 4).
  5. What about modern society’s relationship with technology is the author trying to distinguish in the sentence, “Instead of becoming a master of technology, modem society has become a slave to it.” (paragraph 5)?

Answer the following question with reference to both texts.

  • Charles Donovan sees technology as bringing many benefits to society, while Wilhelm Markus views technology as doing more harm than good. How important is technology to your society, and how far do you agree with the opinions expressed by both authors? Write your response in at least 350 words.

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