PSLE Chinese Essay Writing (看图作文) Guide

The written essay component constitutes 40 marks out of a grand total of 200 marks for the entire PSLE Chinese examination. A student has to choose from two questions, an essay based on either a picture(s) (看图作文) or topic (命题作文) assigned . While many students prefer the former because they are less likely to stray from the theme, most do not end up scoring exceptionally well. So how then can one shine when attempting the 看图作文 part?

Firstly, within 10 minutes of reading the question, it is recommended that candidates complete the following preparatory tasks:

1. Logically decipher the underlying context as presented by the picture(s)

2. Figure out the main governing theme(s)

3. Establish the perspective of narration

4. Determine the manner in which to both begin and conclude the essay

Kindly find below an elaboration on each point:

1. Logically decipher the underlying context as presented by the picture(s)

It is typically not hard for candidates to visually process the picture(s) provided since they are at times structured like comics; one main character usually appears in all (or most of) the pictures, and he/she is being accompanied by two to three secondary characters. Take note of the sequence in which the various characters appear, observe their manner of dressing, hairstyles and facial features to establish individual identities; appreciate a person's motivations by means of scrutinizing his/her feelings and actions - all these serve as important pointers in developing the overall plot.

Consider the six interrogative pronouns:

Ⅰ. When

Ⅱ. Where

Ⅲ. Who

Ⅳ. What

Ⅴ. Why

Ⅵ. How

Pursuing these extensively within the main essay body allows for the laying of a solid premise augmented by a consistent flow of the main story line.

2. Figure out the main governing theme(s)

Themes featured typically involve the following:

- Dangerous actions causing physical harm (mischief, fight and chasing one other)

- Careless mistakes committed (turning up late for an important event, losing a precious item, breaking things whilst playing around or getting lost in the wilderness)

- Generously assisting others (classmates, neighbors or family members)

- Misunderstandings

- Criminal behaviors (cheating, stealing or making false representations)

3. Establish the perspective of narration

Whose point of view shall it be - first or third person? Writing in first person will allow for a stronger manifestation of personal feelings and emotions; on the other hand writing in third person puts forth a cogent narration of facts with less likelihood for contradiction and missing bits arising.

Once you have decided accordingly, care must be taken to ensure consistency is maintained throughout the entire essay. In some instances, students started off writing in the third person yet slowly drifted to writing in the first person; they were penalized as a consequence.

4. Determine the manner in which to both begin and conclude the essay

These should always be drafted in close association with the theme(s) identified, no more no less.


After finishing the above 4 steps, you should begin to put pen to paper. Take note of the following points when writing the actual essay:

1. Number of paragraphs

Usually for 看图作文, aside from a paragraph each reserved for the beginning and conclusion of the essay, one paragraph shall be assigned to articulate the contents of each given picture in the main body. However, you may choose to condense the narration for two pictures into a single paragraph if they depict somewhat similar scenes. Remember to leave a line of empty space in between every two paragraphs so as to present the essay in a clearer and neater fashion.

2. Be Connective

Save for the opening and conclusion, transitional words should be employed at the start of each paragraph in a bid to connect adjacent blocks. Usually they would refer to changes in time or space. For example, '过了不久...' You could also settle for conjunctions, for example, 终于...', 可是...'

3. Rich, meaningful content is key

Do not simply stick to a hollow, routine description of what is being depicted; make conscious efforts to relate, infer, deduce and possibly critique. Convey more intimately by means of invoking the body's five senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.

4. Consider the usage of metaphors, idioms and adages

Educate, inform and advise through using rhetoric. Idioms and adages when implemented properly can serve to make specific expressions become more vivid.

5. Number of words required

A lot of students are concerned about the number of words they need to fulfil as part of the essay requirement, some even endeavor to constantly keep track of the overall tally during the examination. From our experience, essays which score very well (36 and above) usually comprise around 600 words, or 3 whole pages of standard Chinese composition writing paper(240 grids).


The above content is contributed by Mdm Wang, who has more than 2 decades of experience in teaching the Chinese language. Visit her site at for more information.




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