As part of the the final English Paper written at the Senior High School during WASSCE, students are tested on oral English.
The oral English paper is made up of sixty (60) multiple choice objective questions. These questions are grouped into different categories, and named, Test 1, Test 2, Test 3 up to Test 8. It must be stated that this paper is a listening comprehension test, this means listening is the most important skill in this test.
In this particular paper, students or candidates are tested on vowels, consonants, consonant clusters, rhyme, stress, intonation and the ability to understand conversation in dialogues and narratives. Let’s now look at what to look out for under the various tests in the oral English paper.
Our discussion will be based on the WASSCE Oral English Paper for 2017. Download the audio here;
The test 1 of the Oral English Paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on vowels. Under this test, each question is followed by three alternatives, A – C, the words under this test are called minimal pairs in linguistic terms. They are called minimal pairs because they differ in only one phonetic segment. This one phonetic segment happens to be a vowel. Let’s now look at vowels.
Meaning of vowels
Vowels are sounds in whose production or articulation, there is free flow of air from the mouth. There are basically twenty (20) vowels in English. They are divided into twelve (12) monophthongs (pure vowels) and eight (8) diphthongs.
Pure vowels (Monophthongs) These are vowels that are made up of only one vowel sound.
/iː/ -Long. E.g seat, key, feet, eat, beat, meat, knee etc Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in instances where we have ‘ee’ or ‘es’ in words.
/ɪ/ – short. E.g sit, fit, bit, it etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in instances where we have the letter ‘i’ in words.
/e/ or /ɛ/ – short. E.g set, met, bet, bed, fed, head etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in words where we have the letter ‘e’ in between letters
/æ/ – short. E.g mat, fat, bad, cat, bat etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in words where we have the letter ‘a’ in between two letters which represent consonant sounds. Except in the case of; father.
/aː/ – long. E.g mart, cart, part, hard etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in words where we have ‘ar’ except in the case of father.
/ɒ/ /ɔ/ – short. E.g rot, pot, dog, not etc Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in words where the letter ‘o’ occurs in between consonants.
/ɔː/ – long. E.g port, four, pour, poor, floor, or, caught, fought, law, saw etc. Occurrence; This sound occurs in instances; a. Where the letter ‘r’ is preceded by ‘o’. b. Where the letter ‘r’ is preceded by ‘oo’. c. Where the letter ‘r’ is preceded by ‘ou’. d. Where the letter ‘w’ is preceded by ‘a’. e. Where the letter ‘l’ is preceded by ‘a’. E.g ball, fall, mall Etc.
/u/ /ʊ/ – Short. E.g put, good, look, full, etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs when we have a voiceless consonant after ‘oo’.
/uː/ – long. E.g fool, tool, cool, food etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs where we have ‘oo’ except; a. Where a the ‘oo’ precedes a voiceless consonant. E.g foot, book etc. b. In these two words; blood, flood.
/ʌ/ – Short. E.g cup, cut, cud, mud etc. Occurrence; This sound mostly occurs in instances where the letter ‘u’ occurs in between two consonant sounds and instances where it occurs before a consonant sound.
/ɜː/ – long. E.g shirt, dirt, flirt, share, bare, mare, her, fair, fare, work, perch etc. Occurrence; This sound occurs in the following instances; a. Where ‘re’ comes after ‘a’. E.g share, mare, fare. b. Where the letter ‘r’ comes after ‘e’. E.g her c. Where the letter ‘r’ comes after ‘ai’. E.g fair, air, flair. Etc
/ə/ – short. E.g about, around, letter, better, matter etc. Occurrence; This sound occurs in the following instances; a. In most cases where the letter ‘a’ begins a word. E.g above, around, about. Except in a few cases such as; area, are, angel etc. b. Where the letter ‘r’ ends a word preceded by either ‘e’ or ‘o’. E.g actor, doctor, matter etc. c. Where ‘le’ ends a word, in most cases it is always omitted. Etc.
Meaning of Diphthongs
Diphthongs are sounds in whose production the tongue moves from one vowel position to the other. They are sometimes called vowel glides. They are formed by the combination of two vowel sounds. They are also vowel sounds.
The Eight (8) Diphthongs in English. Note; All diphthongs sounds are long.
/ei/ – e.g paid, pain, face, day, may, say etc.
/əu/ – e.g load, no, so, home, sold, soul, go etc.
/ai/ – e.g time, mine, fight, tight, nice, buy etc.
/au/ – loud, cloud, house, mouse, cow etc.
/ɔi/ – e.g toil, coil, oil, voice, soil, toy etc.
/iə/ – e.g ear, here, beer, near etc.
/eə/ – bear, hair, scarce etc.
/uə/ – pure, sure, lure, etc.
What to look out for under test 1 of the Oral English Paper
As we learnt earlier, the test 1 is on vowels. The examiner provides the candidate with words which are similar in terms of pronunciation, but differ in only one sound, this sound happens to be a vowel, so it is important for students and candidates to note the difference between seemingly similar vowel sounds. Let’s contrast the vowels that are similar in pronunciation;
a. /ɪ/ /iː/ bit beat fit feet sit seat Note; What the candidate needs to do at this point is to concentrate on the middle sound(i.e the vowel sound) because the initial sound and end sound in both words are the same, so the emphasis should be on the middle sound.
/æ/ /ɑː/ /ʌ/ cad. card cud cat cart cut Note; Students should pay attention to the middle sound since that can only differentiate the three words in each group.
/e/ /ɜː/ bed bird ten turn Note; The middle sound is the only difference.
/ɔ/ /ɔː/ pot port cot court Note; The middle sound can only differentiate the words.
/ʊ/ /ʊː/ full fool pull pool Note; The middle sound is the only difference.
Usage Example on Vowels
The following questions were captured under TEST 1 of the Oral English Paper in 2017
A B C
seat sit set
cob cub cab
lent learnt lint
ride raid rode
oil aisle ale
ring rang rung
port pot put
cup carp cop
poll pull pool
here hair her
If we observe critically, all the examples are similar in terms of the individuals sounds that combine to make the words in each question’s alternatives, however, they differ in only one vowel sound in the middle. So a student needs to pay critical attention to the middle sound in order to get the answer right. For instance, if the answer should be A, then vowel sound that will be heard will be /iː/, if the answer should be B, then we will heard/ɪ/ sound, and if the answer should be C, then we will hear the vowel sound /e/. In this particular paper, the vowel sound that was heard was for question 1 was /e/ was heard, so that means the word set was pronounced, so the answer for this particular question is C. The rest of the questions in this group can be answered by making this same examination while listening keenly to the word that will be pronounced.
The test 2 of the oral English paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on consonants. Just like Test 1, the alternatives under this test present words under each question such that the words differ in only one consonant sound. Let’s look at consonants briefly.
Meaning of Consonants
Consonants are sounds in whose production or articulation there is a complete or partial blockage of air follow by a release. Consonants are produced by an obstruction or the coming together of two speech organs.
Consonants could be voiced or voiceless. Remember, all vowel sounds are voiced. What do we mean by a sound is voiced or voiceless?
Voiced sounds are sounds whose production causes the vocal cords to vibrate. E.g /b/, /d/, /v/ etc.
Voiceless sounds are sounds whose production does not cause any vibration of the vocal cords. E.g /k/, /t/, /s/ etc.
There are twenty four (24) consonant sounds. These sounds are classified based on their manner and place of articulation. For the purpose of this discussion, we shall focus on only the place of articulation.
The Twenty-four Vowel Sounds and their Places of Articulation
a. Bilabial; These are sounds that are produced with the two lips coming together. Voiced bilabials; /b/, /m/ Voiceless bilabial; /p/ Many linguist argue that /w/ is also a bilabial, however, some think otherwise, I will spare my reader my discretion on this for now, my readers can judge at their own liberty, I will however, make my opinion known when I am discussing consonants into details in subsequent articles.
Minimal Pair under Bilabials in Test 2 of the Oral English Paper
Candidates should endeavor to contrast the voiced and the voiceless bilabial because they stand a greater chance of appearing in the oral English paper.
/p/ /b/ pan ban pat bat pit bit
Under the Test 2 of the oral English paper, we will have examples like this. We can observe that the words above differ in only the initial consonant sounds at the beginning of the words.
b. Labio-dental sounds; These are sounds which are produced with the lower lip coming into contact with the upper front teeth. They are two; Voiced; /v/ Voiceless; /f/
Usage Examples in Test 2
/f/ /v/ fan van fat vat
As explained earlier, our concentration should be on the initial sound as to whether /f/ will be pronounced or /v/ in order to identify the word pronounced.
c. Dental; These sounds are produced with the tip of the tongue coming up against the upper front teeth. They are only two; Voiced; /ð/ Voiceless; /θ/
Usage Example in Test 2
/ð/ /θ/ clothe cloth
Sometimes, the closest consonant sound that can be used to trick candidates under this test is the use of the alveolar sounds /d/ and /t/ with these sounds (/θ/ and /ð/ ) within the same question.
/ð/ /t/ /d/ Other utter udder
/θ/ /t/ /d/ seething seating seeding
d. Alveolar; These are sounds which are produced with the front of the tongue raising towards the alveolar ridge. Voiced; /d/, /z/, /n/, /r/, /l/ Voiceless; /t/, /s/
The /s/, /z/ and the palato-alveolar sound /ʃ/ are usually contrasted in the Test 2.
/ʃ/ /s/ /z/ shoe sue zoo
e. Palato-alveolar; These are sounds which are produced with the blade of the tongue raising the roof of the mouth or the alveolar ridge. They are four; Voiced; /ʒ/ and /dʒ/ Voiceless; /ʃ/ and /tʃ/
/ʒ/ /dʒ/ /s/ leisure ledger lesser
/ʃ/ /tʃ/ /s/ shop chop sop
g. Velar; These are sounds which are produced with the back part of the tongue coming up against the soft palate or the velum. They are three; Voiced; /g/ and /ŋ/ Voiceless; /k/
/k/ /g/ /p/ lacking lagging lapping
h. Palatal; This is a sound which is produced with the middle or body of the tongue coming against the hard palate. This sound is only one; /j/ as in yes, yet etc.
i. Glottal; This is a sound which is produced in the throat. This sound is also one; /h/ as in harvest, hard etc.
What to Look out for under Test 2 of the Oral English Paper
The following questions were captured under the Test 2 of the Oral English Paper in 2017
A B C
other utter udder
writhe rice rise
with witch wit
elect erect effect
seating seething seeding
shoe sue zoo
lacking lagging lapping
leisure ledger lesser
shop chop sop
fake rake wake
Candidates have to pay critical attention to the consonant sounds that differentiate the various words from each category in order to get the correct answers. For instance, in question 11, the consonant sound that was pronounced was /d/, so the word that was pronounced was udder, that means the answer is C. In question 12. the consonant sound that was heard was /ð/, so the word that was mentioned was writhe, the answer therefore is A. The rest of the questions in this group can be answered by observing keenly the particular consonant sound that will be pronounced in each category since the only difference among the words is the consonant sounds.
Test 3 of the WASSCE Oral English Paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on both vowels and consonants within a given set of words. Unlike Test 1 and Test 2 where candidates are tested on minimal pairs where words in a given question number differ in only one sound, that is vowel sounds and consonant sounds respectively, this particular section tests candidates on both vowels and consonants, as a result, the number of alternatives per question for this particular test is four, that is A – D. What is required of candidates is to listen keenly and make the right choices of answers.
Usage Example A B C D 1.witch wish wash watch
If you observe critically, the first two options, A and B are minimal pairs because they differ in only one sound, i.e /tʃ/ and /ʃ/ whereas the second pair C and D also differ by the same sounds, however, in the entire group, there is a difference of /ɪ/, /ɔ/, /ʃ/ and /tʃ/. So candidates are advised to listen attentively.
The following questions were captured under test 3 of the Oral English Paper in 2017.
A B C D
21. muddle meddle medal metal
22. shallow shadow hollow follow
23. groan thrown drone prone
24. hill heel hell hull
25. weeks weeds seeds seats
26. doubt bout pout gout
27. taxed tasked tax task
This test, as I indicated earlier, tests students on how they can use their knowledge of vowel and consonants as well as minimal pairs to discriminate between words in a group that may differ in at most two sounds, that is one different vowel sound and one different consonant sound.
For instance, the word that was mentioned in the first question of this particular set was ‘muddle’.
The Test 4 of the Oral English Paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on sentences. In this particular section, three seemingly similar sentences are attached to each question. The candidate’s responsibility is to listen keenly in order to identify the particular sentence being read by the examiner.
How to Identify the Sentence Being Read
As I indicated, the sentences are similar, but they are not the same, as a result, we can easily differentiate them.
To be able to differentiate these sentences, we only need to emphasize on the only different word in the set, because all other parts of the set are the same, except only one word, the only word is what can enable us identify the sentence being read.
A. This steam has power B. This team has power C. This theme has power
We realise that the only difference among these three sentences is the second word in each group, so candidates are advised to pay critical attention to the only unfamiliar words in the set to be able to identify the sentence being read by the examiner.
The following questions were captured under the test 4 of the oral English paper in 2017.
A. He’ll be fired B. He’ll be hired C. He’ll be tired
A. The word I spelt was ‘cheek’ B. The word I spelt was ‘chick’ C. The word I spelt was ‘check’
A. It looks like a pun. B. It looks like a pan. C. It looks like a pen.
A. Take a knock B. Take a rock C. Take a lock
A. You need to gel it. B. You need to sell it. C. You need to shell it.
A. That’s a ‘fail’ B. That’s a ‘tail’ C. That’s a ‘male’
A. You’d like the view. B. You’d like the few C. You’d like the dew
As I indicated before, the only difference among the alternatives in each question is only one word, so you pay critical attention and identify that word being pronounced and you have your answer.
For instance, in the first question, the word that was mentioned among these words i.e. ‘fired’, ‘hired’ and ‘tired’ was ‘hired’, so it means the sentence, ‘he’ll be hired was read by the examiner’. So the correct answer for question 28 for this particular test is B.
The rest of the questions in this section can be answered using this same technique.
The test 5 of the Oral English Paper tests the candidate’s knowledge and understanding of rhyming. What happens under this section is that, the examiner will not mention a word among the alternatives provided in the question paper, however, he would mention a word in which one of the words among the alternatives rhymes with it.
So the word that rhymes with what the examiner mentions becomes the right answer. Let’s now look at the meaning of rhyme.
Meaning of rhyme
Rhyme refers to the repetition of similar or same sound or sounds in two or more words, usually at the end of the words.
Listen to this word; pet. Which of the four words below rhymes with pet?
A. Sent B. Belt C. Set D. Rent
The word that rhymes with pet in the examples above is ‘set‘, so the correct answer is C.
The following questions were captured under Test 5 of the Oral English Paper in 2017.
A. bridge B. breeze C. breach D. cease
A. phase B. faze C. page D. awash
A. gourd B. bard C. part D. patch
A. rice B. apprize C. raise D. waste
A. mend B. sent C. staunch D. wrench
A. pelt B. self C. serve D. felled
A. oddity B. pithy C. possibly D. duty
A. hedge B. surge C. hearse D. perch
If we listened critically to the examiner, the word he pronounced for question 35 was ‘reach’ and this particular word rhymes with ‘breach’, this means the correct answer is C.
This can be done for the rest of the questions in this particular test.
The Test 6 of the Oral English Paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on stress. In this part of the oral English paper, a particular word in a sentence is stressed for the purpose of emphasis, let’s look at the meaning of stress and the type of stress that is used in the Oral English paper.
Meaning of stress
In oral English, stress refers to the extra force used when pronouncing a word or a syllable. Stress can also mean the loudness or softness with which the vowels, diphthongs, syllable or a word is uttered.
The type of stress that is used on the WASSCE Oral English paper is Emphatic stress.
Meaning of Emphatic Stress
Emphatic stress refers to where stress is placed on a word, phrase, or sentence for clarity or emphasis. Any word in a sentence can be stressed in order to make it stand out.
Use of Emphatic Stress
In the WASSCE oral English paper, emphatic stress is employed purposely to indicate contrast (opposite in meaning) or to draw attention to the appropriate meaning. That means, it must answer the question.
Let’s study the following examples below;
He borrowed ”my newspaper. (once I stress my, it means not hers or his)
He ”borrowed my newspaper. (he did not steal it)
He borrowed my ”newspaper. (he did not steal it).
”He borrowed my newspaper. (not someone else).
Question A. Who borrowed your newspaper?
B. Did John borrow your newspaper?
C. Did he steal your newspaper?
He borrowed my newspaper.
He borrowed my newspaper.
He borrowed my newspaper.
If we had paid critical attention to the sentence, the stress is on the word BORROWED, and this particular word actually is in contrast with the word STEAL, so the answer is C, Did he steal your newspaper?
Note; There are instances where the contrast doesn’t work, in such instances, simply look for the the sentence which answers the question or the question which gives the answer.
Meaning of contrastive stress
Contrastive stress is stress that is placed on a particular to indicate a difference of opinion.
Use of contrastive stress
Contrastive stress is used to point out the difference between one object and another. Contrastive stress tends to be used with determiners such as; this, that, these and those.
Example I think I like THIS book.
Do you want these or THOSE pens?
Contrastive stress is also used to bring out a given word in a sentence which will also slightly change the meaning.
Example ‘He came here. (not someone else).
He ‘drove here. (he did not walk)
He came here. (not there)
Note; It is important to note that both types of stress used in the WASSCE Oral English paper have one common use; they point out the difference in meaning between one thing or another.
The following questions were captured under test 6 of the Oral English paper in 2017.
A. Does Kwesi write paper one tomorrow? B. Does Kwesi write paper two tomorrow? C. Does Ama write paper two tomorrow?
A. Is Sandy my favorite dog? B. Is Chip my hated dog? C. Is Chip my favorite dog?
A. Did the harmattan come too late? B. Did the harmattan disappear too early? C. Did the rains come too early?
A. Did Dora donate cedis worth of goods? B. Did Sarah donate dollars worth of goods? C. Did Sarah donate cedis worth of books?
A. Have fuel prices been changing for months? B. Have food prices been stable for months? C. Have fuel prices been stable for weeks?
A. Do all politicians use indecent language? B. Do some technocrats use indecent language? C. Do some politicians use decent language?
A. Has the old road been closed? B. Has the new road been reconstructed? C. Has the old bridge been reconstructed?
A. Will Ivory Coast win the Cup of Nations tournament? B. Will Ghana win the Cup of Nations tournament? C. Will Ghana lose the Cup of Nations tournament?
A. Did the police order the plaintiff to pay damages? B. Did the court order the plaintiff to claim damages? C. Did the court order the defendant to pay damages?
A. Do more people celebrate Christmas nowadays? B. Do fewer men celebrate Christmas nowadays? C. Do fewer people celebrate birthdays nowadays?
If we listened to the examiner keenly, they only mention the answers only, and your duty as a candidate is to select the question which will conform to the question the examiner reads. In doing so, there is always a particular word that is STRESSED in the answer, so your duty as a candidate to choose a question which has a word which contrast or contradicts the STRESSED word in the answer.
For instance, in question 43, the word that is stressed in the answer is TOMORROW,so the question which has a word which CONTRASTS or CONTRADICTS the word is C, TODAY contradicts TOMORROW, so the correct answer is B, because Kwesi writes paper two ‘tomorrow answers the question, Does Kwesi write paper two today?
Also the word that is stressed by the examiner in the answer to question 44 is FAVORITE. The word that contradicts FAVORITE among the options is HATED, so the correct answer to question 44 is B.
Now, you can use this same technique to answer the rest of the questions.
The test 7 of the WASSCE Oral English paper tests the candidate’s knowledge on intonation. Let’s look at the meaning of intonation and the types of intonation.
Meaning of Intonation
Intonation describes how the voice rises and falls in speech.
Falling intonation; Falling intonation is a type of intonation that describes how the voice falls on the final stressed syllable of a phrase or a group of words. This type of intonation is common in;
a. Statements; The man is here.
b. Wh – questions; where are you?
Rising intonation; The rising intonation describes how the voice rises at the end of a sentence. This type of intonation is common in;
a. Statements of doubt; The man is here. ( I thought he had left)
b. Polite requests; May I use your pen?
Interpretation of the Various Intonations
The use of names and pronouns;
a. The use of first person pronouns as well as names indicates CERTAINTY OR SURITY. E.g I, my, we, our etc.
b. The use of second and third person pronouns indicates statements of doubts or unsure. E.g. he, she, your etc.
Man; He said the exercise was well-done.
Woman; That’s what he said.
Both are doubtful as to whether the exercise was well done because of the use of the third person pronouns.
c. Falling intonation is used to convey the meaning of polite.
d. Rising intonation is used to convey the meaning of impolite.
The following questions were captured under test 7 of WASSCE oral English paper in 2017.
A. Both are happy B. The man is happy; the woman is not. C. The woman is happy; the man is not.
A. The man is certain; the woman is not. B. The woman is certain; the man is not. C. Both are uncertain.
A. The man is polite; the woman is not. B. Both are impolite. C. The woman is polite; the woman is not.
A. The man is unhappy; the woman is not B. Both are happy. C. The man is happy; the woman is not.
If you listen to the audio, in question 53, the man uses the first person pronoun ‘I’ whereas the woman uses the second person pronoun ‘You‘. The first person pronoun indicates that the man ishappy, while the second person pronoun indicates the woman is unhappy.
Also, in question 54, the man used a name, Uncle Ben, whereas the woman uses the third person pronoun HE, this indicates the man iscertain, while the woman is not.
In question 55, both the man and the woman used rising intonation, this indicates both are impolite.
In question 56, the woman uses a second person pronoun YOUR whereas the man uses a first person pronoun I, this indicates the man is HAPPY while the woman is NOT.