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What's wrong with this writing prompt?

By: Mubarak Abdessalami


When it comes to writing topics, several sensible elements have to be regarded with a lot of concern, the most important of which is motivating individual critical creativity. For this reason some crucial details have to be considered meticulously to be the maximum open to all categories of testes, for example.
  1. The gender divide Girls' and boys' generally diverge in personal interests and capabilities. Talking about equal opportunities means being careful about the topics for writing tests
    • Describing a football match (boys are good at that)
    • How to make an apple-pie (girls are great)
  2. Cultural particularities (food, marriage, clothes, footwear etc)
  3. Geographic locations (city life Vs country life)
  4. Social classes (Describe a tour with a Ferrari / a trip by plane / How do you like Caviar? etc)
  5. Avoiding polarizing topics
  6. Not too tight and narrow nor too broad topics.
  7. etc.

With such topics, we must be very careful especially with writing assignments for a wide range of candidates from different regions, with different customs, economic status and gender, and also with different inclinations and capabilities. Any small deviation can be fatal for a great number of candidates, and will shake the right of equal opportunity. Therefore, proposed topics for writing tasks should take a lot of various details into account.

Someone may think this is overstatement because all that the candidate needs to do is to write with correct English. If this is the way they view writing assignments, I am sorry to say it but they don’t know what they are meddling with.

Write but Wrong

Now, this is the topic proposed (imposed) for 2Ńme Bac. Scientific streams in the writing section of the first session English exam (June 2015)

The Topic

Your friend doesn't use facebook. Write an email telling him/her about the advantages of using this social network.

This type of topic is controlled by a fixed idea which the testes must take for factual and elaborate on it as if it were a fact. The candidates have to give advantages of a social network even though they don't believe there are any. That's an inconceivably narrowly put topic. Moreover, there are no more precision concerning the formal language they must use. So the candidates are invited to write an e-mail in the way an e-mail is 'written' i.e current informality of language and style. The candidates have the right to write in the way they write a personal informal email.

It certainly won't be wrong to say that the topic is up-to-date, yet it is suggested in a way that it is not quite reliable for the majority of test takers. I have corrected some of their papers and most of them couldn't help raising the negative effect of facebook on teenagers although they were not asked to tackle that side specifically. Their logical view states that nothing is purely positive, why should facebook be an exception. They argue that this social network is not a hundred per cent advantageous for them at least, how can they defend something they don't use themselves. Someone would respond, "No way, everyone, especially the teens, use facebook, who doesn't?" I bet this sort of confirmation smells ignorance for most teens are using other social networks or none at all.


Some of the testes have even been wondering if it is required from them to draw the e-mail interface on their papers for the sake of credibility. How can they show it is an e-mail that they are writing, not an essay, an article or a snail mail if they don’t imitate a provider's email interface on their papers? Some of them have managed to draw a simulation of the email page like the one below, and I am sure it consumed a lot of their precious time.



Apart from the ones who know and use facebook, just suppose some of the candidates don't use this particular social network and you ask them to convince others to use it. If they found it advantageous, they would be the first to have an account themselves, but they are not among facebook subscribers. I think they have to stumble while trying to persuade someone to join a social network they have almost no idea about. Wouldn't they have the right to suggest some other social networks instead? I mean the ones they use and they know well. Extraordinarily some candidates even wonder why facebook exactly? And why should they convince their friends to use a social network they don't regard as indispensable and beneficial at all. Thus, the topic could have suggested that the students choose the social network they use and then they can at least know what they are talking about? Why facebook? As if there is only this one.

The topic takes it for granted that all the candidates have a facebook account which is an unlikely hypothesis and a completely erroneous assumption. If this topic was given to a group of students whose teacher knows so well that all of them have facebook accounts, and maybe had a fervent debate on its utility for students, it would be conceivable. Now, the topic is proposed for the candidates all over the kingdom, remote rural areas included. If anyone doesn't know how to defend facebook precisely highlighting the advantages it has, the paper will be regarded as unacceptable.


The topic understudy is full of grave errors which I'll try to cover in what remains of this paper. Most of them are very barefaced and almost harm the credibility, the backwash and the validity of the assessment criteria as a whole.


Facebook is presented as the sole popular social networking website, which is a gratis unnecessary advertisement giving the impression of widespread adoption. (bandwagon propaganda).

Although it is famous for most Moroccan youths, it is not the only one, there are others like,

There are more, but mentioning only this few will suffice. So, in what way is facebook better than the other social networking websites?! Some would say that it is not a question of reputation; it is rather because our youth are hooked on facebook particularly. Wrong! even if 99% of youngsters in Morocco have a facebook account, what about the 1% who either use other social media or use none?! This supposition could be true for some, but not for thousands of other candidates sitting for a national exam. Hence, validity aspects are not fully considered.

In a word, the problem is in obliging the students to support "facebook". It would have been better if they ask them to support “social networks” without naming any one of them. The margin of freedom would be wider.


Asking the testes to write an e-mail on a sheet of paper is simply unfeasible. Notice that they didn't ask them to draft the email, this makes a big difference. An e-mail is mainly electronic; it needs to be written via a computer connected to internet using a keyboard. This is quite an important remark because the students would try to imagine their paper a browser and their pen a keyboard. You cannot click the send button on a paper, can you?

Let's imagine that the candidates agree to accept all this, the corrector should overlook the way the students write their e-mails, and here the evaluation becomes so tough that the corrector must first make their minds what they are about exactly. In order to show that it is a personal e-mail (not an official one), the test takers will rely greatly on using acronyms or abbreviations (fyi) [for your information], signs  and argot (CU on fb L8R) [See you on facebook later]. Can the corrector say this is not how emails are written?

The e-mail as a rapid written communication text doesn't actually require complete and full sentences which abide by grammar and syntax accuracy. So, personal emails don't obligatorily require from candidates to display competence in sentence construction, sentence variety, and word choice, they don't need to demonstrate correct usage, grammar, and mechanics either. Subsequently, the informal language of informal personal e-mails itself should not be severely penalized because the testes are asked to write an email which is usually written that way, for them at least. They are used to communicating via short incomplete utterances as well as numbers replacing letters, abbreviations and acronyms, let alone, emoticons and smiley. So, either the topic is not appropriate at all, or the writing task prompt is vague and the instructions are very narrow.

Suppose the candidates understand by themselves that this time they should write a different email, where English must be accurate like in writing articles, reports or letters, what would they write about the advantages of facebook?

The advantages the candidates are expected to list are common for every paper. Facebook subscribers could enjoy

01. Audio or video chatting with family and friends,
02. Liking and commenting on publications on friends' walls,
03. Writing on others' walls.
04. Creating photo albums to share with friends.
05. Posting what's on their minds,
06. Joining groups or creating new ones and inviting others to like or join them,
07. Playing games on line.
08. Sending and receiving messages
09. Updating their status all the time.
10. Changing their profile picture as many times as they wish.
11. and much more,

But these are not exclusive for facebook. Almost all the other social networks provide such features, options and services and maybe more. What is more, the candidates are used to these things in French mostly. They need to find equivalent terms and names for each one. (j'aime / partager / ajouter / etc)

One of the students who is not concerned with this exam particularly commented, "If you invite someone to have a facebook account, you are not actually doing him good; you are rather inviting him to get traumatized, be addicted and fail at school". Some of the students know for sure that facebook is the shield behind which false friends hide (anonymity, no face to face contact, nicknames, bullying, etc) and this causes a lot of psychological, social and emotional damage. What advantages after all this are there to talk about? The students are cornered. They must find advantages or else their writings are off point.


You may believe I am exaggerating, but all the following could be avoided by precise instructions about the language use. As they ask them to write a personal e-mail to a friend without more precision, the test designers must bear the responsibility and the audacity to rate the e-mail as the students conceive it in their own real life. In emails they write as they speak. So, the candidates would even make recourse to argot on purpose to render it authentic and more credible. Old hand teachers will endure hard times correcting an e-mail written by a teenager to a friend using an "alien language" like,
- thnx 4 ur last email / Thanks for your last e-mail
- AFAIK fb iz #1 nw / As far as I know facebook is number one Network.
- "im :-) 2 .." Which means (I am happy to ...); and they can even be glad with their glasses on "im 8-) 2 …".

Test designers would argue that, formal language is normally compulsory because the exercise tests their ability to communicate in Standard English; and this is not fair at all. Remember that in the topic you ask them to write an (e-mail) which stands for (electronic mail). You have started with acronyms and abbreviations, so how come you deny their use of the same jargon. In the scoring criterion, it is stated that "appropriateness and variety of vocabulary" requires 2 points in the marking scale. Isn't the e-mail language particular, or shall we oblige them to write a letter or a report and call it e-mail. What contradiction is this? I told you my remarks would look exaggerated.

An email is generally known among youngsters as a text which doesn't necessarily require correct spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and linking words. What would the corrector assess then? Can we call it writing a text void of all the ingredients which makes of it a formal eligible academic paper? On the whole, if the writing task is meant to measure proficiency in English communication, it has missed its trajectory and target from the directives provided in the topic. Full stop


I come to the conclusion that those who proposed this topic were in a hurry or they have no or a blurring idea about testing writing. I have been in the field long enough to know such things. Case closed.


On the other hand, I liked a topic in the French paper for (regional exam) which asks the students about their opinions concerning the fact that some parents choose for their kids (friends, clothes, study etc). This is a great motivating topic for the students to write provided that they have enough mastery of the French language.

The French writing Topic for 1ère Bac. Scientific streams during the regional exam June 2015 is as follows.


[Certains Parents choisissent tout à la place de leurs filles et de leurs fils (vêtements, amis, études …) Qu'en pensez-vous ? A partir de vos lectures et de votre expérience personnelle, rédigez un texte dans lequel vous expliquez votre point de vue en vous appuyant sur les arguments convaincants.]

In few words, I think this is a great topic for teenagers to write about. It is motivating, engaging and inspiring for them. It certainly echoes all the learners' immediate concerns. They all have a say about it, boys as well as girls, rich and poor, citizens and villagers. Subjects like this one are worth encouraging and developing.

NRN, (No Reply Necessary)
Published on June 26th, 2015

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