How to Write a Summary

Summary Writing Tips

General Skills for Writing Summary

A summary is a shortened version containing the key points in as few words as necessary. It tests the candidate’s ability to form content points in a clear and concise approach to continuous writing. It emphasises four basic skills: identifying key points of the passage, articulating in own words, and sequencing points cohesively all within the given word count.

Content. Answer directly the question and focus on the relevant points only. Use as much of the material as it is possible, however be wary of some parts that are not covered by the question. Be reminded that the points must be taken from the passage and do not repeat similar points even if it was made twice.

Everything must be directly connected to the passage and be supported by references to it. As such, adding facts or opinions are not suggested. This exercise is meant for summing up, not adding to the original ideas. Content marks will only be obtained when the right content is provided.

Language. Write in own words as far as possible. Although the message needs to be the same, the wording needs to be different. It is important that the replaced words must convey the essence of the point. No need to find synonyms for technical objects, e.g. solar heaters, and only change the words when appropriate.

Lifting few words is acceptable as long as it shows evidence of understanding and focused on key details. But avoid over-lengthy lifting and quoting straight from the passage. Find precise words to use and vary your choices.

Writing Style. Express the key points clearly, succinctly and fluently using the impersonal and formal tone of writing. There is no need for introduction and conclusion. Start by using the wording of the question and make the ending strong. Moreover, do not include examples, repetition, direct speech, figurative language, and minor details.

Organise and sequence point cohesively by connecting your ideas into a paragraph. Aim to write in complex sentences rather than simple or compound structures and make sure that the spelling, punctuation, and grammar are correct.

Word Limit. Always write within the word count as this exercise assesses the ability to write concisely. There are no penalty marks writing more or less. However, it may be self-penalising to write more than suggested. Exceeding the word limit may indicate that the summary is not structured effectively or the ideas are not expressed clearly. If there are needed points inside the excess words, it won’t be marked and would be crossed out. On the other hand, writing way too less than the limit may mean the response does not have sufficient coverage. For example: if the question requires within 200 to 250 words, but you only provide 180 words — there is a chance that you do not include sufficient points that are needed.

Before the exam, check how many words you write on a line, then you’ll know approximately how many lines you will need. Lastly, do not write beyond the lines given, to avoid your answers not being able to fit into the scanned screen.

Practise Writing Summary

CIE recommends this five-step process to practise writing summary:

  1. Read and underline the relevant material in pencil (so that you can change your mind easily if needed)
  2. Transfer the points into a plan, whilst changing them into your own words
  3. Group the points logically (using arrows/brackets); put them in order (using numbers), and decide which ones can be combined into one sentence
  4. Write the summary in one or two paragraphs using complex sentences
  5. Check the summary for accurate expression; adapt the length and improve if necessary by adding material overlooked or by removing repetition.

Aspects for English First Language Summary

  • Keep within the word limit.
  • Do not drift away from the passage.
  • Show evidence of clear and concise summary style throughout. Make sure to structure your answer, sequence your ideas, and use a wide range of original and appropriate language.
  • Try to learn the meanings of common prefixes so that you can guess meanings of words. Here are some examples:
  • Combine simple sentences into complex sentences, using a range of connectives and participles. Above all avoid using ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘so’.
  • Practise turning passages into news reports; they have a particular style and structure which are different from any other kind of writing.
  • Lifting of words for more than two points is not credited. Copying big chunk of texts is not going to show your understanding, just your handwriting!
  • Double check for any grammatical errors and incorrect spellings that affect the accuracy of an idea.

Aspects for English as a Second Language summary

  • Keep within the specified word limit.
  • The summary must be based on the text you have read. Keep to the topic at all times.
  • Read the instructions carefully – do you need to summarise the whole text or just part of it? Don’t waste time reading unnecessary parts of the text.
  • Identify all the relevant points according to the question. Include all the key facts relating to the subject of your summary.
  • Connect the ideas using linking words to make a clear paragraph. Practise connecting phrases to create sentences, and connecting sentences to create paragraphs.
  • Use accurate language (linking words, conjunctions, sentences which read fluently, structured paragraphs)
  • Demonstrate sufficient range of vocabulary to have more chance of getting a higher mark for language.
  • Practise synonym (different words that have the same meaning) exercises to help you use your own words.
  • Don’t repeat similar points – repeated points will not contribute to extra marks, just add more words.

* Note: Some relevant info taken from CIE.

4 Replies to “How to Write a Summary”

    • Hi Zeyad,

      It is best to write a cohesive piece of writing, with ideas presented in a logical sequence. Use linking words and phrases to connect ideas. Aim for quality rather than quantity. This means to focus more on writing excellent English rather than a long essay.

    • Hi Sarah,

      Aim for quality rather than quantity. This means to focus more on writing excellent English rather than a long essay.

      Kindly read the article above for more tips.

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