English & EAL

Breaking down the VCE English exam – how to maximise reading and writing time

Lisa Tran

October 20, 2015

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As the VCE English exam creeps up on us, many of you will be testing your writing skills under timed conditions (if not, then you better!!!). But, have you sat down under timed conditions for 15 minutes of Reading Time? Have you thought about how to maximise reading time? Many of you may have already figured out how you will approach Reading Time in your exam. Some of you will have a rough idea, while some will pay attention to detail – knowing how to spend each and every minute in that 15 minutes of silence. During Year 12, I was somewhere in between. I knew I didn’t want to waste precious time like others – those who would simply open the exam booklet, check out the three sections, then sit there staring blankly at the clock to tick over to 9:15am (you will definitely see some classmates doing this :’)) Below is a 5x5x5 guideline which, in my opinion, is the most strategic way to maximise every single minute in Reading and Writing Time. Keep reading afterwards for more details!

‍Click here to save this infographic and use it while practising Reading Time!

Reading Time

First 5 minutes: Plan Text Response and Reading and Comparing

The best tip I’ve received from a VCAA examiner is: ‘Don’t automatically select the prompt that looks easiest.’

Why? While a prompt may look ‘easier’, it may not necessarily enable you to delve into the text to the best of your ability. It is worth spending a few extra seconds contemplating how you would break down your other available prompts. This is worth doing because sometimes, you actually realise that the prompt which looked ‘harder’ to deal with initially (probably because of some scary-looking keywords), is more suited to you and your ability to respond.

In case you’re wondering, a ‘mental plan’ is my way of saying ‘do a plan in your head’. You should always plan (don’t even get me started if you don’t!). You will most definitely reassure yourself and calm your nerves once you’ve organised your contention(s) in your mind and the examples you want to use. Don’t wait until Writing Time to do this, because you can knuckle out hurdles straight away (especially if it takes you time to come up with ideas and evidence!).

Second 5 minutes: Read Language Analysis article (1st read)

Don’t jump straight into analysing techniques straight away. Reason: This may obscure your interpretation of the contention. The contention is the first thing you need to get right. So sit back, read the article for what it is, and absorb as much of the argument presented to you.

Last 5 minutes: Read Language Analysis article (2nd read)

Your second reading should firstly, reinforce your interpretation of the author’s contention, and secondly, involve you identifying language techniques! This should take you right up to the end of Reading Time but even if you still have spare time left, it doesn’t hurt to read the article(s) a third time! The more times you read something, the better your mind will consolidate the cold material in front of you!

Feel free to take on board this guideline or to create your own – at the end of the day, if you have a plan for Reading Time, you’re set! 

Writing Time

First 10 minutes: Writing plans

You've done all that hard work thinking up 'mental plans' during Reading Time, let's put them to paper. Don't skip this step, because you would otherwise have wasted your precious 15 minutes getting ahead. Moreover, it's highly likely you'll forget the points you want to write about if you just store it in your brain. Remember that you are in an adrenaline-driven situation, where nerves can get the better of you. Avoid any mind blanks by guaranteeing yourself success and write the damn plan down!

Next 3 x 55 minutes: Writing essays

55 minutes is a good goal because it forces you to get your act together. Aiming for an essay in 60 minutes can often turn into 65 minutes, or even longer. At the very least if you do go over time with a '55 minute per essay' rule, you will put yourself in a position where you can afford to go slightly overtime, and yet still have enough time for other essays.

Final 5 minutes: Proof-reading

This is a step that many people skip, but if you're reading this blog - you won't be joining them. A quick review of your work can help you edit errors you didn't notice while writing. As you practise in the lead up to exams, take note of what errors you tend to make when writing. Is it expression, punctuation, or spelling errors? Keep an eye on your most common mistakes when proof-reading to be more a more effective editor. It is these small incremental changes you can make in your essays which add up to make a powerful impact on the final product. 

Share this post with your friends and best of luck for your VCE English exam!

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