Picture this: you’re sitting down at your desk, fumbling your fingers, inspecting the new stationary that you convinced yourself you needed for year 12, resisting the urge to check your phone. Your text response SAC is in two weeks. You’re freaking out because you want, no, need an A+. You decide to write a practice essay for your English teacher. Practice makes perfect, right? You stay up for hours, pouring your heart and soul into this essay. The result? B+. Where did I go wrong?
That’s where I come in! Writing an A+ essay can be really tough without examples and specific advice. Before reading on, make sure you've read our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response and Golden Age blog so you are up to scratch.
In this article I will be explaining some basic dos and don’ts of writing an essay on The Golden Age, providing a model essay as an example. At the end of this blog is also a video based on another essay prompt to help you prepare for your Golden Age studies!
The following prompt will be referenced throughout the post;
‘The Golden Age’ shows that everyone needs love and recognition. Discuss.
Planning: the silent killer of A+ essays
I’m sure your teachers have emphasised the importance of planning. In case they haven’t, allow me to reiterate that great planning is compulsory for a great essay. However, flimsy arguments aren’t going to get you an A+. The examiners are looking for complex arguments, providing a variety of perspectives of the themes at hand. From the above prompt, the key word is, ‘discuss’. This means that you should be discussing the prompt, not blindly agreeing with it. Make sure you don’t write anything that wouldn’t sit right with London.
Don’t plan out basic arguments that are one-dimensional. This may give you a pass in English, but won’t distinguish you as a top-scoring student.
- Paragraph 1: The children at TGA need love and recognition.
- Paragraph 2: Ida and Meyer need love and recognition
- Paragraph 3: Sister Penny needs love and recognition.
The above paragraphs merely agree with the statement, but don’t delve into the many aspects of the novel that could contribute to a sophisticated essay.
Do create complex arguments, or paragraphs with a twist! If you can justify your argument and it makes sense, include it in your essay. There are many ways that you could answer this question, but my plan looks like this:
- Paragraph 1: Frank Gold yearns for mature, adult love, not recognition from onlookers or outsiders
- Paragraph 2: Ida Gold does not seek recognition from Australia, but love and validation from herself
- Paragraph 3: Albert requires love from a specific kind of relationship – family, and Sullivan may view love from his father as pity which he rebukes
See the difference?
how to start your essay off with a BANG!
Personally, I always struggled with starting an introduction. The examiners will be reading and marking thousands of essays, so if possible, starting your introduction with something other than Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’… is a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Having a strong start is essential to pave the way for a clear and concise essay. You could start with a quote/scene from the text! This is not essential, but it’s a great way to mix things up. This is my start:
Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life. There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.
Remember, there are many other ways you could start your essay.
The body paragraphs: To TEEL or not to TEEL?
I’m sure you’ve heard of TEEL countless times since year 7. Topic sentence, evidence, explanation, link. The truth is that these elements are all very important in a body paragraph. However, following a rigid structure will render your essay bland and repetitive. It is also extremely important to note that you should be using evidence from multiple points in the text, and you should be making sure that your paragraphs are directly answering the question. Write what feels natural to you, and most importantly, don’t abuse a thesaurus. If you can’t read your essay without rummaging for a dictionary every second sentence, you should rewrite it. If vocabulary isn’t your strong point (it definitely isn’t mine!), focus on clean sentence structure and solid arguments. There’s nothing worse than you using a fancy word incorrectly.
Don’t overuse your thesaurus in an attempt to sound sophisticated, and don’t use the same structure for every sentence. For example:
Prematurely in the paperback London makes an allusion to Norm White, the denizen horticulturalist of The Golden Age Convalescent Home…
That was an exaggerated example generated by searching for synonyms. As you can see, it sounds silly, and some of the words don’t even make sense. I mean, “denizen horticulturalist”…really?
Do mix up your paragraph structure! If vocabulary is your weak point, focus on clean language.
Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, “as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace”. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; “his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain”. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; “we Jews have to be on the lookout”. Elsa sees “a look in his eyes that she recognised”, thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.
To learn more about using the right vocabulary, read 'Why using big words in VCE essays can make you look dumber'.
The conclusion: closing the deal
I firmly believe in short and sharp conclusions. Your body paragraphs should be thoroughly explaining your paragraphs, so don’t include any new information here. A few sentences is enough. Once again, write what feels natural, and what flows well.
Don’t drag out your conclusion. Short and concise is the key to finishing well.
Do write a sharp finish! Sentence starters such as, “Ultimately…” or “Thus, London…” are great.
Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.
To learn more about A+ essays, you should also have a read of 10 easy English points you're missing out on.
I'll finish off by giving you an exercise: brainstorm and write up a plan for the essay topic shown in the video below. I'd recommend you do this before watching Lisa's brainstorm and plan. That way, you can see which of your ideas overlapped, but also potentially see which ideas you may have missed out on. Good luck!