English & EAL

Exam Tips From VCE EAL Examination Reports

Cici Feng

June 1, 2021

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Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in  high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.

Tip #1 Analyse How the Overall Argument Was Structured 

Let’s take the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report as an example: 

‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured.’

So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’? 

To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way.  You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.

Sample Template

(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.

The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:

  • The opinion piece commences by presenting the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic 
  • The opinion piece supplies the solution to resolve the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic 

For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:

  • commencing the piece with the fact that plastic bags can travel long distances by wind and water. They litter our landscapes, float around in waterways, and can eventually end up in the oceans, ultimately polluting the ocean and posing a threat to marine animals
  • then supplies solution to ban plastic bags 

When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:

John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and then supplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.

Head to Introductions for EAL Language Analysis for more templates and guidance on how to nail your Language Analysis Introduction. 

Tip #2 Keep the Listening Answer Succinct 

The 2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report states: 

‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information.’

Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response. 

Tip #3 Practice Makes Perfect

The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:

‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’. 

The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well. 

‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’ (2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)

Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc. 

Take a look at our EAL Listening Practice and Resources for a comprehensive list of external resources for practicing listening and a step-by-step guide on how to use them!

Tip #4 How To Formulate a Cohesive Response?

VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information. 

‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information. Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately.(2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report)

HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.  

Tip #5 Use a Range of Precise Vocabulary 

VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘analysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards

Below is a list of commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).

Words That Look the Same/Have Super Similar Spelling:

  • Abroad vs. Aboard
  • Adapt vs. Adopt vs. Adept
  • Affect vs. Effect
  • Altar vs. Alter
  • Angel vs. Angle
  • Assent vs. Ascent vs. Accent
  • Aural vs. Oral
  • Baron vs. Barren
  • Beam vs. Bean
  • Champion vs. Champagne vs. Campaign
  • Chef vs. Chief
  • Chore vs. Chord
  • Cite vs. Site
  • Compliment vs. Complement
  • Confirm vs. Conform
  • Contact vs. Contrast vs. Contract
  • Contend vs. Content
  • Context vs. Content
  • Costume vs. Custom
  • Counsel vs. Council vs. Consul
  • Crow vs. Cow vs. Crown vs. Clown
  • Dairy vs. Diary
  • Decent vs. Descent vs. Descend
  • Dessert vs. Desert
  • Dose vs. Doze
  • Drawn vs. Draw vs. Drown
  • Extensive vs. Intensive
  • Implicit vs. Explicit
  • In accord with vs. In accordance with
  • Later vs. Latter
  • Pray vs. Prey
  • Precede vs. Proceed
  • Principal vs. Principle
  • Sweet vs. Sweat
  • Quite vs. Quiet

For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.

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