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Have you ever come out of an exam or test and felt like you’ve nailed it? I’m guessing after you come out of that exam room, you and your friends crowd around the building screaming out the answers you got for each question or the types of ideas you came up with from the prompt given. But then results day arrive…and you’re sitting at your desk anxiously waiting for the teacher to hand you your paper. As soon as they place the test paper on your desk, you remain sitting there just staring at it, deciding whether or not to flip it around and see your score. Get it over and done with you think in your head, but your arms don’t move an inch. You just sit there for some time staring at it, and praying a little on the inside that it’s the score you want. Finally, you build enough courage to turn around the paper and BAM! It hits you. The score was way below the expectations you set for yourself, or maybe even the standards others have set for you.
What is it that you usually do when you come across such a situation?
From my observations and experiences, there are generally 4 main types of reactions people have – the complainer (the person who’s never satisfied with anything), the one who has no care in the world, the silent sufferer (the person who is disappointed with the score but does nothing to change it) and the calm one (the ideal level we all aspire to reach).
So here I give you 8 tips/suggestions to help you get you through what you may call ‘failure’:
DON’T ALLOW THE SCORE TO DEFINE YOU! I’m sure you’ve heard so many people tell you that you are more than just one score. And let me tell you that they’re absolutely right! That one test score won’t make so much of a difference in the long run. It may trigger some unsettling emotions throughout the day, but it’s not going to matter in a year.
Look at the score you got and then just put it at the back of your mind. Just don’t think too much about it in class. It may stress you out even more, cause you to divide your attention between what the teacher is saying and your own thoughts. Dwelling on what you cannot change, especially if it concerns the past is the worse idea and a better option would be to distract yourself with happy thoughts (obviously not while you’re supposed to be listening to your teacher).
Talk to your teacher and ask them why you have attained this particular score. By having a one-on-one conversation with them you can tell them why you thought you did better or where you believe you’ve missed marks. I’m sure they’ll be willing to help you out. If not, you could sit down and chat with another teacher about the test and get their feedback on it. Collecting feedback from various teachers (or even friends, tutors, etc.) can be useful in knowing which areas you need to improve on most.
Try to consider the concept of failure as your ‘First Attempt In Learning.’ Learn from your mistakes by re-evaluating your previous approach to the question, or the ideas and evidence you put out there. Look at where you lost the marks and redo the test if possible. Get it remarked by your teacher or even a friend. Keep going and don’t give up!
Avoid talking to those ‘stuck up’ students. You should most definitely distance yourself from people who make you feel uncomfortable or lower your self-esteem. It may seem tough at first, especially since you may be confined together in the same school or even classroom, but it’s to the benefit of your mental health. To do this, you could not sit next to them class or just let them know that you’re not comfortable with sharing your scores with them and would rather talk about other topics.
Make more friends! (just exclude those who were mentioned previously). Create study groups and revise together before a test or exam. Ask them about how they study for the specific subject or area of study and if you can read some of their work to get an idea of to how approach specific questions.
Be flexible and adaptable! Once you know that you’ve made a mistake, don’t make it again. Change up specific parts of your answer where you lost marks or just change the entire answer completely to fulfil the criteria. For example, when it comes to English, examiners are always advising students to not go into the exam with memorised responses. By going into the exam with memorised responses, you’re not going to be able to modify or mould your response to fit the specific prompt in front of you, costing you the marks you want. Just have ideas and evidence in mind that you know you can use when relevant rather than spilling unnecessary quotes here and there.
Balance is key. Wise advice that I received from one of my teachers in year 12 was to study a bit of every subject on the days you plan to study. Don’t cram and only focus on one subject a week before the SAC. If having a structured routine doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to ditch the timetable you have created yourself and just go with the flow. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just know when you should study
Finally, my last message to you all is to just take it easy, stay on a pace that works for you. Don’t stress too much about a score that’s not going to matter in the long run, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to those around you. ☺
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When I look back at Year 12 and compare it with my life now, I realise that the times in my life when I have grown the most are also the times when my future was uncertain. It's been almost five years since I left secondary school, and I'm about to graduate again, at the end of this year, hopefully with an Honours degree firmly under my belt. What I’ve noticed is that some of the nervousness and insecurity I'm feeling now are my 'old friends' that I got to know very well several years ago.
Something that I'm sure you're aware of by now is that generally, feeling uncertain about your future just feels plain bad. While I enjoy being challenged and find novel experiences rewarding, not knowing what my next steps will be tends to make me feel anxious. I'm not alone, either. According to the Harvard Business Review, one of the top reasons why people resist change is because we hate it when we feel like we can't control where our lives are heading. I'd always like to think that I am the ‘master of my fate' and the 'captain of my soul', to quote the Victorian era poet William Ernest Henley (you know this poem well if you're studying Invictus this year), but it doesn't always feel like I am.
For those of you currently going through Year 12, you might be experiencing some of these emotions: worry, fear, insecurity - the list goes on. You might not have any idea of the career you'd like to have after you finish your education. You might not have any idea what course you'd like to get into if you are thinking of going to university, or you might not have decided which one you want to attend. It's likely that you're wondering if the ATAR you'll receive in December will be good enough to get you a course offer.
For the first two points, I'll tell you a secret - very few people are truly certain about what they want to do 'when they grow up'. I would describe secondary education as linear; you progress gradually from Year 7 to Year 12, and as you get closer to finishing school, you are given more freedom to choose which subjects you do.
Tertiary education is most certainly NOT linear. I can confidently say that most of the people I've met at uni have changed courses at least once, swapped unis, failed subjects, changed their majors, or decided that uni wasn't for them and left to pursue other things. If they did follow the 'usual path', they've often chosen a career that has very little to do with what they studied (my lovely employer Lisa is a perfect example!). There is a huge amount of flexibility available to tertiary students, and nowadays most universities make it a priority to offer high-quality advice to students, both present and future, about all kinds of things. Open days are a great way to access this advice, but don't be scared to approach these services on your own. Universities love potential students and love encouraging them to come on board by answering their questions!
Now, about the last point, I'd like to emphasise that ATAR stands for 'Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking' - emphasis on the word 'Ranking'. The number you receive at the end of the year represents your scores compared to the scores of the rest of the state, and it is NOT a mark out of 100. Essentially, this means that there are two things that go into this ranking: your performance, and everyone else's performance. Which of these can you control? If it's the second one, maybe pay a visit to the Avengers, they might have a spot for you in the MCU. Bad jokes aside, the most realistic approach to take towards your ATAR is simply to do the best that you can and accept any resulting outcome. I'd also recommend visiting the VCAA website to look at their resources explaining how the ATAR is calculated to clear up any confusion you may have.
It's all very well for me to try to talk down your worries, after all, I've been through them already. The future always becomes easier to handle once it's safely in the past, and I know that right now, nothing can fully take away the uncertainties you feel in the face of an unknown factor. With that said, though, here are some strategies you can employ to help you deal with turbulence in a productive way.
1. Get comfortable with stretching your comfort zone.
Try a new hobby, talk to someone you've never approached before, try a new food. The more frequently you put yourself in unfamiliar situations, no matter how minor, the better you get at handling them. I am not a naturally extroverted person, and I've found this extremely helpful for networking and job hunting.
2. Honour uncomfortable emotions.
We often barrel through life desperately trying to avoid feeling emotions that don't make us feel good, but a rich and full life involves a full spectrum of experiences besides happiness. The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris is where I learned this, and it's a fantastic, easy-to-read book with lots of useful exercises to help you come to terms with the reality that humans are not meant to be happy all the time.
3. Seek help and take a rest when you need to.
I might seem like I'm contradicting my last two suggestions, but I'd argue that this is the most crucial point. Up to this point, I've been focusing on day-to-day anxieties, the worries you'd expect any young person on the cusp of their future to feel. There's a big difference between that and the kind of feeling that can completely put you out of action or prevent you from going about your daily life. Sacrificing your mental health for academic success in Year 12 or career opportunities later in life is not a good idea (and that's putting it mildly). Keep your family and friends close to you and take advantage of professional help if you need it.
Whichever methods you use to deal with uncertainty, from one unsure student to another, I can assure you that stressful periods of life can help you become a stronger, wiser and more resilient version of yourself. It's a big fat cliché, but life really does go on, and as my mum and dad would tell me, "All you can do is your best, and that's all we can ask of you.".
To be honest, my entire Year 12 felt like a longwinded mass of trial and error. One week I ate hot chips for lunch for five days in a row. Once I spent a free double period watching ‘1 HOUR of AMAZING HQ SPACE VIDEO’ (twice over) on one YouTube tab, while ‘2-Hours Epic Music Mix’ played in the background. Crying for no apparent reason became somewhat of a hobby. I would be lying if I said I was some extremely disciplined, studious pupil who wrote my ATAR goal above my desk or slept with it under my pillow. However, despite the constant feelings that I wasn’t doing enough, that I had no self-control in making myself study, and that at any point I could completely burn out and betray my high expectations, I managed to score better than I ever let myself imagine.
I wish I could give you a step-by-step, foolproof guide on how to achieve ‘ATAR goals’, but if I could, I’d probably just use it to get rich. What I can do, is tell you how I coped when the pressure and the ambition and the sheer magnitude of the content you need to know, becomes too much.
1. Expectations are probably not reality
Like many who are facing Year 12, the summer before I started, I was absolutely terrified. Images of long nights glued to my desk filled me with dread, and I looked at the extensive content of my subjects with great fear. With the high ATAR hopes that a lot of you have, I expected a lot from myself, that I didn’t exactly achieve.
Expectation: Exercise Regularly
Reality: Went on two runs throughout the year and got puffed after 500 metres, both times.
Expectation: Watch less TV
Reality: Six seasons of Gossip Girl, three seasons of Orange is the New Black, five seasons of Parks and Recreations, and a billion episodes of the Simpsons.
Expectation: Study constantly: after school and weekends.
Reality: Admittedly, I spent a lot of time studying, but I also spent a lot of time drinking coffee with friends and sleeping until 1pm.
Ultimately I had to learn that extreme self-pressure would not do any good, and setting impossible goals would only lead to guilt and the feeling of failure. Remember that you aren’t going to meet every goal, or be constantly successful, but one promise you should really keep is to be kind to yourself, even when you don’t meet the mark.
2. ‘Heck no Fridays’
Sick of the constant feeling of guilt when I spent long periods of time binge watching Netflix instead of studying for an upcoming English SAC, I decided I needed to create a real, carefree, lengthy break that I could depend on each week. And so I decided that I would no longer study on Saturdays. The name is not imperative, but I’m a sucker for alliteration ;).
It’s a bold move to cut that much time out of your study timetable, but after a week of classes and afternoon spent at the desk, it can be necessary. Having a routine afternoon where I knew I couldn’t study at all meant that I didn’t feel guilty about it, and thus could truly rest.
3. Study outside the box
Two nights before my Literature exam you could find me sitting at my local cafe with my best mate drinking coffee and playing charades. Before Year 12, the idea of doing that would have seemed like I was giving up, like I wasn’t putting in the effort and that I should be studiously writing practice essay upon practice essay.
However, at a certain point, it doesn’t help just repeating your usual study techniques, or repeatedly doing practice exams. One of the best ways to retain information, and better understand concepts, is to learn them in an interesting way. Therefore, playing silly games based off our Literature texts was both enjoyable, and super helpful for the exam.
4. Five minutes… just five minutes.
Throughout the year there’ll almost definitely be days when you come home from school and stare at your desk like you’d rather sit anywhere else in the world. There’ll be moments where you stare at a blank page for twenty minutes having lost all control of the English language. There’ll be free periods when the idea of doing a practice SAC is so repulsive that you reconsider all future goals and ambitions. When you feel like you can’t study, but you’re in a moment where you really, really have to (five SACS in one week), try the five minute trick.
Say you are trying to write a practice English essay, but you are completely blank. Set a timer on your phone for five minutes. In that five minutes, force yourself to write anything. Even if you don’t use grammar, even if you make no sense, even if your sentences aren’t real sentences, just write whatever you can about the topic. Generally, when the five minutes are up, you have either though of enough ideas and have gained enough motivation to keep going, or can at least say you did five minutes.
There’s no be-all, end-all, Year 12 advice, but I think many would agree that the best thing you can do is stay positive, and try and see the funny side of all the screw ups and let downs that are bound to happen, while appreciating yourself for all that you will achieve.
VCE is a two-year journey which involves a high degree of academic and personal growth. Young adults experiencing these two years of life will encounter a number of challenges which, albeit rewarding, are nonetheless a cause of much anxiety and pressure. It is important to recognise that the process is, at the end of the day, a team effort – VCE students are as reliant on their teachers for learning material as they are upon their parents for support, just as they rely upon friends to offer an outlet of distraction and ease. As a parent, your fundamental role during your child’s years of VCE is to help him/her manage their time, stress and aspirations to ultimately reach their goals. The purpose of this article is to provide a tangible, how-to guide to fulfil a healthy parent-student relationship during VCE. The below strategies detail the importance of communication, teamwork and compromise as the three cornerstones necessary to achieve conjunctive family and academic success.
Communication is pivotal during Year 11 and 12. It is important to ensure that all members of your VCE team, whoever this may involve, remain on the same page. Miscommunication is a messy way to disrupt a streamlined VCE journey – continuous and multi-way communication allows you to take positive steps towards your child receiving the most stress-free experience. To adopt this approach within your own family:
Ensure that your child knows that their happiness and education is your first priority.
It is easy to forget the purpose of VCE given the mayhem of it all. It is crucial to reassure your child that you are present as a support network and that you hold a stake in their journey. Rather than present their results as a source of positivity or negativity, create the perception that a healthy and committed approach to VCE is of the highest importance. If your child knows that your role is centred around their happiness and success, they will be more relaxed and willing to share their journey with you.
Frequently reinforce your pride in their achievements.
VCE is a long, tough effort. It is two years of high expectations and insurmountable workload which culminates in the endgame of a four-digit number. For a student undergoing VCE, it is difficult to remove yourself from this mindset. As a parent, remember to appreciate the small successes and the baby steps towards a more recognisable achievement. Even a little acknowledgement, such as praising consistent grades or offering a “Good work!” can remind your child that they are on the right track and that you are aware – and proud – of this.
Take notice of, and respect, the cues that your child presents.
VCE is often described as a rollercoaster. This is a metaphor which accurately summarises the highs and lows that are bound to accompany such an important stage of a young person’s life. It may be tricky to understand why your child may come home one day in seemingly ‘meh’ spirits and so forth. Regardless, these actions (or lack thereof) are designed to subtly inform you of their headspace and mindset at a particular time. If you can form a limited understanding of these cues, they will enable you to provide relevant solutions and/or support. For example, if your child is repeatedly answering to you with curt or brief responses, this may indicate that their mind is elsewhere, and they would appreciate the opportunity to study in quiet for some time. On the other hand, if work progress seems to slow down, a distraction and time-out from study may be necessary. Sometimes, just a brief chat about their day will make a significant difference to motivation levels.
Maintain two-way communication with your child’s teachers.
Communication should flow freely between the classroom and your home. Remaining aware of how your child is progressing at school will give you the best ability to support them in a relevant and sustainable way, while also drawing attention to areas of improvement or growth and enabling you to respond to these developments appropriately. Parent-Teacher Interviews are a great way to keep in touch. Alternatively, a brief email every so often will inform your child’s teacher that you are committed to their progress and want consistent updates.
At the end of the day, VCE is a team effort! Without a doubt, your child’s work and dedication is the driving force, yet the role of parents, teachers, friends and others provides a crucial support network. It is important to maintain this vision and to acknowledge your place within this team. To implement this strategy yourself:
Be prepared to discuss your child’s studies with them.
Basic, genuine attempts to form some understanding of what your child is learning will assure them of your stake within their academic journey. This discussion does not have to be profound – if your child is studying Biology, do not think it is essential for you to gain a strong understanding of the metabolic processes performed by animals, for example. It will never be necessary for you to be an expert at any VCE subject. Rather, simply encouraging your child to share their knowledge with you will contribute to their learning. Carrying on with the example of Biology, you can ask your child to briefly explain the stages of photosynthesis. This technique will result in a number of benefits; your child will be challenged to demonstrate their knowledge and thereby increase their own understanding, and you will find a source of discussion which fosters growth (both academically and emotionally) between yourself and your child.
Express a genuine interest in their work.
It is easy for VCE students to attain a tunnel vision and lean towards route learning during the crunch point of their studies. Articulating your intrigue to learn about their studies will boost student engagement and remind your child that subjects can be extended beyond the classroom. Simply asking natural questions and/or clarifying content will demonstrate your stake in their progress and exemplify the team mindset which promotes cohesive growth. Just discussing your child’s English text with them will position him/her to articulate their ideas and, in turn, contribute to the level of analysis they are able to perform when writing an essay.
Consider investing in tutoring as a way to extend your child’s education beyond the classroom.
A tutor performs the unique role of a mentor, friend and teacher who has the exclusive ability to provide one-on-one support. A tutor can further your child’s skills in a focused and familiar environment, sustaining growth throughout the year and tackling gaps in understanding as soon as these concerns arise. Ultimately, a tutor is an invaluable addition to your child’s VCE team! Lisa's Study Guides provides a one-of-a-kind, specialised tutoring service which offers a wealth of curated resources, 24/7 support and lessons with the state’s most high-performing recent graduates. To find out more about what Lisa's Study Guides can do for you, click here.
VCE is a period of significant change and it is important to remain flexible. By acknowledging the importance of focused study time, you can adjust your family’s schedule to meet the requirements of each individual. Encouraging your child to demonstrate two-way communication and positive habits, such as informing you of upcoming commitments, will ensure that compromise can occur in a swift and agreeable fashion. The following advice will contribute to healthy negotiation within your home:
Understand that your child’s priorities have changed.
It is inevitable that Year 11 and 12 are going to require intense focus and a dedication, on your child’s part, to his/her studies. Designating specific study blocks is a good way to ensure that you highlight the importance of routine and consistent study. Despite this fact, it can be difficult to come to terms with the reality of such change. During VCE, it is unlikely that your child will have the ability to sustainably divide their time in a way which is familiar to you. This shift may be significant or subtle depending on the consistency of your child’s study habits, their non-scholarly commitments and a range of other factors. Regardless, it is important to remain adaptable and understand that your child’s response to VCE is a natural reaction to the major change involved.
Be flexible and offer alternatives where necessary.
VCE is often unpredictable and assignments can arise out of the blue. Workloads may be relatively easy-going one moment, before three new assessments come up the next school day and suddenly extra work is required. While it is helpful to theoretically organise family time or outings, it may eventuate that these plans are not always compatible with your child’s schedule. Try postponing events where necessary and approach the situation with a neutral attitude – reassuring your child that Thursday is as good as Tuesday to catch the latest Marvel flick will buoy their spirits and link these events to positive emotions.
Commit to reaching solutions which work for you, your VCE student and the rest of your family.
Settling for an option which disgruntles yourself, your Year 11/12 student or other members of your family is an unsustainable way to manage family expectations during VCE. While it may not be ideal to find a day of the week which is suitable for everyone, or if it looks like cancelling is the easier option, keep in mind the potential repercussions that these decisions may have. Due to its limited nature, time spent as a family is especially precious when a child is undergoing VCE. Reaching mutually agreeable solutions is the best way to meet both family and school needs and will have a significant impact on morale in the long term.
Consider introducing a family timetable developed around your VCE student’s study habits.
It may be useful to organise your family’s priorities and represent these ideals in an accessible timetable. Doing so will ensure that your needs as a family are met without the potential for certain elements to be overlooked and inform family members in advance of upcoming plans. Organise your standard week by priority and create a tangible, week-to-week routine like illustrated:
VCE is an undoubtedly testing stage for a student and their family – yet, it does not have to be overwhelming. Successful navigation through Year 11 and 12 will occur as the result of a cohesive relationship between a student and his/her support network. As a parent, your role is centred around support. Offering your child the confidence of your time, patience and effort will make a world of difference to their morale and, in turn, results. Simple family adjustments, as listed above, will contribute to the sustained growth between yourself and your child. Implementing these strategies and anchoring your focus on the themes of communication, teamwork and compromise will ensure that your family’s VCE experience occurs smoothly.
Hey there! Welcome to the subject of English Language, probably the most inconveniently placed exam there is in VCE, and one of your compulsory VCE subject 'top fours'. So if you're a science/maths-y sort of person, English language is probably your last exam (right after your good old methods + spesh + chemistry + physics + just kill me now exams), and if you're a humanity/language-y sort of person, English language is probably your first/one of your middle exams (legal studies + revs + global + language + why do I even bother exams). Feeling disadvantaged compared to the mainstream English students yet?!
I UNDERSTAND! So, in order to help you prepare for your exams and SWOTVAC, here's a blog post about how to plan your life and tips for you during the examination period!
SWOTVAC, what is it? In Australia, SWOTVAC stands for Study Without Teaching Vacation. So yes, studying is involved. How do we plan for SWOTVAC? The common misconception between students is that VCE is just us chilling and relaxing throughout the year then CRAMMING a whole year's worth of study into the few weeks before your first exam. However tempting this is, PLEASE DO NOT try this. Not only will this end up with you being exhausted and reliant on coffee, it will also negatively affect your sleeping schedule. So, before SWOTVAC, keep a constant pace of studying throughout the year, whether it's 15 minutes after school, or an hour every day. Doing this will ensure that you are reviewing concepts you have gone through during class, reinforcing information you are not familiar with, or even seeing gaps in your knowledge, that you can ask your mates/teachers the next day.
Utilising your resources during SWOTVAC
You may not realise it, but you have an abundance of resources available to you for the preparation of your exams. For effective studying during SWOTVAC, you cannot rely on yourself. I'm sure that becoming a hermit at home in PJs all day attempting practice exams may sound super fun (??????), but your teachers and peers are crucial during this time. As most of us know, your study scores are dependent on how your cohort scores. And now that it's SWOTVAC, and SACs have finished, it's time to really start spending time studying with your study group you've neglected since week 2 term 1. Studying with a study group can allow each member to see how other members work and attempt exams, or even share examination techniques they have learnt from older students, friends, or tutors. Doing exams together, bringing out past SACs and marking them together, can also help everyone discuss potential ways to stop making mistakes. Explaining concepts to others is the best way to reinforce your own knowledge! Other than your in-school mates, you've also got your mates from other schools doing the same subjects as you. Asking to share SACs and school resources also allow you to be more exposed to different types of questions, and potentially what else could pop up in your exams. Exposure is key. Lastly, you've got your teachers and tutors. Your teachers will always be there to help you, whether it's an easy concept you can't seem to get, or you'd like extra work or work to be marked. Same goes for your tutors, we're all here to help you out, so never feel like you're doing this alone!
Planning your studies for SWOTVAC
Don't limit yourself to one subject a day - study several subjects a day
Do your exams with real paper, not online. This will improve your handwriting, as well as give you a feel of what the exam really is like. (Yes your hand will hurt like a bitch tho) This will also be particularly helpful as you won't be distracted by your laptop or phone if you aren't looking at exam questions on them.
Once you are tired of studying a subject, move on. Don't force yourself to study something once you are tired of it, it won't be efficient
ASK FOR HELP IF YOU NEED HELP - whether it’s an email, text or message to your friends/teachers/tutors
Decide which subjects will be in your top 4, and focus on them. However, don't neglect your other subjects either.
Do exams under timed conditions to give yourself a feel of what it's like
Have a plan for each day. Not a timetable per se, more of a checklist of what you should achieve by the end of that day. This is particularly helpful in that when you are stressed and feeling overwhelmed, just look at your to-do list and write out what you need to do.
Don't study continuously without breaks. Take walks, and eat! Your health matters more than a score!
Don't study for too long, you need sleep to reinforce what you've learnt during the day
If you procrastinate easily, turn your phone off, turn off your wifi, do what you have to do... BUT...
Don't forget to SOCIALISE and TAKE BREAKS!!
That's right, you need to plan rests and social days during SWOTVAC. Plan days where you go out and grab a bite with friends, go to the gym or the beach. You need to know your limits. Studying after you’re already tired is not going to get you anywhere, taking a walk to refresh your mind will help you focus. VCE is all about working hard and playing hard.
Remember to work hard and not procrastinate when you are working, but not talk about work whilst you are out having fun!
My final experience and final words of wisdom
Studying is important during SWOTVAC, but planning your study allows for efficiency! Last year in 2016, I did the subjects Specialist Maths, Chemistry, English Language, and Global politics, exams in that order. My exams were not very spaced out, with Spesh, Chem, and EngLang exams being pretty much days apart. So, unlike other students, I didn't get the luxury of studying between exams. This may be the case for many of us, so here's a tip for you: When walking into exams that are pretty much back-to-back, make sure you are already 99% ready for each exam. This applies especially for English, seeing as how it is a compulsory top 4. So, don't anticipate many studies the night after an exam, for an exam the day after. Exams are tiring! So, rest as much as you can after exams, and read about your next exam lightly the night before, sleep early, then read lightly about your next exam the day after.
Good luck for VCE and the future. Remember, you are more than your ATAR :)
You really don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with your examiners. Minor irritations such as misspellings and poor handwriting can put the examiner in a negative frame of mind and affect your overall grade, even if your essay content is solid. You want to give yourself every chance of getting top marks. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of thing a million times before. Teachers stress the importance of good handwriting and spelling over and over again. There is one particular issue I’d like to address here that is not quite as easy to fix: vocabulary and expression. In the following paragraphs I will discuss common problems with expression, focusing on the use of long, supposedly more ‘sophisticated’ words.
A strong vocabulary can certainly help to improve your writing. The use of sophisticated vocabulary – in the right situations – showcases your eloquence and knowledge. However, there is a fine line between good expression and excessive, over-the-top attempts at sophistication. There are four points I’d like to make on this subject.
1. Don’t force it – Students can sometimes attempt to throw all sorts of fancy-sounding words into their essays. I don’t know why. Maybe they think it’ll make their essay sound more intelligent. Maybe they are trying to adopt a more ‘scholarly’ voice. Whatever the reason, this kind of thing can actually get the examiner in a bad mood and hurt your grade. If you’re going out of your way to throw big words into your essay, chances are it’s going to sound forced. I don’t mean to say that you should cut out all that sophisticated vocabulary. When used correctly, those big words will certainly strengthen your expression and help you to communicate complex ideas. However, it’s usually quite obvious to the examiner when you’re forcing these words in where they don’t belong. Excessive use of complicated vocabulary is likely to distract from the points you’re making. It can disrupt the flow of your piece. Remember that you’re trying to effectively communicate your ideas to the reader. Try to keep that point in mind as you write.
2. Be comfortable with your vocabulary – This is immensely important! I’ve said that you shouldn’t force sophisticated words into your writing. You can overcome this by having a sound knowledge of a word’s meaning and its typical context of use. In those essays that force the sophisticated vocabulary, it often sounds as though the writer has simply gone through the dictionary and picked out a bunch of words. Do not do this! You need to be comfortable with a new word before you can start using it effectively in essays. The best way to get comfortable is to read widely. This will give you as much exposure as possible to new vocabulary, and its use in context. You can also try out some new vocabulary in your practice essays. Get feedback from your teacher or tutor, ask them to focus on your vocabulary choices and see if there’s anything you need to work on. It takes time to get comfortable with new vocabulary, so get reading! Learn more on how you can improve your vocabulary here.
3. Less is more – Basic vocabulary can often be much more effective in communicating your message clearly. Why use a ten dollar word when an everyday word will do? Short, sharp sentences with clear and unambiguous expression can be a whole lot more impressive than long, winding sentences filled with long, confusing words. I will stress the point again here; aim for clear and effective communication! When you get to university, you’re going to have to read academic papers that are chock-full of extremely long sentences and pretentious scholarly rhetoric. It’s a nightmare trying to make sense of some of these papers. Sometimes it’ll feel like they’re actually trying as hard as possible to hide the message of their writing. I’ve never really understood why. If you get to try your hand at writing a thesis or dissertation, there are a number of conventions that must be followed and your writing must be a lot more scientific. A lecturer once said to me that you’re doing ‘academic style’ right if it feels like you’re losing a bit of your soul with every sentence that you write. That’s definitely how I felt. There’s not much room to show off your own linguistic flair and expression – at least until you’ve mastered academic writing. You have a fantastic chance in VCE English to show off your writing ability and be creative. So try to make the most it! Just don’t think that good writing has to resemble that dry academic style, with long sentences and fancy words. Impress your examiner by showing clear, unambiguous writing. Impress them with writing that flows and conveys your own personal style. Which brings us to my final point:
4. Be yourself – Don’t try to be someone else in your writing. The most engaging essays are those that can show something unique. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, examiners are marking hundreds of essays on the exact same topics. Your personal writing style can spice up an essay and distinguish you from other students. It’s important to stick to the required formal writing style, with correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and so on. However, you can play with your sentence structure and vocabulary. Add your own flair to leave your signature on your essays. Your expression will only improve through practice, so write as often as you can! If you have truly engaged with the subject matter and have something interesting to say about it, let that enthusiasm shine through in your prose.
I hope that it’s clear from the paragraphs above that it’s perfectly fine to use sophisticated vocabulary – in fact, it’s encouraged! Just make sure that you fully understand the words that you’re using. Don’t use fancy words just for the sake of it. Make sure that your word choice actually improves your essay and adds clarity to the points you are making. Use your sophisticated words alongside your more basic vocabulary. Find a balance that makes your writing entertaining and engaging, while still maintaining effective and clear expression. Let your engagement with the text shine through in writing that is coloured with your own personal style. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun!
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