Go ahead and tilt your mobile the right way (portrait). The kool kids don't use landscape...
Read your text several times
Examiners and teachers love nuanced responses. The key to developing a complex response is by reading your text several times (at least three times before the exam). Each time you read it you should annotate, take notes down and you’ll notice more elements and recurring themes. Every student has a different interpretation to an essay question. As long as you justify your arguments (using quotes, meta-language etc), there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ interpretation in English.
Do not retell the story & integrate meta-language
Your teachers and tutors harp on this for a reason! Examiners have read the texts before, so you must assume that they know the plot inside out. Text response is an analysis of how the author (or director) constructs a text and the ways they imply a point of view or values. You will analyse the ideas, cultural references, context, narration explored in the text and answer some of the following questions: Why has the author included specific recurring motifs or portrayed the protagonist in a particular manner? What is the author suggesting? How does the author explore the theme of ‘x’?
For example, the themes of love and death are explored in Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Think about how it is explored and what the author is attempting to do or convey. Include meta-language (language that describes language) such as ‘imagery’, ‘motif’, ‘juxtaposition’ etc.
E.g ‘Agnes’ crave for love influences her path to execution (idea and exploration of themes). All her life, she had lacked love. She recounts through her first-person narrative that ‘everything I love is taken from me’, such as her beloved foster mother, Inga (evidence). Kent uses Agnes’ retrospective narrative (how) to allow readers to empathise (why) with Agnes’ ……
Allocate quotes to specific themes, and memorise them. Have at least 20 quotes up your sleeve! Pick quotes that aren’t the stock-standard and obvious ones as seen in study guide books so that you stand out amongst your peers. You should also be aware of how to embed and integrate them into an essay, as well as picking quotes that aren’t too long.
If you are a visual learner, mind maps are a great tool for any subject you are studying and particularly useful for English. Collate all your notes, sort them into sub-categories such as THEMES, CHARACTERS, ELEMENTS and you’ll find overlaps between all sorts of elements.
I am Malala and Made in Dagenham is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Comparative (also known as Reading and Comparing). For a detailed guide on Comparative, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Comparative.
Compare the importance and role of idols and role models in I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Describe the role of fear and obligation as an obstacle to progress by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
‘As we change the things around us, the things around us change us’. Discuss the extent to which this is true by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss the benefit of adversity in strengthening one’s will to persevere by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Resilience is more important than success. Discuss whether this is true within the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Compare the role and importance of family within the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Compare both I am Malala and Made in Dagenham in relation to the importance of language as a device (spoken and written).
Compare the forms of resistance displayed by protagonists Malala Yousafzai and Rita O’Grady in texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham and decide why they chose these methods.
Analyse the effectiveness of small triumphs creating ripple effects in wider communities by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss whether support networks are intrinsic for a single figure to create positive change by comparing I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
The main protagonists are galvanized by the people they wish not to be like rather than their role models. Discuss to what extent this is true by comparing the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Made in Dagenham and I am Malala explore the vices of deceit, appeasement and scapegoating. Discuss these by comparing both texts, commenting on how they pose a threat to the causes of both protagonists.
What role do interpersonal relationships play in the texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham? Can these relationships be both positive and negative? Discuss.
Change cannot be immediate but gradual. To what extent is this true in texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Examine the role of the media in driving social change by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham
A patriarchal society is invariably one that is repressive. Discuss this statement and its truths or falsities by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
Discuss solidarity in relation to social, historical and cultural progress and whether it can be both positive and negative by comparing texts I am Malala and Made in Dagenham.
We are well into the second half of Semester 1 and for Year 12 students, the Mt Everest that is the final English examination is approximately 6 months away. Though most students are at this stage comfortable with the text response aspect of English, many tend to struggle with the notion of “answering the prompt”.
When working to correct this issue, it is important to understand the VCAA English Study Design brief for text response which outlines its examination criteria as being:
detailed knowledge and understanding of the selected text, demonstrated appropriately in response to the task
development in the writing of a coherent and effective structure in response to the task
control in the use of expressive and effective language appropriate to the task.
The importance of answering the prompt is stressed in each of the 3 listed points in the rubric which share the common theme of following the assigned task. In order to construct an essay which successfully answers the prompt, one must be conscious of the relationship between the prompt assigned, their stated contention and the topic sentences they provide.
Prompts for Section A are divided into one of five categories. To learn more about LSG's Five Types Technique, check out our blog.
The first thing one should do when presented with a prompt is analyse it by identifying the keywords of the prompt and clarifying all the key terms. Once this has been done, it is time to formulate a contention.
A contention is simply your view of the prompt. This is where you challenge the statement presented to you and construct a viewpoint outlining the degree to which you are in agreement or disagreement with the prompt or if you are sitting on the fence. It is vital to do this not by blatantly rewording the prompt to display your stance, instead you must observe the prompt and construct an assessment of the prompt by drawing from the text to confirm your contention. It is through your contention that your points of discussion detailed in your topic sentences are formed.
Points to remember:
do not explicitly say “I agree” or “I disagree”
rather demonstrate how you feel (and thus how you are going to write) by using the text to highlight your opinion of the prompt
use your contention as “umbrella” from which your body paragraph ideas fall under
The next step in developing your essay response is to settle on what points to make in your body paragraphs and write topic sentences. Topic sentences outline the content you will be presenting to your teacher or examiner in the particular body paragraph. A good topic sentence should detail an idea that can be drawn from your contention. A habit some students carry into Year 12 from earlier years of essay writing is to write body paragraphs solely on characters and in turn writing a topic sentence stating which character they will write about in that paragraph. Rather than doing this, focus on the context, themes, symbols and conventions particular character(s) feature in throughout the text.
Points to remember:
ensure your topic sentence clearly indicates what you will discuss in your paragraph
check to make sure your topic sentence is an idea that stems from your contention
avoid character based topic sentences and focus on the themes these characters are utilised to explore
The key to adhering to the prompt presented to you is forming a relationship between the material given to you, your adopted contention and the topic sentences which headline your evidence and justification. Think of the prompt as the avenue through which to form your overall stance. Your contention is the basis of the entirety of your essay. Your topic sentences are opening statements written with the purpose of helping you develop a discussion that follows your contention that is in relation to the prompt. When your text response has evidence of this not only will you present an essay that closely addresses the prompt, but your work will reflect your thoughts, in a manner which efficiently enables you to show off your skills.
In your English class, you probably feel like your teacher is making stuff up. Moments where you think, “The author can’t possibly have meant that”. To your English teacher, the smallest details have major implications in interpreting the text.
In fact, you probably agree with jokes like this:
The Book: “The curtains were blue.”
What your teacher says: “The curtains represent the character’s depression.”
What the author meant: “The curtains were blue.”
Or even this one...
The disconnect you feel between yourself and the teacher is not just because your teacher is stretching for something to analyse. Whilst the author may have meant something different to what your teacher thinks, this doesn’t mean your teacher is strictly wrong. Context and the author’s intention are two complicated considerations in English, and a whole range of study is dedicated to it. At the VCE level you must consider the context your text was written in, and the author who wrote it, but this shouldn’t hinder your own unique interpretation of the text.
Your interpretation is more important than the author's intention
In 1968, Roland Barthes proposed a theory that has stuck with critics and academics of literature. “The Death of the Author” claimed that the biography, views, or intentions of the author are not a part of the literary object.
The text you are studying in English does not belong to its author, but to the reader, and what the reader decides to make of that text is valid, as long as it is backed up with evidence (as your teacher will say). Barthes’ original essay is complicated, but at a basic level, “The Death of the Author” says that the curtains are not only representative of the character’s depression but could also represent the character’s love of blue orchids.
When we read, we automatically apply our own experiences, biases, and understanding of the world to the text. As such, each person is likely to interpret a text in different ways. This is a major part of studying English, as the critic (you) is more important than the author’s original intention. The fact that a single text can give rise to multiple interpretations is the reason we study English; to debate these interpretations. When you are given an essay topic you are being asked for your opinion on one of these debates, not the author’s opinion on their own work. If you were reading The Fault in Our Stars and claimed it romanticised cancer, you would be participating in the literary debate, despite going against John Green’s original intentions.
In the modern age of mass media, the author is attempting to revive themselves. These are authors who attempt to dictate interpretations of their works after they have been published. The most famous of these is likely J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Rowling’s twitter page adds many pieces to the Harry Potter canon and Rowling offers her own interpretations of the text. To Rowling, her intentions are the only correct ways to interpret her texts, and as such she shares them frequently.
This is not true, however, for any author. Authors are not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to the interpretation of their texts. Despite having intentions and opinions on their texts, there is also evidence which counters their interpretations.
When it comes to the debate surrounding the texts you study, you need to remember that the interpretation of the author is only one part of the debate. It is an opinion equal to everyone else involved in the debate. Imagine the author is on trial. They may have an opinion of the crime (or text), but so does the prosecution. You are the jury and must come up with your own interpretation of the crime. Whether it matches up with the author’s intentions or not does not matter, as long as there is supporting evidence within the text.
Context in VCE English
But what about the circumstances in which something was written? Every time you start a new text you are probably asked to research the time in which it was written, or what major political events may be relevant. Unlike the author, these factors are very important in interpreting a text.
For starters, a text may explicitly reference a certain event, and so understanding that event is key to understanding the text. An episode of the Simpsons may make fun of Donald Trump, and the writers assume we have the contextual knowledge to know who Donald Trump is, why he is important, and why the joke is funny. It is easy for us to understand this context because we live in the context.
If you’re studying texts from 200 years ago it becomes harder to interpret because we’re unfamiliar with the context. While you don’t have to know the context of your text perfectly, understanding the cultural beliefs and major events will help you consider the text objectively.
Researching the context of a text acknowledges that literature is a product of the culture and politics of its time. Its themes may still be relevant in the modern age, but it is difficult to fairly judge, critic, and interpret these texts if we do not consider the context in which it was written. A piece of literature will either follow or criticise the views and opinions of the time, and it is the responsibility of the reader to understand these views and determine where the text sits.
Okay, so the text is a reflection of the time from which it stems, and is separate from the author that wrote it? Not quite. Counter to “The Death of the Author”, the author is also a part of context, and this means certain parts of the author should be considered in interpreting a text.
If there is ambiguity in the meaning of a text, the author’s personal beliefs may clear it up. If a character of a certain race is stereotyped and mocked, the meaning of this may change depending on the race of the author. If an author stereotypes their own race, they might be criticising the way other people see them, whereas making fun of a different culture is most likely upholding racist or discriminatory belief systems.
So, what ARE the curtains?! What do they mean? Well, they're a metaphor, representing more than their literal role as curtains. But also, they’re just blue.
The truth is whilst context and the author are relevant, we should try to gain as much from the text as possible before relying on the context to guide our interpretations. While studying your texts, it is reasonable to apply modern standards to your interpretations.
Shakespeare’s plays are a tad sexist, and we’re able to criticise that, despite Shakespeare writing in a different context. For more on studying Shakespeare in VCE, read How to Approach Studying Shakespeare. But it would also be difficult to appreciate the meaning of texts without the context, especially when the text is a response to a major event. At the same time, we’re allowed to expand on what the author has written. We are not confined to what the author meant to say when we interpret texts. As an English student you have the opportunity to consider what each word may represent for the characters and how it influences your unique interpretation.
So, the curtains mean whatever you want them to mean. You can make reasonable assumptions about a text based on the context it comes from and from the author’s life, but you shouldn’t assume that something means nothing. Trivial things like the colour of curtains may not have been important to the author but allow us as English students to analyse and look deeper into the text, its themes, and the psyche of the characters.
In your SACs and exams looking at these small details and deviating from the author’s intentions is an easy way to stand out. Looking to get to that A+ level? Read How to Turn Text Response Essays from Average to A+. So, when your teacher says the curtains are a metaphor, consider what else could be a metaphor, and don’t assume the author has all the answers, or that there is only one interpretation.
Understanding the context of the texts you are studying is essential if you are to satisfactorily respond to any prompt (learn about the 5 types of prompts here). Not only does it provide an insight into the society of the time and their views and values, it also allows for greater awareness of the characters’ motivations, resulting in a richer discussion in your essays. Discussing the context of the texts also makes for an ideal comparison which can be incorporated in the introduction as well as the body paragraphs. Moreover, context paragraphs are a great tool to have up your sleeves, as they can easily be adapted to almost every essay question, a real asset when attempting to write an essay in an hour.
In this blog post, I will be giving a brief overview of the contexts of the play The Crucibleby Arthur Miller and Rosalie Ham’s The Dressmaker. Further down, I have also provided a sample paragraph as an example of a way in which I would go about writing a context paragraph in response to an essay prompt concerning the two texts.Both of these texts are set in fascinating and significant eras of human history so I invite you to conduct your own research after reading this!
At first glance, the town of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and Dungatar, Victoria in 1950s Australia have little in common; however, both towns exist in stifling geographical isolation, allow myopic and parochial outlooks to flourish, and maintain an irrational but overwhelming fear of ‘the other.’
The Crucible, Arthur Miller
The Crucible is set in 1692 in Salem. The provincial, conservative town was established by English Puritans who, fearing persecution, fled from a Britain dominated by The Church of England. The first Puritans to arrive in Salem faced brutal conditions, including 'marauding Indians' and living on a 'barbaric frontier' that lay close to the 'dark and threatening…virgin forest' that they believed to be the 'devil’s last preserve'. In order to overcome these challenges, the people of Salem were forced to unify and remain diligent. In order to ensure efficiency, a strict and rigid way of life was adopted, where work and prayer were championed and individual freedoms and pleasures abhorred. Though this harsh way of life did allow the Salemites to stay alive, it forced them to suppress various natural human emotions such as joy and anger, so as to not detract from work and prayer. Further, the town had limited their interaction with the outside world, compelling them to instead be constantly surrounded by each other. This hazardous combination of repression of emotions and interaction with only a small pool of people spurred private jealousies and vengeance within the townspeople, and it is here that the play commences.
The Dressmaker, Rosalie Ham
In contrast, Ham’s novel takes place in 1950s rural Australia, in the fictional town of Dungatar. Despite being set centuries after The Crucible, Dungatar is rife with the same parochialism (great word to use for both texts, referring to a limited/ narrow outlook), resentment and gossip as Salem. The town’s physical isolation - it is surrounded by 'wheat, yellow plains' and seems to be a 'dark blot shimmering on the edge of flatness' - corresponded with their metaphoric isolation from global events, creating an intense fear of ‘the other’. Further, similarly to The Crucible, the stark physical isolation ensures that each individual’s social interactions are limited to the town’s small population, fostering a breeding ground for narrow-mindedness and prejudice. Ham’s description of the way 'the crowd screamed with lust, revenge, joy, hate and elation' after a local football match win reveals the underlying emotions of the town, repressed behind a veneer of respectability and perceived moral propriety. All it takes is a stimulus, which arrives in the form of outcast Tilly Dunnage, to uncover the malicious undertones of the provincial town.
Example Context Paragraph
During VCE, I tended to use my first paragraph (in response to an essay prompt) as a way to explore the context of the texts I was studying, and relate the context to the essay prompt being addressed (learn more about the different types of essay prompts here). In this case, the prompt I have responded to is:
I was able to adapt much of this paragraph below to whatever essay prompts I came across.
The geographical isolation of rural, parochial towns can breed a kind of myopia amongst inhabitants and promote binary thinking. Salem is situated on the 'edge of wilderness’, with the 'American continent stretching endlessly West’. The 'dark and threatening' forest which ominously surrounds the town is believed to be 'the last place on earth not paying homage to God’, inciting the irrational fear that 'the virgin’s forest was the Devil’s last preserve' (1).To combat the imminent threat of the 'marauding Indians' upon their arrival in Salem, the Salemites maintained that 'in unity…lay the best promise of safety’, and hence were governed as 'an autocracy by consent' (2). Similarly, in The Dressmaker, the town of Dungatar 'stretches as far as the silos' and is described as a 'dark blot shimmering on the edge of flatness’. 'The green eye of the oval' is a physical representation of the town’s predilection for prejudice and endorsement of slyly watching others (3). The stifling insularity experienced by both towns perpetuates a paucity of culture and 'parochial snobbery’, as well as fostering austere social expectations (4). The totalitarian regime that governed Salem and their 'strict and sombre way of life' conditioned the people of Salem to repress natural human emotions so as to conform to the conservative and rigid values of society. Indeed, Miller’s description of the 'small windowed dark houses struggling against the raw Massachusetts winter' alludes to the Salemites’ dogmatically narrow-minded outlook and their repression of any individuality. Hence, despite the veneer of propriety upheld by Salem’s 'sect of fanatics’, the town is rife with hidden resentments and 'long-held hatreds of neighbours' (5).Whilst moral respectability and piety conceal the true sentiments of the people of Salem, clothing is the mask for the 'liars, sinners and hypocrites' of Dungatar (6). Though on the surface the town appears respectable, the true desires of 'the sour people of Dungatar' are revealed through their desire 'to look better than everybody else’. Their lack of connection with the outside world forces their constant interaction with one another and means that 'everybody knows everything about everyone' (7). Thus, Miller and Ham postulate that geographical isolation inevitably forges unyielding social norms that repress human emotions and pits individuals against each other (8).
Annotations (1) In these two sentences, I’ve provided the geographical context of Salem. (2) My description of the geographical location is followed quickly by describing the town’s beliefs and values, which have a large impact on the social context. (3) Here, I’ve used the geographical context as a metaphor to explain the social context of Dungatar. (4) I’ve described a similarity between the two towns - remember to use lots of meaningful comparisons in all paragraphs (LSG’s CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy is a useful strategy for this). (5) I’ve detailed how the societal expectations and values of the Salemites (the people of Salem) can impact the behaviour of the characters. (6) Here, I’ve outlined a subtle difference (or divergence) between Dungatar and Salem. (7) Once again, I’ve related the townspeople’s values and beliefs, as well as the physical context, to their behaviour. (8) I’ve ended with a meaningful comparison between the intentof the two authors.
Looking for more? Check out our other blog posts on The Crucible and The Dressmaker:
Most assessments require you to write essays using formal language. In English writing, there are two main styles of writing – formal and informal. The primary purpose of formal language is to achieve sophistication and clarity. Although the difference between the two styles is relatively straightforward, we’ll point out some common examples to just to make sure that you don’t slip and make an unnecessary mistake. Consider these two examples:
Example 1 : We cordially invite you to the Year 12 formal.
Example 2 : Hey buddy! Wanna go to the dance?
It is clear that example 1 is formal while example 2 is informal. The vocabulary, tone, and syntax are all things that change depending on the style you wish to adopt. Informal language isn’t always a ‘taboo’ though. Creative pieces and persuasive pieces can be written informally, for example, if it is a personal diary or an advertisement respectively. If you’re unsure, the easiest way to separate the two is to question whether or not you would say the phrase in real-life conversations. If it’s a yes, then it’s most likely informal language. Below are some more specific examples of the differences between formal and informal writing:
Formal: Avoids using colloquial words/phrases
Informal: May use colloquial words/phrases
Formal: Avoids contractions (write out full words – was not, did not, had not etc.)
Informal: May use contractions (wasn’t, didn’t, hadn’t etc.)
Formal: Usually written in third person (Sharon, Ben, they, them etc.)
Informal: May use first (I, me etc.), second (he, she etc.) or third person (as above).
Formal: Specific words (such as, large, items, etc.)
Informal: Imprecise words (like, big, things, etc.)
Formal: Avoids cliches (many, etc.)
Informal: May use cliches (loads of, etc.)
Formal: Avoids addressing readers using second person pronouns (the readers, an individual, one’s etc.)
Informal: May address readers using second person pronouns (you, your, etc.)
Formal: Avoids using abbreviated words (write in full – photograph, television, etc.)
Informal: May use abbreviated words (photo, TV, etc.)
Plans are one of the most ignored (and underestimated) steps in the essay writing process. Some people don’t do them simply because they don’t want to, some sacrifice them because they think they’ll run out of time, and some do ‘plans’, but in reality, they’re only a rough mental outline. Each of these situations place too many students time and time again in sticky situations come an English SAC or exam.
Why plans are essential for any good essay
They ensure that you can’t mind blank — it’s all on the paper in front of you!
They ensure that you always stay on topic.
Mental plans or not having a plan at all mean that you don’t have a true direction in which your essay is going. If you’re not sure where you’re going, well, how are you going to get anywhere?
They save you time in writing time.
Instead of wasting reading time, you’ve done most of your thinking right at the beginning of the SAC or exam, positioning you to do really well in your essay because you can focus on constructing some really juicy, coherent analysis in your body paragraphs, rather than remembering your basic points and/or making sure your essay is actually answering the question.
Let’s have a look at an essay topic that I’ve tackled in the past. This one is based on Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant, a current VCE Year 12 English text. To learn more about themes, quotes, characters about this text, and to have a look at an essay topic breakdown, check out this blog post written by outstanding LSG tutor, Angelina!
“But a man could not travel along two different paths.” How does Grenville explore Rooke’s conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant?
Step 1: Highlight key words
Now, it may seem like I've just highlighted the whole prompt, and I understand why you might think that! However, each of the words highlighted convey something meaningful within the prompt. If you're ever unsure about what could be considered a key word, consider whether the prompt would have the same meaning without the word in question.
Step 2: Define key words
In this topic, the main phrase that needs defining is ‘conflict of conscience’. For me, this signals that we must consider morality and the weighing up of right and wrong, especially when tough decisions have to be made.
I’d also take a moment to analyse the quote. This essay prompt is quote-based, so it’s imperative that we discuss the quote and consider the meaning of the quote throughout our essay. For some more detailed info on how to tackle different types of essay prompts, check out this blog post.
Step 3: Start essay plan
Next, I’d start tackling the plan itself. Although it seems like the above steps would take a while, my real-life planning process only takes about 5 minutes. You certainly don’t have to write everything down and you certainly don’t have to make it make sense to anyone but yourself.
Personally, I like to format my plans in dot-point form. I write 1, 2, 3 for each of my body paragraphs and I leave a space underneath each so I can plan each paragraph.
First, I’ll just write rough topic sentences under each, so I can really step back and consider whether my plan of action for the essay’s body paragraphs will do a good job at answering the prompt itself. Again, these are only rough topic sentences — fancying them up will come during the essay writing phase.
Step 4: Important things to include in each paragraph
Once I’ve decided on what each of my body paragraphs will be about, I can them go into a bit more depth for each of them individually.
These are the elements that I include for each:
Essentially, the points that I’ll argue and the reasoning behind the paragraph
The evidence that I’ll be using to reinforce my point(s).
In Year 12, I made a conscious effort to include one literary device or metalanguage example per body paragraph in all of my English essays. This really set me apart from the rest of the state because, in reality, not enough students really focused on the language of their texts, which can really impress examiners.
Strategy: Colour-coded plans
For me, using different colours in my plans helped me organise my thoughts, distinguish between them, and ensure that I had covered everything that I wanted to cover.
Obviously, you can come up with a colour system that works for you, but this is what I came up with:
Green = metalanguage
Red = quotes
Black/blue = everything else!
And that’s it — my four-step but five minute essay planning process. Don’t be afraid to modify this to make it work for you and your needs. However, definitely DO be afraid of not planning — it’s absolutely essential for any good essay.
Hey guys. I've been doing a load of essay topic breakdowns for you guys, and we've been looking at plans for them, so I thought I would actually show you how I actually do a real life plan, one that I would do on paper if I was preparing for a SAC or an exam, as opposed to the ones that I do on YouTube because the ones that I do on YouTube are slightly different. I definitely go into more detail than I normally would. But at the same time I still do use the same concepts as I would when I do read the steps on YouTube. So I'm going to go and show you that today. And before I actually do that, I just want to preface this and tell you guys why doing a plan is so important.
So I know that a plan is something that one, a lot of people just don't do, or two, they tend to sacrifice it if they feel like they don't have enough time, or three, they do a plan in their head, but they don't actually write it down on paper. Now, all of these things are pretty detrimental for you, especially because when you write a plan, it actually helps to secure you and ensure that one, you're not going to mind blank throughout your essay or let me rephrase that, if you do mind blank throughout your essay, you will still have a piece of paper in front of you telling you, "This is what you were thinking Lisa, just go and follow this method or what you've written down here." So that way you don't just get stuck in the middle of your essay and start having a freak out because you've forgotten what you were supposed to write.
Second thing is that it ensures that you don't go off topic. This is something that happens quite frequently. If you don't have a plan, then you have this idea of, "Oh, I'll write this and this", and then somehow halfway through an essay, halfway through a paragraph, you realize, "Holy crap, I have completely veered off the topic or this has gone completely in the other direction from what I intended. This is not what I wanted." So in order to prevent that from happening, just do a plan, please! You will find that it ends up saving you so much time and it just gives you that reassurance that you need in situations where there are so many unpredictable factors, like what prompts you're actually going to get. And your focus and attention should be more about developing those ideas, rather than having a mind blank in the middle of your essay and then having a little bit of a freakout as a result.
So I'm going to base this video on a previous essay topic breakdown in the past, and that is on Kate Grenville's The Lieutenant. I was going to say Lieutenant, because I always accidentally say that, but no, it is Lieutenant. Now, if you are not doing as text as always, don't stress about it because what I want you to take away from this video is how you actually do plans, the thinking that goes behind it and the formatting around it. So let's just get started.
The essay topic that we're doing today is, "But a man could not travel along two different paths." How does Grenville explore Rooke's conflict of conscience in The Lieutenant. So as always, my first step is I will highlight the keywords that I see inside the prompt. Keywords are different for everyone, but these are the ones that I think are most important.
Firstly, the actual quote itself, how Grenville, conflict of conscience. Pretty much in this case I could probably just highlight the entire thing, but for the sake of just defining some keywords, this is what I would do. So the next step is to define key words. I think the only big key word that I need to define here is conflict of conscience. And so to me, the conflict of conscience suggests internal conflict, which implies that we'll need to consider morality and the concepts of right and wrong, especially when a difficult decision must be made and sides need to be taken. So as you can see, I've written these words down next to the keyword and that will just help me ensure that I stay on topic or I stay in tune with what the keyword is about and I don't suddenly change my mind halfway through the essay.
Then what I'll do is, I will analyze the quote itself. So this is unique because this particular essay prompt has a quote inside it, but I'll have to think about, okay, where did I see this quote? Who might've said it and what might it mean? And I'll draw it down a few notes for that. Then I'll pretty much just go straight into my plan. Now, my plans I've written within five minutes, most of the thinking is actually done during reading time. So personally, I've always found that just writing dot points is completely fine. I don't need to go more beyond that. And I'll show you a few examples now of real life year essay plans that I did during that time. And as you can see, they are pretty much just scribbles and if anybody else was to look at my essay plans, they would have no idea what I'm talking about. But you know what, for me it makes complete sense and that's all that matters. You're not graded on your plan, so just go ahead and do it your way. You do you.
So what I'll do is I'll quickly dot down one, two, three, and these represent my body paragraphs. Then I'll just write down very quickly what the topic sentences will be. I don't actually write the full topic sentence itself, but I guess the essence of it, so the key things that I will mention in the topic sentence. By writing down the three topic sentences, this allows me to take a step back and look at the essay holistically and ensure that I am answering it the way that I want to. Then what I'll do is I'll move into each individual body paragraph and write down some things that I think are important for me to remember when I go ahead and write it. So I might write down a couple of ideas that I think are important. I will write down quotes that I think are essential to my discussion. And then what I'll do is I will throw in at least one literary device or a metalanguage that I think is important to discuss.
So in this case, in this first body paragraph, it's limited omniscient third person perspective. By throwing this in, I will ensure that I can show my examiner or show my teacher that I can go on that deeper level. I'll repeat this method with both paragraph two and three. Of course for you, you might need to write down more dot points. You can write fewer dot points, it's really just dependent on every individual. If you are somebody who needs to write down the quotes more, then go ahead and do that. But for me, a lot of the quotes will stick in my head. I just need one point just to bounce off, and then from there, I'm able to pull in all of the other quotes that are necessary.
You also notice that I do things in different colors. Now, I think this is a strategy that I implemented in order to make things a lot clearer for myself before jumping into an essay. So for example, for anything that's a metalanguage based, I'll write it in green. The whole purpose for that is to ensure that in every single body paragraph, I do cover some form of a literary device because that was always really important for me. I thought that it was one of the key things that helped me differentiate myself from other students. So if I took a step back from the plan and I looked at it overall, I could see, okay, there's a green color in every single body paragraph, done. I have ticked off that criteria.
I also used to write quotes in red as well. So red just helped me do the same thing. It helps me take a step back and go, "Yep, there's a bit of red in every single body paragraph. I'm definitely including quotes," which might sound pretty stupid, but it's just that little bit of reassurance that I think really makes that difference when it comes to a stressful situation.
That's pretty much it. It's just five minutes of your time, so we probably don't need to go into it in too much more detail than that. But as you can see from my essay plans, I'm quite minimal. I just keep things as short as possible because that's all I really need because a lot of the information is here, but I just need to reinforce it and ensure that it is concrete when it is on paper.
So for yourself, I would recommend that you start practicing your plans. You can try my method and see if that works for you, but over time, I'm sure that you'll come to find your own way of writing plans that work for you.
Next week I'm going to have another essay topic breakdown for you. Can you guess what it might be? If you want to take a stab, put it in the comment section below, but that's it for me in this week guys. I hope that was helpful for you, and don't forget plans are crucial to an amazing essay.
If you needed any extra help, then my mailing list is always available for you guys. I send out emails every single week just giving you new advice and tips for your studies, so I'll put that in the description box below for you to sign up. Other than that, I will talk to you guys next week. Bye!
Get exclusive weekly advice from Lisa, only available via email.
Power-up your learning with free essay topics, downloadable word banks, and updates on the latest VCE strategies.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Check out our latest thought leadership on enterprise innovation.
Keep in touch
Have questions? Get in touch with us here - we usually reply in 24 business hours.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.