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December 23, 2017
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Ahhh school holidays. The perfect two weeks to catch up on homework and forget about the stresses of school. Now, this scenario isn’t what the majority of our school holidays actually look like. For some, school holidays present a challenge whereby we don’t have direct access to our teachers to ask for help and we ultimately find ourselves in a bit of a ‘motivation downslide’.
Personally, the school holidays were a great time for me to go through all the concepts that I found tricky during the term. Yet, I always found myself running into a bit of trouble with what I like to call ‘the procrastination jungle’, especially with English. So, here are a few tips that can help you find some sparks of motivation for when you feel like there is simply no road ahead.
Often the best way to figure out how you’re travelling through the year is to pause, breathe and reflect back (cue Disney’s Mulan, Reflection) on what was a busy and hectic term.
I always found it useful to revisit some of my previous goals that I had set for myself and tick them off if I had accomplished them. For instance, a goal that I had for the start of Term 2 was to ask my teachers more questions about concepts that I was still unsure of. When it came to the Term 2 holidays, I revisited this goal and was able to tick it off which gave me an incredible sense of achievement and reassured me that I was on track to finish the year off with a score that I was going to be super proud of in the end.
You might be asking, ‘what if I haven’t written down any goals throughout the year?’ Not to worry! It is never too late to start contemplating what your objectives are for the year. In fact, use this time now during the start of your holidays as a stepping stone to building up a habit of doing just this. This will help you tremendously in defining your journey towards accomplishing your aspirations and offer you perspective on any improvement areas you may need to address in your subjects.
But, how exactly are you supposed to make goals? Some may say that this process is somewhat ‘tedious’, but I’m here to help take the guesswork out of making, revisiting and addressing your goals using the ‘SMART’ technique:
‘My goal before the end of Term 3 is to have written one English Essay for all of my novels every week and have it marked by my teacher’.
Notice how to the point this is? I’ve mentioned exactly what it is that I want to see completed, by when and the frequency - ‘one essay per week’.
‘My goal before the end of term is to read all four of my novels three times a week, write 10 essays for each novel every week and complete a three-hour practice exam every second day of every week’
Now I know what you’re thinking, anything is possible if you put your mind to it, but writing 10 essays for each novel and completing a three-hour practice exam every week?! Not only is this goal simply not realistic, but what relevance is this goal going to have when you’ll inevitably feel burnt out and tired from writing all those essays!
Pinpointing what you still need to go through and what you’ve already mastered is guaranteed to save you time and effort studying when it comes to SACs and eventually the exam. By doing this, you’ll feel a sense of control and direction when you begin another term, without experiencing the often icky feeling of being lost and unsure.
The way that I went about this was to:
1) Source the study design for each of your subjects (you can do this by going to the VCAA website) and either print them or have them saved onto your desktop.
2) Read through the study design and start to familiarise yourself with the dot points and what you have already covered in class.
3) Go through the study design and, using highlighters or coloured pens, come up with a colour coordinating system. I personally opted for:
4) Link your existing notes to the study design dot points and if you haven’t already covered a particular dot point in your notes, take the time to study and add these in.
If you didn’t believe in magic before then you definitely will with the Pomodoro Technique. I used this method religiously back in Year 12 and still do at University. It involves breaking up your study into bite-size chunks whereby you complete intervals of 50 minutes of study followed by a 10-minute break. After every 3-4 cycles, add in a 20-minute break.
Let’s have a look at an example of my typical morning back in Year 12:
What I love about this is that it enables you to break up the work into manageable pieces so that you focus solely on one task before taking a well-deserved break. This ensures that you don’t burn out from constantly studying without scheduling time for relaxation, recovery and recharge.
How you use your break time is completely up to you. Do anything to take your mind off your work for a few minutes before diving back into your studies!
While it may feel productive to be studying and revisiting content covered in previous terms, there is no understating the importance of taking the time to practice good habits that improve your mental and physical health.
Consider taking your dog for a walk while listening to a few songs along the way, or going to your local swimming pool and doing a few laps! Anything to get your body moving will help to ensure that you break your routine up a little bit and experience something different to the often mundane task of studying and completing work. Maybe also get your friends involved too! You can try organising a volleyball game or whatever activity you are all keen on!
Everyone is sitting somewhere different on the motivation scale. Some may be extremely motivated to reread their texts, write up essay plans, write timed essays, etc. and others may find it difficult to achieve consistent motivation all the time, and that’s okay. To feel motivated all the time is failing to step back and reflect on how far you’ve come as a person in your personal journey.
Often it is when we compare ourselves to others and say ‘but look at how motivated they are’ or ‘they’ve already done so many practice exams and are going to get a really good study score’ that we fall into this trap of finding ‘flaws’ within ourselves. Comparing your diligence and beliefs in terms of your studies to others is only ever going to do you harm. Focus on your own journey and know that it is absolutely necessary to not expect to be motivated to study all the time. It’s simply not realistic.
The powerful verse ‘this too shall pass’ is something I had to always remind myself of back when I was in Year 12. Months and months of SACs, practice exams and feeling burnt out felt like an eternity and it started to impact my own sense of willingness to continue my personal academic journey. If it gives you any reassurance, however, know that one day you’ll look back on this chapter of your life with nothing but memories and perhaps even have a laugh or two at how young you were in your school photos!
I started at Macca’s when I was fifteen! This meant that by the time Year 12 came around, I was pretty accustomed to balancing work, school and my other commitments.
I was lucky because I had a good relationship with the management team and my rostering manager in particular. So, I was able to have an open and honest conversation with them about work arrangements for the year and I could trust that the shifts assigned to me would be appropriate for fitting in with all of my other commitments.
It was pretty straightforward! I had a conversation with my rostering manager about the year and we decided that 10-12 hours would be a manageable amount for me. This ended up being around 2 shifts per week!
Definitely! I would usually work Thursday or Friday nights and Saturday mornings. So, this allowed me to see my friends on Saturday nights and Sundays. I would be really strict in not making any commitments (if possible) on Sundays because it was my one day per week to do whatever I felt I needed to alleviate stress and prepare for the week ahead.
There were a few things I could have done if this happened.
I’m pretty lucky with where I work so I was always able to trust they would work towards my best interest, especially throughout Year 12!
It’s funny you ask, actually! I actually heard some advice that recommended if an opportunity comes up to do something you like with your friends, to take it. The reason being, that often if you try to plan out a time to see friends in advance, they might not be free, so if you can rework your schedule, I’d recommend taking up the offer and then the studying and homework can easily be done at another time. I’m not recommending that you neglect your schoolwork, I’m recommending that you do your schoolwork once you’ve given yourself a couple of hours a week to take care of yourself — it’s so important to prevent burnout!
I found that if I saw my friends and had a few laughs with them (at an appropriate time!) it would rejuvenate me so much more effectively than taking a 30 minute break at home. Obviously I wouldn’t accept an invitation to go out for dinner with some mates if I was in the middle of completing a practice exam, but, for example if I’d been studying for four hours straight, seeing my friends would be a perfect opportunity to freshen up my mind and relieve some stress.
It was pretty simple, actually! I would look at my SAC schedule and other school commitments in my diary and then roster off the days in the lead up to SACs, etc.
I actually took 6 weeks of annual leave from work in the lead up to, and during exams. But, I didn’t study all the time, despite having a lot of free time. I obviously studied quite a bit, but I also used any spare moments to see friends and do things I liked to alleviate stress and reduce the risk of my impending burnout!
I went away for about a week and then I started working a few days after I got back.
Be honest with yourself, know what works for you and know your limits. The key factor that enabled me to have an effective work/study/life balance was knowing myself and my needs educationally — from experience, I knew how many days I needed to prepare and what I needed to do to prepare for SACs in the most effective ways!
It’s around that time of the year when you start to contemplate which one of two texts you’ll most likely use in the Text Response component of the exam. And it’s not necessarily an easy choice to make! There are several factors worth considering, and you should definitely take your time deciding which text is best for you – after all, it can make a massive difference in your studying habits leading up to the exam and also how well you perform in the final exam. I’ll share with you a few of the common remarks made by students in regards to the exam and how things generally aren’t as straightforward as they seem!
1. ‘I’ll just spend all my time on one text because I’m not that great with the other one.’
Whoa! Stop right there! The first thing you should keep in mind is that you have 2 texts to choose from for a reason. The moment you decide to stick with one text, you have essentially put all your eggs into one basket. The negative side is exactly that – if you’ve placed all your chances of doing well into that one text, what if things don’t go as planned? Like two incredibly difficult exam prompts that you’ve never come across, a massive freak out I-just-realised-I-know-a-lot-less-than-I-thought leading up to the exam, or worse, that last-minute decision to switch texts for the exam. When eliminating the other option, you’ve basically got no backup. I’m sure you, like myself, have been told to back up your work on the computer and at some point, you didn’t and what happened? Of course, your computer crashed and you lost all your work. If you’re willing to take the risk, then of course go for it. Having a backup or at least having two text options ready provides you with a safety net. Even with two texts at hand, it’s completely natural for you to lean towards one text than the other. The best option, which I believe most of you would agree on, would be to focus more time on one text, but still have the other one at your disposal.
2. ‘I’ll select the text that scores the highest marks in past exams.’
Having a look at past exam marks can give you a good indication of the number of students that select a particular text and also the average mark scored by those students. The table below shows what VCAA used to produce in their Assessment Reports:
As you can see, the novel Year of Wonders has received the highest average mark. This by no means indicates that examiners are any more lenient on this text, nor do they favour it. What it really means is that it just so happened that the percentage of students who decided to write on this text were higher-than-average English students. Since 2013, VCAA has published a much more realistic table that gives us a better indication of what type of students were writing on these texts:
VCAA then stated:
From this table it can be seen that students achieved the highest scores on average for Henry IV, Part I. However, it can also be seen that on average this same set of students achieved well in the other sections of the English examination. Conversely, students who selected Così had the lowest average score in Section A, but also had low scores in Sections B and C.
UPDATE: It's 2017, so I thought I'd show you last year's examination report just below.
So what’s the take home message here? Don’t simply choose your text because it seemed to score well in recent years.
3. ‘I’ll do the film because it’s easier.’
Don’t be fooled! Films does not equal easy! Perhaps reviewing the film will be quicker than re-reading a text but films have so many layers of intricacy that you’d be silly to think that you’re automatically going to do better in the exam. It’s very hard to be successful just by writing about dialogue and plot. You have to analyse the film techniques, especially those that aren’t going to be mentioned by majority of students in the exam in order to stand out!
4. ‘I won’t do a text because it’s the first year it’s being assessed and I don’t know what to expect.’
Well hey, this is fair enough. But you can probably see it as an advantage. Although you don’t know what to expect, keep in mind that the examiners themselves probably won’t know what to expect from VCE students either. It goes both ways! If you don’t know what to expect, adequately prepare yourself. Collect and practice as many essay prompts as you can, read whatever notes or study guides you can get your hands on, and seek out your teacher and ask them if they have any thoughts on the exam!
5. “I’ll select the text that is newer to the syllabus as many students will not pick this and I will be able to get a better mark.”
The thing is, you really can’t tell how many students will choose a certain text. At the end of the day, examiners cross-mark several different texts which means that one text isn’t going to score better simply because less students choose it. A particular text may appear to receive higher scores because it’s less popular but really it means that the people who chose to write on it were higher-than-average English students (just refer to the tables shown above from VCAA Assessment Reports)!
With all these common remarks from students mentioned above, it comes down to one simple point, but often a point that needs to be reiterated – choose the text that you’re most familar and most comfortable with. Afterall, it’s going to be your writing that speaks out to the examiner. You can be strategic as you like, but choosing the text you’re best at is definitely the best strategy of all! Hope this helps any of you who have been contemplating some of these questions. Keep it up everyone!
Written expression is often overlooked in our essays. Often, if we are made aware of clunky or awkward expression, we are also not quite sure how to go about improving it. Although sophisticated and pertinent ideas serve as the foundation of a successful essay, how we construct our sentences and express these ideas may be what distinguishes a good essay from a great essay.
These differences can be rather subtle, but the small things can and do matter.
(to read out loud, not sing… unless you really want to)
Take your essay and read it out loud. Let your own conscience guide you in terms of whether a particular sentence flows well, is complete and makes sense. Keep your eye out for these small errors in particular: Grammar:Does your sentence actually make sense? Let’s have a look at an example:Although Funder suggests that the act of telling one’s story, especially one of victimisation, can catalyse the internal confrontation and healing required to move on.
(This is not grammatically correct! This is because this example only contains a subordinate clause and is lacking a main clause.)
But wait… what is this ‘subordinate clause’ and ‘main clause’?
A clause includes a subject and a verb.
Melissa ate an apple.After Wendy ate an apple.
What is the difference between the two clauses above?
‘Melissa ate an apple’ makes grammatical sense on its own. This is what we call a main clause (or an independent clause). On the other hand, ‘After Wendy ate an apple’ is an incomplete sentence as it does not make sense. What happened after Wendy ate her apple? This is the information that is missing from the latter clause, making this a subordinate clause (or a dependent clause).
So now let’s try again…
Although Funder suggests that the act of telling one’s story, especially one of victimisation, can catalyse the internal confrontation and healing required to move on, ultimately, these individuals can never be truly free from the past that has irrevocably defined them.
(Hooray! This is a complete sentence now.)
Spelling: Are the title of the text, the author or director’s name, characters’ names, publisher’s name, etc. all spelt correctly (and capitalised, underlined, and italicised appropriately)?
Did you use the correct there, their and they’re? How about it’s and its? (and so on).
Sentence length: Did that sentence just go on for 5 lines on a page and you are out of breath now? You can most probably split that overloaded sentence into two or more sentences that make much more sense. Check whether you have a clear subject in your sentence. If you have three different ideas in one sentence, give each idea its own opportunity (ie. sentence) to shine. The opposite also applies: if it is for a very short sentence, did that sentence pack enough content or analysis?
One spelling error or half-finished sentence in an essay will not severely affect your mark, but they can easily add up if they occur often enough. Consequently, this will distract the reader from engaging with your ideas fully and thus disrupt the flow of your essay.
By being aware of these aspects, you are now able to easily fix them and boost your writing.
Try not to be casual or overt in your writing as it can be quite jarring to read and unfortunately give readers a potentially negative impression of your piece.
Try not to use phrases such as:
- In my opinion… (You do not need it as your entire essay should be your implicit opinion!)
- This quote shows that… (Embed the quote and link to its implication instead)
- This technique is designed to… (Identify the technique and be specific, especially in Language Analysis)
- I think that…, I believe… (Avoid using first person in a formal essay. Use of first person in creative writing is fine though if required)
They are redundant and do not add much to your ideas and analysis. Try omitting them and see whether that helps your sentence flow better and seem more formal.
Sentences that seem disjointed or a clear connection can make it difficult for your teacher or the assessor to join the dots between an idea and an implication or consequence. Use linking words as they are fantastic for explicitly showing the reader how your ideas are related and thus allow your writing to proceed smoothly.
Therefore, hence, thus, thereby, consequently, subsequently, in addition, additionally, furthermore, moreover, on the other hand, on the contrary, however, henceforth, and so on… The list is endless!
In general, having a wide vocabulary will allow you to express your ideas and analysis more accurately as you are likely to have access to a precise word that can capture the essence of your idea. Make a vocabulary list for a particular text or for Language Analysis (such as tone words) and aim to use varied language to convey yourself well.
If you’d like to see a list of sentence starters and essay phrases to help you get a headstart on expanding your vocabulary, check out this blog.
Focus on verbs and expanding your list of synonyms for words such as shows, demonstrates, highlights, emphasises, suggests and so on. An individual, character, author or director may not only be conveying but also denigrating or remonstrating or bolstering or glorifying or insinuating. Adding precision to your writing through careful vocabulary choice will distinguish your writing and also add complexity.
BEWARE! There is a fine line to tread with sophisticated vocabulary - do not overload your writing as you can risk writing convoluted sentences that hinder the reader’s ability to understand your piece. Also make sure that you understand the nuances of each synonym and that they are used in the correct context! (They are synonyms after all - not the same word!)
If you are debating whether to use a word, ask yourself: do you know what it means?
If yes: Go for it!
If no: Do not use it until you know what it means.
Reading sample essays, The Age Text Talks, reviews and more of the texts you are currently studying will expose you to not only a multitude of interpretations of your text, but also to different sentence structures, writing styles or vocabulary that you could incorporate into your own writing.
I would also highly recommend that you read outside of the texts you are studying if you have time, whether that may be novels by the same author or even newspapers. Your written expression will only benefit from this exposure as the ways you can express yourself through writing continue to increase upon seeing others’ eloquence.
If you do not write, you will never be able to improve your written expression. Put pen to paper (or hands to keyboard) and start constructing that essay. You can only fix your writing once you have writing to fix.
Fact: The VCE is a competition.
Fact: There are so many brilliant minds out there with vocabularies that can wow the pants off examiners in seconds.
Fact: We have all felt intimidated at some stage of this race by these kids, but here’s the craziest fact of them all….
Fact: You can be one of them.
Do you really believe that the top VCE students, you know, those 99.95 geniuses out there, study religiously for 6-8 hours a day and feel totally motivated to work 24/7?
I used to think that these kiddos were on auto pilot - robots that never had difficulty remembering a quote, never struggled to find their next point in an analytical essay, could always find the energy to write another piece for their teacher to correct. It was as though these students weren’t real, but now that I have had a personal experience at tackling the VCE, I think that anyone can appear to be this ‘amazing’ in English, simply by following one piece of advice: changing your attitude towards studying.
There are no magic tricks, no gimmicks, and no simpler way to put this. If you want to see real results, you need a new perspective on not just English, but all subjects - start “wanting” to study. Today.
So how does this epic VCE competition - full of thousands of students - set apart the very top end students as opposed to the, well, only great students? I’m a firm believer in that your attitude towards your studies will always be indicative of how well you will perform in this race. So don’t start changing what, when or how much you study, make changes to how you study!
Easier said than done, right? Try me. Start by immersing yourself in English (or any subject for that matter) so that you can start to enjoy learning about it. For instance, go to a book club for context, debate the pros and cons of a character’s personality as if they are actually real, and watch the movie adaptation of the book you are studying etc.
Try to find as many avenues as possible that will allow you to enjoy writing an essay, even by taking baby steps. Why not start playing around with an imaginative story about your favourite TV show just to get the hang of creative writing before you hand in an imaginative essay tailored to your study requirements? Once you change that attitude from “I ‘need’ to write this” to “I ‘want’ to and ‘would like to’ improve on this” you will see an enormous shift in results, self-satisfaction and confidence! Don’t be daunted by a difficult topic in the text response section – view it as a way of “showing off” to the examiners; take your time planning about how much depth you can put into your response and make it a challenge to rise beyond expectations as opposed to meeting the bare minimum and providing a mediocre response.
So c’mon! Dive right into the deep end and throw yourself into your studies. You don’t need to take out a mortgage, nor a fancy exercise book with fluffy pink pens. You only need to pack your positive attitude.
VCE English (or any one of the 4 Englishes) can be one of the most daunting and difficult subjects to study. On top of that, as students of the VCE, we are plagued daily by distractions that seemingly inhibit our ability to maximize the time to fulfil our best potential. Feeling anxious about what seems to be such little time before the exam in October, we face mind blanks and find ourselves in a constant battle against feelings of doubt and anxiety.
However, these feelings only trick us into thinking that we are not good enough to achieve and consequently diminish our much needed motivation. Thoughts about having to write three 1000-word essays in three hours by October translate into doubt about our skills, generating to thoughts saying “I don’t know what to do!” when attempting to start, or whilst writing an essay. Amidst this, our mind is inundated with thoughts about competition: “what are other students in the state studying?” “How do other students tackle the tasks so easily whilst I’m here still figuring out how to start?” However, the more we align ourselves with such anxious thoughts, the more we convince ourselves that “I can’t do it”, and we unknowingly retreat to procrastination. Despite this, time mercilessly continues to move forward and October will eventually and inevitably arrive!
To overcome this negative mentality, therefore, we must reconstruct our perception about what VCE English is really about and what it entails. To most of us, English simply involves the repetitive 1000-word essay involving an introduction-body-conclusion, discussing the themes of a novel, play or film which appear not to have any relevance for our future. But believe me; English can be far more exciting!
Put simply, we must start thinking: collaboration, not competition. English is one of the more exciting subjects because it provides us with a platform on which we can debate and share ideas. It also grants us an opportunity to express, in our own style, the ideas we construct thus granting us freedom for creativity and a space where all ideas are worth sharing! Hence, rather than perceiving your peers as competitors, embrace them as your allies. They too are most likely undergoing the same doubts and stresses. Whilst being willing to share your opinions, make sure that you engage with students who enjoy debating and sharing theirs – VCE is not something that you can do on your own!
Considering this, there are a few things you must keep in mind when studying English. A blank piece of paper or a blank word document on your computer screen appears scary, especially if you are unsure of what to write about, let alone how to start an essay. The important thing that all students must remember, therefore, is to just put something down on paper first. It doesn’t matter how well you write or express yourself (at first). Remember: all ideas are worth sharing. If you are unsure of what to write, write exactly what you think! Prioritise your ideas over your writing style! Assessors care more about seeing a mind at work and do not reward superfluous writing. A talented writer is worse off if he or she does not discuss complex ideas!
Next, it is crucial that you don’t take subsequent criticism from teachers as a message that you can’t do it. Criticism is inevitable and it is a good thing. It means that your teacher really wants to help! Just remember that year 12 is not the end. It is often easy to think that once you finish school, your writing skill doesn’t improve. But this is incorrect. Even the best writers on this planet will always continue to strive to improve!
Essentially, it is important that you write often. The more you write the greater chance there is of improving. In light of this, your writing does not have to be focussed merely on what you study in English – spending time writing about anything you want in any style is a worthwhile mental exercise (it is the perfect substitute over jumping online on Facebook or YouTube when you feel like procrastinating)! Any concerns about writing within one hour should fade away naturally as you write more frequently – this is something you shouldn’t have to worry about.
Ultimately, English can be exciting when you are prepared to share your ideas and listen to the ideas of other students. See it not as a torturous race to scribble out three 1000-word essays in 3 hours, but more rather an opportunity to explore complex ideas that are challenging yet interesting at the same time. Just remember that ideas are the primary concern, and the final piece – the writing – is merely the polish. It is okay to inspire yourself too! Don’t get hung up on appearing modest. Everyone has a viewpoint and an opinion to share and the more you collaborate, the less you will be tricked into believing you can’t. Instead, you will be constantly reminded that you can.
Easily the most common question I get asked post-VCE-results has been: “How did you do it?”
For a lot of people, they think getting a 50 in English is just a distant dream for them, that they don’t have the skills or drive to achieve that elusive number.
I didn’t believe I was one of these students last year, and I can’t tell you how I did it. There are a huge number of variables involved in obtaining a 50, and many of them you can’t control. But I do know now that the work I did during last year gave me every chance of being one of those select students, and that I should’ve believed my work habits gave me every chance to achieve that dream number.
Keep in mind that I wasn’t getting full marks on my English SAC’s at any point last year, so don’t think that to get a 50 you need perfect marks consistently through the year. Perfect marks help obviously, but don’t be disheartened if you’ve just missed out. Those close-to-perfect scores are actually quite valuable, because they should make you feel confident that you have all the capability of writing a perfect essay on the end of year exam, while giving you the tidbit of feedback you need to fine-tune your writing.
If you’re in that top rung of students consistently getting perfect or near perfect scores on SAC’s, the most important thing you can do to keep achieving such high scores is to take on every piece of advice your teacher gives you. Most often when you’re at such a high level of writing, it’s advanced skills like the clarity in the way you communicate the ideas within a text, or zooming in on specific points of discussion or symbolism to add some zing to your essay. These skills come with practice – I would know. So be patient with English; it takes time to build up the technique and expertise required to cook up a perfect essay.
So for all the people wondering what they can do to crack that 50 study score – there is no such thing as a guaranteed 50, and most certainly no one way to “think” like a 50 student, but there are many things you can do during 3/4 English to give yourself the best shot at one.
Here’s what I did, and how it might help set you on the path to a 50.
I cannot emphasise enough how much writing and keeping well set-out notes helped keep me sane through the insanity of Year 12.
Right from the get go, make sure you have a system of note-taking that works for you. Whether it be writing them out in a notebook or keeping them in a document on your laptop, ensure that you write down every little helpful tidbit of information you might be told during class by a teacher, or even read on a website. This will ensure you don’t have that horrible feeling of regret when it comes to later down the track closer to the SAC (*can rhyme*) and are kicking yourself for not writing down that sentence about a character, or idea about a theme.
AND when I say “writing them out in a notebook or keeping them in a document on your laptop”, I don’t mean throwing everything in random nonsensical order on your page – separate your notes into headings. Keep your “characters” separate from your “themes”, so your ideas don’t get muddled up and you don’t confuse yourself into a state of breakdown two nights before the SAC when attempting to decode your notes.
Trust me, keeping solid notes is perhaps the most important self-care tip of Year 12. It may take some more time and effort, but you will be thanking yourself over and over when it comes to SAC and exam time.
If you had a dollar for every time a teacher had told you this you’d be able to pay your way to Schoolies, but they say it for a reason. And having been there and done that, I can validate that their hassling is completely reasonable.
Learning quotes sooner rather than later not only means you won’t be rushing to memorise them in the days before the SAC/exam, but it’ll help you get a grip on themes within, and the chronological order, of the text.
The most effective way I found to learn quotes is to split your total lot of quotes up into even groups. List your quotes in order from hardest (the ones that might be longer or have more complex language involved) to easiest to learn, then split them into small groups depending on how many weeks out you are from your SAC/exam - say you have 35 total, split them into groups of 7 to learn over, for example, 5 weeks.
Start with the hardest ones and focus on learning them throughout that first week. Then the following week, once you’ve memorized that first lot, add in the second hardest group and learn them while still going over the first group. Then the third week, add in the third group to learn while still going over the last two, and so on.
Using this method ensures you have 1. An even workload leading up to the SAC/exam and 2. More time to nail the quotes that are more difficult and will take longer to memorise.
Ask any student who slays at English and they’ll tell you that they have planned topics until they never want to see another essay plan again. Planning topics is the best way to work out your strengths and your weaknesses in regards to the themes involved in your text. You can nail a plan for a topic you know you can smash, and sit down and really think about solid paragraph ideas and examples for a topic that would normally make you want to run out of the room crying if you got it in the SAC/exam. This way you’re literally planning for the worst case scenario and making sure that if you do get a topic you don’t love, you’ve still got a solid plan you can use for it. If you plan for all the topics you don’t want to get in an essay, you won’t have to worry about that “OMG I don’t know how to write an essay on this” panic setting in – who cares if you can’t think of ideas on the spot, you already have a killer plan you prepared earlier, you clever cookie.
Let’s just clarify what planning means though. Simply writing down three or four 5-word ideas for paragraphs is not going to be much help to you during the actual assessment. Writing full, articulate topic sentences and putting down examples of quotes and/or events you’ll use to support your arguments, INCLUDING how they explain your point, is what you’ll find helpful when you’re looking over them in the days before/the day of.
You might be thinking “I’ve been learning quotes for 5 weeks now, she’ll be right – I’ll take this week off just to focus on planning”.
No, my friend, that is not what you should be thinking. No matter how much you might hate learning quotes, you’ll never forgive yourself when you’re sitting in the assessment and have forgotten how the quotes you’re looking to use are worded, or when they’re said, or even who said them, because you haven’t been over them the last few days.
Don’t back off revising quotes in the last week. Quotes are what make your whole essay, and the more and better you can embed in your essay, the higher your mark is likely to be. You don’t want to do yourself dirty by switching your focus to planning and completely neglecting quotes – think about how easy it is to forget things once you’re sitting at a desk with nerves running through you on SAC/exam day. It ain’t going to end well if you ignore your quotes in that last week.
Regardless if you’re a visual learner or not, I’ve found mind maps are a really smart, time savvy way to organise your notes and knowledge. You might think it’s a waste of time, but in the course of making them you’re forced to consolidate your notes into the smallest but most informative piece of information you can, you’re writing it down, and you’re literally connecting your ideas together. It’s a perfect recipe to help make sense of your text.
Mind maps also come in really handy for exam time, as you can stick them up on whatever surface of your choosing to have them to look at and help you revise. Not only that, but on SAC day when you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by rereading all your notes and bombarding your brain, mind maps are a great way to revise and remind yourself of the connecting ideas within your text.
Don’t get caught up in all the “I don’t know any quotes” and “I don’t know how to write an essay” stress that other students pass around in those hours before the SAC and exam. These are the people you don’t want to touch with a 50-foot pole. It’s so easy for you to forget about all the hard work, planning, quote learning and essay writing you’ve done in the last few weeks when you’re surrounded by the stress from other people who are way underprepared.
If you’re going to write a flowing, connected, non-clunky essay, you need to think in a flowing, connected, non-clunky way. Keep your thoughts clean – instead of looking at your topic and thinking something along the lines of “Oh ok this isn’t what I expected have I done a practice essay on this topic no ok omg so what paragraphs am I meant to write how am I meant to plan this” and on and on, take a breath and steady yourself. Take another look at the topic and break it down: pick out the focus words, being those that relate to the theme the topic focuses on or characters it concerns, and pull your paragraph ideas from those focus words. When you’re writing your paragraphs, you want to keep your thoughts structured. Focus on your wording, write each sentence at a time and try not to rush ahead, and make sure at the end of each sentence you think about what purpose you want the next one to serve. Is it a segway into your next example? Is it explaining your example and connecting it back to your overall theme? This thought pattern is really key to ensuring you write a coherent and eloquent essay.
This is really where that 50-student mindset comes in – remind yourself about how hard you’ve worked, and how ready you are for this assessment. Chances are you’re going in more prepared than about 90% of the other students in your cohort. Stay calm, because you don’t need to stress. Nerves are ok though – it means you care! Just make sure you take a minute to breathe before you start and clear your head so you can go straight into planning mode once that clock starts.
If there’s anything that’s a clear indication that you’re thinking like a 50 student, it’s working smarter, not harder – changing the way you approach writing and preparation to incorporate the most effective methods for you and make the most of the time you have is a surefire way to set yourself up for the best chance at a 50.
Best of luck.
Reading your VCE books during your summer holidays might sound a little mundane, especially when you can spend that time with family and friends, but it will be one of the best things you would’ve done for yourself in preparation for your VCE year. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. The difference with these holidays compared with others is that you have an incredibly important year of schooling lurking around the corner – one that is stressful for most, if not all students. So, for your own benefit, you should definitely take advantage of this break! Having read your books once before you start the school year gives you a major advantage over students who haven’t. Let’s look at some reasons why:
1. Preparing your mindset.
Once you have read your books, you will have a good idea of what you’re heading into during the school year. When the teacher begins to teach the text in class, you will be clear on the ideas discussed, in comparison to other students who will still be reading their texts. You’ll be able to easily build connections between class discussions and the book, whereas other students will definitely struggle. Often, they will miss a vital piece of information brought up in class simply because they didn’t realise how significant that idea is to a section in the book or even the book as a whole!
2. Exposure to all the possibilities.
Even though you might not start studying a text until mid-way through the year or even in Term 4, having read the books gives you a head start on absorbing all the information around you. Throughout the year, you may come across something that catches your eye on the internet (whether it be from a news source or online blog) that you see has ideas which relate to one of the texts you will be studying in the near future. The best thing is that you’ll be able to bookmark it for a later date to revisit! For example, if one of your texts is Brooklyn, a novel about an Irish woman’s immigration to America, if you come across stories about immigration, or references to Irish versus American culture, then this would be ideal for you to save for later!
3. Lighten the workload in VCE.
You’ve already done half the work if you read your novels in the holidays. Many teachers and VCE examiners recommend at least reading your texts twice before your exam (read more about this here). This is because the first read is often to grasp ideas and get an overall understanding of the text. The second reading is for analysis, exploring in detail particular ideas, quotes and others. Since VCE is a heavy-workload year, it would definitely be a smart move if you lifted some of that weight during your holidays. Many people think it will be fine to leave the reading task to the last minute – right before they start studying the text in class, but knowing VCE, SACs and assignments will be thrown your way, meaning that you’ll have less time than you had intended to read. So the earlier you get started, the better!
The summer break is definitely a time when you can relax and just enjoy life. It all comes down to simple time-management. Instead of just lazing at the beach, why not spend a little bit of that time also reading a couple of chapters? Or, you could plan to read about 20 minutes a day, at a time that’s most convenient for you! There’s no reason why you can’t read your books and have fun during your holidays. So just open your books and give them a read!
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