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Can you believe that the eagerly awaited July holidays are finally here? It’s a bit scary to think that this marks the half-way point until end of year exams. We all know that the VCE year travels on too quickly, leaving us feeling that there is always too little time, and too much to do! As time ticks away and end-of-year exams draw closer, it is important to make efficient use out of your mid-year holidays. Listed below are 5 ideas that you might like to take onboard:
Take a break! It’s pretty clear that during holidays you’re supposed to be on a holiday. However, with ongoing VCE stresses, you might feel inclined to continue studying throughout your 2 or 3 week mid-year break. It’s a great idea to keep up your studies, just make sure that you do give yourself a chance to rest and recover, or you may risk getting ‘burnt-out’. Try to catch up with friends, have a good night out or whatever activity that will give you a few good hours of relaxation and fun!
Revise. While it’s important to have a break, these few weeks can be vital for your studies. Rather than putting everything aside until the end of the year, it is a good opportunity for you to revise your previous unit work. During this time, you should focus any weak areas and aim to strengthen them. By adopting this method, you have a greater chance of making major improvements compared to smaller improvements when revising the areas you are already skilled in.
Study ahead. Familiarising yourself with the topics coming up can give you an advantage over other students who see topics for the first time in-semester. If the topics are based on work you’ve done previously in year 11 or even the first half of year 12, it may be useful for you to review that work so that you are prepared for the coming unit.
Look into university preferences. The July / August period is a busy time to think about your future. University preferences are due, and many of you will be participating in the Undergraduate Medicine and Health Sciences Admission Test (UMAT). Since the next couple of months will be hectic, you don’t want to rush any decisions regarding career, course, and university. If you get serious these holidays and do some research into what path you’d like to take in the future, it will be less stressful for you when you start school again. If you're unsure about your university preferences, watch my tips in the video below!
Prepare for English. If you haven’t read or watched your texts for the next unit, this is the time to do so. It’s always best to read just for reading sake the first time round, and at a pace that you’re happy with. This gives you the chance to soak up some knowledge on characters, plots and themes so that when your teacher begins discussions in class, you’ll already have a head start.
Depending on how you like to study, your approach to these holidays may be different to others. However, the take home message is to ensure you have a well-deserved break while still maintaining a healthy level of study. These few weeks can really make a difference in your VCE studies, so do what you think will help you improve the most. That’s all today, enjoy your holidays!
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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.
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 :)
So…you’ve just begun the school year and you’re feeling pretty excited about English. You’re determined to put aside all distractions this year and to only focus on studying, studying and studying. But…the minute you sit down at your desk, you find that your mind goes completely blank and that you are left only with one dreadful question: What now?
If this sounds all too familiar to you, you are definitely not alone. English can often make you feel like you don’t even know where to start. So, here is a quick guide that can help you to plan out your year, to break free from procrastination and to find some sparks of motivation when you feel like there is simply no road ahead.
Step 1: Read Your Text!
This may seem like the most obvious step, but it can make all the difference when done thoughtfully and thoroughly. One thing that VCAA English examiners always look for when reading text responses is in-depthknowledge and understanding of the text, and the best way to develop and gain this knowledge is to read, read, and read again! Try to treat your text like a blank map, full of unexplored territories and winding roads that are there for you to uncover each time you read the text.
When you read your text for the first time, look out for the major roads and landmarks; the setting and premise, the plot, the characters, the broad ideas, the authorial voice and style etc. Once you’ve gotten a good grasp of the major elements of your text, read it again, and focus on adding more detail to your map; fleshing out characters, understanding their motives, understanding the author’s purpose, and underlining key quotations and particular passages that encompass a broader idea. If you’re a forgetful person like me, you might find it helpful to note down some key observations as you go and to create a summary you can always refer back to throughout the year.
Step 2: Read Around Your Text
While reading and rereading your text will definitely help you to know your text in and out, in order to fully tick the box of knowledge and understanding, it is also important to read around the text; to understand the context of when and why the text was written, for whom it was written, and the impact the text has had on both its original audience and its audience today. Especially for texts that are rooted in history, like The Women of TroyorRear Window, understanding context and background information is essential in understanding the text itself. After all, Rear Window just wouldn’t be Rear Window if it weren’t for the McCarthyistic attitudes that were so prevalent at the time, and The Women of Troy would have been a far more different play had it not been written during wartime. Each text is a product of both its creator and its time, so make the effort to research the writer, playwright or filmmaker, and the historical, cultural, social and political context of your text.
When doing your research, it can be helpful to use a set of questions like the one below as a guideline, to ensure that the information you’re finding is always relevant.
Who is the writer/playwright/filmmaker?
Who is the audience?
When/where was your text written?
When/where is your text set?
Why was your text written?
What is the style/genre of your text?
Step 3: Study Your Text
Here’s where it gets a bit more difficult. Now that you’ve drawn out your map, and dotted it with various landmarks, rivers and roads, it is time to actually use your map to go somewhere; to make use of all the knowledge and background information you have gathered so that you can begin to analyse and dissect your text in greater detail. Studying a subject with as large of a cohort as VCE English can oftentimes mean that ideas are recycled and exams are repetitive, so in order to distinguish yourself from the pack, try to look for ways to craft your own original path; a view of the text that is distinctly your own, instead of following others. The best way to do this is to do a bit of thinking at home; to create your own original set of notes and observations and to spend time analysing each section of your text in greater detail than you may have done in class.
Constructing a notes table like the one below can help you greatly in sorting and fleshing out your ideas, and, when done consistently throughout the year, can save a lot of time and effort when it comes to studying for the exam!
The Women of Troy Notes Table:
Step 4: Target Your Study to Your SAC
So...you’ve made it all the way to your SAC. You may be feeling nervous at this point, even a little burnt out, but there is no need to worry. Studying for your SAC simply requires a bit of adjusting to your normal studying routine; changing it up so that instead of simply brainstorming ideas, you’re actually using these ideas in topic sentences, and instead of collating a list of quotes, you’re embedding these quotes into a practice paragraph. These are all examples of targeted study: taking all the information you’ve gathered on your text, all the notes you’ve made, and all the work you’ve done in class, and putting it into practice.
Targeted study could be done in the form of an essay plan, or unpacking an essay question
Bold keywords from the prompt: ‘I ask you not to hate me. With the greatest reluctance / I must tell you the news…’ Euripides softens the brutality of the Greeks’ behaviour through his characterisation of Talthybius.
To what extent do you agree? This part is asking me to adopt a specific viewpoint, whether you agree, disagree or are somewhere in between.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Unpack the keywords in the topic:
'not to hate me', 'greatest reluctance'– Talthybius’ desire to be liked, his understanding of the actions of Greeks
Softens the brutality– Talthybius serves as the opposing force to the Greeks’ brutal behaviour, makes the Greeks more sympathetic
Characterisation– Talthybius’ personality, behaviour, actions, language
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention:While Talthybius is used by Euripides to evoke some sympathy for the Greeks, ultimately, he serves to exacerbate the cruelty of the Greeks’ actions and the devastating consequences of their fall from a civilised, sacred people to a bestial, impulse-driven group of men.
Paragraph 1: Certainly, amongst his peers which are excoriated by Euripides for their cruel, unfeeling behaviour, Talthybius is depicted to be the most humane of the Greeks due to his conflicted nature, evoking sympathy amongst the audience, and reinstating some humanity to the Greeks’ otherwise sullied reputation.
Targeted study could also be done in the form of unpacking quotes, and analysing their significance
We can also use the ABC steps here. For example:
'Like the mother bird to her plundered nest, my song has become a scream'
Step 1: Analyse
Demonstrates the dehumanisation of the Trojan women, and the heinous, beastly actions of the Greek men, who, like their 'war machine' description, have subverted all that is natural to become violent, and all that is beautiful to become grotesque
Step 2: Brainstorm
'Mother bird' - animal imagery, maternalistic
'My song has become a scream' - demonstrates devastation, contrast between melody to dissonance
Step 3: Create a Plan
Embed the quote into a sentence, e.g.:
Euripides’ description of Hecuba as a 'mother bird' at her 'plundered nest' demonstrates the innately maternal nature of her character through animal imagery, while also emphasising the vulnerability of the Trojan women, who have been reduced to defenceless prey as a result of the Greeks’ predatory and beastly behaviour.
Planning essays and breaking down prompts/quotes are extremely time-efficient ways to approach your texts and SACs. Rather than slaving away for hours and hours writing full essays, these simpler forms of targeted study can and will save you the burnout and will get you feeling confident faster.
Only move on to writing a full practice essay or some practice paragraphs once you feel you have a good in-depth understanding of how to plan an essay and once you have already naturally memorised some important quotes that you can use in your essay (learn how to embed your quotes like a boss here). Remember, quality over quantity, so spend your time before your SAC revising thoughtfully and carefully, targeting your revision, and taking things slowly, rather than robotically churning out essay after essay.
Step 5: Embrace the Exam!
The end of every VCE English journey is the highly anticipated, dreaded and feared English exam. Now, while you may be reading those words with a horror movie soundtrack playing in your mind, the English exam, despite being a gruelling 3 hours of essay-writing, really isn’t as horrific as it sounds. Preparing for it is also much less intense than you might think it to be, because essentially, from the very first time you read your text, you will have already begun preparing for the exam. All that is left to do before the English exam is to polish up on some of your weaknesses identified in your SACs, to look over all the notes and information you have gathered throughout the year, to freshen up on essay writing and essay planning, and to do a couple of practices, so that you can feel as ready as you can for the real thing.
In particular, I found that in the leadup to my English exam, studying with my friends and peers was not only a welcome stress reliever, but a really good way to expand my own knowledge by helping others and being helped myself. Having your peers review your essays and helping to give feedback on theirs is always an excellent way to improve your own essay-writing skills, and, a great way to provide good constructive criticism is to follow the GIQ rule (I’m not sure if this is a real rule…but it works!)
What was GOOD about the piece? e.g. Your sentences flow really well, and you embed quotes into sentences phenomenally!
What could be IMPROVED? e.g. Perhaps adding a couple of sentences elaborating on this idea could make your essay even better!
What QUESTIONS do you have about the piece? e.g. I don’t really understand this sentence, what were you trying to say here?
Hopefully, these tips will be able to help you out throughout the year in staying motivated and feeling okayabout English! Remember, this is just here as a guide to help you, and not a strict regimen to follow, because everyone studies differently, and has different goals in English.
However, now that you have a clearer pathway and plan for learning your texts in-depth, what’s next? Well, it’s pretty important that you learn about the different areas of study so that you understand how you’ll actually apply all of your new-found text knowledge to each of your SACs and the exam. Our Ultimate Guide to Text Response and Ultimate Guide to Comparative give you a full rundown of what is required in these two areas of study (where you will have to learn specific texts) so I would highly recommend having a read!
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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