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English & EAL
October 11, 2018
Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps.
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As the VCE English exam creeps up on us, many of you will be testing your writing skills under timed conditions (if not, then you better!!!). But, have you sat down under timed conditions for 15 minutes of Reading Time? Have you thought about how to maximise reading time? Many of you may have already figured out how you will approach Reading Time in your exam. Some of you will have a rough idea, while some will pay attention to detail – knowing how to spend each and every minute in that 15 minutes of silence. During Year 12, I was somewhere in between. I knew I didn’t want to waste precious time like others – those who would simply open the exam booklet, check out the three sections, then sit there staring blankly at the clock to tick over to 9:15am (you will definitely see some classmates doing this :’)) Below is a 5x5x5 guideline which, in my opinion, is the most strategic way to maximise every single minute in Reading and Writing Time. Keep reading afterwards for more details!
The best tip I’ve received from a VCAA examiner is: ‘Don’t automatically select the prompt that looks easiest.’
Why? While a prompt may look ‘easier’, it may not necessarily enable you to delve into the text to the best of your ability. It is worth spending a few extra seconds contemplating how you would break down your other available prompts. This is worth doing because sometimes, you actually realise that the prompt which looked ‘harder’ to deal with initially (probably because of some scary-looking keywords), is more suited to you and your ability to respond.
In case you’re wondering, a ‘mental plan’ is my way of saying ‘do a plan in your head’. You should always plan (don’t even get me started if you don’t!). You will most definitely reassure yourself and calm your nerves once you’ve organised your contention(s) in your mind and the examples you want to use. Don’t wait until Writing Time to do this, because you can knuckle out hurdles straight away (especially if it takes you time to come up with ideas and evidence!).
Don’t jump straight into analysing techniques straight away. Reason: This may obscure your interpretation of the contention. The contention is the first thing you need to get right. So sit back, read the article for what it is, and absorb as much of the argument presented to you.
Your second reading should firstly, reinforce your interpretation of the author’s contention, and secondly, involve you identifying language techniques! This should take you right up to the end of Reading Time but even if you still have spare time left, it doesn’t hurt to read the article(s) a third time! The more times you read something, the better your mind will consolidate the cold material in front of you!
Feel free to take on board this guideline or to create your own – at the end of the day, if you have a plan for Reading Time, you’re set!
You've done all that hard work thinking up 'mental plans' during Reading Time, let's put them to paper. Don't skip this step, because you would otherwise have wasted your precious 15 minutes getting ahead. Moreover, it's highly likely you'll forget the points you want to write about if you just store it in your brain. Remember that you are in an adrenaline-driven situation, where nerves can get the better of you. Avoid any mind blanks by guaranteeing yourself success and write the damn plan down!
55 minutes is a good goal because it forces you to get your act together. Aiming for an essay in 60 minutes can often turn into 65 minutes, or even longer. At the very least if you do go over time with a '55 minute per essay' rule, you will put yourself in a position where you can afford to go slightly overtime, and yet still have enough time for other essays.
This is a step that many people skip, but if you're reading this blog - you won't be joining them. A quick review of your work can help you edit errors you didn't notice while writing. As you practise in the lead up to exams, take note of what errors you tend to make when writing. Is it expression, punctuation, or spelling errors? Keep an eye on your most common mistakes when proof-reading to be more a more effective editor. It is these small incremental changes you can make in your essays which add up to make a powerful impact on the final product.
Share this post with your friends and best of luck for your VCE English exam!
Once you have finished all your Literature SACs for the year, all that is left is a 2 hour and 15 minute exam that will play a major part in determining your end of year study score. It seems extremely daunting, and because many of the SACs differ from the exam task, you may be feeling a bit nervous or confused about what exactly the exam entails.
In describing the task, the exam paper states:
For each of your selected texts, you must use one or more of the passages as the basis for a discussion of that text.
In your pieces of writing, refer in detail to the passage or passages and the texts. You may include minor references to other texts.
Therefore, you must write two close analysis pieces on the exam, one on each of your chosen texts. You must use the three passages included on the exam to explore and analyse the text as a whole. Most of your piece should be analysis of what is in front of you in the exam, but you must also use evidence from outside the passages, to demonstrate your knowledge and connection with the text.
The exam will be marked against a criterion that differs from any of your SACs (although it is quite similar to your close analysis SAC). Therefore it is imperative to understand the criteria you will be marked on before beginning to study for the Literature exam, and especially before you try some practice exams. They are as follows, and can be found on the VCAA Literature exam page.
Understanding of the text demonstrated in a relevant and plausible interpretation
This criteria relates to your ability to show your comprehension of the text. The examiner will be noting whether the concepts, ideas and themes in the text are understood. They will assess your interpretation of the text, and whether it is relevant and fair in relation to the meaning in the text
Ability to write expressively and coherently to present an interpretation
Literature is a writing subject, therefore this criteria asks that you write with fluency, an expressive vocabulary and clarity. Your piece must also be a coherent, unified work that clearly articulates your discussion and interpretation of the passages and text as a whole. This criteria can also relate to your use of grammar, punctuation and spelling as the clarity of your piece can be threatened if these are not used correctly.
Understanding of how views and values may be suggested in the text
You must demonstrate an ability to identify, discuss and analyze the views and values within the text. You must be able to support your discussion with evidence from the text
Analysis of how key passages and/or moments in the text contribute to an interpretation
Your ability to analyse the three passages, as well as the text as a whole, and draw an interpretation from them. Examiners will be looking to see that you can use set material and the whole text as a basis for discussion.
Analysis of the features of a text and how they contribute to an interpretation
This criteria determines that you must identify factors including metalanguage, specific language and authorial techniques, and discuss how they create meaning. Remember that this is literature, so discussing the different elements used to construct a text (character, plot, setting, motifs, symbols” is imperative.
Analysis and close reading of textual details to support a coherent and detailed interpretation of the text
This criteria determines that you need to use evidence from the text (including quotes) in order to aid a logical and comprehensive interpretation of the text. Examiners will be looking at your ability to look deeply into smaller authorial choices, and how they create meaning.
Best of luck!
Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.
For advice on how you can apply the VCE EAL Examination Reports to strengthen your skills in the listening section, see Tips on EAL Listening.
Let’s take the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report as an example:
‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured.’
So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’?
To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way. You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.
(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.
The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:
For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:
When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:
John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and then supplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.
Head to Introductions for EAL Language Analysis for more templates and guidance on how to nail your Language Analysis Introduction.
The 2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information.’
Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response.
The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’.
The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well.
‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’ (2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc.
Take a look at our EAL Listening Practice and Resources for a comprehensive list of external resources for practicing listening and a step-by-step guide on how to use them!
VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information.
‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information. Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately.’ (2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.
VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘analysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards
Below is a list of commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
The following is an excerpt from our study guide, I am Malala and Pride, available for purchase here.
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai is a memoir of the eponymous Pakistani schoolgirl and activist. Yousafzai grows up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley with parents who were unconditionally supportive of her education. However, Pakistan is strongly under the control of the Taliban, an extremist group who opposes education for girls. On the other hand, Yousafzai’s family practice Islam in a peaceful and egalitarian manner.
Tracing how decades of global, geopolitical movements have produced these conditions, Yousafzai recounts the rise of the Taliban and her increasingly dangerous journey to school each day. The geopolitical histories trace back decades to the military rule of General Zia in the 1980s. Since then, turbulent domestic politics combined with a volatile, ever-evolving relationship with America (which, importantly, is partly America’s fault) has allowed the Taliban to rise to power. The post-9/11 period and the ‘War on Terror’ are important milestones here, since these are the years in which Yousafzai grows up.
As the Taliban continue to deny women and girls their freedoms, Yousafzai becomes an outspoken activist, made all the more prominent by the BBC and the New York Times. Because of her fame, nationally and internationally, she becomes a target and is shot in the head by Taliban gunmen when she is just 15. The memoir starts here in its prologue, before going back in time to catch us up. Indeed, Yousafzai is now well-known everywhere for this incident.
The remainder of the book traces her recovery, and reaffirms her commitment to fighting for girls’ education. Even though she now lives in Birmingham, England, she has persevered through many setbacks to keep up the good fight - now on a uniquely far-reaching international platform.
Pride, directed by Matthew Warchus, is a film exploring the 1984-85 miners’ strike in Britain. In particular, it explored how an unlikely ally, the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) organisation, was able to provide solidarity and support despite their differences.
At the time, many members of London’s LGBT community had difficult coming out experiences, made all the more difficult by stigma and dominating views of masculinity - they perceived miners in their hometowns as part of that problem. However, activist Mark Ashton saw an opportunity to help a group in need, and a group that was experiencing similar political pressures as themselves, particularly at the hands of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
While the National Union of Mineworkers is initially reluctant to take LGSM’s money, Mark is able to connect directly with Dai Donovan, who represents miners from the Welsh village Onllwyn. Over time, LSGM is able to build relationships with locals, who gradually warm to their presence as well. Solidarity - the idea that anybody’s fight against injustice is everybody’s fight against injustice - is an important part of what makes this partnership tick. Their campaign culminates in the Pits and Perverts concert, which raises thousands of pounds.
The ending is a bittersweet one though - the mineworkers’ union finds this too controversial, rejects further support and ultimately loses the strike, while the queer activists return to their own struggles with identity and belonging. However, the campaign forged lasting bonds between these activists and miners, who show up in their own display of solidarity at the next year’s Pride March.
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENT and DIVERGENT strategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out my How To Write A Killer Comparative. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes above and in the next section, Essay Topic Breakdown.
Identity and Perspective: Before even considering the activism that is featured in each text, it’s worth unpacking the individual identities of the main characters, and the complexities that come with them. Both texts see characters juggle and negotiate tensions within their identity - in particular, other people who share the identity don’t always see eye to eye with them. In I Am Malala, Yousafzai often finds herself at odds with other practitioners of Islam, especially the more extreme Taliban who would oppose her belief in girls’ education. Likewise, queer activists in Pride’s LGSM draw incredulity from their peers, who bristle at the idea of supporting the mineworkers. However, not only are these characters able to overcome these tensions, but their personal identities give them a perspective that feeds back into their activism - they actually draw on their identity in their fight for justice. Yousafzai acknowledges that Muslims “don’t [all] agree” (Chapter 7), but she firmly believes that “education for females not just males is one of our Islamic rights” (Chapter 23). Her fight is informed by, rather than separate from, her faith. In the film, personal identity also acts as a springboard for activism. For example, the collaborative and highly successful Pits and Perverts fundraiser came about as a result of the “long and honourable tradition in the gay community [of] when somebody calls you a name…you take it and you own it”. Queerness is mobilised to fundraise for the miners, rather than silenced or excluded as others might have it.
Injustice and Activism: As we explored in the context sections (and as we’ve been exploring throughout), a fight for justice is fundamentally at the heart of both texts. In the film and the memoir alike, we see conservative agendas disempowering certain groups. Yousafzai recounts how pre-existing sexism in Pakistan, where girls found “no point in going to school just to end up cooking, cleaning and bringing up children” (Chapter 3), was exacerbated by the Taliban who closed schools altogether. They would even vandalise and destroy schools - “by the end of 2008, around 400 schools had been destroyed” (Chapter 11). Yousafzai’s fight is really about equality and human rights. The miners and LGSM are fighting their own injustices and inequalities in the film - Prime Minister Thatcher had been closing down mines and stripping miners of their livelihoods. Not only that, but she’d used pretty brutal tactics, calling in the police and withholding income support for newly-unemployed miners who struggled to feed their families through the winter.
Women’s Education: This isn't the principal fight in Pride, but there are moments where it definitely shines through. In particular, we first meet Sian as a young housewife, but by the end of the film Jonathan had encouraged her to return to school, and we know that she goes onto become the first female MP of her district. Through the strike, she discovered her own passion for trade unionism, and education hugely empowered her to take that passion further. This is particularly important given how much the strike affects men and women alike - consider the significance of ‘Bread and Roses’. In the memoir, the importance of women’s education is a much more central element. As Yousafzai points out, “going to school wasn’t just a way of passing time, it was our future” (Chapter 11). In both texts, education helps people (and women in particular) forge relationships and futures for themselves, and for one another.
Now it's your turn! Here are some questions to get you thinking about the differences between the two texts:
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy, a technique to help you write better VCE essays. This essay topic breakdown will focus on the THINK part of the strategy. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response.
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
This is a theme-based prompt. Both texts have a pretty clear focus on this idea of ‘injustice’, so it’s an important theme to have thought about beforehand. This prompt is quite broad, so you could potentially include a wide range of thoughts and opinions about injustice—you might want to consider angles like who is affected, what its impacts are and what actions can reasonably be taken against it. Also because of how broad this prompt is, try to find answers to these questions from within the texts, but phrase them in a way that doesn’t necessarily refer to a text. This will help you keep your ideas flexible for both texts when the time comes to write.
I think those angles are a reasonable starting point for brainstorming. In the memoir, Yousafzai and her peers—Pakistani schoolgirls—are the most affected, while the injustices portrayed in the film affect coal miners and the LGBTQ+ community. All of these groups are disempowered and disenfranchised by injustice, and this is an important impact. Note that this is something you can say about both texts, which is exactly how we were trying to phrase our answers.
In terms of taking action against injustice, there’s a wide range of measures across the texts—speaking out, writing for news outlets, organising large-scale fundraisers etc.—and the key takeaway from that might be how diverse these measures are, the different outcomes they generate and whether or not they’re effective.
Because this theme has a lot of rich overlaps between texts, it’s best to integrate discussion of both texts into every paragraph. When we do this for a theme-based prompt, especially a prompt with just one theme, that means every paragraph uncovers a new angle or dimension from both texts about the theme. Learn more about Integrated Text Discussion in How To Write A Killer Comparative.
P1: Injustice is framed as limiting people’s power—we can look at marginalised groups in both texts, from the schoolgirls of Yousafzai’s Pakistan, or the miners and the queer folk from the film.
P2: It’s also something that must be fought. Because it has such a detrimental impact, there is a need for those groups to stand up for themselves and for each other.
P3: In so doing, injustice may take time to overcome, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it. Not all activism can be instantly, wildly successful—partial successes along the way are usually more frequent.
Our contention will try to string those three ideas together: injustice in any society involves some experiencing marginalisation and powerlessness that others do not experience (P1), and it is something that must be fought (P2), even if this is a time-consuming process (P3). Have a go at writing your own essay now if you’d like, or read a free preview of our I am Malala and Pride study guide below!
Like a House on Fire is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Kennedy’s anthology of fifteen short stories, Like a House on Fire, explores the impacts of familial and social issues on an individual’s sense of identity and humanity, illustrating the vast spectrum of human condition. Having lived a majority of her life in Victoria, Australia, Kennedy’s collection follows the stories of various protagonists whose voices are characteristic of Australian culture and society. As the text is set in the backdrop of rapid Australian modernisation, the novel also depicts the paradoxical nature of technology, as various characters are depicted to be torn between confronting or embracing this fundamental change. Despite approaching the stories of characters conflicted by modern and social challenges with both humour and cynicism, Kennedy’s lack of judgement is notable; it is with this empathetic stance that she is able to the universal nature of human emotions to her readership.
Kennedy explores the theme of identity mainly through physical injury, as various characters with physical trauma find themselves to be agonisingly limited within the confines of their condition. In Like a House on Fire, the narrator’s sense of identity becomes intertwined with his subsequently decreased masculinity, as his back injury leaves him unable to physically take care of his family, and his wife begins to undertake stereotypically masculine roles within the household. In tandem with this, Roley’s wife in Little Plastic Shipwreck is rendered humourless and witless due to her brain injury, distorting her once enthusiastic self into one shadowed by her illness; further emphasising the link between physical and mental identity.
The inherent tension between order and chaos is continually examined throughout the anthology, particularly in Like a House on Fire, in which perfectionistic order and scatter minded disorder are embodied in the unnamed narrator and his wife respectively. As the two individuals are unable to establish a compromise between their contrasting personalities, Kennedy suggests that this lack of cooperation is the core reason for the deterioration of their marriage, and their subsequent misery. The notion of disorder is also symbolised by the domestic setting itself, as Kennedy depicts various characters who feel pervasive ennui and dissatisfaction within the ‘chaotic mess’ of their household environments.
Each protagonist in the collection is portrayed as possessing some object of longing, whether it be material or emotional. Kennedy utilises scattered verses of prose within her writing to communicate these human desires, building upon their significance poetically. In Static, Anthony attempts to negotiate his own wishes with those of his wife and family, leading him to wonder whether anything present in his life has been created by his own will or merely his eagerness to please others. His desire for various types of happiness, embodied in material concepts such as money or children, suggest that the human condition is built upon the foundation of dissatisfaction; that innate longing is what ultimately defines us as human.
The theme of love is present in each story of the collection, often used as an instrument through which the characters can heal and grow from their physical or spiritual pain. While suggesting that true love endures all hardship in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy also illustrates the various sacrifices one must make in order to protect the ones you love. Such is depicted in Five-Dollar Family, as a new mother makes the difficult decision of leaving her ‘loser’ boyfriend to give her child a chance at the best life possible, despite the unfortunate situation he has been born into.
The vital importance of communication within families is emphasised in the anthology, as the lack of effective communication perceivably exacerbates dysfunctional relationships. The crushing regret of a son is explored in Ashes, as he laments his lack of communication with his father who he can no longer speak to. However, Kennedy empathetically depicts the difficulty of communicating potentially painful messages to loved ones in Waiting, as the protagonist anxiously agonises over the prospect of telling her husband that she may have another miscarriage following an excruciating string of lost children.
In tandem with longing, Kennedy asserts that empathy is vital to the survival and happiness of a human being. This notion is aptly depicted in Little Plastic Shipwreck, in which the death of Samson the popular show dolphin results in Roley’s revelation of his manager’s complete lack of empathy, and subsequently the abundance of his own. Similarly, the salient importance of empathy is emphasised in Flexion, as the cold-heated and harsh victim of a brutal tractor incident repairs his marriage by allowing himself to feel more empathy for those who have supported his recovery and been understanding of his bitterness.
The anthology centres around the concept of family, as both dramatic events unfold directly due to altercations and misunderstanding within the household. By depicting both the dramatic and mundane events that contribute to creating dysfunctional families, Kennedy asserts that kindness and understanding is vital to the maintenance of a healthy and loving family. The power of family is also depicted in Like a House on Fire, as the protagonist’s dissatisfaction with life is instantly washed away by the actions of his children, who remind him that despite his life-threatening injury, his family is his constant source of love and support.
If you'd like to see how themes like these can be identified and analysed in one of Kennedy's short stories, you might like to check out our Close Analysis Of 'Cake' From Like A House On Fire blog post!
By the way, to download a PDF version of this blog for printing or offline use, click here!
Whenever you get a new essay topic, you can use LSG’s THINK and EXECUTE strategy, a technique to help you write better VCE essays. If you’re unfamiliar with this strategy, then check it out in How To Write A Killer Text Response.
How does Kennedy’s short story format add to the reader’s understanding of the themes uncovered in the novel?
If you'd like to see another essay topic breakdown, you might like to check out our Like a House on Fire Essay Topic Breakdown blog post!
The following essay topics are extracted from our Like a House on Fire Study Guide:
If you'd like to see A+ essays on these essay topics, complete with annotations on HOW and WHY the essays achieved A+ so you can emulate this same success, then you'll definitely want to check out our Like a House on Fire Study Guide! In it, we also cover advanced discussions on topics like authorial views and values, symbols and motifs and context completely broken down into easy-to-understand concepts so you can smash your next SAC or exam! Check it out here.
Most people only think about EXECUTING their essay - the writing. Whether that be essay structure, memorising quotes or how to avoid repeating yourself in the dreaded conclusion. However, my strategy places emphasis on the THINK.
THINK is the brainstorm, exploration, and development of ideas. Get this right, and you'll come up with ideas and a response that pushes you ahead of your peers. The EXECUTION comes next, only strengthening your lead to the finish line.
So what does THINK actually involve? 🤔
You need to consider aspects of an essay topic that most students gloss over, including:
Knowing the essay topic type will change your essay structure. While you might wish for a one-size-fits-all essay structure, this is a limited viewpoint that stops you from reaching your potential. Different essay types include:
By understand what's required in each one of these essay topic types, you'll have a template you can follow to ensure that you answer the prompt (no more complaints from your teacher complaining that you're going off topic!).
Never heard of this term previously? That's because majority of teachers don't teach you to change your Text Response according to the question tag. A 'do you agree?' essay topic expects a different response from a 'discuss' essay topic.
This is important so you don't go off topic (we've all at least experienced this once in our high school writing careers 😥). Sometimes, one missed keyword is all it takes to derail your entire essay. No matter how well you've written your essay, an essay that doesn't answer the prompt won't fare well.
For example, have a think about which keywords can be found in this essay topic "Jeff's attempt to pursue justice are entirely without honour. To what extent is this true?".
For me, the keywords include:
- 'Pursue justice'
- 'To what extent is this true?'
Even though I've labelled almost every word in the essay topic, individually, each of these keywords will shape my response. Majority of students will pick up the necessity to discuss the keyword 'entirely' in their essays. They will potentially argue that Jeff's attempt isn't entirely without honour, and mention instances where honour was shown. However, a less obvious keyword that needs further exploration is 'justice'. Most students will take this word for granted, and won't really explore what the word 'justice' means in this sentence. A more advanced student will understand that 'justice' in this essay topic is viewed from Jeff's perspective, meaning that what Jeff deems to be 'justice', might not be the same 'justice' for a viewer. These are the nuances in an essay topic that I'd like you to be very confident in.
Knowing how to THINK will ensure that you EXECUTE your essay writing most effectively, optimising your potential to nail that A+. If I went from average to consistent A+s in Year 11 and Year 12, I have no doubt you can do it too. That's why I created the How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook.
I know that you are probably like I was, searching for a clear, simple way to get better at English without just relying on my teacher (despite the fact that I had a great teacher!). I've compiled my 10 years of tutoring English, refining this strategy year after year. With this knowledge, many of my students achieved a study score they thought was impossible (one student Ruby, wanted a study score of 30 to get into her university course, and ultimately achieved a 40 study score! WOW! 😮).
If you're interested, How To Write a Killer Text Response ebook shows you the inner workings of my brain 💭- what I think when I see an essay topic, how I tackle it, and how I turn these thoughts into a high-scoring essay. The ebook includes:
- 50-pages teaching you how to respond to ANY essay topic
- Examples from 15+ popular VCE English texts
- Know exactly what to THINK about so you can formulate the best possible essay response
- Plus a bonus 20-pages of high vs low scoring essays, fully annotated (what works and what doesn't) so you know exactly what you need to do and what not to do
The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that depicts the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Polish Jewish Holocaust survivor who experienced living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Vladek’s son, Art has transformed his story into a comic book through his interviews and encounters which interweaves with Art’s own struggles as the son of a Holocaust survivor, as well as the complex and difficult relationship with his father.
Survival is a key theme that is explored during Vladek’s experience in concentration camps and his post-Holocaust life.
For example, Vladek reflects that “You have to struggle for life” and a means of survival was through learning to be resourceful at the concentration camps.
Resourcefulness is depicted through the physical items Vladek keeps or acquires, as well as through Vladek’s skills. For example, Vladek explains to Art that he was able to exploit his work constantly through undertaking the roles of a translator and a shoemaker in order to access extra food and clothing by being specially treated by the Polish Kapo.
He even wins over Anja’s Kapo to ensure that she would be treated well by not being forced to carry heavy objects. Vladek’s constant recounts and reflections symbolise survival, as Vladek was willing and able to use his skill set to navigate through the camp’s work system.
During the concentration camps, food and clothes also became a currency due to its scarcity and Vladek was insistent on being frugal and resourceful, which meant that he was able to buy Anja’s release from the Birkenau camp.
Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars.
Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with ‘survivor’s guilt’. This can be seen through the character of Art’s mother, Anja, as 20 years after surviving the death camps, she commits suicide. After having lost so many of her friends, and families, she struggled to find a reason as to why she survived but others didn’t. Throughout the graphic novel, her depression is apparent. In a close-up shot, Anja appears harrowed and says that “I just don’t want to live”, lying on a striped sofa to convey a feeling of hopelessness as if she was in prison. Her ears are additionally drawn as drooped, with her hands positioned as if she was in prison in the context is that she must go to a sanatorium for her depression.
It is not only Anja’s guilt that is depicted, but also Art himself who feels partly responsible. Art feels that people think it is his fault as he says that “They think it’s MY fault!” and in one panel, Art is depicted behind bars and that “[He] has committed the perfect crime“ to illustrate that he feels a sense of guilt in that he never really was the perfect son. He believes he is partly responsible for her death, due to him neglecting their relationship. Spiegelman also gives insight to readers of a memory of his mother where she asks if he still loves her, he responds with a dismissive ‘sure’ which is a painful reminder of this disregard.
Art constantly ponders how he is supposed to “make any sense out of Auschwitz’ if he “can’t even make any sense out of [his] relationship with [his] father”. As a child of Jewish refugees, Art has not had the same first-hand horrific experiences as his parents and in many instances struggles to relate to Vladek’s stubborn and resourceful tendencies. Art reflects on this whilst talking to Mala about when he would not finish everything his mother served, he would “argue til I ran to my room crying”. This emphasises how he didn’t understand wastage or frugality even from a very young age, unlike Vladek.
Spiegelman also conveys to readers his sense of frustration with Vladek where he feels like he is being treated like a child, not as an adult. For example, Art is shocked that Vladek would throw out one of Art’s coats and instead buy a new coat, despite Vladek’s hoarding because he is reluctant and feels shameful to let his son wear his “old shabby coat”. This act could be conveyed to readers that Vladek is trying to give Art a life he never had and is reluctant to let his son wear clothes that are ‘inappropriate’ in his eyes. However, from Art’s perspective, he “just can’t believe it” and does not comprehend his behaviour.
Since we're talking about themes, we've broken down a theme-based essay prompt (one of five types of essay prompts) for you in this video:
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel that may seem daunting to analyse compared to a traditional novel. However, with countless panels throughout the book, you have the freedom to interpret certain visuals so long as you give reasoning and justification, guiding the teacher or examiner on what you think these visuals mean. Here are some suggested tips:
Spiegelman may have purposely drawn the eyes of the Jewish mice as visible in contrast to the unapparent eyes of the Nazis to humanise and dehumanise characters. By allowing readers to see the eyes of Jewish mice, readers can see the expressions and feelings of the character such as anger and determination. Effectively, we can see them as human characters through their eyes. The Nazis’ eyes, on the other hand, are shaded by their helmets to signify how their humanity has been corrupted by the role they fulfill in the Holocaust.
When the readers see their eyes, they appear sinister, with little slits of light. By analysing the depictions and expressions of characters, readers can deduce how these characters are intended to be seen.
Throughout the graphic novel, symbols of the Holocaust appear consistently in the background. In one panel, Art’s parents, Anja and Vladek have nowhere to go, a large Swastika looms over them to represent that their lives were dominated by the Holocaust.
Even in Art’s life, a panel depicts him as working on his desk with dead bodies surrounding him and piling up to convey to the reader that the Holocaust still haunts him to this day, and feels a sense of guilt at achieving fame and success at their expense.
Thus, the constant representation of symbols from the Holocaust in Spiegelman’s life and his parents’ past in the panels’ background highlights how inescapable the Holocaust is emotionally and psychologically.
Some of the panels in the graphic novel are of different sizes which Spiegelman may have intended to emphasise the significance of certain turning points, crises or feelings. For example, on page 34, there is a disproportionate panel of Vladek and Anja passing a town, seeing the first signs of the Nazi regime compared to the following panels. All the mice seem curious and concerned, peering at the Nazi flag behind them. This panel is significant as it marks the beginning of a tragic regime that would dominate for the rest of their lives.
You should also pay close attention to how some panels have a tendency to overlap with each other which could suggest a link between events, words or feelings.
Although not specifically targeted at Text Response, 10 Things to Look for in Cartoons is definitely worth a read for any student studying a graphic novel!
For a step-by-step explanation of everything you need to know to ace your SAC or exam, check out our How To Write A Killer Language Analysis ebook.
For many students, Language Analysis is their downfall. Here is the main reason why: Lots of students don’t think about how language is used to persuade, instead they rely on lists of language techniques to tell them the answer. These sheets are usually distributed by teachers when you first start language analysis – see below.
Whether or not you’ve seen that particular document before, you’ve probably got something similar. You’ve also probably thought, ‘this sheet is absolutely amazing – it has everything I need and it tells me how language persuades!’ – I know I did. Unfortunately, this mindset is wrong. Don’t fall into the trap like so many other students have over the years. For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis.
The following comes from VCAA 2009 English Assessment Report:
…some students presented a simple summary [when analysing]…with little development. These responses did not score well as they did not fulfil the task as required.
The ‘simple summary’ refers to students who rely on those technique sheets to paraphrase the explanations regarding how language persuades. There is ‘little development’ because copying the explanations provided on these sheets doesn’t demonstrate enough insight into the article you’re analysing. Let’s have a look at the VCAA English Practice Exam published in 2009, ‘Chickens Range Free’ so that we can demonstrate this point. We will look at two students, both analysing the same technique. Compare the two and determine who you believe provides the better analysis.
Student 1: Emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” is intended to stimulate strong emotional reactions that manipulate readers’ responses.
Student 2: The use of emotive language such as “abominably cruel” and “dire plight” intends to appeal to people’s instinctive compassion for the chickens by describing their dreadful treatment, hence causing readers to agree with Smith that urgent action is required to save these animals.
It should be clear that Student 2’s example is best. Let’s see why.
Student 1 has determined the correct language technique and found suitable evidence from the article. This is a good start. However, Student 1 goes on to merely reiterate the explanations provided by language technique sheets and as a result, their analysis is too broad and non-specific to the article.
Student 2 conversely, understands that this last step – the analysing part – is the most important and vital component that will distinguish themselves from others. Instead of merely quoting that the article ‘manipulates the reader response’ like student 1, they provide an in-depth analysis of how and why reader feelings are manipulated because of this technique. Student 2 was able to use the information to illustrate the author’s contention that we should feel sorry for these caged chickens – and we do because of our ‘instinctive compassion.’ They explain that the sympathy expressed from readers encourages them to agree that some action needs to be taken to help the chickens. As you can see, Student 2 has gone beyond identifying that ‘strong emotional reactions’ will be displayed by readers, to establishing what emotions are involved, and the consequences of those emotions.
This is why it’s best to avoid paraphrasing language technique sheets. By all means, don’t totally disregard them altogether. They’re definitely great for learning new language techniques – just be mindful of the explanations given. The part regarding how the author persuades is the downfall of many students because even though teachers tell you to analyse more, they often don’t show you the difference between what you’re doing wrong and what you should be doing right.
We’ve explored historical context, themes, essay planning and essay topics over on our Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!
Hey guys, welcome back to Lisa's Study Guides. So this week I have another essay topic breakdown for you. So eventually I'm going to get through all of the VCAA texts that are on the study design, but we're slowly going to get there and are just want to say yet again, even though this one is like a house on fire, I am really glad if you've clicked on this video and you're not necessarily studying it because as always with all my videos, I try to give you an overall message for you to take away that can be applied to any single text. So that is the same for this particular text today. And so even though the takeaway message for this video is quite specific to short stories, it's still an important consideration for any text that you're studying. Ideally, you want to use a diverse range of evidence for any text, but in particular, for short stories, you don't just want to rely on a small handful, but to try and make links between the different short stories.
So let's see what that means on the other side of this quick overview of the text. Like a House on Fire is a collection of short stories by the author, Cate Kennedy, and unlike a lot of other texts on the study design, this book portrays a lot of very domestic situations, which seems fairly boring compared to some of the other texts that other students might be doing. However, I'm really excited about this text because the short stories are great. Not because they have groundbreaking premises, which they don't, but because of how effortlessly and deeply emotive they are. So the domestic scenarios actually help us relate to the characters in the stories and empathize with the complexity of their experiences. The essay topic we'll be looking at today is in Like a House on Fire, Kennedy finds strength in ordinary people. Discuss.
Here, the term which you really have to think about is strength. We already know that she depicts the story of ordinary people, of people like you or me, or even just people we may know, but does she find strength in them? It could be physical strength, but more often than not, it might be other types of strength. For instance, the mental strength it takes to cope with intense pressure or the emotional strength it takes to make a difficult choice or action. It's important to think about how they might actually apply throughout the book. In this sense, our essay will have essentially two halves.
The first two body paragraphs we'll look at scenarios of intense pressure, be it through the loss of control in one's life or a domestic situation which has become emotionally tense. The last two body paragraphs will then consider the types of strength that Kennedy evinces in these stories. And we'll contend that she does find strength in the characters who face a difficult decision, but that she also finds a lot more strength in the characters who managed to cope with their situation and grapple with the tensions in their lives.
In many of her stories, Kennedy portrays characters who experience powerlessness. This loss of power can come a number of ways. For instance, both Flexion and Like a House on Fire tell the story of men who have injured their previously reliable bodies and have thus been rendered immobile. But they also tell the story of their respective wives who have lost some control over their lives now that they have to care for their husbands. On the other hand, there are the kids in Whirlpool whose mother insists that they dress a certain way for a Christmas photo. Her hand on your shoulders, exerting pressure that pushes you down. Kennedy's use of second person really makes you feel this pressure that keeps you from going out to the pool you so desperately desire to be in. Evidently powerlessness is an experience that comes in many shapes and forms in several stories.
In addition to this, Kennedy explores other emotional tensions across the collection, subverting the idea that the home is necessarily a safe sanctuary. This is where she really goes beyond just the idea of powerlessness, but actually jumps into scenarios that are much more emotionally complex. In Ashes for instance, we see the homosexual protagonist struggle with feeling useless and tongue tied, embarrassed by the floundering pause between his mother and himself. There is a significant emotional hurdle there, which is particularly poignant given that mothers are usually considered a source of safety and comfort for their children. Kennedy's story of domesticity actually subvert or question what we might think of the domestic space shared by family members. If you have the Scribe edition of the book, the artwork on the cover would depict a vase of wilting flowers, an empty picture frame, and a spilt cup of coffee.
These are all visual symbols of an imperfect domestic life. A similar rift exists between husband and wife in both Five Dollar Family and Waiting, the women find themselves unable to emotionally depend on their partners. While Michelle in Five Dollar Family despises her husbands startled, faintly incredulous expression, an inability to care for their child, the protagonist in Waiting struggles to talk about her miscarriages with her husband who is already worn down as it is. Kennedy takes these household roles of mother, son, husband, wife, and really dives into the complex shades of emotion that lies within these relationships. We realize through her stories that a mother can't always provide comfort to a child and that a husband isn't always the dependable partner that he's supposed to be.
However, Kennedy does find strength in some characters who do take a bold or courageous leap in some way. These are really important moments in which she is able to show us the strength that it takes to make these decisions. And she triumphs however small or insignificant that can be achieved.
A moment that really stands out to me is the ending of Laminex and Mirrors, where the protagonist rebelliously smuggles a hospital patient out for a smoke only to have to take him back into his ward through the main entrance and therefore get them both caught. She recounts this experience as the one I remember most clearly from the year I turned 18. The two of us content, just for this perfect moment. And their success resonates with the audience, even though the protagonist would have lost her job and therefore the income she needed for her trip to London, Kennedy demonstrates her strength in choosing compassion for an elderly patient. Even the sister in Whirlpool, who wasn't exactly kind to the protagonist in the beginning, forms an unlikely alliance with her against their mother, sharing a reckless moment and cutting their photo shoot short. Bold leaps such as these are ones that take strength and therefore deserve admiration.
However, more often than not, Kennedy's stories are more about the strength needed to simply cope with life, one day at a time. She explores the minutiae of her characters lives in a way that conveys the day to day struggles, but also hints at the underlying fortitude needed to deal with these things on a daily basis. In Tender, the wife feels as if everything at home is on the verge of coming apart since her husband is only able to cook tuna and pasta casserole for their kids. However, when she must get a possibly malignant tumor removed, her concern of whether there'll be tuna and pasta in the pantry just in case, demonstrates her selfless nature. Kennedy thus creates a character who is strong for others, even when her own life at home is disorderly and her health may be in jeopardy. The strength of gritting one's teeth and getting on with things in spite of emotional tension is a central idea across this collection, and many other examples are there for you to consider as well.
And so we come to the end of our essay. Hopefully going through this gives you an idea of how to cover more bases with your evidence. Remember that you don't have to recount lots and lots of events, but it's more important to engage with what the events are actually telling us about people. This is particularly important for prompts like this one, where it heavily focuses on the people involved. That is it for me this week, please give this video a thumbs up. If you wanted to say thanks to Mark, who has been helping me write these scripts up for a lot of the text response essay, topic breakdowns. If you enjoyed this, then you might also be interested in the live stream coming up next week, which will be on Friday the 25th of May at 5:00 PM. I'll be covering the topic of analyzing argument for the second time, just because there's so much to get through. I'll also be announcing some special things during that particular live stream. So make sure you're there so you're the first to hear it. I will see you guys next week. Bye.
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