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July 31, 2016
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Have you ever come out of an exam or test and felt like you’ve nailed it? I’m guessing after you come out of that exam room, you and your friends crowd around the building screaming out the answers you got for each question or the types of ideas you came up with from the prompt given. But then results day arrive…and you’re sitting at your desk anxiously waiting for the teacher to hand you your paper. As soon as they place the test paper on your desk, you remain sitting there just staring at it, deciding whether or not to flip it around and see your score. Get it over and done with you think in your head, but your arms don’t move an inch. You just sit there for some time staring at it, and praying a little on the inside that it’s the score you want. Finally, you build enough courage to turn around the paper and BAM! It hits you. The score was way below the expectations you set for yourself, or maybe even the standards others have set for you.
What is it that you usually do when you come across such a situation?
From my observations and experiences, there are generally 4 main types of reactions people have – the complainer (the person who’s never satisfied with anything), the one who has no care in the world, the silent sufferer (the person who is disappointed with the score but does nothing to change it) and the calm one (the ideal level we all aspire to reach).
So here I give you 8 tips/suggestions to help you get you through what you may call ‘failure’:
DON’T ALLOW THE SCORE TO DEFINE YOU! I’m sure you’ve heard so many people tell you that you are more than just one score. And let me tell you that they’re absolutely right! That one test score won’t make so much of a difference in the long run. It may trigger some unsettling emotions throughout the day, but it’s not going to matter in a year.
Look at the score you got and then just put it at the back of your mind. Just don’t think too much about it in class. It may stress you out even more, cause you to divide your attention between what the teacher is saying and your own thoughts. Dwelling on what you cannot change, especially if it concerns the past is the worse idea and a better option would be to distract yourself with happy thoughts (obviously not while you’re supposed to be listening to your teacher).
Talk to your teacher and ask them why you have attained this particular score. By having a one-on-one conversation with them you can tell them why you thought you did better or where you believe you’ve missed marks. I’m sure they’ll be willing to help you out. If not, you could sit down and chat with another teacher about the test and get their feedback on it. Collecting feedback from various teachers (or even friends, tutors, etc.) can be useful in knowing which areas you need to improve on most.
Try to consider the concept of failure as your ‘First Attempt In Learning.’ Learn from your mistakes by re-evaluating your previous approach to the question, or the ideas and evidence you put out there. Look at where you lost the marks and redo the test if possible. Get it remarked by your teacher or even a friend. Keep going and don’t give up!
Avoid talking to those ‘stuck up’ students. You should most definitely distance yourself from people who make you feel uncomfortable or lower your self-esteem. It may seem tough at first, especially since you may be confined together in the same school or even classroom, but it’s to the benefit of your mental health. To do this, you could not sit next to them class or just let them know that you’re not comfortable with sharing your scores with them and would rather talk about other topics.
Make more friends! (just exclude those who were mentioned previously). Create study groups and revise together before a test or exam. Ask them about how they study for the specific subject or area of study and if you can read some of their work to get an idea of to how approach specific questions.
Be flexible and adaptable! Once you know that you’ve made a mistake, don’t make it again. Change up specific parts of your answer where you lost marks or just change the entire answer completely to fulfil the criteria. For example, when it comes to English, examiners are always advising students to not go into the exam with memorised responses. By going into the exam with memorised responses, you’re not going to be able to modify or mould your response to fit the specific prompt in front of you, costing you the marks you want. Just have ideas and evidence in mind that you know you can use when relevant rather than spilling unnecessary quotes here and there.
Balance is key. Wise advice that I received from one of my teachers in year 12 was to study a bit of every subject on the days you plan to study. Don’t cram and only focus on one subject a week before the SAC. If having a structured routine doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to ditch the timetable you have created yourself and just go with the flow. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just know when you should study
Finally, my last message to you all is to just take it easy, stay on a pace that works for you. Don’t stress too much about a score that’s not going to matter in the long run, and most importantly, don’t compare yourself to those around you. ☺
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.
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.
In regards to changing subjects once the school year has started: I've done a bit of research and it appears as though the deadline to change from one subject to another is determined by your individual school. Some schools have a deadline of only a couple weeks whereas others stretch it out a little further. Ask your school for exact dates if this is something you’re considering!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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-depth knowledge 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.
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 Troy or Rear 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.
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!
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.
As an example, I've unpacked an essay prompt below using 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.
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
‘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.
Unpack the keywords in the topic:
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.
We can also use the ABC steps here. For example:
'Like the mother bird to her plundered nest, my song has become a scream'
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
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.
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!)
Hopefully, these tips will be able to help you out throughout the year in staying motivated and feeling okay about 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!
If you are a VCE student, chances are you’ve heard phrases like “Too bad English can’t be bottom two” or “It’s just English, you can just bullshit it” all too often. These phrases, though seemingly innocuous, are like an undetectable poison to the hopeful VCE high achiever. The more you hear them, the more likely you are to believe them. And before you know it results come out, and you’re scratching your head, wondering where it all went wrong.
That’s where I can help.
There are two main misconceptions about English that you must never be tempted into believing.
It’s an easy trap to fall into; how can you possibly study for a subject if you don’t know what to study? Though be warned, subscribing to misguided and complacent ways of thinking could seriously limit your potential in English.
English can definitely be studied for. In fact, studying for English is necessary to thrive in the subject. What many students fail to recognise is that studying for VCE English is a vastly different experience to studying for any other subjects. With a subject like Chemistry, it is easy to split up a large topic into its constituent sub-topics and study them all in one sitting. Studying for English is different in every way. Instead of making concepts smaller while studying, I’ve found that it is advantageous to club smaller subtopics into larger concepts and conduct your study thematically. For example, in Language Analysis it is always more powerful to analyse persuasive techniques in relation to the writer’s larger agenda, than analysing them alone.
Again, in stark contrast to other subjects where one topic can be studied for over a set period of time (e.g. A day, week etc.). I’ve come to learn that VCE English study must become a part of your everyday life. Essential VCE English study tactics such as reading the newspaper daily and analysing its articles, can become a part of your life, as I made it a part of mine. In this way, not only does studying for English become possible, it becomes accessible and easy to do too. Weaving English study into your everyday life will also cause you to feel accomplished and satisfied. These feelings, unfortunately, are rarely felt in a hectic, fast paced VCE environment and therefore act as an incentive to maintain VCE English study throughout the year.
Failing to adapt your study patterns (or failing to study at all for that matter) leads to a negative spiral of disillusionment and disappointment, causing the once enthusiastic English student to disregard the subject completely. Since the VCE system ensures that a high English score directly correlates to a high ATAR, abandoning English can prove fatal. These are just some of the many lessons I’ve learnt as both a VCE English student and tutor.
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