English Language

Success tips from a past student who scored a raw 50!

Lisa Tran

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Now, this is a rather long post, so brace yourself, BUT I’d recommend reading the whole article (especially if you want to do well).

I know English Language is not the easiest subject, but with the right guidance (and inspiration), you can no doubt do well. So without further ado, let’s begin…

The following answers below are from Tim, a graduate who scored a raw 50 in English Language. Thank you to Tim for taking the time to answer these questions!

Why did you choose English Language over mainstream English?

I chose English Language because I was intrigued by the subject’s focus on linguistics and the structure and function of language.  I also studied Literature so I felt that a subject that was less about analysing books and other fiction texts and more about analysing language itself would not only compliment my study of Literature, but contrast nicely with it so I wouldn’t get bored.  I am also very interested in the power of language in our lives and our society, so being able to study why and how we use language in particular contexts outside of a work of literature was appealing to me.

What were some factors that helped you attain your study score?

The most important factor in helping me to attain my study score was organisation.  This meant being on top of the work at all times and being fully prepared for SACs and the exam, and I achieved it through things such as recording and scheduling all homework/study for completion in a specific calendar that I could access from my computer and phone, ensuring that I knew when my assessments were and what they entailed so I could prepare for them in advance, and putting in that extra hour when I actually wanted to watch TV so I could complete a piece of work that I would otherwise fall behind on.

Another factor was my creation of a personalised set of notes, including a metalanguage, quotes, and examples table, which was key to helping me structure and organise the information that I needed to know for the SACs/exams.

A little bit of a flair for English also definitely played a role, but more importantly, a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed (which meant I was willing to sacrifice some of my recreation time etc. to do so) were crucial to achieving my study score.

What noticeable weaknesses did you have in English Language and how did you overcome them?

Probably my biggest weakness was my tendency to overwrite.  I had so much to say but nowhere near enough time to say it in SACs/exams.  To overcome this, I had to prioritise and write concisely – what was the most important information to convey and how could I do so in the minimum amount of words to achieve the marks for the question?  For example, if a question asked me to explain how a particular text was coherent (6 marks), in the beginning, I would write hundreds of words explaining all different features of the coherence of the text, and give well-beyond the necessary six marks worth of information, but then I would run out of time later on.  So I had to learn to choose, for example, the three strongest features of coherence in the text, and offer a concise example and explanation, to score the full six marks without compromising myself in terms of time.  The same applied for analytical commentaries and essays – as they say, often less is more and quality is more important than quantity – and although easier said than done, adhering to these two maxims was what helped me to score highly in the exam.

What were your noticeable strengths in English Language and how did you take advantage of them?

My greatest strength in English Language was probably my writing ability.  It’s a common misconception that you don’t need to write essays in English Language – in fact, the exam requires you to write 15 marks worth of short-answer question responses plus an analytical commentary and an essay!  Being able to write well from the get-go made it easier for me in SACs and exams because I could focus more on improving the content of the SAC/exam response rather than the actual quality of the writing itself.  To anyone who wants to improve their writing, there is only one way of doing so – practicing writing!

Another strength was my ability to organise information in a logical and structured way.  Having a set of notes and a metalanguage table that is highly organised makes it really easy when it comes to exam time to study and prepare for the exam.  I would recommend to anyone wishing to receive a high mark to collate all the information you have from a variety of sources into one document, and use that as your one source of study for the exam, employing headings, sub-headings, graphic organisers, tables, and any other forms of organisation.

How did you organise your quotes list for the essay section in the exam? Where did you find quotes and examples?

I love tables, so I made up two tables – one containing all of my recent media examples, and one with quotes.  The subheadings I used for the former table included ‘Example’ (my name for the example), ‘Source’, ‘Notes (including key metalanguage)’, ‘Quotes’, ‘Possible essay topics’, and ‘Relevant subsystems’.  I found most of my examples in the Guardian and Age newspapers.  I especially recommend Gary Nunn’s regular Guardian article on language, published on the last Friday of each month.  However, examples can come from anywhere, not just news articles.  You can even use the latest slang term you hear your friends using!

As for quotes, I created a separate table where I used the subheadings ‘Source’, ‘Quote’, and ‘Possible topics’.  I made sure I had at least one quote for each possible topic.  Quotes need not be as recent as the examples, and often come from linguists and other authorities on language.  My personal favourite is one written by George Orwell – “but if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

How did you study for English Language before a SAC?

This varied on the basis of the SAC format.

For the analytical commentary SACs, I would follow the following steps:– Read the text to be analysed twice.– A few hours/days later, re-read the text.– Begin annotating the text, focusing on picking out features on each line and matching them to a subsystem.– Leave it for a few hours/days, and then come back and repeat this process, using a metalanguage table as a checklist to make sure I had covered every subsystem and picked up on every possible feature.– ‘Zoom out’ by looking at what the function of these features are in the text as a whole, including their links to context and register.– Group the features into paragraphs with a topic sentence for each.– Plan the introduction, ensuring that I detailed the different sociolinguistic variables.– Write a practice SAC so I knew exactly what the final product will look like.– Edit and revise the practice SAC and either strip it down to dot points if a plan was allowed into the SAC, or commit its structure and key points to memory.

For essays, I would follow a similar process, but instead of reading/analysing the texts, I would scrutinise the stimulus material provided and the topic and determine how I would approach the essay.  I would gather all of the most relevant contemporary examples and quotes and decide how to integrate the best of them into the essay.  Then I would write a plan, and finally, write a practice essay.

Were they any SACs throughout the year that you weren’t happy with? How did you overcome that unhappiness?

I was quite satisfied with all my SAC results, except for my very last one, which I did not feel reflected my full capabilities in that area of study.  I overcame this unhappiness by promising myself that I would write a better essay in the exam!  This included focusing more on embedding recent examples of language use relevant to the area of study into the essay and drawing upon the stimulus material as inspiration, rather than simply inserting the stimuli into a pre-determined essay plan to satisfy the requirement of using it.

Is metalanguage important? If so, how did you study it?

Metalanguage is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the English Language course.  You will not succeed in this subject if you do not know the metalanguage!  I studied it by compiling a massive table of every piece of metalanguage I came across, including a definition, notes on its functions and uses, and an example.  I categorised all of the metalanguage under the subsystems and made sure that I knew every piece of metalanguage included in the study design.  Most importantly, however, I practiced using that metalanguage repeatedly, using it in short answer questions, analytical commentaries, and essays, to the point where it had become like a second language to me!

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