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September 4, 2018
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We are well into the second half of Semester 1 and for Year 12 students, the Mt Everest that is the final English examination is approximately 6 months away. Though most students are at this stage comfortable with the text response aspect of English, many tend to struggle with the notion of “answering the prompt”.
When working to correct this issue, it is important to understand the VCAA English Study Design brief for text response which outlines its examination criteria as being:
To find out more about how to satisfy the VCAA criteria in your Text Response, as well as a sample essay doing so, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
The importance of answering the prompt is stressed in each of the 3 listed points in the rubric which share the common theme of following the assigned task. In order to construct an essay which successfully answers the prompt, one must be conscious of the relationship between the prompt assigned, their stated contention and the topic sentences they provide.
Prompts for Section A are divided into one of five categories. To learn more about LSG's Five Types Technique, check out our blog.
The first thing one should do when presented with a prompt is analyse it by identifying the keywords of the prompt and clarifying all the key terms. Once this has been done, it is time to formulate a contention.
A contention is simply your view of the prompt. This is where you challenge the statement presented to you and construct a viewpoint outlining the degree to which you are in agreement or disagreement with the prompt or if you are sitting on the fence. It is vital to do this not by blatantly rewording the prompt to display your stance, instead you must observe the prompt and construct an assessment of the prompt by drawing from the text to confirm your contention. It is through your contention that your points of discussion detailed in your topic sentences are formed.
Points to remember:
The next step in developing your essay response is to settle on what points to make in your body paragraphs and write topic sentences. Topic sentences outline the content you will be presenting to your teacher or examiner in the particular body paragraph. A good topic sentence should detail an idea that can be drawn from your contention. A habit some students carry into Year 12 from earlier years of essay writing is to write body paragraphs solely on characters and in turn writing a topic sentence stating which character they will write about in that paragraph. Rather than doing this, focus on the context, themes, symbols and conventions particular character(s) feature in throughout the text.
Points to remember:
The key to adhering to the prompt presented to you is forming a relationship between the material given to you, your adopted contention and the topic sentences which headline your evidence and justification. Think of the prompt as the avenue through which to form your overall stance. Your contention is the basis of the entirety of your essay. Your topic sentences are opening statements written with the purpose of helping you develop a discussion that follows your contention that is in relation to the prompt. When your text response has evidence of this not only will you present an essay that closely addresses the prompt, but your work will reflect your thoughts, in a manner which efficiently enables you to show off your skills.
[Modified Video Transcription]
What's up everyone! So, I want to get a new segment started and it's pretty much the ‘essay questions with Lisa Tran’ segment. And basically, what this includes is every now and then I will choose a topic on one of your suggestions of whatever book, or film you’re studying, and break that down together with you on camera, on YouTube. So, if you like the idea of that, then make sure you give this video a thumbs up so that I know that this is something that you're super keen on and that you'll find helpful.
So, I've taken liberties (since this is the first one that we've ever done) of choosing my own essay topic that I was interested in doing. It's based on The Handmaid's Tale, and if any of you have read this or watched it (it's a TV series on Hulu) I have read and watched both and it has just been sensational, so I wanted to basically break down this prompt with you. If it's something that you haven't watched, or if you haven't read it, that's not a problem at all because the skills that I will be teaching you when it comes to breaking down an essay topic will be invaluable when it comes to actually applying it to your own studies. So, let's get started.
Just as a really quick summary (that will probably butcher the overall meaning and the experience that you get from the book, but I don't want to really spoil it for you either), The Handmaid’s Tale is set in this future world where America, or the United States, has become a dystopian society, and women in particular are reduced to nothing more than just a child bearing species. Men are in charge and these women, who are deemed to be people who can give birth, are kept alive and kept around in these rich people's homes or people who are higher up in the hierarchy, and they basically have to have sex with the male leader of the home and just create children, and that is their purpose. If they're no longer fertile, then they'll pretty much be out-casted from society and rejected.
As a book, it's very thought-provoking because it's set in the future. Of course, this is something that we cannot guarantee won't actually happen. It's really scary to see how a world that was progressive (because they lived in modern American society, there was a lot of free movement happening, there were same-sex relationships that were out in the open, people were taking contraceptives) regressed, and it went back to a lot of old values that we had moved on from. It really opens up a pot of questions that you can ask about where we’re going as a society, where we think we're going as a society and where we'll actually end up.
That's just my quick two minute spiel. If you wanted to get your hands on the book then I highly recommend it - I'll pop it down in the description box below (on Youtube).
The question here is ‘Atwood’s concerns in The Handmaid's Tale go beyond women's freedom’ Discuss.
So, the first thing I always do is I look at the keywords; we've got ‘Atwood’s concerns’, ‘go beyond’ and ‘women's freedom’.
The reason why we look at keywords is because we want to confirm to ourselves (as the writer of this essay), that we are going to stay focused and not go off topic with the essay topic, and the keywords will ensure that not only we stay on topic, but they emphasize the ideas that we really need to focus on. So, let's break down each of the keywords individually.
This means that we have to focus on the author's intention or message in writing The Handmaid's Tale. We'd be thinking about ‘what ideas does she criticize or condemn?’, or ‘what does she endorse on the other hand?’
So, ‘go beyond’ is a very straightforward way of saying that an essay that is only focused on women's freedom probably won't be holistic or well-rounded enough. We have to look beyond the obvious.
The third one is ‘women's freedom’. So, what does this mean? To live in a patriarchal society, to be constantly monitored by guards and potential eyes.
It's very easy to slip into just speaking about handmaids. Like I mentioned before, there's a male lead in the house who is the highest up in the hierarchy. He has a wife as well. Serena Joy is a perfect example of someone who on the surface ranks as the highest in female roles, because she is the wife of the commander. So, we see things from her perspective.
From this exploration of the key words, I can come up with two main body paragraphs. The two ideas are one:
‘To live in a chilling, post-modernism dystopia, Atwood showcases the evils of the patriarchy’
My second one is:
‘Moreover, Atwood reveals how, despite being at the top of the female hierarchy as commander’s wives, even they suffer’
Let's have a look at both of these ideas individually.
Some of my rationale behind this idea include one: Offred, who is our protagonist. Offred is actually not her real name, and because Offred is not her real name, she therefore represents any type of handmaid. She's just another one of them with a name assigned to her. Our identity is connected with our name, so her identity, which is what makes her feel human, is completely shredded from her. She has trouble remembering what she even used to look like.
The second thing is that it's dehumanizing. It doesn't matter whether Offred is intelligent, educated or even beautiful, what matters are viable ovaries and therefore, she's classified as a handmaid, and this is her last chance at being able to survive in this type of society.
The third one is that she isn't even given the freedom to take her own life. Suicide is almost impossible, “I know why there was no glass in front of the watercolor picture of the blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatter-proof. It isn’t running away they're afraid of. We wouldn't get that far. It's those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge”. For us as humans, we get the opportunity to do things that we want, but even to take her own life away, to save herself from the world that she's living in, is impossible.
Onto our second idea.
The first example I have for this is how Serena Joy, the commander’s wife, actually used to have her own television show. She used to be really popular, she was a celebrity, and yet she's been reduced to basically just being the commander's wife, where she lurks around in the house. She really doesn't do that much anymore, she's just there to support her husband and that is her role.
The second example is that she's forced to partake in a ritual where her husband has sex with a handmaid, “Which of us is it worse for, her or me?” (her meaning Offred). So, you can see that even for a commander’s wife, somebody who is in a high position in this society (she's the elite basically of what women could be), even she is suffering.
This means that in fact, we should speak about other major issues in the novel and not just about female concerns. Our first two ideas revolve around female concern, but let's see what else we could discuss. To me, another major issue revolving around freedom that's important to talk about is ‘has the Gilliad society actually influenced men and men's freedom?’ It's super easy to just target men and say that, you know, men are in power now and so it's all about the women, but there are ample examples that show that even the men are suffering.
Of course there are heaps of other issues that are brought forward in The Handmaid's Tale, but the ideas that I’ve discussed here are the ones that personally interest me the most, meaning that I've got a lot more to say and a lot more opinion to offer in my discussion.
At this point, I'll leave it up to you guys. If you have read or watched The Handmaid's Tale, tell me what you think or ask me any questions you have about how you would structure this essay. I'd really love to have a productive discussion with you that includes some critical thinking on your part. So, let's get it started.
If you like this type of advice, you may like joining my mailing list. Basically I send out weekly emails to you where I answer student questions and give you more advice, tips and resources that I don't give anywhere else.
And, if you're in need of a more detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
It's 32 degrees today for the first time in Melbourne, in like forever, so I'm going to the beach and I'm going to spoil myself right now. I'll see you guys next week. Bye!
How many times have you told yourself, "I'm going to start doing this, "once I graduate from high school."
For me, I had a long list of things I wanted to start doing once I finished year 12.
We've all been there, because our priority in year 12 is doing assessments and exams. We have this romanticized version of what reality will look like after high school. All those things that you had put off, all those things that you'd promise yourself that you would do, the time has come. Whether that be catching up with long lost friends, whether that be joining the gym and getting fit again, or starting to read books again, especially for pleasure now that you don't have to read for school. Except boo, I won't get to read Lisa's amazing blog's and study guides. I'll start picking up my hobby of dancing again, I'll start doing this, I'll start doing that, but then usually, this happens. Once I marathon "Terrace House", then I'll look at gym memberships.
The main message I want you to take away is, you're always going to find excuses for the things that you really want to do. It took me an additional six years until I started reading again after high school.
As soon as I started uni, I started making up excuses, "Ah, I've got uni, I'm busy making friends, "I'm busy going to uni parties." It wasn't until I actually finished uni that I started picking up my hobby of reading. Same thing with dancing, I stopped dancing before I went into VCE, before my final years of high school, so that I could focus on my exams, but I wanted to get back into it. But it took me another three years until I got back into that.
So my question to you is, how long is it going to take you before you commit to doing that thing that you really want to do, and becoming the person that you want to be? This is something that we have to battle with throughout our entire lives. It's the same case for me with this particular YouTube channel. It's taken me almost two years to figure out what I want to do with this channel, how to break away from just English, so I can focus on more millennial based topics, like this video, offering advice about the things that I've learned throughout my 20's and impart them onto you.
So if you're in year 12, I'd absolutely love it if you stuck around to watch the next few videos that will be coming out. I'll be basing topics on things like university experiences, how to land your first job outside of high school, what else, productivity hacks, and all the things that will help prepare you for the world that's out there, and be the best version of yourself. Congratulations to you because you're nearing the end of the year and you're so close to sitting your exams. I hope that everything that I've done this year has been able to help you, and nourish you, and nurture you to become a better student who is ready to kick some ass.
Since it's not time to say bye yet, I'll say see you soon.
Over the years I have seen many exceptional essays. What has really surprised me in the past is when I compare high-scoring essays. In one instance, I read one English student's essay (raw study score of 50) after another student's (raw study score of 46). What do you think contrasts between a student who achieves 50 and a student who achieves 46 (bearing in mind of course, that these two scores are already amazing!)? For me, I had assumed that a major contributor to the perfect score of 50 must be better vocabulary. You would think so too right?
NO! In fact, the student of 46 had embedded heaps of complex and amazing-sounding words in her essay - much more than those used by the student who obtained a 50. Oddly, the perfect scorer had hardly any complex vocabulary in her piece. But this ironically, was the strength of her essay. Because she wasted little time on trying to throw in lots of fancy vocabulary, she was able to focus on exploring complex ideas in her essay instead. This is what examiners are after. So if you're struggling with vocabulary, don't worry - not all hope is lost!
One of the biggest struggles is to 'improve vocabulary' in VCE. So many students are caught up trying to improve their vocabulary or using 'big words' that they don't realise the worst thing yet: using bigger words can actually hurt your essay. Yes, you read it right. Even research has actually found that using complex or big words in an essay can backfire for the student!
1. Obstructs clarity of ideas.
Readability is the ease with which a written text can be understood by the reader. In other words, how easy it is to read an essay and how enjoyable that read is. I'm sure you've read a novel in the past that was quite difficult to read because of its extensive vocabulary. On the other hand, you will find a book much more enjoyable to read when you're not struggling your whole way through deciphering words. The same applies to essays. Examiners focus heavily on your exploration and interpretation of ideas. If you have great ideas, only to overload with vocabulary just look to make yourself look smarter, it's only going to make it harder for your examiner. Just like if you had simplistic ideas and filled your essay with fancy vocabulary, it's not going to make the idea seem any more insightful. See the example below:
Student 1: 'In a plethora of elements gender inequalities prevail over the women of Nigeria.'
Student 2: 'Gender inequalities prevail over women's lives in Nigeria.'
The 'plethora of elements' is just another way of saying 'several aspects'. By trying to use nice vocabulary, this student actually reduced the meaning of their sentence, making it harder for the teacher to understand the student's idea. Remember to keep your essays straightforward, don't drown them with vocabulary that's unnecessary.
2. You seem dumber.
No offence. Writing with bigger words doesn't mean you're smarter. It is very easy to pick up when a student is simply using a thesaurus to find synonyms - because your sentence will look like this: basic basic basic COMPLEX basic basic COMPLEX basic basic. There is a clear discrepancy! Don't use 'utilise' when you can just write 'use'. You seem pompous (no offence, again!). Write clearly and simply if you can, and you’ll be more likely to be thought of as intelligent! This meme below sums up the point very well:
3. You're using it wrong.
Using a similar word is not always the RIGHT word. Let's take the word 'persuade' as an example. We're always trying to find new synonyms for 'persuade' in Language Analysis (and I do have a list for you here). The word 'entice' is by no means similar to the word 'coerce' because of the different connotations they are both associated to. To entice is to persuade through attraction or tempting the reader by offering an advantage, whereas to coerce is to persuade (an unwilling person) to do something by using force or threats. Be wise when you choose synonyms, because they do not carry the exact same meaning as the original word you intended to use!
The conditions of your vocabulary bank should be suited to your specific needs. A focus on a need or theme enables more visible connections within the vocabulary bank. Having those connections will make it easier to 'memorise' new terms. Instead of compiling a dense 20-page glossary, try breaking your vocabulary bank up into smaller, specific sections like 'new verbs'.
Now, let's find new verbs instead of the typical bolded words below to express the author's intention:
- Branch off 'argue' (Fervent tone): contends, asserts, posits, proffers…
- Branch off 'shows' (Neutral tone): demonstrates, exposes, elucidates, delineates, explicates…
- Branch off 'criticises' (Negative tone): condemns, denigrates, lampoons, parodies…
- Branch off 'supports' (Positive tone): praises, endorses, exalts, lauds…
Next, take your new vocabulary from storage to use:
After clarifying their definitions, try using some of your new words in a sentence or a paragraph, relating to either your texts or analysing argument. You can also extend your vocabulary bank by adapting the words to different sentence structures:
Original sentence: The author criticises the superficiality of our consumerist culture.
Substitution:Theauthor condemns the superficiality of our consumerist culture.
Adaptation: In a condemnatory tone, the author delineates the ostentation of our consumerist culture.
Original sentence: The author argues that gender is an arbitrary concept.
Substitution: The author asserts that gender is an arbitrary concept.
Adaptation: Asserting that gender is an arbitrary concept, the author explicates the categorist nature of human understanding.
Using convoluted expressions can be fun or exasperating! Whilst demonstrating extensive vocabulary may raise your mark, the key is to ensure harmony between your words and your understanding.
Remember: Do not use big words, do not use small words, use the RIGHT words.
The second half of this blog post was written by Joyce Ling.
If you're not entirely sure what the GAT is, head on over to this blog to find out more about it and why it's important!
[Modified Video Transcription]
What's up?! I got 10/10 on my GAT, so I'm going to tell you how I got perfect marks in Task One of the GAT. I'm also going to share with you my essay so that you know exactly what you need to do when it comes to doing your GAT.
Here's a bit of information you need to know going into Task One, which is basically a Creative piece. Now, I've done a GAT video in the past, which I highly recommend you go and watch, because in that video I teach you essentially what you should be doing for the writing tasks and how you should organise your time in order for you to get the best possible marks in the GAT. No, you don't have to study for the GAT, but if you can do well in it, then you might as well because...you don't know….COVID might come back, you might need a derived score...you know what I mean? You just don't know what's going to happen so you might as well try to do your best and if this video helps you out with that, if you're willing to spend a few minutes doing it and yet bump up your marks heaps, it's definitely going to be worth it for you!
I learned all of my skills from my tutor at the time, who was a VCAA examiner, so this information comes directly to you from an examiner, so, you know, it's legit!
A lot of people get really confused when it comes to Task One because they think that it's just a whole bunch of information that's put in front of them and what they're supposed to do is just regurgitate the information that's there and package it into an essay somehow. But, as I've talked about in my previous video, the way that you do this is to write a Creative piece using the information that's in front of you - just trust me on this.
I know there's a lot of talk back and forth out there about how you should be doing Task One, but you can see (in the comment section of my other video) people who followed through with this Creative method and have done really well. Another reason I like this Creative approach is because it makes things easier for you. In the instructions, it says:
'Develop a piece of writing, presenting the main information in the material. You should not present an argument.’
So really what's left is (if it's not going to be persuasive) it either has to be an Expository, which is just like a normal Text Response essay, or it can be a Creative. A normal Text Response essay is going to be so boring for everyone out there - do a Creative instead! Why?! Because:
‘Your piece will be judged on:
So, what this means is if you're going to do a Text Response version of the information that's in front of you, the only way you can really do that is by regurgitating and just wrapping up similar pieces of information in one paragraph together. I don't know how you would do an Expository well, but if you take a Creative approach, it not only tests your organisational skills but also tests your understanding of the material as well.
What I mean by Creative piece is you can write a letter to the editor, you can write a diary entry, you can write an advertisement, you can write a brochure. There are just so many different types of Creative pieces you could use - the world is your oyster essentially. I'm going to talk you through how I did it for my particular GAT.
This one here is actually a trial GAT. We had an examiner come in and grade our marks for us so it's not my actual GAT, which I don't think you can get back, but it's the closest thing to it, so, we'll work with that.
We did a really old GAT. This is the 2004 (which is ages ago) General Achievement Test. Some of you might've been born around this time! That is nuts!! Anyway, the GAT has not changed over the past 10 or so years, or the past 20 years even, so don't feel like this is information that's not going to be helpful, because every single year it's the same type of instructions with a similar type of information that's given.
Here you can see that I've got an island and there are just bits of information. There's a legend, there's a scale, there are facilities, there is a temperature and a bird's eye view of the island itself.
If you look at this, how are you going to write a Text Response on this? It's going to be boring. So instead, what I did was I said:
'Dear Diary: We arrived in Amaroo Island this afternoon and the view of this place from the plane was amazing!'
When I was in the GAT itself, I would cross out the section (in this case the photo of the island) that I had covered just to see how much information I was able to pack into my piece and know that I wouldn't need to touch it again.
'Magnificent blue water sea, sandy white coast and huge amounts of great green trees! From the airport, we travelled by bus to our hotel where we will be staying for two nights. On the way, we stopped at a historical ruins site. One of the tour guides whom we bumped into told us the ruins have been found to be from 1854! We stayed there for an hour, then caught the bus back again to our hotel. We were extremely excited to explore the hotel and its surroundings, so Dad, Mum, George and I quickly unpacked our luggage and changed for the night. We decided to have dinner at a restaurant which turned out to serve delicious food. After dinner, we explored a shopping centre, galleries and even a museum which is called ‘Maritime Museum’. So many facilities in just one place! That took most of the night and we were all tired from a long day. Tomorrow we will be going swimming and camping outdoors for the night. I'm excited!'
You can see just in this one paragraph I've tried to pack in as much information as I can, but in a way that makes it interesting and fun. You'll notice that with my vocabulary it's not like I am this 50 study score achiever who’s writing exceptionally beautiful language and, I don't know, making this GAT piece something that it's not. I'm just giving them information, having fun with it, making it creative and as a result, I did well!
Alright, let's keep going.
'Dear Diary: Our second day began with the sunshine pouring into our rooms.'
That's just a nod to the temperature. It's not an explicit nod, it's more of an indirect nod.
‘George and I were very eager to go swimming and were pleased to find that the weather for the day was 28°C!'
There's the explicit inclusion of the information.
'I'm glad we came here in January rather than July when we were initially planning to holiday.'
Adding more information without just forcing it down the examiner’s throat.
'Our travel guide booklet states that it’s only a maximum temperature of 15°C! degrees in July! We wouldn't have gone swimming then, that's for sure. Mum and Dad decided that even though there was a safe swimming area near Gali in Gali Bay, we should go to Dolphin Bay and then to Marlin Bay to stay for the night.'
Here I'm just including Gali Bay because I wanted to, but I wanted to also talk about the other bays as well. I'm just trying to be creative in how to include this information. It's all embedded within my storyline so it doesn't feel like I'm spoon feeding my examiner piece after piece of information.
'We caught the bus again to Dolphin Bay and there were many families as there was a caravan park situated right by the bay! How convenient is that! When we were swimming, we could even see the Cape Dolphin lighthouse in the distance. Afterwards, we travelled to Marlin Bay via bus. Marlin Bay is right next to Amaroo National Park, and we've seen some kangaroos and koalas amidst the trees but we're not allowed into the park as it's a marine reserve boundary. Tomorrow we're heading back to Gali Hotel, playing some golf and going riding along the coast!'
I'm pretty much almost done! You see that my essay wasn't actually that long. It was only a page and a half (of handwriting), and yet I still got 10/10. I think it just goes to show how many people out there just don't know how to do a GAT, so you only need to do a fraction better in order for you to do exceptionally well in your GAT scores. To finish off my story:
'Dear Diary: Our final day at Amaroo! We woke up early, had breakfast which Mum cooked up and then headed back home.'
Here I'm also adding in pieces of information that aren't necessarily on the page that's been given to us. I just thought it'd be a nice touch to say this, you know, we woke up early, we had breakfast which Mum made - it just adds to the storytelling.
'We didn't do much during that morning, just had lunch at the Gali restaurant. Afterwards, however, we did lots! We hired bikes from the shopping centre and rode along Gali Bay to Moonlight Bay. It was tiring but the scenery was amazing! We spent most of the afternoon riding but got back to Gali at 4 o'clock and Dad headed out for some golf. George and I decided not to because we were drained from all our exercise already. This is our last night in Gali, I'll be sad to leave Amaroo Island.'
That's it! If you guys want to see how I got 10/10 in my second task. Make sure you leave a comment for me over on Youtube, like the video and I'll get another video/blog out for you guys. Thanks so much for watching (or reading) and I wish you guys all the best for the GAT.
We arrived in Amaroo Island this afternoon and the view of this place from the plane was amazing! Magnificent blue water sea, sandy white coast and huge amounts of great green trees! From the airport, we travelled by bus to our hotel where we will be staying for two nights. On the way, we stopped at a historical ruins site. One of the tour guides whom we bumped into told us the ruins have been found to be from 1854! We stayed there for an hour, then caught the bus back again to our hotel. We were extremely excited to explore the hotel and its surroundings, so Dad, Mum, George and I quickly unpacked our luggage and changed for the night. We decided to have dinner at a restaurant which turned out to serve delicious food. After dinner, we explored a shopping centre, galleries and even a museum which is called ‘Maritime Museum’. So many facilities in just one place! That took most of the night and we were all tired from a long day. Tomorrow we will be going swimming and camping outdoors for the night. I'm excited!
Our second day began with the sunshine pouring into our rooms. George and I were very eager to go swimming and were pleased to find that the weather for the day was 28°C! I'm glad we came here in January rather than July when we were initially planning to holiday. Our travel guide booklet states that it’s only a maximum temperature of 15°C! degrees in July! We wouldn't have gone swimming then, that's for sure. Mum and Dad decided that even though there was a safe swimming area near Gali in Gali Bay, we should go to Dolphin Bay and then to Marlin Bay to stay for the night. We caught the bus again to Dolphin Bay and there were many families as there was a caravan park situated right by the bay! How convenient is that! When we were swimming, we could even see the Cape Dolphin lighthouse in the distance. Afterwards, we travelled to Marlin Bay via bus. Marlin Bay is right next to Amaroo National Park, and we've seen some kangaroos and koalas amidst the trees but we're not allowed into the park as it's a marine reserve boundary. Tomorrow we're heading back to Gali Hotel, playing some golf and going riding along the coast!
Our final day at Amaroo! We woke up early, had breakfast which Mum cooked up and then headed back home. We didn't do much during that morning, just had lunch at the Gali restaurant. Afterwards, however, we did lots! We hired bikes from the shopping centre and rode along Gali Bay to Moonlight Bay. It was tiring but the scenery was amazing! We spent most of the afternoon riding but got back to Gali at 4 o'clock and Dad headed out for some golf. George and I decided not to because we were drained from all our exercise already. This is our last night in Gali, I'll be sad to leave Amaroo Island.
If you'd like more help, check out Why the GAT Matters and How To Use It To Your Advantage. It walks you though what's involved, why the GAT matters, the different tasks you'll need to complete and more!
1 May 2020, 12:05pm
In Victoria, VCAA are starting to update us on which SACs (particularly practical tasks) need to be completed on-site. No English subjects are really affected by this, mostly subjects with folios or labs, as well as environmental sciences—check here for details (under ‘School-based Assessments’ > ‘Unit 3 Practical Assessments’). The general advice for any of these is that they “must be completed in the school environment that adheres to current social-distancing advice.”
Study designs have also been adjusted for English Language, as well as Biology and all streams of Maths—same link, with info under ‘2020 Adjusted Study Designs’.
In Victoria, schools remain closed, and current distancing restrictions will remain in place until May/11 for certain, even as other states begin lifting their restrictions. This is ahead of a national cabinet meeting on May/8 which will make a call on whether or not to keep going with shutdown. It’ll also take into consideration how many people have downloaded the CovidSafe app, which has spawned its own set of controversies about privacy and government access to our data. It might seem invasive, but consider:
In Victoria, three new cases were recorded overnight. Around the country, even better—for example, SA and WA are reporting zero new cases, and the ACT currently has no active cases at all.
I wouldn’t necessarily say this means the end is in sight—just a shift into the next phase, which seems to revolve around the app. What a cheery thought, I know.
One last controversy to leave you with—the Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr. Annaliese van Diemen made a tweet on her day off which compared COVID-19 to the British colonisation of Australia:
Conservative politicians have been champing at the bit to jump in with “well, actually…” comments (e.g. “well, actually Cook only charted the East Coast”) and call for her resignation, while the Labor state government has defended her right to make this tweet and express her opinion. Premier Andrews has said: “I've got no comment to make on any member of the public health team other than thank you for the work you are doing because it is making a massive difference.” And so it is.
Maybe this tweet is relevant to the current pandemic, maybe not, but let’s not be defensive about it. Instead, let’s just keep in mind that most of us are in fact not the first Australians who’ve faced something scary and foreign which has completely changed how we live, because most of us aren’t First Australians. Definitely at least food for thought.
1 May 2020, 11:20am
And a very similar kind of chaos happened there as well, with some degree of conflicting state and federal advice; NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has implemented complete remote learning until at least May 11 in spite of the federal government’s insistence on reopening.
That said, their start of term 2 has also seen some new issues arise—now, more so than a fortnight ago, people are starting to feel the situation stabilise. The number of new COVID-19 cases is falling and the humdrum of home schooling is starting to get old, which is tempting parents to send kids (especially younger kids) back to school earlier.
This is also complicated by the federal government, which has since adjusted its approach based on initial tensions with Victoria. They are now simply offering private and Catholic schools financial incentives to reopen—in particular a 25% advance on next year’s funding if they have half their students back in classrooms by June 1. There are thousands of eligible schools around the country.
Those who are more adamant about distance learning—including Premier Berejiklian, Premier Palaszczuk of Queensland and Premier Andrews of Victoria—suggest that schools will struggle to cope with more students at the moment. Teachers will be more at risk, and the delivery of at-home learning may be compromised. Also, it would be much harder to shut schools again once reopened, than to just keep them closed until we’re sure.
NSW schools are contemplating staggered returns to school, based on things like alphabets, postcodes, year groups etc. or with limited days of the week delivered in person.
At home, VCAA is running webinars to provide advice for teachers and principals, which ran on April 30 and May 1. As April comes to a close (already—it honestly felt so short), the possibility of reopening schools as well as other sectors soon is feeling within reach, though not without some element of risk.
24 April 2020, 7:40pm
VCAA has spelled out some of the changes that will be happening to Unit 3 of the VCE. Firstly, it has recommended schools delay the end of Unit 3 until Jun/26. This should give more time for everyone to figure out exactly how SACs will be administered or modified, and whether any must be completed on-site. The deadline for schools to submit Unit 3 results has also been pushed back to Oct/12.
As for Unit 4, there is currently a review of whether or not SACs can be reduced.
VCAL dates are also set to change so that it takes place in parallel with VCE, though there won’t be changes to content or assessment.
VCAA has also changed the last day for official enrolment in or withdrawal from VCE Units 3–4 to Jun/8, and from VCE Units 1–2 to Nov/9. This means that Year 11 students will have more flexibility to pick up and change subjects in Semester 2.
In terms of technological support, the Victorian government will be lending out computers and SIM cards via schools, so speaking to school administration is the first port of call. You can also seek assistance from State Schools’ Relief.
Finally, VCAA is also trying to support teachers by opening up new communication channels where they can seek more focused and detailed information from experts. I’m not too clear what information is being made available, but this is what they’ve written about it:
“F–10 and senior secondary teachers may access two new interactive communication channels from 27 April 2020. These will enable teachers to ask questions and receive answers in real time from our subject matter experts across the organisation.”
23 April 2020, 10:51am
At this stage, Victorian schools do seem to be operating remotely by default. There was some confusion earlier in the week among teachers and parents, but things seem to be settling down for now. Bearing in mind that many teachers spent the holidays adjusting and reworking lessons for online learning, their frustration is probably understandable in this light.
There still isn’t a consistent national framework for how schools should operate in the medium- to long-term though. For example, Queensland schools are only mandating 5 weeks of remote learning for now, though also making sure that essential workers’ kids can still attend school in-person and making SIM cards and laptops available for students who need them.
The Victorian Department of Education has provided learning from home advice for students and parents, translated into a number of languages. One new tidbit in there is that small groups of students who need to gather and complete learning requirements on-site will be permitted to do so. I can’t imagine a lot of requirements falling under this umbrella, but this will be up to individual schools to provide.
17 April 2020, 10:12am
If you're curious about what tutoring with LSG entails, and would like to get to know a tutor a little bit better, this video is for you! Lisa recently sat down with Sarah, one of LSG's amazing tutors, and they spoke about the life of a tutor, various tutoring experiences, and even what it's like to conduct tutoring online.
11 April 2020, 10:41am
There’s been a bit of conflicting advice from higher up, unfortunately. While state government has indicated that government schools will shift to remote learning in Term 2, the federal (national) government has other ideas.
On Apr/9, education minister Dan Tehan asked that independent and Catholic schools keep classroom learning available at the risk of losing federal funding. This is especially confusing for Victorians, as the state government has been decisive in implementing a remote Term 2 for government schools.
It’s a tricky scenario because the federal government funds independent and Catholic schools, while the state government runs government schools.
It’s definitely ok to feel frustrated by this—Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green has described this as an “impossible situation…caught between conflicting advice from state and federal authorities.”
The federal government reasons that children of essential frontline workers need a classroom option, and they may not have any other choice because of their parents’ employment. However, the Prime Minister has also said that it is up to states and territories to make those decisions about what exactly will happen in schools.
We expect more clarification on this over the long weekend and the days to follow.
10 April 2020, 8:50pm
So what exactly is going on with this right now?
Schools are reopening after Easter but they will operate remotely for Term 2. It will be announced later if this extends to Term 3 or not.
Year 12 students will receive an ATAR for work completed in 2020. The GAT will be held in October or November instead of June; exams are postponed to December at the earliest. Exams may be modified or shortened, but nothing has been announced for certain yet. There are Plan-Bs to either delay exams further if needed, or derive ATARs from your GAT.
However, entry to tertiary study shouldn’t be affected—there’s usually a big window between VCE exams and the start of uni anyway, and government is in dialogue with universities about pushing back the start of 2021 if needed. Admissions processes may look different depending on the extent to which exams are affected, but universities are committed to being fair, consistent and transparent. There may also be catch-up, foundation or bridging classes in your first year.
If you don’t have the technology to learn remotely, the government will be loaning out 4,000 SIM cards and 6,000 laptops. They will also be working with Food Bank to make sure students who need breakfast clubs and lunches get it. Transportation services (school buses, disability transport and metro) will run as usual.
I’m feeling really iffy about some of this…
You’re not alone. Many people, students among them, are encountering all kinds of challenges with the changes that have been happening, and there is no shame in feeling powerless or in need of some extra resources in this time.
If you or your family are experiencing financial hardship, you may be eligible for Youth Allowance or JobKeeper payments. There are also support grants for artists and creatives, as well as rental protections if you or your family are renters.
If you are experiencing family issues, Legal Aid Victoria has resources available.
If your mental health has been affected, you can contact:
1300 224 636
1800 650 890
1800 551 800
If you need any support for VCE or schoolwork, we’ll have plenty of content on our blog and YouTube channel to help you address any concerns. We also have a team of experienced tutors available for online tutoring.
Maybe that covers all the bases, but chances are it doesn’t—individual circumstances are really different right now, and circumstances across society are constantly in flux.
Beyond your personal circumstances, you might also be feeling a little iffy about the increased policing, or the exclusion of migrant workers from wage protection.
Could there be any alternatives to policing, maybe some sort of community-based delivery service to ensure that society’s most vulnerable remain well-resourced? And is the government obliged to protect the wages of not only Australian citizens, but Australian taxpayers as well (anybody who lives in Australia is an Australian taxpayer).
A lot to think about if you haven’t done your Oral Presentation yet…
10 April 2020, 11:20am
Across the state, students and teachers are transitioning to learning remotely — and it hasn't been exactly easy. There are a few things that you can do to ensure that your education isn't compromised and remains at a high standard. To hear more about these strategies, check out the blog post created by my fellow tutor, Angie, here.
Learning remotely means that many students of all ages are worried about how they'll be able to access tailored support from teachers busy with adapting their teaching methods and lesson plans who are often unable to give students the one-on-one attention they deserve due to this pandemic. Well, Lisa's Study Guides' online private tutoring service connects students with experienced tutors who scored in the top 9% or better in their recent completion of VCE. To learn more about how we can work with you to empower you to take control of your learning, head over to our information page here.
Lisa has also created a video talking about what online tutoring entails. Be sure to check it out below to learn more!
10 April 2020, 9:26am
You might’ve heard the term ‘economic stimulus package’ being tossed around. This refers to when the government borrows money (i.e. increases government debt) and essentially gives it to people so that ‘business as usual’ isn’t disrupted, even when our jobs and our social lives might be. Even if you no longer have a source of income, government payments can now be spent on supplies which keep you alive, keep those businesses afloat, and keep their workers employed. Without any stimulus, the economic consequences of COVID-19 would be far more widespread.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has put in place a range of economic stimuli which play a big part in flattening the curve. This has included wage guarantees (JobSeeker/JobKeeper payments) that look a lot like universal basic income—everyone* who is now out of work receives an equal, regular payment from the government that covers their basic needs.
Policies like this allow everyone*, no matter their income level beforehand, to get by and stay at home without needing to find a new job while it’s dangerous (and illegal) to go outside.
Australia has adopted similar policies before—the then-Labor government introduced economic stimuli during the financial crisis of 2009—but Scott Morrison was a vocal critic back then.
Finally, even though Australia’s response to COVID-19 appears to be working well, there are two big challenges coming up. One is Easter, a long weekend where people traditionally go out. This time, they’re being warned to stay home.
Another is the start of Term 2, when over a million Victorian students would usually be on the move. The transition to remote learning will prevent this in a bid to continue flattening the COVID-19 curve.
*everyone who is eligible—which currently doesn’t include temporary visa holders, many casual workers, people in arts and entertainment, charities etc.
8 April 2020, 1:45pm
As of Wednesday April 8, we’ve seen 5,844 cases of COVID-19 across the country, with 1,212 of those in Victoria, where 60,000 tests have been administered. Among these:
• 12 have passed away
• 45 are in hospital, including 12 in intensive care
• 101 seem to be the result of community transmission
• 736 have recovered
In order to control the rate of the outbreak, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has introduced a range of regulations which promote social distancing. These have been increasingly restrictive, from closing down non-essential businesses and limiting the size of public gatherings to stay-at-home rules that are now enforceable—you might’ve heard of these as “stage 3 restrictions”.
As part of these restrictions, you may only legally leave the house for four reasons:
• Getting food and supplies
• Seeking medical care
• Exercise (that doesn’t involve groups of more than 2 people)
• Work and study (where remote options are unavailable)
There are also on-the-spot fines of $1,652 for anyone caught in breach of these restrictions, and as many as 114 such fines have been issued in a single day. Since March 21, Victorian police have conducted 16,039 spot checks in homes and non-essential businesses. People have been fined for having mates over for dinner parties, a cheeky video game sesh, even hanging out in the park.
At this stage though, there are signs that these restrictions may be paying off, and that Australia is ‘flattening the curve’ compared to other countries, especially other Western democracies such as the US (which now leads the world in COVID-19 cases) and the UK (where the Prime Minister has contracted the virus). ‘Flattening the curve’ basically means new cases are growing at a slower rate (a ‘flat’ increase) rather than at an exponential rate (a sharper increase).
7 April 2020, 5:35pm
Right now, there's so much uncertainty and everyone has the right to be anxious. For the VCE, this is no different – it's ok for us to be unsure and worried about what'll happen with our study scores and ATARs. So, to put your minds at ease, Lisa (the founder of Lisa's Study Guides) recently created a video talking about what the coronavirus means for the VCE in 2020. Check it out below...
7 April 2020, 12:00pm
You’ve heard of Love in the Time of Cholera; now get ready for VCE in the time of coronavirus. As far as we know, the VCE is indeed still on, and if you’re currently in Year 12, it looks like you’ll be on track to graduate at the end of 2020 as per usual.
Yep. VCAA has allowed schools to administer SACs either remotely, or delay them to whenever in-person classes resume. Your school will make its own decisions on how you’ll actually be taking SACs—if you have personal access requirements or need for special provisions, speaking to them would be the best avenue. Same goes for how schools actually deliver the content—it’s all pretty flexible at the moment.
On the one hand, VCAA seems to be raising the option of delaying SACs until school resumes pretty strongly. On the other, they’re suggesting that online SACs should be delivered as normally as possible if schools can’t accommodate a delay. This means that, just like on a real SAC, there’ll be limited time and potentially limited access to resources as well.
They’re also reminding us that even if SACs go online, your actual, numerical results are less important than your “correct ranking”. To determine this, individual schools are being advised to ‘validate’ remote SAC results with classroom-based assessments when they return. You may well get the best of both worlds.
In general though, everyone is in the same boat for now, and concerns around this are widespread (and valid!). Do the best you can, and your effort will be reflected in your ranking at the end of it all. Don’t forget that SAC scores also get moderated by VCAA at the end of the year.
Yes, and they’ll still be calculated the same way (from assessments, statistical moderation, and study scores). Remember that study scores and ATARs are also rankings, and everyone is going through this together; everyone is doing/can only do the best they can under the circumstances.
As things change, VCAA will also keep everyone updated on whether or not key dates change. This may include things like:
They will also be “provid[ing] advice for schools every Monday from the start of Term 2”, so everyone will move at the same pace in these strange and difficult times.
COVID-19 is certainly unprecedented. The necessity of social distancing brings its fair share of challenges, and we’re all adapting as much as we can. At Lisa’s Study Guides, we’re doing our part by moving all our lessons online; it’s been an option that our tutors have worked with for years, and it’s just become a necessity now to minimise risk across the community.
There’ll still be online resources available though, both with your teachers and with us—please reach out if you need anything.
And there’ll be other challenges too, like having your co-curriculars and general social life going under for a little while. Make time for your hobbies where you can, and keep in touch with your friends as much as possible.
That’s a really great question—2020 is barely happening as it is, so it’s definitely normal to be anxious about the future, and whether or not you’ll feel prepared to return to life again in 2021 while also navigating the whole new world of university.
To be honest, we think you’ll be more prepared than most. University challenges most students to be more independent and self-reliant than they’ve ever been before—it’s a place where you have to choose to turn up, and actively stay on top of everything with less contact and support. You’ll come out of 2020 already having faced many of these challenges (and this’ll prepare you for life beyond uni too!).
And who knows how this will shape education going forward! It’s given everyone—not just you, but also your teachers, parents and principals—a bit of an awakening with regard to technology. Classrooms may never look the same again, even when we do go back.
For now, take it one day at a time. Stay at home when required, build routine in when possible, and do the best you can. If you need to access support services, try the following:
HELPLINE: 1300 22 4636
HELPLINE: 1800 650 890
HELPLINE: 1800 551 800
More information on VCAA and how VCE will proceed can be found at these links. Expect them to be updated periodically.
6 April 2020, 12:40pm
Hello! My name’s Mark, and I’ve been a tutor and content creator with LSG for about 3 years now. Because of the highly volatile nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a couple of changes to how we operate. One of those is this newsfeed, which I’ll be using to provide regular updates on any changes to VCE, education or the state of the virus more broadly.
We’ll also be implementing a chatbot on Facebook Messenger where you can ask for help more directly. This follows a broader movement across the education sector towards remote learning, which all of our tutors are currently practicing.
The coronavirus has undoubtedly impacted VCE and secondary education. What we know so far:
• The VCE is going ahead this year, though not without major changes. Year 12 students will receive an ATAR for study undertaken in 2020.
• Schools are free to either delay SACs until in-person classes resume, or administer them remotely in the meantime. VCAA’s official advice either way has been that SACs should be administered as ‘normally’ as possible, with restrictions on time and access to resources even if you get to do the SAC at home. Schools are encouraged to keep up regular assessments even if delays are being considered.
• Schools also have the option of ‘validating’ SACs conducted remotely with more in-person assessments when classes resume.
• The commencement of term 2 for government schools has been pushed back to April 15.
• However, all of term 2 will be administered remotely (unless this is absolutely not possible).
• The General Achievement Test (GAT) will be delayed until October or November. Year 12 exams will also be delayed, most likely to December.
Watch this space for more details on these changes, as well as any new updates as they develop. In the meantime, if you’re feeling stressed and want some tips on how to manage remote learning, check out our earlier blog post here, or video here.
Regardless of whether you’re writing a Text Response, Comparative, or even an Argument Analysis essay, it is easy to see the introduction as something inconsequential, that won’t change your overall mark. And as a result, far too many students view the intro as a mere convention of writing that simply needs to ‘tick off’ certain criteria before they get into the ‘meat’ of the essay. But, from my experiences in VCE English, I’ve found taking some time to write a concise, yet original, considered, and insightful intro (with a bit of flair when appropriate) can be hugely beneficial.
Everyone has heard it before:
“You can’t win/lose marks in an introduction or conclusion”.
I’ll be the first to admit that in some ways, this is true. The purpose of a Text Response essay is to show an understanding of a text through analysis. So, it is natural that your essay is marked based on the quality of your analysis of the text. And, because very little of this analysis occurs in the introduction, it’s easy to think that an intro can’t influence or change your final mark. While this may be true in theory, the reality is that your introduction serves as a foundation for your analysis... and just like a house, without a solid foundation coming first the rest of your essay is more liable to be weak and fragile. In my mind, the introduction provides a basis for everything that you’re going to analyse in your body-paragraphs which can build upon the assertions you have made regarding the topic in your intro. In other words, the introduction sets the direction for your essay, which overall acts as a backbone allowing for a cogent argument to be presented in your piece.
Now that we have established how an introduction helps contribute to the overall cohesiveness of an essay, let’s have a look at how an intro can help you while you’re writing. Especially when writing under timed conditions, it can be difficult to produce a detailed plan which lays out the structure of an essay. Here's where your intro can be of great help. When considered carefully, your introduction can set the parameters within which your essay will be contained. In other words, your intro can define the scope of your essay, outlining which themes and characters you are going to explore, and most importantly what arguments you are going to posit throughout your script. This means that if you get lost, or go blank trying to figure out what you should write next you can refer back to your intro to find a sense of direction and regain a foothold in your essay and. In this way, the intro not only acts as a foundation for your body-paragraphs but also provides a blueprint for them which can guide you from point to point.
At the same time, although an introduction cannot explicitly earn you marks, I would argue that a quality introduction can help position your assessor to immediately categorise your essay as belonging in a higher mark bracket. At the end of the year, exam assessors have hundreds of scripts to mark. And the truth is, they will not dedicate more than a couple of minutes to read your essay. As such, if you can impress your assessor with a powerful opening, they are more likely to see your piece as one that should earn a high mark. The reality is that assessors can often tell a lot about an essay based on the quality of its introduction. Therefore, if you can write a 9-10/10 introduction, your assessor will already be leaning towards awarding you a mark in that range without even having read your body-paragraphs yet.
If there’s one thing English teachers and assessors hate, it’s reading essays that have been memorised and recited (though, if you absolutely insist, the here's a middle-ground option where you could use' templates'). What is crucial, then, is that from the very first line of your introduction you are responding directly and unswervingly to the topic. I would suggest trying to avoid starting with a cliche contextual statement in favour of a bold response to the topic.
‘Shakespeare’s Jacobean tragicomedy Measure for Measure explores the concept of balance in his extremest characters.’
Instead, a bold opening statement is preferable...
‘Whether it is in Vienna’s abject lasciviousness, Angelo’s ascetic self-governance, or even Isabella’s hyper-rectitude, Shakespeare’s conception of Vienna in Measure for Measure is one laced with problematic extremism.’
Consider opening with a quote which captures your take on the topic. In the Comparative task, most definitely try to avoid staring with the word ‘Both’, and instead consider shedding light on a theme or concept common to both texts.
Whether it is between African and Afrikaner or Trojan and Achaean, the capacity for human understanding is upheld as paramount to overcome societal fissures. After you have put forward a broad response to the topic in your opening sentence, your introduction can then proceed to ‘zoom in’ and offer more specific arguments. These specific ideas should essentially signpost the distinct arguments you are going to present in each of your body paragraphs.
And, as suggested in the 2019 VCAA Exam Report:
‘One characteristic of high-scoring essays was recognition of the ways in which the ideas the student intended to discuss were connected.’
This means that the ideas you flag for discussion in your intro, should be logically connected to both the prompt and each other, and you should aim to outline these connections.
The specific ideas which you offer set the parameters for the rest of your essay, so it is a good idea to ensure that these insights take into consideration the implications of the key-terms of the topic, and attempt to take the topic further. This allows you to consider the text in a sophisticated and conceptual way while maintaining rock-solid links to the topic.
After you have ‘zoomed into’ the specific arguments you will be mounting in your essay, the final step is to ‘zoom back out’ and offer an incisive, and powerful overall contention which responds explicitly to the terms of the topic. We talk about this 'zoom in' and 'zoom out' technique in How To Write A Killer Text Response.
Ultimately, the introduction provides you with a great opportunity to show off to your assessors that you can write incisively, fluently, and with confidence.
Power-up your learning with free essay topics, downloadable word banks, and updates on the latest VCE strategies.
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