When examiners read essays, they are expected to get through about 12-15 in an hour. This results in having around 5 minutes to read, get their head around, and grade your essay. Not much time at all. It is so vital that you don’t give the examiner an opportunity to take away marks because he has had to reread certain parts of your essay due to poor expression and grammar or double check his criteria sheet to see if you have met parts of it!
Having scored a 49 in English, I found that if I followed the ‘3 Cs’ it would be hard for examiners to take marks away:
Many people have a major problem with clarity and, for want of a better word, ‘crispness’ in their essays, especially at the start of the year. Instead of sharp, clear language and flow, essays are convoluted and a bore to read. A few little tips to increase clarity are:
– Try get rid of –‘ing’ words. The use of the present tense-‘when Achilles kills Hector he is personified as a ‘jackal’-is much crisper than ‘when Achilles is killing…’
– Cut out unnecessary words. Instead of ‘not only…but also’, why not just say ‘both’.
– Many students over-quote because they don’t have a strong enough grasp or confidence to analyse and discuss the main themes and ideas of the novel. Quotes shouldn’t just be thrown in to describe, they should be used to analyse and act as a launching pad for greater discussion. 3-4 quotes per paragraph are sufficient if you use them wisely. Examiners don’t want to re-read the text in your essay; they want your interpretation and analysis of it!
– Don’t use big words when you don’t know what they mean. This is a catastrophic and all too common mistake. Build up a bank of words that you are comfortable with using and use them in every essay.
Familiarise yourself with the specific criteria of each task as they are a few additions to general Year 11 criteria. When examiners are marking they have the criteria in front of them and give marks when you satisfy each part of it. Now, there are a couple of aspects that students generally don’t address as they haven’t really come across them before:
– Stylistic features/devices: You must discuss how the author uses the form that he/she is writing in to develop her discussion. This encompasses a huge breadth of things from metaphors to structure to language. I liked to interweave this into my essay – ‘The personification of Achilles as ‘wolf, a violator of every law of men and gods’, illustrates….’ or ‘Malouf’s constant use of the present voice and the chapter divisions allow the metaphor of time to demonstrate the futility and omnipresence of war…’ (for more information, see What is Metalanguage?).
– Cultural/Historical background: This requires a little background reading; however it is vitally important in both Text Response and Context to make comparisons and contrasts between the text and the cultural and/or historical circumstances behind it and furthermore comment on what the author’s intentions were for writing the novel. All the texts on the VCE list are specifically chosen because they have a deep insight into human nature which is most likely based on a historical experience or the author’s own experiences.
It is vital to have a sound structure to your essay. Your essay, for all three forms, should act as a development of an interpretation. Rather than have three totally different arguments as your body paragraphs, each paragraph should grow and build on the previous one. For example, if we look at a general theme of war:
– the abyss of war
– the consequences
– how characters react differently
– what makes humanity so inclined to fight
Here, we see how identifying the major idea can act as a launching pad for an essay. Many students do one paragraph on war, one on love, one on personal growth and one on a character regardless of the topic. This approach doesn’t allow any cohesion or sophisticated and deep analysis. However, it is important to note that all these other notions such as love and peace can be discussed within the realms of points above. So, begin using essay topics and the major idea that they bring forth as a platform to grow a detailed response and interpretation. By doing this, your essay will have a much greater flow and structure which also displays higher order thinking.