English & EAL

The Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response

Lisa Tran

May 7, 2019

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Updated 19/01/2021


1. What Is Text Response?
2. What Are You Expected To Cover? (Text Response Criteria)
3. School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams and Allocated Marks
4. How To Prepare for Your Text Response SAC and Exam
5. How To Write a Text Response

1. What Is Text Response?

Like its name, Text Response is when you respond to a text. The most popular texts are novels and films; however, plays, poetry and short stories are also common. Your response will be in the form of an essay, in which you discuss themes, ideas and characters. Recall all the novels and films you've studied since Year 7 (there'll be quite a few!). You should be very familiar with the process of watching a film or reading a novel, participating in class discussions about themes and characters, and finally, submitting an essay based on the text.

As you graduate into higher year levels, you spend each year revising and improving on TEEL, learning to better incorporate quotes and formulating even longer essays than the year before (remember when you thought you couldn't possibly write an essay more than 500 words?).

The good news is, all of that learning is now funnelled into VCE’s Text Response, one of the three parts of the VCE English study design. Text Response, officially known as ‘Reading and Responding’ in the study design, is the first Area of study (AoS 1) - meaning that the majority of students will tackle the Text Response SAC in Term 1. Let's get into it!

2. What Are You Expected To Cover? (Text Response Criteria)

What are teachers and examiners expecting to see in your essays? Below are the VCE criteria for Text Response essays.

Note: Some schools may express the following points differently, however, they should all boil down to the same points - what is necessary in a Text Response essay.

a) Critically analyse texts and the ways in which authors construct meaning;

Much of the ‘meaning’ in a novel/film comes instinctively to readers. Why is it that we can automatically distinguish between a protagonist from an antagonist? Why is it that we know whether or not the author supports or denounces an idea?

Here you need to start looking at how the author constructs their texts and why they have made that choice. For example, the author describes a protagonist using words with positive connotations (kind, brave, charming), whereas the antagonist is described with words using negative connotations (vain, egocentric, selfish).

For example, 'in Harry Potter, by describing the protagonist Harry as "brave", the author JK Rowling exhibits the idea of how possessing bravery when making tough choices or facing challenges is a strong and positive trait.'

b) Analyse the social, historical and/or cultural values embodied in texts;

Society, history and culture all shape and influence us in our beliefs and opinions. Authors use much of what they’ve obtained from the world around them and employ this knowledge to their writing. Understanding their values embodied in texts can help us as readers, identity and appreciate theme and character representations.

For example, 'through the guilty verdict of Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee expresses the belief that the American legal system in the 1930s was not always fair or just.'

For more information on context and authorial intent in VCE English, read Tim's blog, Context and Authorial Intention in VCE English, or Olivia's on what authorial intent is and why it's important.

c) Discuss and compare possible interpretations of texts using evidence from the text;

Be open to the idea that many texts can be interpreted in many ways. Texts are rarely concrete and simple. Take The Bible, a book that is one of the most popular and famous books in history but is interpreted differently by every person. Acknowledging more than one perspective on a certain aspect of the text, or acknowledging that perhaps the writer is intentionally ambiguous, is a valuable skill that demonstrates you have developed a powerful insight into your text.

For example, 'in The Thing Around Your Neck, feminist readers condone Adichie's stories which all revolve around women either as protagonist or as narrators, giving voice to the disempowered gender in Nigerian society.'

d) Use appropriate metalanguage to construct a supported analysis of a text;

While you should absolutely know how to embed quotes in your essay like a boss, you want to have other types of evidence in your Text Response essay. You must discuss how the author uses the form that he/she is writing in to develop their discussion. This encompasses a huge breadth of things from metaphors to structure to language.

For example, 'The personification of Achilles as "wolf, a violator of every law of men and gods", illustrates his descent from human to animal….' 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…'.

To learn more about metalanguage, read our 'What Is Metalanguage?' post.

e) Control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

When examiners read essays, they are expected to get through about 12-15 essays in an hour! This results in approximately 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 they have to reread certain parts of your essay due to poor expression and grammar.

For further advice on the above criteria points, read Emily's (English study score 46): Year 12: How To Turn Your Text Response Essays From Average to A+.

3. School Assessed Coursework (SAC), Exams and Allocated Marks

Reading and Creating is assessed in Unit 1 (Year 11) and Unit 3 (Year 12). The number of allocated marks are:

  • Unit 1 - dependant on school
  • Unit 3 English – 30 marks
  • Unit 3 EAL – 40 marks

Exactly when Text Response is assessed within each unit is dependent on each school; some schools at the start of the Unit, others at the end. The time allocated to your SAC is also school-based. Often, schools use one or more periods combined, depending on how long each of your periods last. Teachers can ask you to write anywhere from 800 to 1000 words for your essay (keep in mind that it’s about quality, not quantity!)

In your exam, you get a whopping total of 3 hours to write 3 essays (Text Response, Comparative and Language Analysis). The general guide is 60 minutes on Text Response, however, it is up to you exactly how much time you decide to dedicate to this section of the exam. Your Text Response essay will be graded out of 10 by two different examiners. Your two unique marks from these examiners will be combined, with 20 as the highest possible mark.

4. How To Prepare for Your Text Response SAC and Exam

Preparation is a vital component in how you perform in your SACs and exam so it’s always a good idea to find out what is your best way to approach assessments. This is just to get you thinking on the different study methods you can try before a SAC. Here are my top strategies (ones I actually used in VCE) for Text Response preparation that can be done any time of year (including holidays - see How To Recharge Your Motivation Over the School Holidays for more tips):

a) Reread your book (or rewatch the film)

After all the learning and discussion you’ve had with your teacher and peers, you should have now developed a solid foundation of knowledge. Rereading a book enables you to refresh your memory on subplots, popular passages and most importantly, helps you fill in any missing gaps in knowledge. Take this as an opportunity to get familiar with the parts of the texts you're less confident with, or to examine a particular theme that you know you're weaker in (HINT: A good place to start is to make sure you know the difference between themes, motifs and symbols!)

b) Do a close analysis

This is like an advanced version of rereading a book. A 'close analysis' - a term stolen from VCE Literature (thanks Lit!) - is basically where you select a passage (a short chapter or a few pages), and analyse it in detail.

As you move through the passage, you can pick out interesting word choices made by the author and try to interpret why they have made this choice. Doing a close analysis will immensely strengthen your metalanguage analysis skills, and also give you the opportunity to stand out from other students because you can offer unique and original analysis and evidence in your essay. I know this can be a bit confusing, so this video below shows a full close analysis of a Macbeth passage in action:

c) Read and watch Lisa's Study Guides' resources

Doing this study all by yourself can be rather daunting, so we've got your back. We specialise in supporting VCE English by creating helpful videos, study guides and ebooks. Here are some just to get your started:

YouTube Videos

We create general Text Response advice videos like this:

We also create text-specific videos:

And if you just need general study advice, we've got you covered too:

Check out our entire YouTube channel (and don't forget to subscribe for regular new videos!).

Study Guides

Our awesome team of English high-achievers have written up study guides based on popular VCE texts. Here's a compilation of all the ones we've covered so far:

After Darkness by Christine Piper

Cosi by Louis Nowra

Extinction by Hannie Rayson

Flames by Robbie Arnott

False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella

Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck

Like a House on Fire by Kate Kennedy

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Old/New World Selected Poems by Peter Skrzynecki

On The Waterfront by Elia Kazan

Ransom by David Malouf

Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock

Runaway by Alice Munro

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder (Analysis of Film Techniques)

Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder (Incorporating Cinematic Features into your VCE Essay)

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (Setting)

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie (Breakdown of Themes & Quotes)

The Golden Age by Joan London

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

The White Girl by Tony Birch

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney

Women of Troy by Euripides (Don Taylor's version)

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Tip: You can download and save many of these study guides for your own study use! How good is that?


And if that isn't enough, I'd highly recommend my How To Write A Killer Text Response ebook.

Most people seem to the think the most difficult part of Text Response is the writing component - and they're not completely wrong. However, what I've found is that not even students place emphasis on the brainstorming, preparation and planning of Text Response.

Think about it - if you don't come to the table with the best ideas, then how can you expect your essay to achieve A+? Even if you write an exceptional essay, if it doesn't answer the prompt, your teacher won't be sticking a smiley face on your work. We need to avoid these common teacher criticisms, and I have no doubt you've experienced at least once the dreaded, 'you're not answering the prompt', 'you could've used a better example' or 'more in-depth analysis needed'.

Enter my golden strategy - the THINK and EXECUTE strategy. This is a strategy I developed over the past 10 years of tutoring, and I've seen my students improve their marks every time. The THINK and EXECUTE strategy breaks up your Text Response into two parts - first the THINK, then the EXECUTE. Only with the unique THINK approach, will you then be able to EXECUTE your essay to its optimum potential, leading yourself to achieve those higher marks.

To learn more about the THINK and EXECUTE strategy, download my ebook sample on the shop page or at the bottom of this blog, or check out the video below:

d) Get your hands on essay topics

Often, teachers will provide you with a list of prompts to practice before your SAC. Some teachers can be kind enough to hint you in the direction of a particular prompt that may be on the SAC. If your teacher hasn’t distributed any, don’t be afraid to ask.

We have a number of free essay topics curated by our team at LSG, check some of them out. Also go scroll back up to our list of study guides above, as most of those also have essay prompts included:

All the Light We Cannot See Essay Topics
Like a House on Fire Essay Topics
The Handmaid's Tale Essay Topics

e) Brainstorm and write plans

Once you've done some preliminary revision, it's time to write plans! Plans will help ensure you stick to your essay topic and have a clear outline of what your essay will cover. This clarity is crucial to success in a Text Response essay.

Doing plans is also an extremely time-efficient way to approach SACs. Rather than slaving away hours upon hours over writing essays, writing plans can will save you the burnout and will get you feeling confident faster.

I've curated essay topic breakdown videos based on specific VCE texts. In these videos, I explore keywords, ideas and how I'd plan an essay with corresponding examples/evidence.

f) Write essays

Yes, sad, but it’s a fact. Writers only get better by actually writing. Even if you just tackle a couple of essays then at least you will have started to develop a thinking process that will help you to set out arguments logically, utilise important quotes and time yourself against the clock. It will help you write faster as well – something that is a major problem for many students. With that said, let's get into how to write a Text Response next.

Take a look at some of the essays our amazing LSG team have written:

After Darkness Essay Topic Breakdown

All the Light We Cannot See Essay Topic Breakdown

Extinction A+ Essay Topic Breakdown

Station Eleven Essay Topic Breakdown

Women of Troy Essay Topic Breakdown

If you need any more tips on how to learn your text in-depth, Susan's (English study score 50) Steps for Success in Text Study guide provides a clear pathway for how to approach your text and is a must read for VCE English students!

And, if you're studying a text you hate (ugh!) be sure to check out Lavinia's guide which teaches you how to do well even when you don't like your text!

5. How To Write a Text Response

Before you start writing, make sure you're familiar with The Five Types of Text Response Prompts. Understanding the different types will help you move beyond a 'basic' one-size-fits-all structure.


In an introduction, you're expected to have the following:

  • Context (or background)
  • Author's name
  • Title of text
  • Contention
  • Main arguments

Here's an example from Vindhya (English study score 46), in her post Dissecting an A+ Essay Using 'The Golden Age' by Joan London:

Perhaps nothing exemplifies the power of love and recognition more than the bond between Albert Sutton and his older sister, Lizzie, in Joan London’s ‘The Golden Age’. Many of London’s characters exhibit suffering that requires compassion and support to heal and grow, to distinguish present from past. However, London explores the perspectives of such characters from different aspects of trauma, and emphasise that love and recognition do not always work to heal and mature. Frank Gold, the novel’s resident “sneaky” boy who adjusts to newfound life in the Golden Age Convalescent Home seeks love as an adult, rather than eliciting sympathy as a supposed victim. Here love and recognition are unsuccessful in amending Frank’s troubles when given from the perspective of an outsider, a judgemental onlooker. In a similar sense, Ida Gold seeks recognition not from Australia, who she views as a ‘backwater’, but validation in herself after having been ousted from her Hungarian identity. London, however, makes sure to emphasise the impact that Sullivan has on Frank Gold’s life. Sullivan, a boy only a few years older than Frank, seems content with his future, with his fate, despite his sacrifice of rugby and conventional life. There is a lacking sense of urgency for love and recognition in Sullivan’s life, rather, it appears that Sullivan accepts his fate, regardless of his father’s sympathy or support. Thus, London explores a myriad of ways in which love and recognition may or may not heal wounds inflicted upon individuals.

Try to keep your introduction to the point. There's no need to prolong an introduction just to make a set number of sentences. It's always better to be concise and succinct, and then move into your main body paragraphs where the juicy contents of your essay resides.

Body Paragraph

Most of you will be familiar with TEEL. TEEL can stand for:

  • Topic sentence
  • Example
  • Evidence
  • Linking sentence

If your teacher or school teaches you something slightly different - that's okay too. At the end of the day the foundations are the same.

Early in the novel, London makes reference to Norm White, the resident groundskeeper of The Golden Age Convalescent Home. Norm White hands Frank Gold a cigarette, 'as if to say a man has the right to smoke in peace'. Here, there is a complete disregard for rule and convention, an idea that London emphasises throughout the text. This feature provides a counter-cultural experience for Frank, pushing him to realise that he is a strong human being rather than a mere victim. This is a clear contrast to the “babyishness” of the home, and is used as evidence of true humanity in an era where society judged upon the unconventional. Frank yearns for a traditional Australian life after his trauma in Hungary; 'his own memory…lodged like an attic in the front part of his brain'. Hedwiga and Julia Marai’s caring of him pushed him towards fear and reluctance to trust, yet also pressured him to seek acceptance in a world that ostracises him for his Jewish heritage and polio diagnosis. This here is why Frank desires a mature, adult connection – love that regards him as an equal human being. Frank seeks Elsa’s love and company as she too loathes being reduced to a victim, an object of pity. Frank thereafter uses humour to joke of his wounds; 'we Jews have to be on the lookout'. Elsa sees 'a look in his eyes that she recognised', thus their bond enables both characters to heal. London alludes that Frank requires love and recognition not from the perspective of a sorrowful onlooker, rather he longs to be recognised as a mature adult.


Conclusions should be short and sweet.

Although trauma is often treated with love and compassion, London details different perspectives on this idea. Whilst Frank Gold requires a specific kind of recognition, Ida and Meyer seek validation in themselves and their relationship, whilst Sullivan is at ease with his fate and does not yearn sympathy from his father.

For further detail from Sarah (English study score 45), read her advice on 5 Tips for a Mic-Drop Worthy Essay Conclusion.

That's it for the Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response. Good luck!

*Originally posted in 2011, this blog post has been revised for the latest English study design.

Get our FREE VCE English Text Response mini-guide

Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps.

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"You're not answering the prompt"

"You're going off topic"

Then you're not alone! If you struggle to understand and stay on topic, learn how to answer the prompt every time with our How To Write A Killer Text Response study guide.

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