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Are you a slow writer who struggles to write down all of the information that you hear in the listening audio clip? Have you ever been in a situation where the next sentence in the audio comes up way before you finish writing down information from the previous sentence? If yes, then this blog is for you!
You want to write down as much useful information as possible in a short period of time during your VCE EAL exam, so it is very useful to implement a system of techniques that works well for you personally. Here are some ideas and suggestions that you may want to use to increase the speed of your note-taking.
1. Use Different Coloured Pens or Keys for Different Speakers
Under the stress of exams/SACs, you might lose track of which speaker is talking. This is likely to happen if the speakers are of the same sex or they sound similar to each other (from personal experience, I had a listening task with 3 female speakers!) A simple way to remind yourself of who is speaking is to take side notes with different coloured pens and/or symbols for different speakers.
If in the audio: Lisa says, ‘The weather is lovely’ and Cici replies ‘Let’s go for a run’. We can write side notes using L (for Lisa) and C for Cici, which may look like:
L ‘weather is lovely’
C 'Let's go for a run’
Or, you could use a red pen for Lisa and blue pen for Cici.
2. Use Signs & Symbols to Replace Words
Using symbols is an efficient way to increase the speed of writing and ultimately increase the amount of information that you can record. Here are some examples of symbols I have used in the past and the meanings I gave them.
→ Leading to/Stimulate/Result in
∴ Therefore OR Consequently
> Greater than/More than
< Less than/Fewer than
~ Approximately OR Around OR Similar to OR Not Equal OR Not the same as
c/b Could be
Use abbreviations that work for you. There is no right or wrong here as the ‘blank space for scribbles’ will not be marked. Abbreviations can take the form of short notes or letters...you get to be creative here!
You can also choose to keep only the essential vowels and consonants in words. Or, leave out the double consonants and silent letters. The following list contains some abbreviations for common words or phases:
Answer = answ
About = abt
Morning = am
Afternoon = pm
As soon as possible = asap
Before = bef/b4
Between = bt
Because = bc
Common = com
Condition = cond
Diagnosis = diag
Regular = reg
You = u
Notes = nts
To = t
Take = tk
Very = v
With respect to = wrt
With = w/
Will be = w/b
Within = w/i
Without = w/o
Here are some examples of how you might use abbreviations and symbols:
‘You should remember to take notes in classes’
Can be abbreviated as:
‘U shld rmbr t tk nts in cls’
‘Gidon has a rare blood condition which means he visits the hospital quite regularly. Since his diagnosis, Gidon’s family paid more than ten thousand dollars just to visit the hospital. Gidon initiated a petition that advocates for lowering the fees for parking in hospitals and putting a limit on how much the hospital can charge.’
Can be abbreviated as:
G has rare blood condi → he visits hosp. v. reg.
I've used G as an abbreviation for Gidon, and the arrow here represents that the stuff on the left side of the arrow (i.e. his rare blood condition), led to the events on the right side of the arrow (i.e. regular hospital visits).
Since his diag. → G’s fam paid >$10K to visit hosp.
Here I’ve also used the arrow, indicating that the stuff on the left side of the arrow (i.e. his diagnosis), led to the events on the right side of the arrow (i.e. Gidon's family paid more than 10 thousand dollars). I’ve also used >$10K to indicate that the amount Gidon’s family paid is more than 10 thousand dollars.
G → petition → advocates for ↓ $ parking & limit how much hosp. can charge
Using my symbols and abbreviations above, it’s your turn to work out how I’ve abbreviated this ;)
I hope these tips and tricks will assist you with note taking during the EAL listening SACs and exam. If you would like more practice on the listening section, check out the following blogs!
How Do I Do Well if I HATE the English Texts That I Am Studying?
I know that exact feeling; the feeling of giving up before it has even started. Some lucky students fall in love at first sight with their texts while some unfortunate students dread having to spend a whole year analysing their texts. If you resonate with the latter, you have probably already given up on English, or maybe you’re trying your best to stay optimistic. English is hard, but what makes it harder is when you know you hate the texts that you are studying, so how can I do well in English if I hate the texts that I have to study? Whether you hate reading and analysing texts or you just hate the specific text that you have to study, here is a guide on how to make studying and reading your texts more enjoyable!
We’ve all said it before, “I’ll just read it later” or “I’ll read it right before school starts” and in the end, it all leads to the same conclusion of us never actually reading the text and by the time our SACs roll around, we ‘study’ by reading summaries of our texts and try memorising the most popular quotes.
Do I Really Have To Read the Text?
The bad news is yes, it is highly recommended that you read your texts! (I know it can be tempting to just read chapter summaries but trust me, I have tried writing an essay without reading the text and it went very badly). However, the good news is using LSG’s ideal approach to your English texts, you may only need to read your texts a minimum of three times. In fact, if you make use of your first reading, you probably won’t have to personally read the text again! During this first reading, take your time, don’t try to binge read the entire text in a night as there is a high chance that you will not be following the plot and you’re just reading for the sake of finishing the text. There’s no need to start annotating the text during this first reading as you will most likely have a collective second reading in class where your teacher will go over the whole text in more detail by highlighting significant sections of your text. This first reading is simply for you to familiarise yourself with the text and what you will be handling during the year. However, if you still have trouble understanding your texts, LSG has a plethora of resources such as free text-specific blogs and affordable text guides that you can check out!
How Do I Find the Motivation To Read My Texts?
Some common reasons why we might procrastinate reading our texts are the sheer volume of pages we need to read; having a short attention span and; being a more visual learner. If this is the case, there are many ways to increase your motivation to read or watch your texts!
If the text is a play (e.g. The Crucible by Arthur Miller), watch the play while reading the script. Not only will this help you understand the stage directions in the script, but it can also help with understanding the plot if you are a more visual learner.
If the text has a film adaptation (e.g. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote or The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham), watch the film adaptation first! Knowing major plot twists and spoilers can make reading your text feel faster as you already know what is going to happen. Watching film adaptations can also help allow you to picture the plot easily and help immerse yourself into the setting and the world of the text (however, do take care when doing this as you are only analysing the text you have been allocated, not the adaptations!)
If the text is a film (e.g.Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock), try to find a trailer of the film or find short clips from the film rather than watching the entire movie in one sitting; watching these cuts and suspenseful scenes may spark your curiosity which is likely to increase your interest towards wanting to watch the movie. Scheduling a movie night with friends and family is also a great way to make watching the film more fun.
Create goals: Space it out, we do not want to get burnt out! Organise goals and do not attempt to read the book all within a night! For example, you could aim to read one chapter a day. Not only will this hold you accountable, but it will also make reading less daunting and overwhelming.
Rewards: Who doesn’t love rewards? Reward yourself after reaching your reading goals, this could be as simple as taking a break after reading or reading a book that you like.
Audiobooks: When you don’t feel like physically reading, download audiobooks of your texts and listen to them while you’re commuting or while you’re doing your chores.
Environment: Create the perfect reading atmosphere! This is quite subjective, however, if you’re struggling to find this niche, here is a step-by-step guide to ‘romanticise’ reading:
Put your devices away! If you’re opting to read an ebook, you can also turn your notifications off. We do not want to be distracted and procrastinate!
Find a comfortable place to sit with good lighting.
If you’re in the mood for a sensory experience, light a scented candle or make your favourite beverage to sip along while you are reading.
If it helps, you can pretend that you’re reading at an aesthetic library, or your favourite café, or a serene park…the options are endless.
It can be even harder to find the motivation to study for the texts that you hate as you’re probably looking for ways to limit the amount of physical contact you make with the text or ways to save time and study less for English but still do well in the subject.
How Do I Save Time When Reviewing and Writing Notes on My Texts?
Tip 1: Write Notes Based on Themes, Writing Style & Characters Instead of Chronologically
Often, students will take notes chronologically based on each chapter, however, this is not helpful at all. In your SACs and exam, you will not be writing paragraphs based on each chapter, instead, you will likely be given one of the five types of essay prompts that require an in-depth understanding of the themes, writing style (such as symbols and motifs) and characters of the text. Therefore, I recommend writing down notes and quotes based on themes, specific writing techniques and characters.
For example, before class, you could create a separate notes page on each prominent theme of the text. When your teacher highlights significant sections of the text, you could then write down these notes into the relative theme document. For comparative texts, you can also create a comparison table based on overlapping themes which will allow you to view the comparisons more easily. If you’re a visual learner, colour coding your notes according to different themes or characters can make it easier to find later on when reviewing your notes. If you do this from the start, you will spend less time re-reading the text and organising your notes which will hopefully reduce the amount of time you spend studying.
Tip 2: Write Down Page Numbers Next to Quotes and Notes
No, you do not have to memorise page numbers for your final exam or SACs, however, writing down page numbers will help yousave time when reviewing your notes as you can just flip over to the page rather than having to re-read the text to find the specific quote or notes. It may seem rather annoying having to write down the page numbers all the time, however, your future self will thank you!
How Can I Find the Motivation To Write on the Text That I Hate?
Tip 1: Find Out What You Hate and Like About the Text
We all experience writer’s block, especially when we have no passion for the text we are studying. However, assuming you have read the text, you would probably have unique opinions on the text. Firstly, find out what you hate about the text.
Do you hate a specific character in the text? Why do you hate this character?
Do you hate the writing style? What is it about the writing style that you hate?
Is there a specific theme you felt the text did not address properly?
Was there a specific scene or part of the text that frustrated you?
Once you find out what you hate about the text, find an essay prompt related to the topic you hate and practice writing an essay about it! Use this as a chance to lowkey rant, discuss or debate about the topic. Not only will this help you develop your inner author voice, but it will also provide you with inspiration to write. On the other hand, you can also find out what you like about the text (hopefully, you don’t hate everything about the text) and practice writing on a topic related to this. For example, I hated studying The Crucible due to the portrayal of women in the text. However, when analysing the text, I realised that the portrayal of women in the text was simply a reflection of the conservative and insular society of Salem which became a theme that I liked discussing.
Tip 2: Put the Text in Context
Keep in mind that the texts that you have been allocated all have a specific aim and purpose such as serving political commentary about a significant historical event, critiquing a specific characteristic of conservative communities or simply a discussion about human nature. Throughout the text, there will be many literary techniques, characters and events that will be used to bring these significant themes to life. Therefore, regardless of whether you like the plot of the text or not, the themes that you will be studying may be more of interest to you. If this is the case, researching the background and the world of the text may help you gain a deeper understanding of these themes which is likely to increase your motivation to write as you will be able to apply your knowledge about the text such as quotes, characters and events to these themes.
Tip 3: Utilise Your Strengths
By focusing on your strengths, you are likely to increase your confidence and consequently, your motivation to write! Therefore, if you are an expert at analysing literary techniques, or if you have mastered writing about characters, use these strengths when you are writing. Not only will playing at your strengths make writing less difficult, it may also help overshadow your weaknesses.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many choices in English and it is quite likely that you will end up with a text that you dislike. However, it is still possible to do well in English while studying texts you hate! Hopefully, these tips can make reading and studying your texts much more enjoyable and consequently, make your English experience much more pleasant. Endure the pain now and you'll be finished before you know it!
Ahhh school holidays. The perfect two weeks to catch up on homework and forget about the stresses of school. Now, this scenario isn’t what the majority of our school holidays actually look like. For some, school holidays present a challenge whereby we don’t have direct access to our teachers to ask for help and we ultimately find ourselves in a bit of a ‘motivation downslide’.
Personally, the school holidays were a great time for me to go through all the concepts that I found tricky during the term. Yet, I always found myself running into a bit of trouble with what I like to call ‘the procrastination jungle’, especially with English. So, here are a few tips that can help you find some sparks of motivation for when you feel like there is simply no road ahead.
1: Write Down/Outline/Revisit Your Goals
Often the best way to figure out how you’re travelling through the year is to pause, breathe and reflect back (cue Disney’s Mulan, Reflection) on what was a busy and hectic term.
I always found it useful to revisit some of my previous goals that I had set for myself and tick them off if I had accomplished them. For instance, a goal that I had for the start of Term 2 was to ask my teachers more questions about concepts that I was still unsure of. When it came to the Term 2 holidays, I revisited this goal and was able to tick it off which gave me an incredible sense of achievement and reassured me that I was on track to finish the year off with a score that I was going to be super proud of in the end.
You might be asking, ‘what if I haven’t written down any goals throughout the year?’ Not to worry! It is never too late to start contemplating what your objectives are for the year. In fact, use this time now during the start of your holidays as a stepping stone to building up a habit of doing just this. This will help you tremendously in defining your journey towards accomplishing your aspirations and offer you perspective on any improvement areas you may need to address in your subjects.
But, how exactly are you supposed to make goals? Some may say that this process is somewhat ‘tedious’, but I’m here to help take the guesswork out of making, revisiting and addressing your goals using the ‘SMART’ technique:
Be specific (S) and measurable(M) with your goal → Maybe your aim is to get a 90+ ATAR by the end of Year 12 or maybe your goal is to improve your grade average from 80% to 85%. No matter what your goal is, be sure to make note of what needs to be accomplished and what steps need to be taken to achieve it. Let’s have a look at an example:
‘My goal before the end of Term 3 is to have written one English Essay for all of my novels every week and have it marked by my teacher’.
Notice how to the point this is? I’ve mentioned exactly what it is that I want to see completed, by when and the frequency - ‘one essay per week’.
Is your goal going to be achievable (A) and is it going to be relevant (R)? → While goal setting might encourage you to be ambitious, sometimes we need to take a step back and think to ourselves, is this goal realistic and is it relevant to what you personally want to achieve at the end of an academic year? Let’s have a look at another example:
‘My goal before the end of term is to read all four of my novels three times a week, write 10 essays for each novel every week and complete a three-hour practice exam every second day of every week’
Now I know what you’re thinking, anything is possible if you put your mind to it, but writing 10 essays for each novel and completing a three-hour practice exam every week?! Not only is this goal simply not realistic, but what relevance is this goal going to have when you’ll inevitably feel burnt out and tired from writing all those essays!
And last but not least, when will your goal be completed? This point stresses the importance of ensuring that your goal is realistic and attainable so that you can achieve it within a given time frame (T). We’ve been specifying in our examples that we would like to complete our goals by the end of the term but feel free to critically consider how long your goal may take in reality. Is the goal of wanting to improve your Language Analysis skills really going to be achieved within a matter of days?
2: Look for Gaps in Your Understanding
Pinpointing what you still need to go through and what you’ve already mastered is guaranteed to save you time and effort studying when it comes to SACs and eventually the exam. By doing this, you’ll feel a sense of control and direction when you begin another term, without experiencing the often icky feeling of being lost and unsure.
The way that I went about this was to:
1) Source the study design for each of your subjects (you can do this by going to the VCAA website) and either print them or have them saved onto your desktop. 2) Read through the study design and start to familiarise yourself with the dot points and what you have already covered in class. 3) Go through the study design and, using highlighters or coloured pens, come up with a colour coordinating system. I personally opted for:
Red = areas that you’re still unsure about and need further improvement
Green = areas of mastery
Orange = areas of the study design where you’re in the middle and could do with some polishing up
4) Link your existing notes to the study design dot points and if you haven’t already covered a particular dot point in your notes, take the time to study and add these in.
3: Pomodoro Technique
If you didn’t believe in magic before then you definitely will with the Pomodoro Technique. I used this method religiously back in Year 12 and still do at University. It involves breaking up your study into bite-size chunks whereby you complete intervals of 50 minutes of study followed by a 10-minute break. After every 3-4 cycles, add in a 20-minute break.
Let’s have a look at an example of my typical morning back in Year 12:
11:50am -12:10pm: An extended break! Make some lunch and play with my dog
What I love about this is that it enables you to break up the work into manageable pieces so that you focus solely on one task before taking a well-deserved break. This ensures that you don’t burn out from constantly studying without scheduling time for relaxation, recovery and recharge.
How you use your break time is completely up to you. Do anything to take your mind off your work for a few minutes before diving back into your studies!
4: Prioritise Your Mental and Physical Health
While it may feel productive to be studying and revisiting content covered in previous terms, there is no understating the importance of taking the time to practice good habits that improve your mental and physical health.
Consider taking your dog for a walk while listening to a few songs along the way, or going to your local swimming pool and doing a few laps! Anything to get your body moving will help to ensure that you break your routine up a little bit and experience something different to the often mundane task of studying and completing work. Maybe also get your friends involved too! You can try organising a volleyball game or whatever activity you are all keen on!
5: Don’t Compare Your Motivation Levels to Others
Everyone is sitting somewhere different on the motivation scale. Some may be extremely motivated to reread their texts, write up essay plans, write timed essays, etc. and others may find it difficult to achieve consistent motivation all the time, and that’s okay. To feel motivated all the time is failing to step back and reflect on how far you’ve come as a person in your personal journey.
Often it is when we compare ourselves to others and say ‘but look at how motivated they are’ or ‘they’ve already done so many practice exams and are going to get a really good study score’ that we fall into this trap of finding ‘flaws’ within ourselves. Comparing your diligence and beliefs in terms of your studies to others is only ever going to do you harm. Focus on your own journey and know that it is absolutely necessary to not expect to be motivated to study all the time. It’s simply not realistic.
6: Remind Yourself That This Won’t Go on Forever
The powerful verse ‘this too shall pass’ is something I had to always remind myself of back when I was in Year 12. Months and months of SACs, practice exams and feeling burnt out felt like an eternity and it started to impact my own sense of willingness to continue my personal academic journey. If it gives you any reassurance, however, know that one day you’ll look back on this chapter of your life with nothing but memories and perhaps even have a laugh or two at how young you were in your school photos!
English Language is 1 of the 4 different English subjects that are offered as part of the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). In this subject, you’ll explore how individuals and groups of various identities use different varieties of English, and how this ties in with reflecting their values and beliefs. English Language will provide you with a substantial understanding of the impact language has on societies, what it communicates about ourselves and the groups that we identify with, and how societies in turn can also influence language.
If you’re feeling uncertain about what exactly this subject entails, don’t worry! Let’s go through what’s involved in each unit, and what you’re expected to do in each.
2. VCE English Language Study Design
Note: The study design contains a metalanguage list for Units 1 & 2 and for Units 3 & 4. They’re pretty similar, except the Units 3 & 4 list includes several new features, such as the addition of patterning (phonological, syntactic, and semantic), as well as a significant addition to the discourse subsystem (coherence, cohesion, features of spoken discourse, and strategies of spoken discourse).
Area of Study (AoS1)
AoS1 is called ‘the nature and function of language’. You’ll learn about the functions of different types of texts, the differences between spoken and written texts, how situational and contextual factors can influence texts, and most importantly, you’ll learn about metalanguage as per the Units 1 & 2 metalanguage list.
Area of Study (AoS2)
AoS2 is called ‘language acquisition.’ Here, you’ll learn about theories various linguistics and sociologists have proposed regarding how children acquire languages. Furthermore, you’ll also cover how second languages are acquired. One of the most important skills you’ll pick up in this AoS is how to apply metalanguage in discussions and essays.
English Across Time’, will provide you with a historical context for how we have achieved the form of English that we use today. You’ll learn about the processes which led to the development of Modern English from Old English, the changes this had on all the subsystems (learn about the syntax subsystem here), and the various attitudes that are held towards linguistic change.
‘Englishes in contact’, you will learn about the processes which have led to the global spread of English, the intersections between culture and language, and the distinctive features of pidgins, creoles and English as a lingua franca.
‘Informal language’, will give you an understanding of the roles of informal language in the contemporary Australian context. You’ll learn about what makes texts informal, how this differs for spoken and written texts, and what social purposes can be achieved through informal language - such as maintaining or threatening face needs, building intimacy or solidarity, creating an in-group, or supporting linguistic innovation.
‘Formal language,’ will provide you with a detailed insight of what makes texts formal, distinguishing features for spoken and written texts, and what social purposes can be achieved through formal language - such as reinforcing authority, establishing expertise, clarifying, obfuscating, or maintaining and challenging positive and negative face needs.
In both of these AoS, you’ll be applying the Units 3 & 4 Metalanguage in your short answer responses and analytical commentaries. The additional metalanguage is typically taught in Term 1 of year 12, while you learn the content for Unit 3.
‘Language variation in Australian society,’ is a detailed study on how both standard and non-standard Australian English are used within contemporary society. You’ll learn about how identity is constructed through language, how varieties of English vary by culture (such as ethnolects or Australian Aboriginal English), and the attitudes that are held towards different varieties by different groups.
In ‘Individual and group identities’, you’ll look at how language varies by different factors, such as age, gender, occupation, interests, aspirations, or education, and how these factors all contribute to our identities. You’ll learn more about in-groups and out-groups, and how they can be created and maintained through language. Furthermore, you’ll learn about the relationship between social attitudes with language, and how language can be shaped by, but also influence, social attitudes and community expectations.
Section A is 15 marks of short answer questions. You are given a text, and you’re required to respond to questions about the stylistic and discourse features used in the text, while ensuring that you’re demonstrating a detailed knowledge of metalanguage through carefully selecting relevant examples from the text.
A strong understanding of the metalanguage is really important, both in terms of knowing the meanings of each metalinguistic term, and also in knowing which category each term fits under (For example, knowing that inference is part of coherence and not cohesion). Therefore, it is important that you learn your metalanguage in terms of what each terminology means, and also in terms of which category each term fits into.
As a general guide:
1 mark – one idea or one example or one explanation
2 marks – one idea plus one or two examples with explanations
3 marks – two ideas plus one or two examples of each with explanations
4 marks – two or three ideas plus one or two examples of each with explanations
5 marks – three ideas plus one or two examples of each with explanations
One of the biggest mistakes students make here is not reading the questions properly. Students sometimes miss how many examples the questions specifies to identify (this information is often given as ‘identify 2 examples’ or ‘identify the purposes’ as plural), forget to check how many marks a question is, or mix up certain metalanguage terms, such as confusing sentence types with sentence structures. So, be very careful in answering these questions.
Here are some examples of short answer questions that have come up in past VCAA exams:
[Question 2, 2017 VCAA] - Identify and comment on the use of two different prosodic features. (4 marks).
Here, you would identify 2 different prosodic features (pitch, stress, volume, intonation, or tempo), and discuss what effect they have on the text, taking contextual factors into consideration. For example, stress could be used to draw emphasis, or intonation could influence the emotion conveyed.
[Question 1, 2015 VCAA] - What sentence types are used in lines 15 to 36? How do they reinforce the purposes of this text? (3 marks)
Here, you would identify the relevant sentence types (declaratives, imperatives, interrogatives, and exclamatives), and explain their role in the text. You would also want to ensure that your explanations are specific to the context of the text.
[Question 9, 2010 VCAA] - Discuss the function of two different non-fluency features between lines 70 and 96. (4 marks)
Here, you would identify two non fluency features (such as pauses, false starts, repairs, repetition) and give a 1 sentence explanation of its role or what it indicates.
[Question 1, 2012 VCAA] - Identify the register of the text. (1 mark)
This question is quite straightforward, and you could use terms such as formal, informal, predominantly formal/informal in your response.
[Question 4, 2012 VCAA] - How does the verb tense in lines 9–34 support the purpose of this section of the text? (2 marks)
Here you would identify whether the verb tense is in past, present, or future tense, and explain why it has been used in that way based on the contextual factors.
[Question 3, 2017 VCAA] - Using appropriate metalanguage, identify and explain two specific language features that reflect the speaker’s identity.(4 marks)
Here, you can pick examples from any subsystem that relate to the speaker’s identity, such as jargon, colloquialisms, semantics of certain jokes, expletives, or pejoratives.
Note: The exams prior to 2012 have 2 sets of short answer questions, because analytical commentaries weren’t a part of the exam back then. This leaves you with lots of practice questions! However, do keep in mind that the metalanguage lists differed and certain features were categorised in different ways. For example, Question 2 from the VCAA 2013 exam asks you to talk about prosodic features, however, in the examiner’s report, pauses are suggested as an option. We know that in the present study design, pauses are classified as features of spoken discourse, under the discourse subsystem, whereas prosodic features are classified under the subsystem of phonetics and phonology.
Section B is an analytical commentary (AC) worth 30 marks. The introduction for an AC is an explanation of the contextual factors, the social purpose, and the register, of the text. In the body paragraphs (generally three), you group your examples from the text by themes, and explain their roles.
There are two main approaches for body paragraphs; the sub-system approach, and the holistic approach. In the sub-system approach, you would organise your examples so that each paragraph is addressing a specific subsystem. For example, your AC could be composed of the introduction, and then a paragraph on lexicology, one on syntax, and one on discourse. This approach is easier for when you’re starting out with ACs, but one of the issues with it is that you end up limiting yourself to just one portion of the text for the one paragraph. In the holistic approach, you would typically do a paragraph on social purpose, register, and discourse. In this approach, you are able to group examples from multiple subsystems and talk about how they work together in achieving specific roles in the texts.
Make sure you’re attempting a range of different types of texts, such as, opinion pieces, recipes, oaths, editorials, advertisements, eulogies, social media posts, public notices, television transcripts, radio transcripts, letters, speeches, legal contracts, conversations, narratives, and more.
For more information, have a look at this video:
Section C is an essay worth 30 marks. There are a range of topics that can potentially come up in the exam, and it is really important that you practice writing a variety of essays.
In essays, it is really important to ensure that you set out a clear contention in your introduction. This will basically tell the assessor what point you’re making in your essay, and it’ll also help you remember which direction to take your essay. After your contention, you need to signpost your ideas. This means that you need to summarise what 3 points you are stating in your body paragraphs.
Here’s an exercise which is really helpful in refining introductions - When you’re writing your contention, write “In this essay, I will argue that [Insert contention]. I will do this by stating the following points [Insert signposting].” When you’re happy with your introduction, you can remove the underlined parts. This will help you really understand how the roles for contentions and signposting differ. You’ll also thoroughly understand what position you’re taking in the essay.
The body paragraphs follow TEEL structure. You begin with your topic sentence, state your evidence, explain it, and then link it back to your contention. You have three options for the type of evidence that you’ll use (stimulus material, contemporary examples, and linguist quotes), and it's important to use a combination of them. According to the exam rubric, you have to be using at least 1 piece of stimulus material. Contemporary examples should ideally be from the current year and the previous. Linguist quotes don’t have time restrictions but it’s a good idea to try and find recent ones.
One of the most important things in body paragraphs is to make sure that you’re able to link your example back to your contention. If you’re unable to do this, it means that your examples aren't relevant to the points that you’re trying to make.
In your conclusion, you need to ensure that you don’t introduce any new examples or points. The role of the conclusion is to summarise and reinforce your points and your overall contention.
Having a study timetable will make studying much less stressful than it needs to be. In your timetable, make sure you are allocating enough time for all of your subjects, as well as time for rest, extra-curricular activities, work, and socialising. A realistic time-table will also mean that you’re less likely to waste time trying to decide which subjects to study for. For example, every Sunday, you could spend 15 minutes planning out your week based on which assessments you have, and which subjects you would like to give time to. This becomes especially useful in SWOTVAC, where you’ll be responsible for ensuring you’re spending enough time on each subject whilst also balancing everything else outside of school.
Here are some extra resources to help you with time management:
Throughout year 12, consistently revising metalanguage will be your responsibility. It is likely that you’ll be spending a greater proportion of class time in learning content, and writing short answer responses, analytical commentaries, or essays. Therefore, it’s really important to figure out a way that works best for you in being able to frequently revise metalanguage. Flashcards are pretty useful for revision, as well as making mind maps so that you’re able to visualise how everything is set out in the study design.
One issue students run into is that they’re able to define and give examples for metalanguage terms, however, they are unable to understand how it fits in in terms of the categories under each subsystem. For example, a student is able to remember what a metaphor is, but unable to recall that it fits under semantic patterning. Similarly, a student may know what a pause is, but not know if it’s part of prosodic features or discourse features. It’s important to know what all the categories are, because the short answer questions usually ask for you to identify features under a particular category. Therefore, spending time on just revising the definitions alone isn’t sufficient in learning metalanguage. You also need to be able to ensure that you can recall which category each term fits under.
Reading the News
For the essay, you’re required to use contemporary media examples as evidence (alongside stimulus material and linguist quotes). It’s really important for you to begin this process early so that you’re able to start using examples in essays as early as possible. For tips on how to find, analyse and store your examples, see our post on Building Essay Evidence Banks for English Language.
Having an awareness of Australia’s historical, political, and social context, will provide you with a more comprehensive perspective of the contemporary examples. So, if you don’t already do this, try to develop a habit of reading the news (The Conversation or The Guardian are a good place to start). Television programs like Q and A, The Drum, and Media Watch, will help you understand the Australian context, and often these programs will also discuss the roles of language, which directly links with what you're looking for as essay examples. It’s especially important to start early, and to build these skills over time, so that you are able to develop a holistic foundation.
Extra Practice Pieces and Seeking Feedback
Doing extra practice pieces is a really effective way to develop and refine your analytical skills. Make sure you receive feedback for all your work from your teacher or tutor, as it’s the only way you'll know if you’re going in the right direction.
If you’re short on time, even writing up AC or essay plans, or just doing 1 paragraph, is an effective way to revise.
Learning Quotes and Examples
Memorising several pages full of linguist quotes and contemporary examples may seem daunting at first, but once you begin using them in essays, they’ll become much easier to remember. Right from the beginning of yr12, make sure you set up a document to compile your linguist quotes and examples into subheadings. For example subheadings such as ‘cultural identity,’ ‘jargon,’ ‘hate speech,’ ‘free speech,’ or ‘Australian values’ will make it easier for you to navigate your notes when you're planning your essays.
If you start early, you’ll be able to remember everything bit by bit as you progress through the year, which is definitely easier than trying to remember the evidence the night before the assessment. Additionally, you’ll be ready with quotes and examples as soon as you begin essays in class, so you’ll be able to use your examples earlier, hence learn them earlier, and therefore be able to memorise your quotes and examples in advance. If you’re in year 12 and you’re nearing the end of the year and still struggling to memorise your examples and quotes, try using flashcards to remember your evidence. Make sure you’re doing a range of essays on different topics so that you’re able to apply and analyse your evidence.
Learning From Your Mistakes
It can be pretty disheartening to make the same mistakes repeatedly and continue to lose marks. So, compiling the mistakes that you make throughout the year in a separate notebook or document is a fantastic way to keep track of the key things you need to remember. You’ll also be less likely to repeat those mistakes.
Studying in groups for English Language is a highly effective way to refine your understanding of the content, and see different perspectives in the way certain ideas can be applied. Revising metalanguage and testing your friends on their knowledge can be a light and engaging way to ensure you and your friends are on the right track. Sharing the ways you and your group have approached a specific AC is also an effective way to learn about different approaches. Discussing essay topics is a useful way in refining your arguments, as you’ll be exposed to different opinions and be able to work on ensuring that your arguments are relevant and strong.
Language is fundamental to identity and consequently we draw on our linguistic repertoire to project different aspects of our identity according to context. Discuss this statement in the contemporary Australian context with reference to at least two subsystems in your response.
(This essay topic relates to Unit 4 - AoS1, ‘Language variation in Australian society.’)
Language plays a pivotal role in establishing and communicating various facets of identity. As such, individuals can alter their linguistic repertoire to establish in-group membership. Teenspeak is an effective mechanism in expressing teenage identity, but can also be used by the older generation to appeal to young people. Code switching between ethnolects and standard Australian English further illustrates how individuals can manipulate their linguistic choices to suit their environment, whilst simultaneously reflecting ethnic identity . Furthermore, jargon plays a critical role in establishing professional identity and signifying expertise or authority. Consequently, linguistic choices are capable of expressing diverse and multifaceted identities.
Teenspeak is capable of expressing identity and establishing in group membership amongst teenages, however it can also be used by those in the out-group to appeal to teenagers. Professor Pam Peters asserts that “Teenagers use language as a kind of identity badge that has the effect of excluding adults." Consequently, teenagers are able to establish exclusivity and in-group membership. Bakery owner Morgan Hipworth, who largely has a teenage following and is a teenager himself, employs teenspeak in a video recipe, where he responds to the question ‘Can you make a 10 layer cheese toastie?’ with ‘Bet, let’s go.’ Through using the teenspeak term ‘bet,’ Hipworth is able to relate and connect with his young audience while further asserting his identity as a teenager. This demonstrates how teenspeak can be effective in both establishing in-group membership, and expressing identity. Similarly, Youtuber Ashley Mescia’s extensive use of teenspeak initialisms in Instagram captions, such as ‘ootd’ for ‘outfit of the day,’ ‘grwm’ for ‘get ready with me,’ and ‘ngl’ for ‘not gonna lie,’ allows her to connect with her predominantly teenage following, thus allowing her to establish solidarity and in-group membership. This further indicates that teenspeak is an effective mechanism in expressing identity and building in-group membership. In contrast, teenspeak can also be used by older people in an effort to appeal to teenages. For example, in 2019, ABC’s Q and A host Tony Jones ended a promotional video for an opportunity for high-school students to appear on the panel with ‘It’s gonna be lit fam.’ This was done in an effort to appeal to younger people by exploiting the notion that it is often seen as cringeworthy when older people use teenspeak. Linguist Kate Burridge asserts that “older people using contemporary teen slang often sounds insincere and phoney,” and Jones was aware of this, however his purpose was to appeal to this to be able to further promote the video. Therefore, teenspeak is effective in both establishing in-group membership and expressing identity, and also appealing to the in-group and a member of the out-group.
Manipulation of language (obfuscation, doublespeak, gobbledegook)
Politeness strategies and social harmony
Language in the public domain; public language
How language represents or shapes social and cultural, values, beliefs, attitudes
How language can express identity
Other functions of language, such as recording, clarifying, entertaining, promoting, persuading, commemorating, celebrating, instructing, informing
5: Attitudes to the Varieties
6: Language Change
Although language change features more heavily in Units 1 & 2, it is still important to be aware of how language is changing in everyday lives to reflect social needs, attitudes and values. Consider the following:
Australian English and its development and evolution over time
Taboo, swearing and dysphemism and the role of changing social values
Wondering what VCAA examiners might be looking for in a high-scoring essay? Each year, the VCE EAL Examination Reports shed light on some of the features that examiners are looking for in high-scoring responses for the Listening and Language Analysis sections of the EAL exams. Let's go through 5 key points from the reports so that you know how to achieve a 10/10 yourself.
For advice on how you can apply the VCE EAL Examination Reports to strengthen your skills in the listening section, see Tips on EAL Listening.
Tip #1 Analyse How the Overall Argument Was Structured
‘The highest-scoring responses analysed argument use and language in an integrated way. Some responses used a comparative approach that analysed arguments and counter arguments from both texts in the same paragraph. However, only comparatively few responses focused on how the overall argument was structured.’
So how do we write about/analyse ‘how the overall argument was structured’?
To save time during the exam, we can adopt templates that can help us transfer our thoughts into words in a fast and efficient way. You can construct your own templates, and you may want to have various templates for various scenarios or essays. Below, I have provided a sample template and I’ll show you how you can use this template in your own essays.
(AUTHOR)’s manner of argument is proposed in real earnest in an attempt to convince the readers of the validity of his/her proposal of...by first…and then supplying solutions to...(DIFFICULTIES), thus structuring it in a logical and systematic way.
The above template ONLY applies to opinion pieces that satisfy these 2 rules:
The opinion piece commences by presenting the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic
The opinion piece supplies the solution to resolve the ‘bad effect/consequence/situation’ of the topic
For example, say the author, John White, contends that plastic bags should be banned and does so by:
commencing the piece with the fact that plastic bags can travel long distances by wind and water. They litter our landscapes, float around in waterways, and can eventually end up in the oceans, ultimately polluting the ocean and posing a threat to marine animals
then supplies solution to ban plastic bags
When we use our template here, the intro may look like this - note that I’ve bolded the ‘template’ parts so you can clearly see how the template has been used:
John White’s manner of argument, proposed in real earnest in an effect to convince the readers of the validity of his proposal of banning plastic bags by first exposing the deleterious nature of these bags to our environment and natural habitat and thensupplying solutions to ban plastic bags, putting it in effect in a logical and systematic way.
‘Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening...Short-answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information.’
Some students tend to add unnecessary information in their answers. Although the answers are correct, they will NOT earn you any extra marks. Listening answers should NOT be a mini essay. Writing irrelevant information will not only waste time but may also compromise the accuracy and overall expression of your response.
Tip #3 Practice Makes Perfect
The examination reports frequently point out that students struggle with identifying and describing the tone and delivery. For example, the 2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report states:
‘Identifying tone and delivery is challenging for students and emphasis on this is needed...Students are encouraged to use the key words in the questions as a focus for their listening’.
The good news is, just like most skills, listening and identifying the tone can both be improved with practice. In fact, VCAA acknowledges the importance of daily practice as well.
‘Students need to develop their critical listening skills both in and outside of the classroom. They are encouraged to listen, in English, to anything that interests them – current affairs, news, documentaries and podcasts can all be useful.’(2017 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
Practicing listening does not necessarily mean sitting down and doing Section A questions; it can be as simple as talking with classmates, teachers, neighbours, friends from work, church, etc.
VCAA encourages us to write answers that make sense to the reader and are grammatically correct. Make sure you do address, and ONLY address, what the question is asking, because marks will not be rewarded for redundant information.
‘Short answer questions require concise and precise answers. Responses that demonstrated understanding provided what was asked for without including extraneous information. Expression skills need to be sufficiently controlled to convey meaning accurately.’ (2017-2019 VCAA EAL Examination Report)
HINT: This may sound super simple, but a lot of EAL students struggle with it. If you do, you are definitely not alone. Some students seek to use complicated words and/or sentence structures, but we should not compromise clarity over complexity.
Tip #5 Use a Range of Precise Vocabulary
VCAA acknowledges the importance of sophisticated vocabulary. This phrase ‘analysis expressed with a range of precise vocabulary’ has been repeatedly used to describe high-scoring essays in the examination reports from 2017 onwards
Below is a listof commonly misspelled, misused and mispronounced words. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, check out Collins Online Dictionary for definitions OR you can use a physical copy of the Collins Dictionary (which you are allowed to bring into the exam and SACs).
Words That Look the Same/Have Super Similar Spelling:
Abroad vs. Aboard
Adapt vs. Adopt vs. Adept
Affect vs. Effect
Altar vs. Alter
Angel vs. Angle
Assent vs. Ascent vs. Accent
Aural vs. Oral
Baron vs. Barren
Beam vs. Bean
Champion vs. Champagne vs. Campaign
Chef vs. Chief
Chore vs. Chord
Cite vs. Site
Compliment vs. Complement
Confirm vs. Conform
Contact vs. Contrast vs. Contract
Contend vs. Content
Context vs. Content
Costume vs. Custom
Counsel vs. Council vs. Consul
Crow vs. Cow vs. Crown vs. Clown
Dairy vs. Diary
Decent vs. Descent vs. Descend
Dessert vs. Desert
Dose vs. Doze
Drawn vs. Draw vs. Drown
Extensive vs. Intensive
Implicit vs. Explicit
In accord with vs. In accordance with
Later vs. Latter
Pray vs. Prey
Precede vs. Proceed
Principal vs. Principle
Sweet vs. Sweat
Quite vs. Quiet
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for reading comprehension, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
Easily the most common question I get asked post-VCE-results has been: “How did you do it?”
For a lot of people, they think getting a 50 in English is just a distant dream for them, that they don’t have the skills or drive to achieve that elusive number.
I didn’t believe I was one of these students last year, and I can’t tell you how I did it. There are a huge number of variables involved in obtaining a 50, and many of them you can’t control. But I do know now that the work I did during last year gave me every chance of being one of those select students, and that I should’ve believed my work habits gave me every chance to achieve that dream number.
Keep in mind that I wasn’t getting full marks on my English SAC’s at any point last year, so don’t think that to get a 50 you need perfect marks consistently through the year. Perfect marks help obviously, but don’t be disheartened if you’ve just missed out. Those close-to-perfect scores are actually quite valuable, because they should make you feel confident that you have all the capability of writing a perfect essay on the end of year exam, while giving you the tidbit of feedback you need to fine-tune your writing.
If you’re in that top rung of students consistently getting perfect or near perfect scores on SAC’s, the most important thing you can do to keep achieving such high scores is to take on every piece of advice your teacher gives you. Most often when you’re at such a high level of writing, it’s advanced skills like the clarity in the way you communicate the ideas within a text, or zooming in on specific points of discussion or symbolism to add some zing to your essay. These skills come with practice – I would know. So be patient with English; it takes time to build up the technique and expertise required to cook up a perfect essay.
So for all the people wondering what they can do to crack that 50 study score – there is no such thing as a guaranteed 50, and most certainly no one way to “think” like a 50 student, but there are many things you can do during 3/4 English to give yourself the best shot at one.
Here’s what I did, and how it might help set you on the path to a 50.
PREP: The early days
Take clear, organised, easy-to-navigate notes
I cannot emphasise enough how much writing and keeping well set-out notes helped keep me sane through the insanity of Year 12.
Right from the get go, make sure you have a system of note-taking that works for you. Whether it be writing them out in a notebook or keeping them in a document on your laptop, ensure that you write down every little helpful tidbit of information you might be told during class by a teacher, or even read on a website. This will ensure you don’t have that horrible feeling of regret when it comes to later down the track closer to the SAC (*can rhyme*) and are kicking yourself for not writing down that sentence about a character, or idea about a theme.
AND when I say “writing them out in a notebook or keeping them in a document on your laptop”, I don’t mean throwing everything in random nonsensical order on your page – separate your notes into headings. Keep your “characters” separate from your “themes”, so your ideas don’t get muddled up and you don’t confuse yourself into a state of breakdown two nights before the SAC when attempting to decode your notes.
Trust me, keeping solid notes is perhaps the most important self-care tip of Year 12. It may take some more time and effort, but you will be thanking yourself over and over when it comes to SAC and exam time.
Start learning quotes
If you had a dollar for every time a teacher had told you this you’d be able to pay your way to Schoolies, but they say it for a reason. And having been there and done that, I can validate that their hassling is completely reasonable.
Learning quotes sooner rather than later not only means you won’t be rushing to memorise them in the days before the SAC/exam, but it’ll help you get a grip on themes within, and the chronological order, of the text.
The most effective way I found to learn quotes is to split your total lot of quotes up into even groups. List your quotes in order from hardest (the ones that might be longer or have more complex language involved) to easiest to learn, then split them into small groups depending on how many weeks out you are from your SAC/exam - say you have 35 total, split them into groups of 7 to learn over, for example, 5 weeks.
Start with the hardest ones and focus on learning them throughout that first week. Then the following week, once you’ve memorized that first lot, add in the second hardest group and learn them while still going over the first group. Then the third week, add in the third group to learn while still going over the last two, and so on.
Using this method ensures you have 1. An even workload leading up to the SAC/exam and 2. More time to nail the quotes that are more difficult and will take longer to memorise.
PREP: The week before
Plan essays on a range of topics
Ask any student who slays at English and they’ll tell you that they have planned topics until they never want to see another essay plan again. Planning topics is the best way to work out your strengths and your weaknesses in regards to the themes involved in your text. You can nail a plan for a topic you know you can smash, and sit down and really think about solid paragraph ideas and examples for a topic that would normally make you want to run out of the room crying if you got it in the SAC/exam. This way you’re literally planning for the worst case scenario and making sure that if you do get a topic you don’t love, you’ve still got a solid plan you can use for it. If you plan for all the topics you don’t want to get in an essay, you won’t have to worry about that “OMG I don’t know how to write an essay on this” panic setting in – who cares if you can’t think of ideas on the spot, you already have a killer plan you prepared earlier, you clever cookie.
Let’s just clarify what planning means though. Simply writing down three or four 5-word ideas for paragraphs is not going to be much help to you during the actual assessment. Writing full, articulate topic sentences and putting down examples of quotes and/or events you’ll use to support your arguments, INCLUDING how they explain your point, is what you’ll find helpful when you’re looking over them in the days before/the day of.
Drill quotes every night
You might be thinking “I’ve been learning quotes for 5 weeks now, she’ll be right – I’ll take this week off just to focus on planning”.
No, my friend, that is not what you should be thinking. No matter how much you might hate learning quotes, you’ll never forgive yourself when you’re sitting in the assessment and have forgotten how the quotes you’re looking to use are worded, or when they’re said, or even who said them, because you haven’t been over them the last few days.
Don’t back off revising quotes in the last week. Quotes are what make your whole essay, and the more and better you can embed in your essay, the higher your mark is likely to be. You don’t want to do yourself dirty by switching your focus to planning and completely neglecting quotes – think about how easy it is to forget things once you’re sitting at a desk with nerves running through you on SAC/exam day. It ain’t going to end well if you ignore your quotes in that last week.
Make mind maps
Regardless if you’re a visual learner or not, I’ve found mind maps are a really smart, time savvy way to organise your notes and knowledge. You might think it’s a waste of time, but in the course of making them you’re forced to consolidate your notes into the smallest but most informative piece of information you can, you’re writing it down, and you’re literally connecting your ideas together. It’s a perfect recipe to help make sense of your text.
Mind maps also come in really handy for exam time, as you can stick them up on whatever surface of your choosing to have them to look at and help you revise. Not only that, but on SAC day when you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by rereading all your notes and bombarding your brain, mind maps are a great way to revise and remind yourself of the connecting ideas within your text.
ON THE DAY
Ignore the ‘stress merchants’
Don’t get caught up in all the “I don’t know any quotes” and “I don’t know how to write an essay” stress that other students pass around in those hours before the SAC and exam. These are the people you don’t want to touch with a 50-foot pole. It’s so easy for you to forget about all the hard work, planning, quote learning and essay writing you’ve done in the last few weeks when you’re surrounded by the stress from other people who are way underprepared.
Structure your thoughts
If you’re going to write a flowing, connected, non-clunky essay, you need to think in a flowing, connected, non-clunky way. Keep your thoughts clean – instead of looking at your topic and thinking something along the lines of “Oh ok this isn’t what I expected have I done a practice essay on this topic no ok omg so what paragraphs am I meant to write how am I meant to plan this” and on and on, take a breath and steady yourself. Take another look at the topic and break it down: pick out the focus words, being those that relate to the theme the topic focuses on or characters it concerns, and pull your paragraph ideas from those focus words. When you’re writing your paragraphs, you want to keep your thoughts structured. Focus on your wording, write each sentence at a time and try not to rush ahead, and make sure at the end of each sentence you think about what purpose you want the next one to serve. Is it a segway into your next example? Is it explaining your example and connecting it back to your overall theme? This thought pattern is really key to ensuring you write a coherent and eloquent essay.
This is really where that 50-student mindset comes in – remind yourself about how hard you’ve worked, and how ready you are for this assessment. Chances are you’re going in more prepared than about 90% of the other students in your cohort. Stay calm, because you don’t need to stress. Nerves are ok though – it means you care! Just make sure you take a minute to breathe before you start and clear your head so you can go straight into planning mode once that clock starts.
If there’s anything that’s a clear indication that you’re thinking like a 50 student, it’s working smarter, not harder – changing the way you approach writing and preparation to incorporate the most effective methods for you and make the most of the time you have is a surefire way to set yourself up for the best chance at a 50.
For an overview of the EAL study design plus tips and tricks for language analysis, time management and more, check out The Ultimate Guide to EAL.
EAL Language Analysis Introductions
Both EAL and mainstream English students will need to complete a Language Analysis task as part of the VCAA Exam. The introduction of Language Analysis essays for VCE English is somewhat rigid as there are multiple components that must be included, for instance: issue, form, contention, name, publishing date, tone, etc. However, many of the ‘must have’ components of mainstream English essays are not required for EAL students or the EAL end-of-year examination. Check with your school/teacher to find out their opinion and criteria on this matter though, as they mark your internal assessments/Language Analysis SAC!
‘Introductions should be limited to showing an awareness of the audience, the context and the overall contention of the piece.’
With this guideline in mind, the advice I am sharing in this blog post is based on the understanding and assumption that EAL Language Analysis introductions DO NOT need background information such as where the article is published, when is it published, style, etc. But again, make sure you check with your school/teacher to find out exactly what criteria YOU need to meet for your assessments/SACs that are marked internally.
Using Templates in Your EAL Language Analysis Introductions
Since EAL is more flexible than mainstream English, and requires fewer elements, you can adopt a template for introductions that you are comfortable using to save time during the assessments.
For example, these sentence templates below are really versatile and can be easily adapted and/or combined to suit your essay:
In response to the divisive issue of…(AUTHOR 1) implicitly/explicitly/inadvertently contends that…
(AUTHOR 1) takes on a...tone to grab the attention of...(SPECIFIC AUDIENCE)
Using the templates above, here are some examples of what the final product for your introduction may look like. I have bolded the ‘template’ parts so that you can see exactly how the templates have been used, but remember these are just templates, so you can adjust the wording slightly to suit your needs:
(1) In response to thedivisive issue of building an Apple global flagship store at Federation Square, the COMAAFS implicitly contends in an accusatory and defiant tone that the flagship store should not be built to replace one of Melbourne’s most popular landmarks. (3)Contrastingly, the web post written by theVictorian Government explicitlyrejects the accusation from COMAAFS and advocates for the immense benefits that Victorians will receive from the Flagship store in an explanatory and reassuring tone.
Example 2 (Using Templates 1 & 3)
(1) In response to the divisive issue of homeless people camping in the city of Melbourne, Christopher Bantickcontends in an accusatory and heated tone that the ‘move-on’ law must be introduced in order to remove the homeless in Melbourne. (3)Contrastingly, Dr. Meg Mundell insists that making it illegal to sleep on the street will only exacerbate the problem in a demanding tone.
Example 3 (Using Templates 1 & 3)
(1) In response to the recent furore of the increasing use of cars, Tina Fanning contends in an alarming and mobilising tone that cars are no longer a viable mode of transport in the foreseeable future. (3) Similarly, Lucy Mannepredicts the catastrophic consequence of excessive car use on Australian society in a composed and authoritative tone.
Comparison of Arguments & Contentions in EAL Language Analysis
Unlike mainstream English, comparison of arguments/contention between the two writers is not essential for EAL, but it will probably earn you bonus brownie points if you do have time to add it in your essay :) For further explanation on comparative analysis, you can refer to this step-by-step guide: Exploring an A+ Language Analysis Essay Comparing Two Articles. Although the guide is aimed at mainstream English students, you can still apply some of the tips and strategies as an EAL student. It will really help to take your Language Analysis to the next level!
Examiners and teachers love nuanced responses. The key to developing a complex response is by reading your text several times (at least three times before the exam). Each time you read it you should annotate, take notes down and you’ll notice more elements and recurring themes. Every student has a different interpretation to an essay question. As long as you justify your arguments (using quotes, meta-language etc), there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ interpretation in English.
Do not retell the story & integrate meta-language
Your teachers and tutors harp on this for a reason! Examiners have read the texts before, so you must assume that they know the plot inside out. Text response is an analysis of how the author (or director) constructs a text and the ways they imply a point of view or values. You will analyse the ideas, cultural references, context, narration explored in the text and answer some of the following questions: Why has the author included specific recurring motifs or portrayed the protagonist in a particular manner? What is the author suggesting? How does the author explore the theme of ‘x’?
For example, the themes of love and death are explored in Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. Think about how it is explored and what the author is attempting to do or convey. Include meta-language (language that describes language) such as ‘imagery’, ‘motif’, ‘juxtaposition’ etc.
E.g ‘Agnes’ crave for love influences her path to execution (idea and exploration of themes). All her life, she had lacked love. She recounts through her first-person narrative that ‘everything I love is taken from me’, such as her beloved foster mother, Inga (evidence). Kent uses Agnes’ retrospective narrative (how) to allow readers to empathise (why) with Agnes’ ……
Allocate quotes to specific themes, and memorise them. Have at least 20 quotes up your sleeve! Pick quotes that aren’t the stock-standard and obvious ones as seen in study guide books so that you stand out amongst your peers. You should also be aware of how to embed and integrate them into an essay, as well as picking quotes that aren’t too long.
If you are a visual learner, mind maps are a great tool for any subject you are studying and particularly useful for English. Collate all your notes, sort them into sub-categories such as THEMES, CHARACTERS, ELEMENTS and you’ll find overlaps between all sorts of elements.
All the Light We Cannot See is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out ourUltimate Guide to VCE Text Response.
Breaking Down an All the Light We Cannot See Essay Prompt
We've explored themes and symbols and provided a summary of the text over on our All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr blog post. If you need a quick refresher or you’re new to studying this text, I highly recommend checking it out!
Within the THINK strategy, we have 3 steps, or ABC. These ABC components are:
Step 1: Analyse
Step 2: Brainstorm
Step 3: Create a Plan
Without further ado, let’s get into it!
‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour.’ Discuss.
Step 1: Analyse
Taking a look at this prompt, the first thing to note is that it is theme-based. Specifically asking about the line that separates civilised and uncivilised behaviour within the novel, this prompt focuses directly on the theme of human behaviours and how you ultimately interpret the fine line (i.e. seamless, difficult, changing, manipulative) between such ideas. Fundamentally, you have to discuss how this theoretical line drawn between the contrasting behaviours is explored within the novel in various ways throughout Doerr’s examination of humanity.
The question tag of Discuss is the most flexible type of prompt/topic you will receive, providing you with a broad and open-ended route to pretty much discuss any ideas that you believe fit within the prompt’s theme of uncivilised and civilised behaviour. Although this may seem hard to know where to start, this is where Step 2: Brainstorm, comes into play. You can read through LSG’sQuestion Tags You Need To Know section (in How To Write A Killer Text Response) to further familiarise yourself with various ways to tackle different prompt tags.
A fundamental aspect of writing a solid Text Response essay is being able to use a diverse range of synonyms for the keywords outlined in the prompt. Our keywords are in bold. When you are brainstorming, if any words pop into your head, definitely list them so you can use them later. You may want to have a highlighter handy when unpacking prompts so you can do just this!!
‘In All the Light We Cannot See there is a fine line between civilised and uncivilised behaviour.’ Discuss.
How people have grown up determines the civil and uncivilised behaviours shown by individuals of different backgrounds and childhoods - Bastian is symbolised as the eagle that circles the youth camp, which is an uncivilised/unwanted form of hawk-like behaviour. This compares to Fredrick's love of birds as a young boy which makes him a softer character. - Bernd had ‘no friends’ as a child - showing his isolated past - which could be described as the reason he leaves his father and goes off to join the Hilter Youth ‘just like the other boys.’ (find this analysis in the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’)
There is a fine line that Doerr draws between the stereotypes of women and their ability to remain civilised despite being suppressed by uncivil livelihoods and experiences. - Jutta is characterised as a strong and independent woman instead of the traditional ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’. Society expects most women to stand on that side of human behaviour and representation however she defies this.
The strength of women to cross/overcome the line of uncivilised behaviour is significant within the sexual abuse and misconduct driven by soldiers. Can remain true to oneself despite the horrific behaviours a woman faces. - The role of women on the homefront (i.e. Fredrick’s Mother) highlights the stark contrast between men fighting and thinking about the ‘men they killed’ and mothers who put on a ‘fake smile to appear brave’ (the line between barbaric behaviours of many soldiers and caring/loving behaviours of those on the homefront) - women and their sacrifices is an important topic here
It is one’s ability to adapt to change that draws the line between civil and uncivilised behaviours. - Marie Laure’s ability to look past being a ‘blind girl’, and move on from this hardship. She adapts to the ‘changing times’ around her despite others who are suppressed in such an environment (e.g. Etienne and his ‘dread’).
The game of flying couch is a symbol of escaping the uncivilised world around them (metaphorical line of the human imagination). - Werner is predominantly overwhelmed by the world around him, which reflects his inability to no longer ask questions as he did as a young boy. Instead, he succumbs to the uncivilised world of death and destruction as he is unable to change.
Symbolic use of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in epilogue - symbolises his loss of perspective and wonder of the world,
Ultimately it is this line that makes the human existence so unique
Step 3: Create a Plan
After having brainstormed all the ideas that came to mind, I’ll be approaching the essay prompt with the following contention.
In a world where society is grounded by behaviours both civil and uncivil, there is a clear distinction between humanity's response and representation of these behaviours.
Coming up with a clear contention allows you to put together a cohesive and strong essay that answers all aspects of the prompt question.
Now, onto developing our topic sentences for each paragraph!
P1: Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative*, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life.
*A nonlinear narrative is a storytelling technique Doerr uses to portray events out of chronological order.
P2: Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them.
P3: In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world.
The art of recognising the ephemera of the human existence is painted by Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See as a fine line between behaviours of civilisation and extreme brutality (1). In the inordinate scheme of history, Doerr fosters the dichotomy between those who remain socially aware and others who are marred by desolation as a reflection on one's past. Further subverting the traditional depiction of women in a ‘war story’, the strength of women is established as a key turning point for individuals to escape barbaric behaviours and cross the line to civilisation. Fundamentally, however, it is the overall response to change that crafts human behaviours that Doerr underpins within society (2).
Annotations (1) it is important to include synonym variation in your opening sentence to ensure that it does not look like you have just copied the prompt and placed it on your page. This idea should be carried out throughout your essay - vary your words and try not to repeat anything, this will ensure you are clear and concise!
(2) In order to improve the flow of your writing, the final topic sentence of your introduction can be a concluding statement on why/how the topic is OVERALL expressed within the novel. When you formulate your contention, it is not enough just to state it, you must also provide reasoning as to why you are writing from this point of view or how you came to this conclusion. For example, my final topic sentence here is a concluding sentence about how I believe a fine line between uncivilised and civil behaviour has an influence throughout the entire novel and Doerr’s intention, one’s response to change. As you read on, you’ll also see that this sentence relates to my final paragraph, thus linking together ideas throughout my essay.
Embedded within Doerr’s nonlinear narrative, the environment in which individuals have grown up consequently influences their behaviours later in life. The initial illustration of the ‘smokestacks hume’ and the ‘black and dangerous’ imagery (3) of the war paints a clear picture of the destruction and trauma that individuals have lived amongst, thus why people were ‘desperate to leave’. Empathising with an ‘old woman who cuddles her toddler’ on the streets, Doerr laments how young individuals who end up ‘surg[ing] towards one cause,’ which this toddler may similarly grow up to do in the Hitler Youth, directly reflects the ‘intense malice’ of their childhood. This idea that one’s past affects the future behaviours of a generation is further captured within the chapter ‘The Death of Walter Bernd’ (4), which outlines how Bernd’s upbringing with ‘no friends’ promotes him to ‘just leave’, in order to experience something new, despite knowing this something new would bring unjust decisions into his life. Becoming ‘just like the other boys’, Doerr suggests that the line between civil and uncivil behaviours is so thin (5) that a mere need to escape one’s past is enough to create feelings of negativity and at worst death. Encapsulating the darkness that prevails over such individuals, the symbolism of Bastian’s ‘sharp eyes’ (6) poetically describes the eagle that circles the youth camp where Doerr seeks to paint a metaphorical cruel depiction of Bastian as a harmful hawk. Underpinning the fine line between human behaviour, Fredrick’s ‘love of birds’ is ‘so beautiful[ly]’ representative of his respectful nature and approach to life while Bastian’s immersion in ‘the self interest of the world’ ultimately explains how his fallacious behaviour towards others is embodied by his environment within the war. Overall, the behaviours displayed by humanity are a reflection of past experiences and how they shape the individual.
Annotations (3) Imagery is a key aspect of All the Light We Cannot See and goes hand in hand with the vast symbolism Doerr uses within his novel. When including imagery, it is great to include a few related quotes; however, you must then ensure you analyse and delve into how this technique (imagery) demonstrates the idea you are writing about. In this case, the imagery of the chimneys and foggy/dirty air illustrates the desolate environment individuals lived in during the war.
(4) This chapter is something not many students analyse or touch on so if you’re looking to add some spice to your writing I would definitely take a look and see what you can extract from some of those more unique and nuanced chapters!
(5) Referencing the ‘fine line’ continually throughout your essay ensures that you are staying on track and not talking about topics away from the prompt.
(6) Symbolism is very important in All the Light We Cannot See. The use of the quote ‘sharp eyes’, really shows that you have considered not only how Doerr simply explores the behaviour of each character but also the physical interpretations of how individuals may demonstrate a certain persona within the novel. This focus on character description on top of dialogue adds extra layers to your writing.
Encompassing the social paradigms that pervade a woman’s existence, the strength and civilisation of females allow them to traverse a line of unjust behaviours that suppress them. Instead of characterising Jutta as a ‘pretty girl in a propaganda poster’, whom the soldier will ‘fight and die for’, Doerr proffers the unconventional humanisation of women on the home front to pay tribute to the power of staying true to oneself (7). Despite facing the barbaric reality of ‘sex crazed torturers’, Doerr illuminates Jutta’s capacity to ‘look them in the eye’ rather than shy away from them as a meditation on her own morals of (8) ‘what is right’. The tragic nature (9) of such abuse is specifically chronicled by Doerr to concatenate (10) the continual brave behaviours Jutta portrays even when succumbing to the line that attempts to draw women away from strength and independence. Further referencing her desire to ‘lock away memories’ of the past in her life after the war, the novel posits the importance of women during a period of inordinate history as a powerful force that remained civil even in times of ‘absolute blackness’. From the perspective of Fredrick’s mother, Doerr seeks to display how her ‘fake smile to appear brave’ outlines how many mothers and women had to remain strong for their children, such as Fredrick with brain damage, even though they were so close to falling into a world of sorrow and isolation. A clear segregation between soldiers who thought about ‘the men they killed’ and women who were made to ‘feel complicit in an unspeakable crime’ (11) they did not commit overall affirms the sacrifices women made during the war and without such sacrifices and strength the thin line between behavioural acts would be broken.
Annotations (7) Here I have included an analysis of Doerr’s message - what he is trying to say or show within his novel. Ultimately an author has a message they seek to share with the world. Providing your own interpretation of certain messages the author may be attempting to send to his readers adds real depth to your writing, showing that you are not only considering the novel itself but the purpose of the author and how this novel came to explore the fundamental ideas of the essay prompt.
(8) This quote directly relates to the keyword: civilised behaviour. Finding quotes that are also specific to your prompt is crucial to producing an essay that flows and has meaning.
(9) The use of adjectives within the essay paints the picture of whether an act is civil or uncivil which is ultimately what we are attempting to discuss from the prompt. Here the phrase ‘tragic nature’, underpins the essence of unjust behaviours shown by the soldiers.
(10) Concatenate - link/connect ideas together
(11) Comparing aspects within the novel is a great way to show your understanding and how the same theme or idea can be shown in many different ways.
In essence, it is the human response to change that divides individuals from ultimately displaying civil or uncivil acts in the world. Established by Marie Laure’s characterisation as a ‘blind girl’ who can ‘project anything onto the black screen of her imagination’, Doerr illuminates her ability to adapt to the ‘changing times’ around her. She is seen to be ‘carried away by reveries’ rather than a plethora of voices who ‘forgo all comforts’ and ‘eat and breathe nation’. Through the chapter and make-believe game ‘flying couch’ (12),Marie’s nature to ‘surrender firearms’ with Etienne in their imagination is a symbolic adoption to escape the world around them, hence the uncivilised society they are learning to live in. Doerr’s congruent imagery of Etienne’s changing voice of ‘dread’ to ‘velvety’ as he becomes intertwined within ‘Marie’s bravery’ underpins the ability for individuals to seamlessly cross the line from a lack of cultured behaviour to a world of hope and prosperity. Contrasting this, however, Werner, an individual who was initially curious about ‘how the world works’, is so ‘overwhelmed by how quickly things are changing around [him]’ that his ‘interest in peace’ is stripped away and no longer exists due to his inability to change with a changing world. Doerr, therefore, laments the transmogrification of his character as a reflection of his uncivil thoughts and ideals as a soldier, ultimately resulting in his loss of ability to ask questions. This idea places emphasis on Volkheimer receiving Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ in the epilogue (13) where the translation of the book’s title ‘Fragen’ - to ‘ask’ in English - is symbolic of the moment Werner decided to ‘work, join, confess, die’ he immediately lost the open mind and curiosity he once had. Ultimately, the dichotomy between these two lives and their opposing character transformations resembles the line between remaining calm or acting out of haste when subject to change.
Annotations (12) Analysing not only the game but the whole meaning behind chapters and why Doerr has given them certain names is an interesting avenue to take. Here ‘flying couch’ not only underpins the imagination of Marie Laure but also symbolises freedom and bravery within just the name itself.
(13) The analysis and evidence used from the epilogue is a crucial part of this paragraph and is significant to Doerr’s novel. Unpacking All the Light We Cannot See, there is a lot of evidence and juicy ideas you can draw from the beginning and end of the novel. Here I have almost analysed the meaning of Werner’s ‘soft covered notebook’ to the bone; however, this adds a lot of depth to your writing as I’m sure your ultimate goal is to make your essays as unique as possible?!
As a project of humanism, Doerr seeks to portray a fine segregation in people's behaviours as the microcosm (14) of what makes the human existence so unique. Following the journeys of individuals who even ‘see a century turn’’ the novel displays how one’s past has an immense influence on how their future values, actions and behaviours grow and develop. Further subverting the stereotypical representation of women living in a war, Doerr establishes an acknowledgment of their roles and strength in the face of cruel situations. Ostensibly, it is the human capacity to adapt to change that marks the difference between what is just and unjust in a society that weighs both on a very unstable scale.
Annotations (14) Microcosm - a community, place or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.
If you find this essay breakdown helpful, then you might want to check out our All the Light We Cannot See Prompts blog post. You can have a go at those essay prompts and feel free to refer back to this essay breakdown whenever you need. Good luck!
Introduction and Key Themes of Reckoning and The Namesake
Families. Love them or hate them, everybody has a family in some shape or form.
Lahiri’s novel The Namesake and Szubanski’s memoir Reckoning both explore just how complex family dynamics can be. In particular, both texts take an intergenerational approach, which means that they look at how children might struggle to understand their parents’ psyches, and vice versa. They also look at how these struggles can play out into adulthood and throughout the course of one’s life in complicated and poignant ways.
And of course, it gets trickier from there: Lahiri and Szubanski tell the stories of families, yes, but they also tell stories of migration, trauma, and heritage. In both texts, these ideas colour the experiences of the central families and are thus just as crucial for our analysis. Let’s go over the key characters of each text first, before having a closer look at how they compare on each of these themes. In particular, we’ll be going through snapshots of scenes from both texts and comparing what they have to say about these themes.
Characters in Reckoning and The Namesake
Lahiri’s novel revolves around the fictional Ganguli family: Ashima and Ashoke have two children, Sonia and Gogol, the latter of whom is the protagonist. The novel spans over three decades, starting from Gogol’s birth shortly after Ashima and Ashoke’s move to America. By the time it finishes, both Gogol and his younger sister have grown up, and Ashoke has passed away. Thus, this story traces the development of this fictional family over time, illustrating how their relationships with one another change over time.
Szubanski’s memoir, on the other hand, is largely about her own family, including her Scottish mother Margaret and her Polish father Zbigniew. In particular, Reckoning is a family history of her dad’s side, who were living in Poland when the Nazis invaded in 1939. There is some exposition of his family, including his parents Jadwiga and Mieczyslaw, his sister Danuta, and her family as well.
Zbigniew would eventually fight as an assassin the Polish resistance, and Reckoning reflects on how that impacted and shaped his relationship with Magda. The memoir is described to be “as much a biography of her father as it is about her.”
In the process, we learn about his migration, moving to Scotland after the war (where he met Margaret), then to England, then to Australia, with Magda their youngest child aged 5. The memoir covers her life from there onwards, including a journey back to Europe to reconnect with the rest of her family.
Themes in Reckoning and The Namesake
At LSG, we use the CONVERGENTandDIVERGENTstrategy to help us easily find points of similarity and difference. This is particularly important when it comes to essay writing, because you want to know that you're coming up with unique comparative points (compared to the rest of the Victorian cohort!). I don't discuss this strategy in detail here, but if you're interested, check out my How To Write A Killer Comparative ebook. I use this strategy throughout my discussion of themes below and techniques in the next section.
Family in Reckoning and The Namesake
Evidently, this theme largely underpins the stories of both texts. In particular, The Namesake and Reckoning both show that relationships between family members—whether that be parents, children or siblings—can be really complicated.
Let’s start with The Namesake. Motifs of parenthood and marriage are evident front and centre right from the novel’s get go, as a pregnant Ashima reflects on her life as it stands in 1968. When Gogol is born, his parents’ love for him is also evident: “Ashoke has never seen a more perfect thing.” At the same time, while Ashima is starting to see “pieces of her family in [Gogol’s] face,” her own grandmother is passing away—it’s thus important to remember that parenthood runs both ways (this’ll be important for both texts).
In any case, Ashima struggles with the first few years of parenthood - despite settling into a schedule, she finds herself “despondent” when Gogol begins nursery school. However, she grows accustomed to it in time, making “forays out of the apartment” and settling into some semblance of a routine to keep herself somewhat occupied.
Parenthood isn’t really shown to get any easier though—at his 14th birthday, we see a somewhat awkward exchange between Ashoke and Gogol, now “nearly as tall” as his father. What Ashoke thinks is a nice gift actually sets off a decades-long identity crisis for Gogol regarding his name: “from the little that he knows about Russian writers, it dismays him that his parents chose the weirdest namesake.”
This scene demonstrates how there can be miscommunications between parents and children that make it difficult for them to understand each other. Without explaining his name to his son, Gogol and Ashoke are unable to truly connect; Gogol is annoyed if anything, answering his father “a bit impatiently”. Parents and children may want to understand each other better, but this is evidently not always possible. The consequences of this can often span over years, with Gogol changing his name to Nikhil and training himself to “ignore his parents, to tune out their concerns and pleas” once he goes to college.
Still, familial love perseveres over time, though it sometimes shifts and changes along the way. With Gogol and Sonia both grown up, Ashima reflects on the separate lives they now lead, noting that she “must be willing to accept” her “children’s independence”, and her son’s partner Maxine despite her misgivings. Culture also plays a role here, which we will explore more in the next section. However, what is evoked in this passage (near the start of chapter 7) is that parents have their child’s best interests in mind. Indeed, similar themes flow through both texts.
That said, familial love can be harder to see in Reckoning—in particular, Magda’s father is characterised throughout the memoir as emotionally distant to the point of cruelty. When she first learns of the Holocaust, she finds Zbigniew’s “lack of feeling…monstrous.” She doesn’t understand how he can be so detached from the war having lived “right in the centre of it.” She also doesn’t understand why he yearns more than anything to escape that period of his life.
The texts are similar in that both of them illustrate how parents and children often struggle with barriers in communication despite their love for each other. In particular, children may not always understand their parents’ experiences from before they were born, or how those experiences affect them in the present.
It’s not all bad though—love perseveres, and sometimes parents can surprise you. When Magda finally comes out to her parents, their response is generally quite receptive, and her father is perhaps uncharacteristically touching in this scene:
“Whatever his misgivings were he didn’t dwell on them and he never let the come between us. As I was about to leave they both put their arms around me. ‘We love you,’ they said.”
Trauma in Reckoning and The Namesake
Additionally, both texts deal with parent-child relationships that are affected by experiences of trauma that parents attempt to suppress.
In The Namesake, it’s largely Ashoke’s brush with death that jars his world view, to the point where he names Gogol after the author whose book saved his life after his accident. However, because he doesn’t process his trauma or tell Gogol the story, it leads to a gap in understanding that compromises some elements of their relationship.
These themes are more strongly present in Reckoning, where Zbigniew’s experiences in the war shape many of his opinions and attitudes, as well as his approach to parenting. Tennis, for example, becomes a vehicle for him to teach Magda about winning and losing, “never once let[ting Magda] win.” They have a similarly clinical experience with hunting, where Zbigniew “los[es] patience” with Magda for mourning the death of a rabbit.
Correctly, though retrospectively, Magda hypothesises that this came from a need to “prove himself” after the war ended, and to “discharge the pent-up killer energy inside him.” Even though she would only understand this in time, it didn’t change how her father’s trauma shaped her childhood in ways that she couldn’t have understood at the time.
Reckoning also shows that trauma can be intergenerational, or as Magda puts it “passed on genetically.” She discovers that her maternal grandfather Luke lived through the Irish famine, and watched ten of his siblings die of poverty, causing her to wonder about the “gift of [her] Irish inheritance” that was left on her psyche.
What’s worth remembering here is that it isn’t just the fathers who bury traumatic events from their past (surprising, I know). When Magda’s mother slaps her for the first time, it is because Magda repeats one of her own deepest regrets, soiling a dress made to visit their respective fathers in hospital: “I understand now, of course, that it was herself she was slapping.”
So, while it is true in both texts that traumatic memories impact how parents relate to their children, Reckoning is a deeper and broader exploration of intergenerational trauma. In particular, Magda not only looks at her relationship with her parents, but also her parents’ relationship with theirs.
Migration & Heritage in Reckoning and The Namesake
This is the final piece of the puzzle in terms of major themes and how they fit together. With how characters relate to culture and heritage, we also see both texts evince some rich, intergenerational differences.
In The Namesake, there’s a marked cultural schism between Gogol and his parents. Gogol is desperate to escape his ethnicity, and his status as a second-generation migrant means he is well-assimilated into American culture—he wears his shoes in the house, addresses his parents in English, and dresses like an American. He is also comfortable dating American people, feeling “effortlessly incorporated” into Maxine’s family and daily life. On the other hand, Ashima is demonstrated to struggle more with the move, describing it as a “lifelong pregnancy”, a burden that people treat with “pity and respect.” There are ties to other themes here as well—for example Ashima’s homesickness is sharpened by the fact that she is separated from her family, in particular her parents. It also means that she becomes a part of the life from which Gogol is so desperate to escape.
In Reckoning however, this generational gap is reversed. It is Zbignew who yearns to escape his home culture, while Magda desperately wishes to understand her father: “while I was racing backwards towards my Polishness, my father was rushing in the other direction, assimilating at a rate of knots.” Though this is reversed, there are still ties into other themes: intergenerational misunderstandings for instance are perpetuated by their differing stances on migration. Trauma is also relevant, as Zbigniew is trying to escape it, while Magda is simply working towards understanding her father.
Put this way, we can understand how familial relationships can be complicated by migration, trauma, and the different attitudes it can engender.
Reckoning and The Namesake are two texts that explore many similar themes—family, migration, trauma, heritage, identity—over the span of decades. I would probably argue that family is the central theme that grounds many of the others; it shapes the identity of children—migrant children—and brings out traumatic memories in spite of your best efforts to suppress them.
Hopefully, this gives you a good overview of the themes across these two texts, how they fit together, and how they are similar or different. Don’t forget that themes can overlap and intersect, as is often the case here.
Reckoning and The Namesake Essay Prompt Breakdown
The topic draws on two quotes:
“But in the meantime I had been given a great gift—my parents’ unconditional love.” (Reckoning)
“‘Don’t worry,’ his father says. ‘To me and your mother you will never be anyone but Gogol.’” (The Namesake)
And the prompt itself is:
Compare what the two texts suggest about parent-child relationships.
Topics for comparative essays are usually pretty broad, but let’s pull out some key words and questions that the topic and the quotes seem to raise.
The one that stands out the most to me is this idea of ‘unconditional love’. For parents, this usually means they’ll love and support their child no matter what mistakes or choices they make. In the context of Reckoning, this was brought up in terms of Magda’s sexuality, which is neither a mistake nor a choice, but consider how it permeates through the memoir, and how it’s always been there in some of her parents’ thoughts, words and actions. And how might it compare with The Namesake?
The other quote is a little more interesting, in particular the ‘to me and your mother’ bit, which I think complicates the idea of unconditional love. Is love still unconditional if parents define who you are and who you will “never be”? I think what’s implied here is that you want to include some discussion of parental expectations, which is another can of worms. It might include things like how parents want you to behave, what career choices they might want you to make, whether or not they approve of your friends or romantic partners.
Now, let’s dive into a possible plan to tackle a topic like this...
So firstly, let's establish that parent-child relationships are often laden with expectations.
It may not be the obvious example, but Ashima’s family had undoubtedly expected her to marry Ashoke, a PhD student in Boston at the time, as conveyed through “her mother’s salesmanship”. We see this mirrored in the life of Moushumi as well, whose parents orchestrated a “series of unsuccessful schemes” to see her married in her adolescence. Gogol experiences expectations that aren’t all so intentional—while his parents don’t mean him any harm by naming him Gogol, he feels trapped by the name, “always hated it” in fact. Still, his parents are markedly “disappointedly” when he chooses Columbia over MIT, and are “distressed” by his low income while he’s at college.
Szubanski’s parents have somewhat similar expectations in this regard: “the ranks of the second generation are full of doctors and lawyers and professionals.” She felt that “all of the family’s educational hopes rested on [her].”
These examples mightn’t be the most obvious, but they’re effective for making this point, and don’t need too much explanation to tie it into the prompt.
Let’s keep this in mind for our second paragraph: trauma can be passed on intergenerationally through how parents treat their children, and this can bring its own set of expectations as well.
Gogol feels trapped by his name, but it is a result of his father’s traumatic experiences. What Ashoke might not realise is that this has caused Gogol even more distress of his own. This is probably stronger in Reckoning, where Peter’s emotional capacity is compromised as a result of war. When Magda looks through the book filled with pictures of decomposing bodies and feels uneasy, her father’s comment, “don’t be silly, it’s just a picture,” makes her feel ashamed of herself for her “stupidity and weakness”. So, parental expectations can be distorted by their traumatic experiences, which only serves to pass that trauma on.
To conclude, let’s flip this around to look at how children respond to their parents: in both texts, there’s a sense that being able to confront these expectations and memories from the past helps children to synthesise their own identity and move forward in their own lives.
In The Namesake, Gogol only reads The Overcoat after his father dies, in fact saving it from a box that was about to be donated, “destined to disappear from his life altogether.” The novel ends here, which could represent that he is able to move into a new phase of his life only after having grappled with this one. Szubanski’s pilgrimage back to Poland and Ireland come from similar desires to better understand her parents. She “wondered if Europe might provide the sense of home [she] craved” particularly given her father’s desire to never look back at his traumatic past there.
I think the bottom line is that parent-child relationships are already complex, and can be further complicated by a number of factors. Still, it’s up to children to grapple with the burden of expectations, and to forge our own path forward from there.
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.
The Handmaid's Tale Quick Summary
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).
Part 1: Brainstorm
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.
Part 2: Main Arguments
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.
‘To live in a chilling, post-modernism dystopia, Atwood showcases the evils of the patriarchy’
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.
‘Moreover, Atwood reveals how, despite being at the top of the female hierarchy as commander’s wives, even they suffer’
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.
Going back to our keyword of ‘go beyond’
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.
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Have a go at analysing it yourself first, then see how I've interpreted the article below! For a detailed guide on Language Analysis including how to prepare for your SAC and exam, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Language Analysis.
Author: Professor Chris Lee
Type of article: Speech
Date of publication: 25 – 27th October, 2010
Contention: We, as humans must consider our impact on biodiversity and take action to change our lifestyles before we damage the world beyond repair.
Number of article(s): 1
Number of image(s): 2
Source: VCAA website
Note: Persuasive techniques can be interpreted in many ways. The examples given below are not the single correct answer. Only a selected number of persuasive techniques have been identified in this guide.
Taking Stock Analysis
Persuasive technique: Reputable Source
Example: ‘United Nations stated: “It is a celebration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity in our lives. The world is invited to take action in 2010 to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity”.’
Analysis: The use of a reputable source indicates that 1) the author has done his research and is therefore credible, 2) his opinion is supported by an expert group, thus strengthening his reasoning and opinion in regards to biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Rhetorical questions
Example: ‘Has this been a year of celebration of life on earth? Has this, in fact, been a year of action?’
Analysis: The use of rhetorical questions aims to portray to listeners that the answer is obvious, that humans have not done enough to help biodiversity. As a result, listeners are manipulated into agreeing with the author since if they were to refute the answer; it will appear as though they are nonsensical.
Persuasive technique: Personal approach
Example: ‘It is with great pleasure – though not without a tinge of sadness’
Analysis: By introducing himself with ‘it is with great pleasure’, listeners are invited to reciprocate the feeling of welcome for Lee and hence be open to his opinion. His subsequent, ‘though not without a tinge of sadness’ suggests to listeners that he is disappointed with the current state of biodiversity, which may persuade listeners to feel as though they should help fix the situation.
Persuasive technique: Statistics
Example: ‘35% of mangroves, 40% of forests and 50% of wetlands.’
Analysis: The incorporation of the apparently reliable and credible statistics testifies for Lee’s opinion and thus may persuade listeners to believe that it is indeed, ‘too late for [species]’.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of guilt
Example: ‘Due to our own thoughtless human actions, species are being lost at a rate that is estimated to be up to 100 times the natural rate of extinction.’
Analysis: Since the destruction of biodiversity is ‘due to our own thoughtless human actions’, Lee aims to incite a sense of guilt as listeners appear to be selfish, which may urge them to agree that they need to cease being inconsiderate and do more to improve biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to humanity
Example: ‘Reversing this negative trend is not only possible, but essential to human wellbeing.’
Analysis: The appeal to humanity, ‘essential to human wellbeing’ encourages listeners to support Lee since it is our instinctive for humans to nurture ourselves and others.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of pride
Example: ‘We are, in truth, the most educated generation of any to date. We have no excuse for inaction.’
Analysis: Through the appeal to a sense of pride, Lee aims to coax listeners into believing that they have ‘no excuse for inaction’ since only those who are ‘intelligent’ would understand and agree with his stance.
Persuasive technique: Attack on the listener
Example: ‘YOUR country – actually done since 2002 to contribute to the achievement of our goals?’
Analysis: The attack aims to leave listeners in a state of vulnerability since it is clear that many have failed to ‘achieve…[the] goals’. Once in this state, listeners may be more inclined to accept Lee’s stance.
Persuasive technique: Appeal for sympathy
Example: ‘Biodiversity loss undermines the food security, nutrition and health of the rural poor and even increases their vulnerability. ‘
Analysis: Though the reference to ‘the rural poor,’ Lee aims to appeal to listeners’ sympathy and may invite support since it is instinctive to wish for the best for humanity, rather than to see the poor experience a lack of ‘food security, nutrition and health.’
Persuasive technique: Appeal to pride
Example: ‘As leaders in the area of biodiversity’
Analysis: The appeal to pride through positioning listeners as ‘leaders’ invites support since it is innate for humans to wish to be thought of as a person who is respected and powerful.
Persuasive technique: Inclusive Language
Example: ‘we know what damage our lifestyle is doing to our world’
Analysis: The use of inclusive language aims to involve listeners with the issue, thus encouraging support since listeners may feel responsible for the future outcome of biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to sense of urgency
Example: ‘The time for talk is over: now, truly, is the time for serious action.
Analysis: By appealing to a sense of urgency, Lee aims to urge listeners to take responsibility since it appears as though the damage to biodiversity will be too late if we fail to take ‘serious action…now.’
Persuasive technique: A sense of responsibility
Example: 2010 with outlines of nature
Analysis: The incorporation of a background of ‘2010’ with outlines of animals, plants and humans aims to demonstrate to listeners that earth is shared by all species, with none dominating another in an attempt to gain listeners’ sense of responsibility since they are part of the biodiversity issue, yet can also be the solution to the problem.
Persuasive technique: Pun
Example: ‘Taking Stock’
Analysis: The first meaning used for the pun suggests to listeners that they need to ‘take stock’ or in other words, scrutinise the dire situation of biodiversity in call for much needed attention to the issue. Through referring to the second meaning of ‘stock’ as animals, Lee intends to appeal to a sense of guilt since he projects the idea that humans are cruelly annihilating the environment by ‘taking’ whatever ‘stock’ for their own self-centered purposes.
Persuasive technique: Appeal to responsibility
Example: ‘earth is in our hands’
Analysis: By placing the ‘earth…in our hands,’ Lee aims to urge a sense of responsibility on behalf of the listeners which in turn, may cause them to agree with the notion to take ‘serious action’ in the name of biodiversity.
Persuasive technique: Use of reputable source
Example: ‘Biodiversity is the greatest treasure we have . . . Its diminishment is to be prevented at all costs. Thomas Eisner’
Analysis: The reference to ecologist, Thomas Eisner attempts to persuade listeners to support Lee since experts in the field of biodiversity recommend that the earth needs to be cherished.
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