English & EAL

VCE English exam tips and hints – written by an experienced VCE teacher

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The VCE English exam is the longest exam you will sit in your VCE studies.  It is not often that you will sit down for three hours at one time and produce three full (and very different) essays and for this reason it is important to have a clear strategy going in.  Some of the strongest VCE English students I have taught have had trouble managing their time in the exam because they have not followed their strategy and have tried to do too much.  Here are some tips and hints to help you manage your time and successfully complete all three writing tasks.

Use Reading Time wisely

Reading time is a gift from the VCAA designed to give you time to think about what you will write before you even start writing and it is important to use it wisely.  Although you can’t write on or mark your exam paper in any way during reading time, I recommend you do the following things, in the following order, to ensure you get off to a great start.

  1. Find the text you will be responding to in Section A – Text Response and spend a couple of minutes choosing the essay topic you will respond to. You will have a choice of two topics here – pick the one that you are most confident in responding to.
  2. Check the prompt you have been given for your context in Section B – Writing in Context. Work out which ideas you have that would work with the prompt and the best form of writing to explore your ideas. Make a decision in reading time so you know what you will be writing.
  3. Read through the  Section C – Language Analysis material carefully and thoroughly, more than once if you have the time. Although you can’t mark the exam paper, by reading the given material more than once, you will have a good idea of what the author is arguing and how.

Don’t do the tasks in order – start with Section C – Language Analysis

You have 1 hour for each essay and they are all worth equal marks so it is important to finish all three.  The best way to maximise your time is to start with Section C.  This is because in reading time you will have read the material a couple of times and it will be fresh in your mind.  If you go off and do Sections A and B first, it will be almost 2 hours since you have read the material when you get back to Section C and you will have to re-read it, thus wasting time. My advice would be to start annotating the Section C material as soon as reading time is over, and focus on this task in the first hour of writing time.

Make time to plan

Spend the first 10 minutes of each hour planning your essay before you write anything. Many students just start writing and then don’t finish their essays because they haven’t worked out what they are going to say and how they are going to finish their piece before they start writing.  A decent plan before you start will actually help you to write quicker because you can focus on the best way to say what you want to say, rather than trying to work out what your next point will be.

Stick to time limits

Managing your time in the exam is super important.  You have to write three essays in three hours, however each one hour block should not be taken up with just writing.   You also have to make time to plan before you begin to write and to proofread once you have finished.  I would recommend taking up to 10 minutes to plan at the beginning of your hour and leaving at least 5 minutes at the end to proof read.  45 minutes is well and truly long enough to write a great essay if you have been careful in your planning and you know what you need to achieve. If you have these times in your mind, you can keep checking in with the clock throughout the exam and making sure you are on track to finish within your set time frames.  This will stop you accidentally taking longer to write one essay, and leaving yourself short on time for another.

If you go in to the exam with a strategy and stick to it you should not only manage to complete all three essays in the prescribed time, but they will be better planned and much better written than if you just got in there and started writing.  With less than three months until the English exam, now is the time to start writing those practice essays and getting used to writing to time!

Happy essay writing and good luck!

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