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Reading your VCE books during your summer holidays might sound a little mundane, especially when you can spend that time with family and friends, but it will be one of the best things you would’ve done for yourself in preparation for your VCE year. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself later. The difference with these holidays compared with others is that you have an incredibly important year of schooling lurking around the corner – one that is stressful for most, if not all students. So, for your own benefit, you should definitely take advantage of this break! Having read your books once before you start the school year gives you a major advantage over students who haven’t. Let’s look at some reasons why:
1. Preparing your mindset.
Once you have read your books, you will have a good idea of what you’re heading into during the school year. When the teacher begins to teach the text in class, you will be clear on the ideas discussed, in comparison to other students who will still be reading their texts. You’ll be able to easily build connections between class discussions and the book, whereas other students will definitely struggle. Often, they will miss a vital piece of information brought up in class simply because they didn’t realise how significant that idea is to a section in the book or even the book as a whole!
2. Exposure to all the possibilities.
Even though you might not start studying a text until mid-way through the year or even in Term 4, having read the books gives you a head start on absorbing all the information around you. Throughout the year, you may come across something that catches your eye on the internet (whether it be from a news source or online blog) that you see has ideas which relate to one of the texts you will be studying in the near future. The best thing is that you’ll be able to bookmark it for a later date to revisit! For example, if one of your texts is Brooklyn, a novel about an Irish woman’s immigration to America, if you come across stories about immigration, or references to Irish versus American culture, then this would be ideal for you to save for later!
3. Lighten the workload in VCE.
You’ve already done half the work if you read your novels in the holidays. Many teachers and VCE examiners recommend at least reading your texts twice before your exam (read more about this here). This is because the first read is often to grasp ideas and get an overall understanding of the text. The second reading is for analysis, exploring in detail particular ideas, quotes and others. Since VCE is a heavy-workload year, it would definitely be a smart move if you lifted some of that weight during your holidays. Many people think it will be fine to leave the reading task to the last minute – right before they start studying the text in class, but knowing VCE, SACs and assignments will be thrown your way, meaning that you’ll have less time than you had intended to read. So the earlier you get started, the better!
The summer break is definitely a time when you can relax and just enjoy life. It all comes down to simple time-management. Instead of just lazing at the beach, why not spend a little bit of that time also reading a couple of chapters? Or, you could plan to read about 20 minutes a day, at a time that’s most convenient for you! There’s no reason why you can’t read your books and have fun during your holidays. So just open your books and give them a read!
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Now quite sure how to nail your text response essays? Then download our free mini-guide, where we break down the art of writing the perfect text-response essay into three comprehensive steps.
So…you’ve just begun the school year and you’re feeling pretty excited about English. You’re determined to put aside all distractions this year and to only focus on studying, studying and studying. But…the minute you sit down at your desk, you find that your mind goes completely blank and that you are left only with one dreadful question: What now?
If this sounds all too familiar to you, you are definitely not alone. English can often make you feel like you don’t even know where to start. So, here is a quick guide that can help you to plan out your year, to break free from procrastination and to find some sparks of motivation when you feel like there is simply no road ahead.
Step 1: Read Your Text!
This may seem like the most obvious step, but it can make all the difference when done thoughtfully and thoroughly. One thing that VCAA English examiners always look for when reading text responses is in-depthknowledge and understanding of the text, and the best way to develop and gain this knowledge is to read, read, and read again! Try to treat your text like a blank map, full of unexplored territories and winding roads that are there for you to uncover each time you read the text.
When you read your text for the first time, look out for the major roads and landmarks; the setting and premise, the plot, the characters, the broad ideas, the authorial voice and style etc. Once you’ve gotten a good grasp of the major elements of your text, read it again, and focus on adding more detail to your map; fleshing out characters, understanding their motives, understanding the author’s purpose, and underlining key quotations and particular passages that encompass a broader idea. If you’re a forgetful person like me, you might find it helpful to note down some key observations as you go and to create a summary you can always refer back to throughout the year.
Step 2: Read Around Your Text
While reading and rereading your text will definitely help you to know your text in and out, in order to fully tick the box of knowledge and understanding, it is also important to read around the text; to understand the context of when and why the text was written, for whom it was written, and the impact the text has had on both its original audience and its audience today. Especially for texts that are rooted in history, like The Women of TroyorRear Window, understanding context and background information is essential in understanding the text itself. After all, Rear Window just wouldn’t be Rear Window if it weren’t for the McCarthyistic attitudes that were so prevalent at the time, and The Women of Troy would have been a far more different play had it not been written during wartime. Each text is a product of both its creator and its time, so make the effort to research the writer, playwright or filmmaker, and the historical, cultural, social and political context of your text.
When doing your research, it can be helpful to use a set of questions like the one below as a guideline, to ensure that the information you’re finding is always relevant.
Who is the writer/playwright/filmmaker?
Who is the audience?
When/where was your text written?
When/where is your text set?
Why was your text written?
What is the style/genre of your text?
Step 3: Study Your Text
Here’s where it gets a bit more difficult. Now that you’ve drawn out your map, and dotted it with various landmarks, rivers and roads, it is time to actually use your map to go somewhere; to make use of all the knowledge and background information you have gathered so that you can begin to analyse and dissect your text in greater detail. Studying a subject with as large of a cohort as VCE English can oftentimes mean that ideas are recycled and exams are repetitive, so in order to distinguish yourself from the pack, try to look for ways to craft your own original path; a view of the text that is distinctly your own, instead of following others. The best way to do this is to do a bit of thinking at home; to create your own original set of notes and observations and to spend time analysing each section of your text in greater detail than you may have done in class.
Constructing a notes table like the one below can help you greatly in sorting and fleshing out your ideas, and, when done consistently throughout the year, can save a lot of time and effort when it comes to studying for the exam!
The Women of Troy Notes Table:
Step 4: Target Your Study to Your SAC
So...you’ve made it all the way to your SAC. You may be feeling nervous at this point, even a little burnt out, but there is no need to worry. Studying for your SAC simply requires a bit of adjusting to your normal studying routine; changing it up so that instead of simply brainstorming ideas, you’re actually using these ideas in topic sentences, and instead of collating a list of quotes, you’re embedding these quotes into a practice paragraph. These are all examples of targeted study: taking all the information you’ve gathered on your text, all the notes you’ve made, and all the work you’ve done in class, and putting it into practice.
Targeted study could be done in the form of an essay plan, or unpacking an essay question
Bold keywords from the prompt: ‘I ask you not to hate me. With the greatest reluctance / I must tell you the news…’ Euripides softens the brutality of the Greeks’ behaviour through his characterisation of Talthybius.
To what extent do you agree? This part is asking me to adopt a specific viewpoint, whether you agree, disagree or are somewhere in between.
Step 2: Brainstorm
Unpack the keywords in the topic:
'not to hate me', 'greatest reluctance'– Talthybius’ desire to be liked, his understanding of the actions of Greeks
Softens the brutality– Talthybius serves as the opposing force to the Greeks’ brutal behaviour, makes the Greeks more sympathetic
Characterisation– Talthybius’ personality, behaviour, actions, language
Step 3: Create a Plan
Contention:While Talthybius is used by Euripides to evoke some sympathy for the Greeks, ultimately, he serves to exacerbate the cruelty of the Greeks’ actions and the devastating consequences of their fall from a civilised, sacred people to a bestial, impulse-driven group of men.
Paragraph 1: Certainly, amongst his peers which are excoriated by Euripides for their cruel, unfeeling behaviour, Talthybius is depicted to be the most humane of the Greeks due to his conflicted nature, evoking sympathy amongst the audience, and reinstating some humanity to the Greeks’ otherwise sullied reputation.
Targeted study could also be done in the form of unpacking quotes, and analysing their significance
We can also use the ABC steps here. For example:
'Like the mother bird to her plundered nest, my song has become a scream'
Step 1: Analyse
Demonstrates the dehumanisation of the Trojan women, and the heinous, beastly actions of the Greek men, who, like their 'war machine' description, have subverted all that is natural to become violent, and all that is beautiful to become grotesque
Step 2: Brainstorm
'Mother bird' - animal imagery, maternalistic
'My song has become a scream' - demonstrates devastation, contrast between melody to dissonance
Step 3: Create a Plan
Embed the quote into a sentence, e.g.:
Euripides’ description of Hecuba as a 'mother bird' at her 'plundered nest' demonstrates the innately maternal nature of her character through animal imagery, while also emphasising the vulnerability of the Trojan women, who have been reduced to defenceless prey as a result of the Greeks’ predatory and beastly behaviour.
Planning essays and breaking down prompts/quotes are extremely time-efficient ways to approach your texts and SACs. Rather than slaving away for hours and hours writing full essays, these simpler forms of targeted study can and will save you the burnout and will get you feeling confident faster.
Only move on to writing a full practice essay or some practice paragraphs once you feel you have a good in-depth understanding of how to plan an essay and once you have already naturally memorised some important quotes that you can use in your essay (learn how to embed your quotes like a boss here). Remember, quality over quantity, so spend your time before your SAC revising thoughtfully and carefully, targeting your revision, and taking things slowly, rather than robotically churning out essay after essay.
Step 5: Embrace the Exam!
The end of every VCE English journey is the highly anticipated, dreaded and feared English exam. Now, while you may be reading those words with a horror movie soundtrack playing in your mind, the English exam, despite being a gruelling 3 hours of essay-writing, really isn’t as horrific as it sounds. Preparing for it is also much less intense than you might think it to be, because essentially, from the very first time you read your text, you will have already begun preparing for the exam. All that is left to do before the English exam is to polish up on some of your weaknesses identified in your SACs, to look over all the notes and information you have gathered throughout the year, to freshen up on essay writing and essay planning, and to do a couple of practices, so that you can feel as ready as you can for the real thing.
In particular, I found that in the leadup to my English exam, studying with my friends and peers was not only a welcome stress reliever, but a really good way to expand my own knowledge by helping others and being helped myself. Having your peers review your essays and helping to give feedback on theirs is always an excellent way to improve your own essay-writing skills, and, a great way to provide good constructive criticism is to follow the GIQ rule (I’m not sure if this is a real rule…but it works!)
What was GOOD about the piece? e.g. Your sentences flow really well, and you embed quotes into sentences phenomenally!
What could be IMPROVED? e.g. Perhaps adding a couple of sentences elaborating on this idea could make your essay even better!
What QUESTIONS do you have about the piece? e.g. I don’t really understand this sentence, what were you trying to say here?
Hopefully, these tips will be able to help you out throughout the year in staying motivated and feeling okayabout English! Remember, this is just here as a guide to help you, and not a strict regimen to follow, because everyone studies differently, and has different goals in English.
However, now that you have a clearer pathway and plan for learning your texts in-depth, what’s next? Well, it’s pretty important that you learn about the different areas of study so that you understand how you’ll actually apply all of your new-found text knowledge to each of your SACs and the exam. Our Ultimate Guide to Text Response and Ultimate Guide to Comparative give you a full rundown of what is required in these two areas of study (where you will have to learn specific texts) so I would highly recommend having a read!
Ok, let’s be honest here. I’m not one to be easily motivated to do things. I’m what you call a part-time-verging-on-full-time procrastinator. Hell, if procrastinating was a career, I’d be rich by now!
But alas, there’s no time left in these last critical months of high school to sit back while you put even the smallest of tasks off because you can’t be stuffed. There’s always that one project, that one piece of writing, that one homework task that you just can’t bring yourself to sit down and do. That’s when you soon discover that you’ve got to find a teensy-tiny ounce of hope and drive in you to complete the unwanted task. Oh, what’s that called again? Ah yes!
So how does one find that motivation to plough through lists of work, practice SACs and exam papers, and write yet another language analysis without going insane?
Well, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’ve always thought admirably of those top 99+ ATAR achievers in my school, the students that score 50s in each subject and the brightest kids in the state that appear on the front of newspapers come mid-December each year. It baffled me for so long that they appeared SO motivated to do all this work! How do they keep pushing themselves? How do they not lose confidence along the way? How do they stay focused for the entire Year 12? And I’ll let you in on a little secret… you can be one of them! Just find the motivation technique that empowers and energises YOU!
Motivation is SUCH a personal matter. It is 110% crucial if you plan on doing well for your final years of school, and once you discover what gets your engine roaring, it’s an invaluable tool you’ll need and keep for life.
Perhaps the most ‘obvious’ motivation for doing well in Year 12 is to get acceptance into your preferred University course, TAFE course, or other career or study pathway. But that’s not enough, in my humble opinion. Plenty of students start off Year 12 with such a great mind frame for the first few weeks or months, and then struggle to keep up the good work. You need to keep your goal as close to mind as possible. Don’t just have a 4-digit figure in the back of your mind or glued onto a pin board. Visualise what it looks like when you’re walking into your dream course, discovering your passion, meeting new people that feel as passionate about what they’re learning as you. Where will your dreams take you? Hold on to those images in your mind. They are pure gold.
If you feel like everything in Year 12 isn’t worth the stress and the effort, think of the holiday that greets you after finishing high school. For some, you might be trekking off overseas for 4 months or even spending a few days at Schoolies! Imagine where you could be in only a few months’ time. What will you be doing, where will you be relaxing, who will you be socialising with, how far will you be travelling? If you give your final year all you got, that break will feel even more rewarding.
Another technique I tried isn’t for everyone, and those that exercise it should do so with caution… but I motivated myself using the big fat F-word: FAILURE. I was emotionally invested in my subjects, so that if I felt that I wasn’t improving my scales, my oral comprehension, or my writing to the standard that I desired, then I would feel like I had failed my teachers. I respected them not only for their expertise, but for their faith and constant encouragement they showed for their students. A healthy dose of nerves and stress is okay, as it can spur you on even more to work harder, persevere and impress.
Year 12 is not a sprint, it is truly a marathon. The best part is, you’re almost there! But if you keep your eyes on the prize and let your friends, family and teachers hand you those water bottles and towels, you can take each part as it comes. It’s not going to be easy, but if you stick to a plan and give it all you’ve got with no regrets, reaching that finish line will be the best feeling in the world!
VCE English (or any one of the 4 Englishes) can be one of the most daunting and difficult subjects to study. On top of that, as students of the VCE, we are plagued daily by distractions that seemingly inhibit our ability to maximize the time to fulfil our best potential. Feeling anxious about what seems to be such little time before the exam in October, we face mind blanks and find ourselves in a constant battle against feelings of doubt and anxiety.
However, these feelings only trick us into thinking that we are not good enough to achieve and consequently diminish our much needed motivation. Thoughts about having to write three 1000-word essays in three hours by October translate into doubt about our skills, generating to thoughts saying “I don’t know what to do!” when attempting to start, or whilst writing an essay. Amidst this, our mind is inundated with thoughts about competition: “what are other students in the state studying?”“How do other students tackle the tasks so easily whilst I’m here still figuring out how to start?” However, the more we align ourselves with such anxious thoughts, the more we convince ourselves that “I can’t do it”, and we unknowingly retreat to procrastination. Despite this, time mercilessly continues to move forward and October will eventually and inevitably arrive!
To overcome this negative mentality, therefore, we must reconstruct our perception about what VCE English is really about and what it entails. To most of us, English simply involves the repetitive 1000-word essay involving an introduction-body-conclusion, discussing the themes of a novel, play or film which appear not to have any relevance for our future. But believe me; English can be far more exciting!
Put simply, we must start thinking: collaboration, not competition. English is one of the more exciting subjects because it provides us with a platform on which we can debate and share ideas. It also grants us an opportunity to express, in our own style, the ideas we construct thus granting us freedom for creativity and a space where all ideas are worth sharing! Hence, rather than perceiving your peers as competitors, embrace them as your allies. They too are most likely undergoing the same doubts and stresses. Whilst being willing to share your opinions, make sure that you engage with students who enjoy debating and sharing theirs – VCE is not something that you can do on your own!
Considering this, there are a few things you must keep in mind when studying English. A blank piece of paper or a blank word document on your computer screen appears scary, especially if you are unsure of what to write about, let alone how to start an essay. The important thing that all students must remember, therefore, is to just put something down on paper first. It doesn’t matter how well you write or express yourself (at first). Remember: all ideas are worth sharing. If you are unsure of what to write, write exactly what you think! Prioritise your ideas over your writing style! Assessors care more about seeing a mind at work and do not reward superfluous writing. A talented writer is worse off if he or she does not discuss complex ideas!
Next, it is crucial that you don’t take subsequent criticism from teachers as a message that you can’t do it. Criticism is inevitable and it is a good thing. It means that your teacher really wants to help! Just remember that year 12 is not the end. It is often easy to think that once you finish school, your writing skill doesn’t improve. But this is incorrect. Even the best writers on this planet will always continue to strive to improve!
Essentially, it is important that you write often. The more you write the greater chance there is of improving. In light of this, your writing does not have to be focussed merely on what you study in English – spending time writing about anything you want in any style is a worthwhile mental exercise (it is the perfect substitute over jumping online on Facebook or YouTube when you feel like procrastinating)! Any concerns about writing within one hour should fade away naturally as you write more frequently – this is something you shouldn’t have to worry about.
Ultimately, English can be exciting when you are prepared to share your ideas and listen to the ideas of other students. See it not as a torturous race to scribble out three 1000-word essays in 3 hours, but more rather an opportunity to explore complex ideas that are challenging yet interesting at the same time. Just remember that ideas are the primary concern, and the final piece – the writing – is merely the polish. It is okay to inspire yourself too! Don’t get hung up on appearing modest. Everyone has a viewpoint and an opinion to share and the more you collaborate, the less you will be tricked into believing you can’t. Instead, you will be constantly reminded that you can.
Before embarking on your Year 12 English journey, I believe there are some wise words from your future and possibly wiser self that would benefit you throughout this challenging, yet rewarding year.
1. Keep perspective
Yes, Year 12 is important. Yes English is important. Yes, doing well in SACs is important. But so is breathing, maintaining a balanced lifestyle and spending time with your friends and family. Throughout the year you are going to waste time calculating minor details, worrying over completed SACs and thinking ‘I’m doomed!’
I’m telling you now, remember the big picture. The year really is a marathon (not a sprint), and the exam should not only be seen as the finish line, but also the finals. (Where yes, your SAC marks/past results matter, but it is like the Olympics. If you train hard, like other athletes, you have the opportunity to challenge Usain Bolt and do a personal best!)
2. Have Confidence
Obviously over confidence can manifest into complacency. But because you will be a bundle of nerdy anxiety, you will have done the work. If you have done all in your power to prepare for the SAC/exam - the rest is beyond your control. It is important to know that if a SAC does not go the way you hoped, it is not the end of the world. Don’t let it knock your confidence down and spread to the next area of study. It is important to isolate your disappointments. Back yourself when walking into the SAC/exam by imagining yourself, calmly sitting down and showing off out your knowledge. English rewards thinkers. So even if you are not the best at spelling, grammar and expression - think big (but spelling, grammar and expression all matter too!).
3. Be Curious
This may seem like a tagline to Britney Spear’s perfume marketing campaign, but I believe this will be an important ingredient to your success in the year ahead. Inquisitiveness has the power to seep into all your subjects. Inquisitiveness that compels you to pursue your ideas, gather information and question what and how you are learning. This not only enriches your ideas, but it means you are expanding your mind. Come to class with questions to pick your classmates or teachers brains with - ask them and be ready with an open mind.
There are going to be many times throughout the year that you will wish you could do anything but finish an essay. You will attempt to procrastinate by watching the Bachelorette, taking Buzzfeed quizzes and spiral yourself into a YouTube hole. However, looking back, it is easy to see that teasing out your convoluted ideas, thoughts and errors, is a very beneficial process - far more than pumping out mindless essays.
You’re going to find the first few essays you write for texts the hardest (and probably the worst)! But it is an important step in the result. Don’t be afraid to be imperfect!
5. Run your own race
At the beginning of the year, you are going to spend time comparing yourself to others and secretly cataloguing their SAC marks in your mind (just a head up: That is not only a waste of time, but incredibly pointless!). Regardless of whether English is your strength or just because it is a requirement - competing against your peers is a waste of energy. Furthermore, when it comes to the exam, you and your cohort should work together. As for you to do well, you all must do well.
What to put in your (metaphorical) school bag:
At the beginning of the year you’re going to read sample essay responses and think ‘Is this English?! What do these words mean?!’ However, if you begin a little note on your computer or phone that you slowly add interesting and diverse words to, then when it comes to writing responses you have a greater pool to draw from. Once you use them a few times, they will become engrained in your mind and pave the way for vocabulary mastery!
2. Study group
Find friends that are at a similar level and that have different teachers to yours - and 2 weeks out from a SAC, get together to make some mind maps and share ideas. It is important that you all contribute equally and all gain from the time you spend! (Advice: Do not do this in the weeks leading up to formal as conversation will likely go off topic.)
Be organized with your notes! Make sure you begin this at the start of the year, and make them easy and clean to understand. Often it is good to make multiple copies as you progress, gradually refining and shedding excess notes for when you arrive at the exam! I also suggest emailing a copy to yourself or regularly backing it up on a hard drive, as you will hear the horror stories of students losing all their notes. Often Unit 4 wraps up quite quickly, and the time between this and exams is often scattered with ‘final day’ activities, valedictories and formal assemblies as you farewell school. Even though you do have time to commit your knowledge, having well formatted notes heading into the exam will put you ahead of the game.
4. The texts
Always read the texts, not just the study guide. Even though these resources are often highly informative, it is important to use them to build your understanding, rather than creating it. Knowing your texts back to front, is also big secret to success! As often most students will know the key passages and plot developments, but if you can tease out obscure and small moments within the text in your essays - this will help your work to stand out.
This may seem old fashioned - but I’m not just talking about the physical newspaper! Reading articles online, researching authors, reviews and scholarly reports about your texts are highly valuable. Not only are they great to nab vocabulary from, but they keep your mind rolling and constantly developing your ideas!
There you go ‘past’ Anna! You’re going to have one of the best years of your life - even though you’ll cry, fall asleep on the floor and be perennially triggered by the library - You’re going to stand on the other side and say it was worth it. Year 12 not only is going to break you, but make you.
Enjoy the ride! Future Anna
P.S: Don’t wear those shoes to Year 12 formal - they will kill your feet!
Let’s be honest. Life is crazy right now; everything we know has been completely flipped due to COVID-19 and there’s no denying it. Students studying Station Eleven must be feeling a little creeped out! Everything is changing so quickly as decisions are being made on a daily basis, but as of right this moment, we are in lockdown: schools are shut, gatherings are banned and most of our parents are working from home. Most of us are wondering: how will we be able to reach our teachers? What about my friends? How can I study effectively without being in class? Here are some things to remember whilst enduring the pandemic...
First of all, we are allin the same boat. Nobody in the state will be going to school until at least 13th of April, and between you and me, it’ll probably be longer. You are not alone and certainly we will all get through this together.
For those who are doubting how school will function without physical attendance, remember how far our society has come with technology! Schools across the state are finding ways to optimise your learning. From Zoom to Microsoft Teams and Skype, schools are utilising fantastic platforms to help you learn. All you need is an internet connection and a willingness to learn and you’re all set. Furthermore, teachers are usually available over email and if you’re anything like me, you’re constantly reaching out to teachers for help — and I highly recommend it! Ask for help, ask for more resources, ask for advice and guidance.
Finally, if you feel like you need some extra help, private tuition is also a great way to make sure you’re on the right track and moving towards your dream results. LSG has a great private tuition program where you’ll find amazing help online from dedicated and tech-savvy high achievers. They’ll be your tutor, motivator and mentor all in one! Just because there’s no actual school, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to learn effectively.
If you'd like to learn more about LSG's Private Tutoring program, head over here — we'd love to chat!
I know it’s easy to think,
“I can’t study at home, I always get distracted by my sibling, my cat, my parents, YouTube, games and food I just procrastinate too much!”
For me, Year 12 was full of bursts of intense focus and longer bursts of procrastination. I tried so hard to focus but sometimes, Netflix was just too tempting! However, there are a few tips that kept me in check (especially during the holidays) and helped me to do well in the end. Hopefully, they can help you too!
It’s so important to have a consistent routine. This will help you direct your focus to what matters and form consistent study habits. You can even follow your school timetable if that helps! This will integrate study times for certain subjects and also appropriate break times.
Routines also help with stress. You can wake up every day and not have to think about what you are going to do that day — just follow your routine! This will work wonders in helping you to manage all your subjects, homework and socialising needs.
When building a routine, start small and build your way up. Start your day by waking up at a certain time, or scheduling when you’ll eat or even deciding when you’ll do exercise. Studies have shown that it takes 21 days to form a habit. I know this is a while, but if you can stick with one or two small routine changes in your life, it will make a huge difference!
There are a few things to remember when creating your own routine!
• Don’t plan out every second of every day. This will make you feel like a robot with no freedom and you’ll get bored very quickly.
• Have a basic routine that can be adapted to everyday needs! This kind of links back to the previous point, if you plan every second, you won’t be able to be adaptable and spontaneous
• Have break time, downtime and exercise time!
For some more advice on work/study/life balance, check out Lisa's interview with LSG Content Manager Matt here.
2. Set specific tasks to get done everyday (to-do lists)
If you create a list to get done everyday, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that will both motivate you to study harder and to stay focussed to reach your goals! This also ensures that you are staying on track and that you’re on top of all subjects and homework. By keeping track of what needs to be done and when, your stress levels will be reduced because everything is written down — so, when you have some time to relax, you can actually relax. Your to-do list will act as your ‘second brain’ that you can return to when you’re refreshed and ready to study.
Ensure that your to-do lists are specific. Rather than writing “study for English”, which really doesn’t tell you anything, write tasks like, “quote sheet for English” and “summary book for circular function for Methods”. Then, you know what each task expects of you and what it will look like when it’s finished.
If you’re following your school timetable, make sure that in your scheduled time to study a particular subject you have a list of things to do, otherwise, you’ll be sitting at your desk thinking about what you should be doing instead of actually studying!
3. Use apps that help with productivity/procrastination
There are hundreds of apps that help with productivity, organisation and procrastination. Here are a list of some of my personal favourites:
• Forest grows trees when you aren’t using your phone, and everytime you open it, a tree dies. This helps to prevent you from dawdling on social media too much. • Just turn it on before you start studying and you’ll feel a little grief every time you open your phone because trees will die.
• Todoist helps create to do lists and alerts you with tasks you need to get done. There are plenty of apps that do this, so have a look and find one that suits you and your needs best.
• Mindly helps organise your internal thoughts! You can do pretty much anything from structuring thoughts, explore ideas, plan a speech and take notes! • This particularly works well for subjects like English and Lit that requires a lot of idea generation
4. Get dressed!
This may sound like a strange piece of advice, but it’s so tempting to stay in your pyjamas all day and lounge around. But, if you don’t change, you’ll constantly feel like you’re ready to sleep. Getting dressed in proper clothes helps change your mindset and make you feel ready for the day ahead: conquering every task that you set yourself! It sounds silly, but try it — it actually works.
Not to mention, the little things in life right now are the ones that matter the most. If you can’t do the little things, imagine tackling the bigger tasks in the world. So, start your day off well by doing the things you would normally do when preparing to leave the house.
5. Take breaks and exercise
It’s easy to become a sloth when you’re forced to stay home all day and just eat junk food all day, but remember: a healthy body = a healthy mind. It’s so important to take a break from intense studying period and get moving again. Whether that is doing some yoga, going for a run or just playing with your sibling/pet, it’s up to you. All of this is integral in maintaining your ability to concentrate and prevents burnout!
Doing exercise isn’t easy so if you have a particular routine where you schedule it in, you’ll build a great habit. If that’s not enough to get you up and moving, try incentivising yourself with a particular treat like an episode of your favourite TV show or a snack (a healthy one)! Do exercise that you enjoy.
6. Eat healthily
Eating healthily doesn't always mean eating clean 24/7. Rather, it means simply maintaining a balanced diet. Eat chocolate when you crave chocolate — but don’t go overboard. Try the 80/20 rule, 80% of the time you eat as healthily as possible and the other 20% of the time, you can treat yourself. If you eat healthily, you’ll feel great and be ready to tackle the day's work!
7. Physical distancing not social distancing
With all this talk of social distancing in the media, it’s hard to remember that this really means physical distancing. Please don’t forget to communicate with your friends and family. Use technology to your advantage! Facetime your friends and come up with activities you guys can do together virtually. Gaming is a great idea but as I’m not a gamer myself, my friends and I had a virtual baking challenge (not to brag but I definitely won!) Keep in virtual contact! This will help keep you sane in such crazy times.
8. Use your friends to your advantage
Whilst you might not have the in-person classroom interaction, you can still generate discussion with your friends online and even ask them for help. Remember that a group of minds will always be better than just one. Everyone is trying to stay on top of their learning anyway, so why not do it together?
Hopefully these tips will help you learn to be the best student you can be in this rough time! Remember to stay safe, stay home and stay dedicated to being the best version of yourself.
To quote a professor from one of the most famous schools ever:
“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” — Albus Dumbledore
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.
You really don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with your examiners. Minor irritations such as misspellings and poor handwriting can put the examiner in a negative frame of mind and affect your overall grade, even if your essay content is solid. You want to give yourself every chance of getting top marks. I’m sure you’ve heard this kind of thing a million times before. Teachers stress the importance of good handwriting and spelling over and over again. There is one particular issue I’d like to address here that is not quite as easy to fix: vocabulary and expression. In the following paragraphs I will discuss common problems with expression, focusing on the use of long, supposedly more ‘sophisticated’ words.
A strong vocabulary can certainly help to improve your writing. The use of sophisticated vocabulary – in the right situations – showcases your eloquence and knowledge. However, there is a fine line between good expression and excessive, over-the-top attempts at sophistication. There are four points I’d like to make on this subject.
1. Don’t force it – Students can sometimes attempt to throw all sorts of fancy-sounding words into their essays. I don’t know why. Maybe they think it’ll make their essay sound more intelligent. Maybe they are trying to adopt a more ‘scholarly’ voice. Whatever the reason, this kind of thing can actually get the examiner in a bad mood and hurt your grade. If you’re going out of your way to throw big words into your essay, chances are it’s going to sound forced. I don’t mean to say that you should cut out all that sophisticated vocabulary. When used correctly, those big words will certainly strengthen your expression and help you to communicate complex ideas. However, it’s usually quite obvious to the examiner when you’re forcing these words in where they don’t belong. Excessive use of complicated vocabulary is likely to distract from the points you’re making. It can disrupt the flow of your piece. Remember that you’re trying to effectively communicate your ideas to the reader. Try to keep that point in mind as you write.
2. Be comfortable with your vocabulary – This is immensely important! I’ve said that you shouldn’t force sophisticated words into your writing. You can overcome this by having a sound knowledge of a word’s meaning and its typical context of use. In those essays that force the sophisticated vocabulary, it often sounds as though the writer has simply gone through the dictionary and picked out a bunch of words. Do not do this! You need to be comfortable with a new word before you can start using it effectively in essays. The best way to get comfortable is to read widely. This will give you as much exposure as possible to new vocabulary, and its use in context. You can also try out some new vocabulary in your practice essays. Get feedback from your teacher or tutor, ask them to focus on your vocabulary choices and see if there’s anything you need to work on. It takes time to get comfortable with new vocabulary, so get reading! Learn more on how you can improve your vocabulary here.
3. Less is more – Basic vocabulary can often be much more effective in communicating your message clearly. Why use a ten dollar word when an everyday word will do? Short, sharp sentences with clear and unambiguous expression can be a whole lot more impressive than long, winding sentences filled with long, confusing words. I will stress the point again here; aim for clear and effective communication! When you get to university, you’re going to have to read academic papers that are chock-full of extremely long sentences and pretentious scholarly rhetoric. It’s a nightmare trying to make sense of some of these papers. Sometimes it’ll feel like they’re actually trying as hard as possible to hide the message of their writing. I’ve never really understood why. If you get to try your hand at writing a thesis or dissertation, there are a number of conventions that must be followed and your writing must be a lot more scientific. A lecturer once said to me that you’re doing ‘academic style’ right if it feels like you’re losing a bit of your soul with every sentence that you write. That’s definitely how I felt. There’s not much room to show off your own linguistic flair and expression – at least until you’ve mastered academic writing. You have a fantastic chance in VCE English to show off your writing ability and be creative. So try to make the most it! Just don’t think that good writing has to resemble that dry academic style, with long sentences and fancy words. Impress your examiner by showing clear, unambiguous writing. Impress them with writing that flows and conveys your own personal style. Which brings us to my final point:
4. Be yourself – Don’t try to be someone else in your writing. The most engaging essays are those that can show something unique. As mentioned in earlier blog posts, examiners are marking hundreds of essays on the exact same topics. Your personal writing style can spice up an essay and distinguish you from other students. It’s important to stick to the required formal writing style, with correct grammar, spelling, punctuation and so on. However, you can play with your sentence structure and vocabulary. Add your own flair to leave your signature on your essays. Your expression will only improve through practice, so write as often as you can! If you have truly engaged with the subject matter and have something interesting to say about it, let that enthusiasm shine through in your prose.
I hope that it’s clear from the paragraphs above that it’s perfectly fine to use sophisticated vocabulary – in fact, it’s encouraged! Just make sure that you fully understand the words that you’re using. Don’t use fancy words just for the sake of it. Make sure that your word choice actually improves your essay and adds clarity to the points you are making. Use your sophisticated words alongside your more basic vocabulary. Find a balance that makes your writing entertaining and engaging, while still maintaining effective and clear expression. Let your engagement with the text shine through in writing that is coloured with your own personal style. Be creative and, most importantly, have fun!
Although clarity in expression takes priority, employing sophisticated vocabulary will win you major points with the examiner. Essays with a (healthy) level of adornment tend to demonstrate greater control of language and insight, giving the piece a perceptive and erudite aspect. Nevertheless, trying to employ new vocabulary seamlessly in your essay can be tough- rather than swapping random words in and out of your essay post-mortem, adapting your vocabulary bank to your own writing style can make the process a lot less jarring.
Finding the right bank for you
The conditions of your vocabulary bank should be suited to your specific needs. A focus on a need or theme enables more visible connections within the vocabulary bank. Having those connections will make it easier to 'memorise' new terms. Instead of compiling a dense 20-page glossary, try breaking your vocabulary bank up into smaller, specific sections.
For example, if you're hoping to find new verbs to express the author's intention:
After clarifying their definitions, try using some of your new words in a sentence or a paragraph, relating to either your texts or language analysis. You can also extend your vocabulary bank by adapting the words to different sentence structures:
The author criticises the superficiality of our consumerist culture.
The author condemns the superficiality of our consumerist culture.
In a condemnatory tone, the author delineates the ostentation of our consumerist culture.
The author argues that gender is an arbitrary concept.
The author asserts that gender is an arbitrary concept.
Asserting that gender is an arbitrary concept, the author explicates the categorist nature of human understanding.
Using convoluted expressions can be fun or exasperating! Whilst demonstrating extensive vocabulary may raise your mark, the key is to ensure harmony between your words and your understanding.