VCE English is a subject that you simply can’t avoid, but it’s also a subject that can open doors to your future. Not only does it have a special place in your ATAR calculation (one of your top 4), but it also equips you with vital skills for life beyond high school. However, standing out in VCE English requires a distinctive approach. Whether you’re a literature enthusiast or someone looking to conquer this subject, we’ve got the tips and strategies to help you shine in this essential VCE subject.
VCE English Structure
Units 3 and 4 contribute toward 50% of your final study score (25% per unit), and the end of year exam contributes toward the second half of your final study score. Therefore, consistent effort throughout the year, as well as extra effort in the lead up to the exam, is required!
Strategies Based on SAC Type
VCE English assessments vary in format and content. To excel, tailor your approach to each type:
Start off by making sure you have Read/viewed the text your creative SAC is based on. Simple but very effective! Then, read a summary and analysis of the text (eg Spark notes), so you know what the themes/symbols are. You may also do this first, before reading the text, so you know what themes/motifs to look out for. This may help you gain a deeper understanding of the text. Then, think of your style of writing – do you want to write a play script, a short story, perhaps a story from different perspectives? Then, think of scenarios where the themes/settings/writing style demonstrated in the text can be seen. For example, the theme of binary gender roles from Rear Window can be seen in the scenario of stigma around women’s sport; therefore your story can revolve around a female character trying to demonstrate the importance of her sporting career to her family, the way Lisa seeks to demonstrate how important her career is to her! Furthermore, Reviewing flashcards that relate to the themes/literacy devices of your text is a great way to ensure they immediately come to you during your SAC.
Language Analysis SAC:
Start off by creating and reviewing notes regarding literary devices that authors use to persuade their readers, so you can quickly identify them during your SAC. When writing your analysis, ensure your sentences adopt a “what-where-why” approach. That is, they outline what the author is doing (what literary device is being used), where in the text this can be seen (quote the text), and then say why the author chose to do so (what is the intended effect on the reader). For example, you may write: “the author is seen to heavily use inclusive language (“we must”… “we can”), which aids in fostering a warm sense of community amongst readers, implicitly grouping them in a joint cause against the issue”. Never write a sentence without the “why” component of the “what-where-why” model. This means that, if you are concerned about time management, maybe don’t comment/write about every single literary device you see being used, but cherry pick them and/or group them together, to make sure you are still analysing the “why” behind their use, but also staying within the time limit.
Next, Vary the structure of your sentences – play around with starting with am “-ing” verb, or starting with the subject, or starting with the object, etc. To this end, ensure your sentences aren’t droning on! Break sentences up with fullstops and commas as needed, but ensure you have some longer sentences in there too. Another crucial step is to make sure your language is suggestive as opposed to confirmative. ie, saying “___ works to evoke a sense of anxiety”, as opposed to “___ evokes a sense of anxiety”. Last, but definitely not least, the more practice the better!!! And this is an area where there are basically limitless opportunities where you can practice. Find any articles online, or even google “argument analysis articles”, and have a go! If you’re short on time, maybe saying out loud what you’d be writing in the SAC, instead of writing it, might help. Of course, make sure you do practice actually writing some practice SACs!
Single text response SAC:
Again, make sure you have read/viewed your text atleast twice. The better ingrained the story, themes, quotes, and motifs are in your brain, the better! After this, you will want to read other summary and analysis’s of your text. As mentioned above, you may find it helpful to read the analysis and summary first ,and then read/view the text, so you know what themes/motifs/etc to be on the look out for. Create and review notes of these themes/motifs, as well as the scenes and quotes that demonstrate these. Review constantly so you can easily and quickly include these in your response, and you aren’t wasting time trying to recollect what that quote was.
Adjacent to this, ensure you read widely. Your text typically will be set in a wider context – do more research on this wider context, as this will help you notice other things about the text’s themes and motifs. It also demonstrates your broader understanding, which teachers and examiners always appreciate! Create a bank of practice prompts, and focus on planning essays (as well as writing out some!). see where there is some overlap, in which case you can sort of “memorise” bits of the essay, to include them in a variety of topics. To this end, also see if you can “memorise” an introduction and conclusion, where you are only required to change a sentence or two to make it adhere to the prompt. Finally, a super important factor one must consider – Timing. My teacher told me ideally, one should aim to have an introduction done in 5-6 minutes, a conclusion done in 4-5 minutes, each body paragraph done in 15 minutes, which leaves you with 5 minutes of checking over/buffer time! This can be applied to exam scenarios too.
Firstly, pick a topic you are passionate about, and one that has plenty of research/resources. Write your speech ASAP, as the more editing time you have where you can get feedback from your teacher, the better. To help you with this, you can read or watch other speeches/articles to see how to structure your speech. Use the list of literary devices you had made for your argument analysis SAC to see how and when you should include them in your own speech. Then, For the statement of intention/justification, you are basically doing argument analysis to your own persuasive speech, so follow the tips listed above! With reference of the delivery of your speech, practice your speech so you are not reading off your cue cards. This is another reason why the sooner you get your speech done, the better!
Once again, read/view your texts at least twice. The better ingrained the story, themes, quotes, and motifs are in your brain, the better! Read other summary and analyses of your texts. As mentioned above, you may find it helpful to read the analysis and summary first ,and then read/view the texts, so you know what themes/motifs/etc to be on the look out for. Create and review notes of these themes/motifs, as well as the scenes and quotes that demonstrate these. Review constantly so you can easily and quickly include these in your response, and you aren’t wasting time trying to recollect what that quote/scene was. Also in this instance, Read widely. Your texts typically will be set in a wider context – do more research on this wider context, as this will help you notice other things about the text’s themes and motifs. It also demonstrates your broader understanding, which teachers and examiners always appreciate!
Create a bank of practice prompts, and focus on planning essays (as well as writing out some!). see where there is some overlap, in which case you can sort of “memorise” bits of the essay, to include them in a variety of topics. To this end, also see if you can “memorise” an introduction and conclusion, where you are only required to change a sentence or two to make it adhere to the prompt. With regard to timing: my teacher told me ideally, one should aim to have an introduction done in 5-6 minutes, a conclusion done in 4-5 minutes, each body paragraph done in 15 minutes, which leaves you with 5 minutes of checking over/buffer time! This can be applied to exam scenario too. For the comparative, create a bank of linking words, ranging from simple ones like “on the one hand… on the other hand” to more sophisticated ones like “antithetically”. Excellent vocabulary, particularly in terms of linking words, helps your essay flow better, and appeals to the examiners/teachers. Increase your vocabulary in general regarding the description of themes/characters/text/etc. Something that I found helpful was to look at certain VCE Literature resources, even though I was doing VCE English, because of the higher level of analysis that takes place in Literature.
Tips and Techniques for the Exam
The exam, given that it contributes toward 50% of your final study score, can really make or break your end results. Thus, it is essential we put in the extra effort in the lead up to the exam!
- Work through as many past VCAA exams as possible. Familiarity with the exam format is key.
- Utilize the reading time efficiently. Allocate time for planning, writing, and proofreading as needed. See above for recommended time structures per essay.
- Once you have done enough practice exams where you are absolutely confident that you can finish an exam in time, focus more on planning for new prompts as quick as possible, including in your plan the themes and quotes/scenes you will discuss, as well as your topic sentence for each paragraph.
- See if you can develop some sort of “base” introduction, conclusion, or topic sentences that can be memorized, and easily altered to fit particular prompts as needed. This can help you save a lot of time in the exam!
- Prioritization: in the exam, consider in which order you will target the essays. Often, people begin with the argument analysis, as they read and analyse it during reading time, and it is what they feel most comfortable with, and then are able to finish that off in 45 minutes. Then, they move on to the next most comfortable topic, and then lastly they finish off the remaining essay. On the other hand, you may want to start with the piece you find most challenging first, to get it out of your way, and because you know that you can quicken your pace with the other essays, or even shorten them if needed.
- Reading time: in the exam, you have 15 minutes of reading time! Use this wisely! I would suggest reading the prompts for single text response and comparative, picking one, and doing a little plan in your head for each. This should be done for both by the 4 minute mark at the most. Then, flip over to the argument analysis article and read through it, thinking along the way of what literary devices can you pick out to analyse.
General Tips for VCE English
- Before the school year starts, reach out to your teacher outlining your goals for the year, as well as areas where you typically have difficulties. Ask for extra (or just in general) resources that you can look at over the holidays, as well as any advice that you can perhaps start implementing over the holidays. This also shows your teacher that you are determined and hardworking, which will increase their affinity for you… always handy when it comes to feedback, extra tips, or marking! Trust me, speaking from experience!
- Ask your previous English teachers where you can improve in your essay writing and general approach to English, and ask them to guide you the exact tips or resources that will help. Work on implementing these through the holidays/school year to ensure you are targeting your specific issues.
- Personally, I saw a huge difference in my writing when I started to read more and listen to more audiobooks in general. Additionally, I found that when I started reading/listening to texts of a sophisticated standard, I began to indoctrinate that level of writing and vocabulary.
- Before the school year starts, make sure you have read and viewed all your texts atleast once, and have also read the summary analysis’s for them, and made some notes. That way, when you review them again in class, that is automatically your second or third time reading/viewing the text!
- Feel free also to reach out to other teachers in your school who are not just your class’s teacher, for more resources or feedback.
- Ask your friends from different schools who are doing the same text(s) to share their resources with you. Return the favour too!
We at Excel Academics wish you the very best of luck!
This blog was written by our English tutor, Smriti! You can find her profile here.