In this comprehensive guide, we will look at ATAR English as a course: the Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) English exams and school assessments, exams. Whether you’re in Year 11 or 12, this blog is your go-to resource for unravelling the mysteries of English studies — one of them being, that you cannot study for English (You can!). Additionally, I will share some tried-and-tested tips and strategies that helped me sail through my own WACE English journey.
By the time you’ve finished reading this guide, you’ll be more confident and aware of what you need to do to tackle your WACE English exams head-on.
Let’s get started, shall we?
What is WACE and how does it relate to the English ATAR?
The Western Australian Certificate of Education (WACE) is a certificate issued to WA students upon successfully completing WACE requirements at the end of Year 12. This WACE certificate is important because it is nationally recognised by universities, industry and training providers.
One of the WACE requirements is that you need to take at least one English ATAR course (English ATAR or Literature ATAR) for the duration of Years 11 and 12. This means if you have chosen the ATAR pathway, English is compulsory during Years 11 and 12. You must achieve at least a C grade (pass) for English, or else the WACE requirement will not be met.
Scaling and its effect on school grade
It is a good idea to raise your school marks so that they are at least in the 60s. If you are in the 50s zone, it is very easy to get scaled down to a fail. An assessment of whether you meet the requirements for the WACE certificate is dependent upon a scaled score.
Why should I work to perform well in English?
As someone who has wrestled with it throughout high school to achieve good results in years 11 and 12, this is my take on the subject. English has a level of predictability in its assessment types: we get essay responses, creative pieces and short answer responses. The good thing about these different forms of writing is that year after year we get a chance to practice and refine our structures. The only large change is perhaps the addition of new concepts such as context, and audience which enriches our reading experience.
If you work to get a 75 or 80 as your school mark, English tends to scale well.
WACE English exam structure
There are three components to the English Exam
- As of 2023, this will require you to respond to two unseen texts
- These unseen texts can include mediums such as advertisements, posters, extracts from short stories, memoirs, blogs, speeches etc.
- There will be specific questions tying in concepts you have studied in class, hence your response must cover the concepts in the question, and language devices (always, even though the question may not explicitly state).
- Unlike essays where you have to underline/quote the title of the piece you are writing about, author, and date of production, comprehending only requires you to refer to the unseen text as “Text 1 or 2”.
- If it is necessary to refer to the author, refer by their last name.
How to structure a Comprehending response:
The approach to comprehending response varies from teacher to teacher. This is the way I have been taught approach to comprehending response, and it is not exhaustive.
Answer the question. Have you addressed all the concepts and used keywords in the question?
Q1: Explain how visual elements in Text 2 work to present a particular attitude
- Does your first sentence describe what attitude is being presented? To whom does the attitude belong? What is the attitude directed towards?
- Did you also include a sentence listing specific visual elements you are going to talk about
- What is the wider purpose of this whole text? In presenting this particular attitude?
- Are you considering the integration of terms/concepts such as voice, and perspective (not necessary but can help you explain)
Sample: “Text 2 presents the condemning and sarcastic attitude of student activists who demand stronger action must be taken to address climate change. Through the use of (insert visual elements, written devices if there are any in the photo) viewers are positioned to see these protesters in a unified and strong light, their confronting voice serving as a wake-up call to politicians.”
- Body paragraphs
Make sure you expand upon your idea presented in the introduction. You must always include the discussion of language devices, and effect (concept) here.
Taking our previous example:
It would be in our best interests to write two body paragraphs because the text has visual elements inclusive of written elements (words on placards can be analysed as imperatives, rhetorical) yet they are things we can see.
Hence, the body paragraph will focus on visual elements: facial expression, camera angles, type of shot etc. Your discussion of technique should always link back to the concept of attitude (whose attitude, what kind of attitude).
Sample: “Facial expression plays a major role in conveying the defiant attitude of student activists, and the four visible faces of the students collectively sum up this stance. (Then explain the details of the facial expression).”
- It is suggested for each comprehending response you write about 300-400 words. You need to be concise (but not vague) in your answers.
- There is no conclusion in a comprehending response. You should have a tie-back sentence at the end of the last body paragraph, and that is it.
- Remember, body paragraphs in the comprehending section are meant to aid readability and structuring. If you think it is sufficient to answer through one body paragraph/one paragraph, then do so. I would generally advise to not write more than 2 body paragraphs.
The responding section in an exam requires you to utilise one or two studied texts to answer one out of a set of unseen questions.
Usually, the selected text you are going to use for the exam is the most recent one because it is the one most “fresh in your mind”. Otherwise, a studied text your teacher recommends, or you feel you are comfortable with addressing different concepts is usually the one to go.
How many texts should I prepare for the responding section?
The general rule is to have two you know very well and one as a “backup”. The reason why most people go into the exam with two studied texts is because their one text might not fit with the concepts introduced in the questions. It may also be that the question that fits well with their chosen text is a comparative essay, requiring a comparison with another studied text.
Remember, because your texts are introduced under different units, it is likely to be applicable to that unit’s concept (Divine Wind is good for perspective, context etc.)
You can test the applicability of your studied text by pulling out a past English ATAR SCASA paper, going through the questions, and annotating them to see whether they fit your text.
The Composing section will require you to pick a prompt to write about. These prompts can range from quotes, and images, to asking you to write in a unique structure etc.
It will require you to engage with the prompt, as well as the relevant literary devices (imaginative text needs to have imagery, setting, structure, and characters, memoirs may need to include anecdotes).
You will have a chance in your classes to experiment with different forms of composition — and see which one you are strong at, and which one you need to work on. In order to make sure you are not limited to writing one form ex. imaginative, use your school assessments and practice.
Composing section checklist
As composing gives you a lot of freedom to write creatively, here is a checklist with some pointers you need to fulfil:
|Did you annotate all the questions and choose the best one for you?|
|Did you plan your response?|
|Did you provide a title?|
|Did you fill in all the GAPPS (Genre, Audience, Purpose, Persona, Situation, Context) for the marker within your response?|
|Have you divided your response logically into paragraphs typical of your genre?|
|Do you avoid cliches?|
|Have you engaged with the question meaningfully?|
|Are your sentences varied in length?|
|Is your grammar consistently correct?|
How to study for the WACE/School English exam:
For comprehending, practice is key. In the two weeks coming to the exam, you should do comprehending practice.
- To get back into comprehending structure type your response, there is no need for the first attempt at comprehending to be timed
- Edit your comprehension section response by yourself
- Get feedback from your teacher
- Write out your response to the same text, under timed conditions.
After the first comprehension practice, do all the other practices by hand, printing off the texts to practice annotation as well.
REMEMBER: feedback from your teacher is key. Simply writing them and leaving it there will not give you the opportunity to improve your writing.
For responding, you need to compile a good set of notes for the exam. The most basic question you will get is:
💡 IDEA + LITERARY DEVICES = MEANING
Prepare for this general question, but make sure you can talk about other concepts as well. For example, If a question asks you about perspectives, are you able to answer?
“Texts can provide us with different perspectives on issues in our society”
- Perspectives can be presented through characters — each character embodies a perspective you can find within society. How the character is “treated” shows how the perspective is regarded in the writer’s eyes
- Perspective can also be the writer’s perspective — how is a perspective that condemns gender discrimination shown?
These are some of the questions you should think about whilst compiling notes.
Once you have your set of notes, inclusive of quotes, literary techniques and the structure of an essay, bring up a question set from past papers. Spend 7 minutes planning the intro, body, evidence, and conclusion, to see whether your notes help you respond to the questions.
After you have done that for different responding questions, pick one to write out by hand to practice writing sentence by sentence.
- Please do not try to memorise essays in advance. I find this to limit engagement with the question concepts, which means no matter how brilliant of an essay you write, you will be marked down harshly because you have not answered the question.
One way to prepare for composing is to make sure you have read some fiction books/articles so you have a good example to draw inspiration from. Read diversely to understand how accomplished writers write. Note down vocabulary you are not familiar with.
The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is one of my favourite novels and I liked the expression:
“The old house on the hill wore its steep gabled roof pulled over its ears like a low hat”
It’s an expression that uses personification and visual imagery. I tried to mimic the construction of the expression this my own writing.
Does this approach change in terms of school assessments?
No, it does not. Assessments and assignments in school aim to help you with your performance in composing, responding, and comprehending.
What do I do in an in-class assessment/ exam?
If it is an in-class assessment, you will get reading time. In those 10 minutes or less, make sure you have read the prompts (composing, responding) and the texts (comprehending).
In an exam situation, reading all three will help because although you may not know it, your brain is subconsciously processing this information. It will help you transition from one section to the other quickly.
Planning is essential — before you write your essay or piece, annotate, and highlight the:
- Keywords in question and
- Important parts in the text (comprehending)
This way you can refer back to the structured plan if you forget what you are trying to say in your response.
Resources you should consider:
- SCASA English ATAR past papers
- WA Year 12 ATAR English Exam Practice
- The latest version of the Good Answers Guide
- Teacher feedback (your teachers are an important resource too)
This blog was written by our tutor, Chloe. You can find her tutor profile here.