If I were you- Navigating the new Year 12 English Exam

The day has finally arrived! Kill the fattened calf- VCAA have released a sample English exam!

This is what English teachers around the world* have been waiting for. At last, something which will tell us what this new study design will look like in examination format.

For sometime, the school I used to teach at has been developing their unit plans with a focus on what we want students to learn by the end- that is, what we would like them to produce. Annoyingly, at least a component of that is based on the assessment they will be completing. While we have had an idea of what will be on the exam in that it will be similar to the SACs, it still wasn’t 100% set in stone.

Now, we have a sample paper. Now we can finally have some certainty in what we tell our students about the exam. That isn’t to say the exam will look identical to the sample paper, but at least we now have more of a guide.

So, this post is to highlight any changes and to let you, as students, know what you need to be keeping in mind as you speed toward October (It’s MARCH, WHAT?!)

Click HERE to see the sample exam

Section A: Text Response/ Analytical Interpretation of a Text

This section is basically a safety blanket. It wasn’t broke, so they didn’t fix it and everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. The questions are the same types that we’re used to (propositional [ie. posing a statement and asking you to discuss this idea], quotation and direct) and the texts are familiar. The only difference between the 2016/2017 exams are that in the 2016 exam students are invited to write in either an analytical or expository fashion whereas in the 2017, you must write analytically. This indicates a stronger focus on the metalanguage and the mechanics of how directors, writers, poets etc develop their intention throughout the text. There should be more how and significantly more why. 

Also important to note- if you choose a collection of short stories or poetry, it is stated that you can no longer base your text on one story or poem- at least 2 pieces from the collection must be discussed. Personally, if you were ever going to just discuss one poem/short story your essay would have been severely below average and frankly, if you only discuss two (ie do the barest of minimums), I wouldn’t be holding out much hope.

Section B: Section B – Writing in Context/Comparative analysis of texts

The new bit! How excitement! This is the bit we were all chomping at the bit for and wow- it’s a biggie.

Let’s start with the instructions:

“Section B requires students to write a comparative analysis of a selected pair of texts in response to one topic (either i. or ii.) on one pair of texts.Your response should analyse how the two texts present ideas and/or issues, and should be supported by close reference to both texts in the pair.

If you choose to write on a multimodal text in Section A, you must not write on a text pair that includes a multimodal text in Section B.

In the answer book, indicate which text pair you have chosen to write on and whether you have chosen to answer i. or ii.

Your response will be assessed according to the assessment criteria set out on page 14 of this book.

Section B is worth one-third of the total marks for the examination.”

Nothing too shocking but again, the focus is on analysis and developing an interpretation regarding the views being presented in the texts. You MUST engage with both texts. You MUST use high quality evidence- quotes, language, visual techniques, structural evidence- throughout. It is not an essay about one text with a paragraph thrown in on the other text at the end. It is balanced and it examines how the texts, when compared, offer the audience a richer perspective on the issues and ideas within.

Notice how they don’t even mention themes- themes are at the bottom of the triangle; too broad, too general. The issues and ideas which stem from those themes are what you need to be focusing on as that is where you will find your authorial intent hiding.

The questions themselves is what we were really interested in! What would they look like? Would they be quote based? Propositional? Direct questions? Discussion based? Explicitly structure focused?

The answer, of course, is all of the above. There are some really familiar types of questions but there are some which at first, seem particularly nasty. Sorry to any WCC kids, but the Black Diggers/Longest Memory ones seem like the examiners were having a wordy day when they wrote them. Once you scratch the surface they’re not so bad… but at first- wow.

Here are some examples:

‘It is individual courage and determination that help bring about change in society.’ Explore points of comparison in the way this issue is dealt with in the two texts.

This question is for The Crucible and Year of Wonders . It’s pretty familiar to most students. A propositional question at its most propositional, it provides an issue and asks you to analyse how the text(s) engage with the text. It’s important that you provide an interpretation- that is, what the author intends the reader to understand about this issue.

This question also specifies that it’s engaging with points of comparison rather than those of contrast- this invites discussion of similarities between the text but you can also engage with differences, certainly. They should just be less of a focus.

 “… I also know how important it is in life, not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong.” (Into the Wild)
“… you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be.” (Tracks)
Compare how the importance of personal strength is explored in these texts.

This question is more unique though at its core are still the fundamentals of a quotation based question- quotes provided as the launch pad, with a guiding issue to engage with. You must discuss and analyse the quotes listed. If they do not feature heavily; if you do not develop your contention and interpretation without significant inclusion of these quotes then it’s going to be challenging to get anything above a 7. The assessors have chosen these quotes for a reason. Don’t ignore them. Place them in context and ENGAGE with them.

“Compare what the two texts suggest about gaining wisdom”

This direct question regarding Bombshells and The Penelopiad is as comforting in its familiarity as it is in its brevity. It is broad without being needlessly general but specific enough to direct your focus without stifling your interpretative skill. You will need to ensure that your contention for this is precise and your essay, well planned. Otherwise you could fall into listing all the parts of the texts where one gains wisdom without coming to a conclusion regarding the purpose of these sections and how they point to the author’s/playwright’s views on wisdom and how one comes to develop it.

“Memory is pain trying to resurrect itself.” (The Longest Memory)
“That’s the thing, the bits left behind, they’ll come out, they must.” (Black Diggers)
Using these quotations as a starting point for a comparison between Black Diggers and The Longest Memory, analyse how, in the texts, memory is simultaneously inescapable and unbearable.

I just wanted to highlight the importance of brevity and being concise. This question could be so much more accessible and interesting. Instead, it’s dense and just annoying to read. Break it down, look for those key words and my point about engaging with the quote is amplified 10 fold here as they specifically direct you to use them as a starting point.

Section C: Analysis of language use/Argument and persuasive language

Generally speaking this is pretty similar and if you’ve had good teachers, then you will have been doing it the way they want you to for years.

While in previous years VCAA have left the instructions at:

Section C requires students to analyse the use of written and visual language

The new exam specifically states:

Section C requires students to write an analysis of the ways in which argument and language are used to persuade others to share a point(s) of view

Notice the difference? You must engage not just with language (which you never should have been doing in the first place) but engage with language and how it works in conjunction with argument to persuade the reader. You must, therefore, engage with structure, style, language, audience, purpose, and progression. If you fail to engage with the way one argument follows another and the reason it does so then you’re not fulfilling the brief. Language refers to verbal, written, visual language- so images and graphs are fair game too.

In the grand scheme of things, not that much has changed, however it’s good to be aware of what has so you know what you’re being assessed on.

Also check out the marking guide:

Criteria Section A will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • knowledge and understanding of the text, and the ideas and issues it explores
  • development of a coherent analysis in response to the topic
  • use of textual evidence to support the interpretation
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Section B will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • knowledge and understanding of both texts, and the ideas and issues they present
  • discussion of meaningful connections, similarities or differences between the texts, in response to the topic
  • use of textual evidence to support the comparative analysis
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Section C will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • understanding of the argument(s) presented and point(s) of view expressed
  • analysis of ways in which language and visual features are used to present an argument and to persuade
  • control and effectiveness of language use, as appropriate to the task

Like I said, nothing majorly surprising or new- but enough of a shift to warrant a re-read.

I hope this has been helpful!

Let me know if there’s anything you want me to go over specifically!

Happy studying!

Amy xx

*Victoria

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