This week, Insight writer and EAL teacher Niki Cook outlines some strategies for Section C, Question 1 of the EAL exam.
Aside from the listening task, the major difference between the EAL exam and the English exam occurs in Section C. For EAL students, Section C has two parts – the short-answer questions, which we’ll be focusing on today, and the analysis of argument essay. Remember that the marks for Section C are split evenly between these two parts, so it’s important that you spend an appropriate amount of time on the short-answer questions.
The short-answer questions essentially test your comprehension and your understanding of the task material. The questions will require you to provide the following two types of information:
- Direct information – this is where the answer is provided in the text.
- Inferred information – this is where you need to interpret the information and provide an answer based on your interpretation.
Planning for the exam
As with all sections of the exam, time management is extremely important. Section B and Section C of the exam are equally weighted, so you should divide the time remaining after the ‘Listening to texts’ section equally between them. This should allow approximately 70 to 75 minutes for the whole of Section C. Remember that you also need to allow time to read the text/s thoroughly; you will already have done this during the reading time, but you will have since completed the listening task, so you’ll need to refresh your memory.
When you are doing practice tasks for Section C, note how long it typically takes you to read the material, and how long it takes to complete the short-answer questions. This will help you plan your time strategy for Section C. It’s likely you’ll need longer to write your analysis of argument, but that shouldn’t mean leaving any questions unanswered. Remember that all your practice tasks should be handwritten and done under timed conditions, so that you are preparing for the conditions you’ll face in the exam.
Preparing for the material
You can’t know what the topic or issue for Section C will be, or how many texts will be provided. However, the following strategies will help you to prepare so that you are confident about the types of questions that you’ll be asked.
Know the format
Typically there are five questions in this section, with a mix of one-, two- and three-mark questions. In total there will be ten marks available for the short-answer questions. Use the number of marks assigned to a question as a guide to how much information you should provide.
Become familiar with frequently used key question words
Look at the sample VCAA paper and past exams to identify repeated question words and question types. Use commercial trial exam papers to help with this as well.
Key words and phrases include:
- Who, what, why, when, where, how
Make sure that you are familiar with all of the above words and clearly understand the type of information that you need to provide in response to them. Of the words listed above, ‘explain’ is the one that requires the most amount of information.
Practise – a lot!
Practise answering the common types of questions, particularly the multi-mark questions. Use the sample answers to help you understand the types of responses that examiners are seeking for each question type.
If you don’t have access to lots of exam-style practice tasks, work with a friend to develop your own. Write questions that are similar to VCAA ones for different texts, and then test each other to see if you can answer them. Select an article from a newspaper or magazine that is similar in length to the ones used in the exams, and then develop a series of one-, two- and three-mark questions in the style of a VCAA exam.
Check for restrictions and specific instructions
Read the questions carefully, checking for any restrictions on the answers. Sometimes you might be instructed not to repeat information, or not to refer to something. For example, in the 2017 VCAA exam, one of the questions was: ‘Give three reasons why Louise asks the Principal to reconsider her request. Do not include their views about takeaway food.’ Some questions may specifically state that you should answer ‘in your own words’, so make sure you follow those instructions also.
Write your answers clearly
Remember that the task is checking your understanding of the material, so aim to give your answers in your own words as much as possible. Avoid simply copying from the text. If you are asked to ‘support your answer with evidence from the text’, then it is obviously okay to quote, as long as you use quotation marks to indicate that this is what you are doing.
For some questions you will be able to give a one-word or two-word answer, while for others you will need to write full sentences. Use the number of lines provided and the number of marks as a guide to help you determine how much information is needed. Don’t waste time rewriting part of the question.
Use your trial exam to refine your approach
It’s likely that you’ll complete at least one trial exam in the coming weeks. This is a valuable chance to identify areas of strength and areas for further revision. It’s also a chance to refine your time-management strategy. Once you complete your trial exam, reflect on how things went. Did your approach help you to answer the questions? Were there things that confused you? Could you have done things better? It is, however, important to focus this reflection on strategies, so that you are prepared for any topic or text type on the exam paper.
Need help preparing for the English exam? Make sure you purchase the VCE EAL SAC & Exam Guide by Melanie Napthine and Robert Beardwood. The Guide includes revision strategies and activities to help you prepare for the VCE EAL exam. From time management to proofreading responses, Insight’s VCE EAL SAC & Exam Guide covers all the knowledge and skills required for success in the EAL exam.
If you’re looking for resources to help you prepare for Section C of the exam, check out our Practice Questions for EAL Section C. At just $5.95 per set of 3 scenarios with sample responses, the Practice Questions are perfect for reinforcing knowledge and skills, and will help you develop confidence and proficiency in analysing argument and persuasive language.
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