Exam Preparation: How to prepare for Section C of the English exam

Exam Preparation: How to prepare for Section C of the English exam

This week, Insight writer and English teacher Kate Macdonell outlines what you can do now to start preparing for Section C of the English Exam.

The Argument and Persuasive Language task often divides students – some love it and find it accessible, while others find it extremely difficult. Below are some tips and strategies that should help you make the most of your preparation for the exam, regardless of which group you fall in.


Know your text types

In the exam you could get any text type or combination of text types to analyse. Sometimes the background information will identify the text types – but not always! You need to be able to recognise the text type, know its conventions and language style, and be able to refer to these in your analysis.

Be sure that you can recognise and refer to the features of:

  • an opinion piece
  • a letter to the editor
  • a newsletter
  • a speech transcript
  • an interview transcript
  • a blog
  • a website
  • a report
  • a promotional flyer
  • a series of comments on a blog or opinion piece.

Remember too that you should be able to recognise different types of images or design elements, including the following:

  • a cartoon
  • a photograph
  • an illustration
  • a text overlay (text placed over an image)
  • fonts
  • hyperlinks
  • PowerPoint slides.


Compare articles and images

It is important that you analyse both the written and visual texts: this is a compulsory component of the task. Your analysis will be more effective if you explore how written and visual texts work together to persuade the intended reader/audience. You might have to analyse one image or a number of images, so be prepared for either scenario.

Check to see if the image is an intrinsic part of the written text or if it is a separate component. You will need to decide if the image works to advance the message of the written text (or one of the written texts), or if it offers a different perspective. Regardless of whether an image works with or against the message of the written text, you need to discuss how it uses visual elements to present a point of view, and the degree to which these elements support the written content.

Remember that if you are to discuss two or more written texts, it is wise to compare and contrast their arguments and some of the language features they deploy. Never analyse two written texts as if they have nothing to do with each other. After your introduction you might analyse Text 1 by itself, but once you begin to analyse Text 2 you will need to make some comments about the degree to which its argument concurs with that presented by Text 1.


Identify the issue, the context and the arguments

When writing under time pressure it can be easy to target the most accessible elements of this task first. For many students this can be the language features (e.g. rhetorical questions, appeals, alliteration, repetition). However, if you look for these elements first, you risk overlooking other elements that are absolutely crucial to a successful response. The issue and context can usually be determined by asking two questions:

  • What is the subject of this article?
  • Why is this subject being debated?

For each text (written and visual) you also need to identify the arguments put forward. There will be an overall argument as well as supporting arguments or reasons that develop and extend the main argument. Rather than homing in initially on persuasive language, you should first identify the arguments so that you understand what message it is that each writer or creator wants to promote.

Also, try to identify the shape of the argument. Is it articulated straight away or does the writer gradually come to the point? What is the overall effect of this shape? Are any opposing views or rebuttal elements left until the end of the piece and, if so, what is the effect of this placement? Think too about the effect of where anecdotes are placed. For example, if there is an anecdote at the start of the article, does it work to forge an emotional connection with the implied reader to make them more amenable to the argument that follows?


Work with the language

Most of you will be familiar with the art of identifying language features. By now you also know that, in addition to identifying those features, you need to be able to discuss how they work to support the writer’s argument and how they position the implied reader.

Practise analysing different styles of writing in preparation for the exam. Some writers use a number of appeals and emotive language that can be relatively easy to unpack. Others are much more subtle in their approach. To feel confident going into the exam, you need to be able to analyse anything.

Try analysing old exam and trial exam papers as well as newspapers, advertising pamphlets and online articles. Reading and analysing a report or an expository piece rather than an opinion piece will show you how even the most ostensibly informative text can use language to present a point of view and elicit a particular response.

Remember that in the exam you won’t be able to identify and analyse every persuasive feature. Be ruthless in your decisions about which language features you will analyse. You need to be able to discuss how exactly the language (written or visual) is persuasive. Sometimes it can be hard to say anything particularly meaningful – especially for instances of alliteration and rhetorical questions. If all you can say is ‘The use of alliteration adds emphasis to the writer’s argument’ or ‘The use of the rhetorical question positions the reader to agree with the writer’, stop before you write those words down and move onto another feature that you can get more mileage from. Connotations and appeals are often good for meaty analysis.


Practice and exam strategies

Here are some practical tips to help you prepare for Section C and then perform effectively in the exam itself.

It is always AAPL time

By now you should be writing AAPL (Analysis of Argument and Persuasive Language) essays regularly. Your teacher will advise you how many you should complete on a weekly basis. Remember though that you can refine your AAPL skills anywhere and at any time. Get compulsive and analyse the rhetoric used by your teacher, in what you overhear on the bus, in what you read online, in the mail, on the news and in your favourite television show.

Do Section C first

I encourage students to complete Section C first. That way you can use the reading time to scrutinise the task material, look up in the dictionary any words you’re uncertain of, and then start annotating as soon as writing time starts. If you do Section C first, you will not need to re-read the material later and you will save yourself valuable writing time.

Your dictionary is your friend

Remember to take a dictionary into the exam. Some schools supply dictionaries and others do not. Make sure there are no annotations in it, and definitely make sure it does not have a thesaurus component. It is your number-one security blanket: if there is a word in the exam paper you do not understand the meaning of, your dictionary will come to the rescue.

Highlighters can be helpful

Some students like to use highlighters to identify the key ideas in the articles. Use a different colour for each argument and the persuasive features that are tethered to it. (Note that a particular argument and its persuasive features might not be specific to one paragraph – you might have yellow highlighter in paragraphs 1, 5 and 7 of the article, for instance.) This approach will enable you to see how you can cluster ideas so that your analysis is cohesive.

Handwrite NOW

If you have been typing your essays, NOW is the time to start handwriting them. It will hurt but it is for a good cause. You will be sitting a three-hour written exam and you will need to write almost continuously for this time.


One last word …

Analysing argument and persuasive language is empowering: the skills you glean from it will be useful throughout your life. Don’t just refine your AAPL skills for Section C of the exam, refine them for YOU so that you will always be alert to the persuasive tactics of others.


Need help preparing for the English Exam? Make sure you purchase our English Exam Guides by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. Our English Exam Guides provide students with revision strategies and activities to prepare them for the VCE English exam. From time management during the exam to proofreading responses, the English Exam Guides cover all the knowledge and skills required for success in the English exam. Any purchase of the English Exam Guide: Area of Study 1 comes with 64 FREE high-level sample essays.

The English Exam Guides are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.


Photo credit: Photo Koyzr/shutterstock

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