Exam Preparation: How to prepare for the Literature exam

Exam Preparation: How to prepare for the Literature exam

This week, Insight writer and Literature teacher Briony Schroor gives ten tips on preparing for the Literature exam.

Students sometimes say that it is impossible to study for the Literature exam. However, in my experience, students usually do have a fairly clear understanding of what they can do to prepare. They’re just not sure that such obvious processes as re-reading the set texts or noting down and memorising important quotations constitute studying, in the way that revising definitions and formulae are clearly essential tasks for other subjects.


What follows then is a series of tips, most of which will not be new to you, but all of which will have a significant impact on your exam readiness – good luck!

1. Read and re-read your texts.
Success in Literature revolves first and foremost around textual knowledge and understanding, so in the lead-up to the exam it is critical that you come to know your texts as well as it is possible for you to know them. Take time to re-read the texts you will write on in the exam from start to finish, and then go back and re-read important extracts. There should not be a passage that you cannot identify and place within the wider story; there should not be an excerpt from a poem that you cannot locate within the whole poem; there should not be a scene that you cannot visualise.

Make sure that when you read, you read actively. This means noting significant features of style and form that can be used in your discussion, particularly in Section B, and observing phrases and features that are important to certain literary perspectives.


2. Learn quotations.
Although there will be passages from your texts in the exam, you must learn important quotations from both your texts. This is particularly important for Section A, but knowing key quotations will also enhance your discussion of the passages in Section B. Once you’re ready, have a ‘quote off’ with a friend, comparing the number of significant quotations you can each write down in a given time. Or perhaps have one person make a comment about your text, and then have the other person try to match a quotation to the assertion.


3. Read around your text.
Look at critical responses to your texts. Re-read material that your teacher has brought into class, read the introductions to the editions you have, or branch out, starting with Google Scholar, to find out what the academic world has made of your text. As you read, weigh different interpretations, consider authorial agenda, and think about the sociohistorical context of your texts. You will not use all the material that you find, but your analysis of the texts will be strengthened by the material you read.


4. Talk your ideas through.
Find people to discuss your texts with, such as friends, a teacher, a study group or your own long-suffering mother. The more you explain your interpretations, ask questions and listen to others, the stronger your understanding will become.

You can start a study group discussion with a passage on which everyone has to comment, or select a topic for everyone to respond to.


5. Go back over your own work.
You have worked hard all year, so use your responses as a revision resource. Read your old essays, and then read the feedback you have received through the year. Do you still agree with the interpretations you presented earlier in the year? What would you change now? Have you understood all the feedback your teacher has given you? Have you acted on it?


6. Study style – select and scrutinise significant/striking/special sections.
Make a deliberate effort to focus on style, form, voice and (for plays) performance. Consider how your response to parts of the texts is shaped by the style in which they are written. Select your favourite features of the texts and consider which elements of style make them powerful.


7. Get to know VCAA a little better.
Do some research on the VCAA web page for VCE Literature: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Pages/vce/studies/literature/literatureindex.aspx

In particular, look at past papers and Examination Reports on the assessment page:


Pay close attention to the 2017 sample exam: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/literature/literature-samp-w.pdf

as well as the 2017 exam paper: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/literature/2017/2017literature-cpr-w.pdf

and the 2017 Examination Report: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/literature/2017/literature_examrep17.pdf

These all follow the current Study Design.

You will find responses for both Section A and Section B in the report on the 2017 exam, which will help you understand the assessment criteria and what assessors are looking for.

Also, go through the topics for Section A in both the sample exam and the 2017 exam paper, and ensure that you are familiar with all the words and phrases used by the examiners. Remember you will not have a dictionary in the Literature exam, so boosting your vocabulary beforehand is critical.


8. Write sample paragraphs.

Sometimes it is hard to sit down to write a whole practice essay, and often this effort is largely spent in repetitive analysis. Instead, focus your energy on writing specific paragraphs that address particular areas that you need to strengthen. You might write a paragraph about how a feature of the text conveys the views and values of the author; you might write about how a particular rhyming couplet captures the essence of a poet’s philosophy; you might write about how a certain phrase is critical to a postcolonial reading of your text.


9. Practise writing under timed conditions.
Writing is a skill, and like any skill it requires practice to create improvement. Although you might not write a whole essay each time you revise for Literature, time your practice pieces so that you’re writing a paragraph in under ten minutes, remembering the relevant quotations and using a pen rather than a keyboard to write!


10. Set a paper / write a paper / mark a paper.
One of the best ways to get into the assessors’ heads, and thus to discover how to write the sort of exam responses that will score highly, is to set a paper. Work in pairs for this activity, each of you setting a paper, then completing the paper of your partner. You should mark the paper that you set, giving feedback for your partner. The truism of the Learning Pyramid – that we retain much more by teaching than by passively attempting to absorb information – makes this activity a valuable one.


Revision is critical to success in Literature, but it is not always easy to remain focused and effective in your study time. Make sure that you vary your activities in order to enhance your understanding, consolidate your insights and prepare yourself as well as you can for that important day in November.


Need help preparing for the Literature exam? Purchase our Literature Exam Guide by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. The Guide provides revision strategies and activities to help you prepare for the VCE Literature exam. From time management during the exam to proofreading responses, Insight’s Literature Exam Guide covers all the knowledge and skills required for success in the Literature exam.

The Literature Exam Guide is published by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.

Photo credit: Galyna Motizova/shutterstock

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