Focus on revision: what should I be reviewing in the lead-up to the English exam?

Focus on revision: what should I be reviewing in the lead-up to the English exam?

The holidays are over and the English exam is on the horizon. But how do you know if you’re revising the right things? Following our post on how to revise for the end-of-year exams, English teacher and Insight writer Kate Macdonell shares some useful pointers for focusing your revision efforts so that you’re ready for exam day.

The end-of-year English exam is fast approaching, and while some of you might have been studying for months, others might still be psyching themselves up to make a start. Regardless of where you are in the revision process, however, knowing what to concentrate on can sometimes be difficult. In this post, we look at some tips to help you focus your preparation in the lead-up to the English exam.


Read past exams

This is a good place to begin when it comes to knowing what to expect on the exam. You can find past exams and examination reports on the VCAA website.

When reviewing past exams, look at the topics for all of the set texts, as this will give you a good sense of the different styles of topics for both Section A and Section B. In Section A of the 2018 paper, for instance, there was a variety of instructions, including:

  • Discuss.
  • How …?
  • To what extent …?
  • Do you agree?
  • Is this the view …?
  • Why …?

In Section B there was a range of topic styles, all with an obvious emphasis on comparing the texts. There was also a significant number of ‘Compare how …’ and ‘How do …’ topic styles in the 2018 examination.

TIP: The way you focus your ideas in your essay should be determined by this instruction, so make sure you are familiar with a variety of topic types. In short, know your texts well enough to be prepared for any topic style.

When it comes to Section C, it’s a good idea to read examples of text types that appeared in past exams, as well as the examination reports. You should be prepared to analyse any written text type (such as an interview, opinion piece, blog or speech) as well as visual text types such as cartoons, drawings, photographs and graphs.


Revisit your texts and take notes

Re-reading or re-watching your set texts is imperative to your success in both Section A and Section B of the final exam – and so is your notetaking. While revisiting your texts, make sure you are making notes on the following elements:

  • historical, social and geographical settings and contexts
  • characterisation
  • key ideas
  • the views and values promoted by the writer/s.

You should also make a list of relevant quotes to use in both Section A and Section B of the paper. Write the quotes on cards or in a table, and organise them according to the following:

  • key ideas
  • what they reveal about a character
  • narrative technique.

For Section B in particular, try to organise quotes according to the key ideas shared by each text, noting what each quote reveals about these ideas (for example, whether they are presented similarly or differently) and why that might be so.


Practise writing individual essays

The best preparation for the English exam is to write essays for each section of the paper. To get the most out of your practice, write a combination of timed and redrafted essays.

  • Timed essays: Writing an essay within a time limit (one hour per section) is an invaluable exercise that will give you a sense of how you use your time (how much you can fit into a paragraph, for example, and whether you can manage three or four body paragraphs under pressure).
  • Redrafted essays: Going back and rewriting your past essays is essential for improvement, even at this stage. Without timing yourself, re-read some of your practice essays and rework them to improve clarity and eliminate errors.

TIP: Practise writing statements in your essays that comment on how the writer uses language and textual features to create meaning. By the time you get to the examination, you should have a detailed understanding of what happens in your texts, as well as how each is constructed and the effects of their language use.


Run the whole race

The English exam is long – three hours of writing time plus fifteen minutes of reading time – and requires a high level of physical and mental stamina. Practising as if you’re doing the real thing (not just one section of it) is necessary to prepare for this kind of challenge. During your revision, you should aim to complete as many full-length practice examinations as possible, replicating the exam experience as closely as you can.

Sitting practice exams can help you:

  • adapt to switching from one analytical essay type to another.
  • build strength in your hand so that you can write (legibly) for the full duration of the exam. (For those of you who will be permitted to type the paper, make sure you practise on a device that has no spellcheck.)
  • find the best order in which to complete three sections of the exam. (For example, completing Section C first means you will not need to re-read the source material: you can begin writing the Section C essay as soon as reading time finishes.)
  • manage your time. (Allocate one hour to each section; more than ten minutes either side of that will mean you won’t have enough time to do justice to one or two sections.)

Try to complete at least one practice examination within the timeframe of the actual exam (9am to 12.15pm). This will help you work out how much you need to eat beforehand to maintain your energy levels, as well as the amount of water you need to stay hydrated for the full duration of the exam.


Check your work

The exam assessors will be marking your responses in the final paper against the assessment criteria and the expected qualities. It’s a good idea to read the expected qualities for each section of the exam and use them to assess your own work. (You can find the full criteria and list of expected qualities here.) By developing a better understanding of what is being evaluated, you can glean a clearer sense of where your responses fall within the criteria and, more importantly, what you can do to lift your work to the next level.


Last but not least

This last point probably does not seem like a revision strategy, but it is nonetheless an important one: practise handwriting clearly. Often it can be just one or two letters that prevent your writing being clear and easy to read. This simple exercise can help you know which letters need work before you sit the final paper.

The next weeks will be demanding, but you will feel more confident going into the exam if you have done some solid preparation for it. If you have not been revising for the exam, start NOW. And good luck!



Need some more help with the English or EAL exam? Insight’s English/EAL Exam Guides by Robert Beardwood, Melanie Napthine, Michael E. Daniel and Samantha Anderson provide students with even more revision strategies and activities to prepare for VCE English and EAL. From time management during the exam to proofreading responses, the English/EAL Exam Guides cover all the knowledge and skills required for success in the English and EAL exams.

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


Photo credit: vipman/Shutterstock

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