How do I prepare for Section C in the English Language exam?

How do I prepare for Section C in the English Language exam?

This week, Insight writer and English Language teacher Louise Noonan gives tips and strategies to help prepare for Section C of the English Language exam.

Theoretically, the Section C essay of the English Language exam should be the easiest because you’ve likely written many structured expository essays in English lessons before taking the step into English Language. However, due to the breadth of the content in the course and the challenge of being able to synthesise your ideas, use contemporary evidence and refer to the stimulus material, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Last year, the average mark for this section was 8.4 out of 15. So to help you prepare and to ease some of the stress associated with the task, let’s look at some handy tips to get the most out of your revision in the lead-up to the big day.


Know what’s being assessed

Each section of the English Language exam is designed to assess your knowledge and understanding of the learning outcomes in Units 3 and 4 of the Study Design. This means the exam could focus on register or identity – or both! In order to be prepared to respond to all possible topics, it’s important to review the key knowledge from the Study Design for each outcome, and you might consider assessing yourself by using the traffic light system for each dot point.

Remember that some of the dot points from Unit 4 Outcome 1 have been removed. This doesn’t mean that you should forget them if you covered them in class, just that the examiners won’t specifically assess you on them – they will avoid essay topics on national identity or other Englishes.

It is also imperative that you understand the metalinguistic terms and concepts outlined in the course. You can find the full list of these terms in the English Language Study Design (pages 17 and 18), and they remain unchanged in 2020. So review the metalanguage carefully and avoid using terms that are not on the list in your essay; this subject can be challenging enough without having to learn additional jargon!


Review past responses

Reviewing past SACs and in-class practice assessments can be a great way to identify areas for improvement in your essay writing. Ask your teacher to clarify the reasons why you lost marks, and consider what you could do to improve your score if you were to rewrite your response. The typical mistake students make in Section C is not addressing the linguistic elements of the topic in enough detail. Remember, to score well, you need to answer the question.


Examine your evidence

While you’re not required to memorise quotes from novels, you are still expected to be able to present evidence from texts you have studied throughout the year. Evidence can come from a range of sources and relate to a variety of themes. For example, politically correct language relates to social harmony, Australian identity and face needs. You can also quote linguists and, where possible, use examples of your own personal language use. The main requirement is that your examples are contemporary, which means they should be=——-[—-r4 from this year. Quotes and evidence from linguists are the exceptions to this rule.

Over the year, you should have collected examples from a range of media and real-life sources, so spend time reviewing your collection and consider how the examples relate to some of the big ideas or themes of the course. And while you want to be able to use the evidence you’ve gathered for a range of essay prompts, it can be difficult to memorise scores of quotes. Be strategic about the examples you choose and the quotes you remember. Let’s take a look at an example. On the national radio station triple j, callers are now being introduced by their name and the Aboriginal country they are calling from, such as ‘Louise from Wurundjeri Country’. This is an example of language usage that reflects changing societal attitudes, promotes social harmony, reflects cultural values and meets face needs.


Practise planning

With only 15 minutes of reading time and two hours of writing time, effective planning is key to producing a coherent and thoughtful essay in the exam. But before you start scribbling an essay outline, it’s important to spend some time reflecting on the prompt you have selected. Make sure you pay attention to the wording of the topic and identify what it is asking of you. For example, is it a ‘Discuss’ question or is it asking ‘To what extent do you agree?’ Look for other important terms such as ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’, as they will help you construct a contention. You should also consider how you might refer to the stimulus material, either directly or indirectly.

Once reading time is over, highlight the key terms in the topic. Then you should quickly note your contention and plot out the focus of each paragraph in your essay (and maybe the evidence you will use). I will use the most popular essay prompt from the 2019 VCAA exam and an example of a high-level contention to demonstrate this:

‘Australian English is always enriched by the non-Standard English varieties operating in contemporary Australian society.’ Discuss, referring to at least two subsystems of language in your response.

Contention Non-Standard English varieties do enrich Australian English and they introduce new language features into the Australian vernacular.
Body paragraph 1 Aboriginal English enriches and enforces cultural values, e.g. ‘mob’ and ‘aunty’, Louise from Wurundjeri Country
Body paragraph 2 Ethnolects allow us to celebrate multiculturalism
Body paragraph 3 Age-related language such as teen-speak allows speakers to assert their group membership



At the end of the day, the best method to ensure you can produce a high-quality essay during the exam is to practise, practise, practise. Start with an open book if you need to, and once you have written a few essays covering different themes from the course, you’ll find that you can directly address a prompt and recall evidence without having to look it up!

By using the tips above to inform your preparation – studying the requirements of the task, seeking feedback for past work, reviewing evidence, and practising your planning – you’ll reduce some of the pressure associated with the essay task and ensure you’re as prepared as possible for exam day.

Good luck!

For more help with the English Language exam, get Insight’s English Language Exam Guide 3rd edition by Kirsten Fox. Featuring plenty of tips for exam success, as well as high-level sample answers, analyses and annotated essays, it’s a must-have for English Language students preparing for the end-of-year examination.

The English Language Exam Guide 3rd edition is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.

Photo credit: Festa/Shutterstock

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