Literature teacher and Insight writer Melinda Allsop discusses how to prepare for the Literature exam.
Exam success has much to do with confidence – confidence that you can tackle the exam tasks in the time available, confidence that you know your texts thoroughly, and confidence that you have something worthwhile to say about them. This blog post aims to give you direction as you prepare for the Literature exam, as well as some practical revision strategies that will build your confidence and skills.
Exam format and requirements
The first thing to do is to ensure you understand what is expected of you in the exam.
- The exam will be two hours long.
- There will be an additional 15 minutes of reading time.
- The exam will be divided into two sections:
- Section A: Literary Perspectives
- Section B: Close Analysis.
- You will write on two texts, one in each section.
- You must write on two different text types; for example, you cannot write on a play in both sections.
Access the VCAA web page for Literature exams at http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Pages/vce/studies/literature/exams.aspx
Here you will find links to the exam criteria and expected qualities, the 2017 sample exam, and previous exams and examination reports.
Carefully read through the exam specifications, the sample exam and the exam criteria/expected qualities. Remember, this is the first year the literary perspectives task has appeared on the exam; the sample exam and the exam specifications will show you what to expect in Section A. However, examination reports from previous years will give you a good idea of what assessors are looking for in responses to the close analysis task (Section B), as well as common weaknesses.
One of the best things you can do to prepare for the Literature exam is to re-read the texts: you must know them very well. Here are some other activities that will help you to make your revision and preparation as effective as possible.
1: Review and rewrite previous essays
Select a passage analysis and/or literary perspectives response that you have written and have received feedback on. Rewrite one or more of the paragraphs based on this feedback, then critically compare the two versions. This will enable you to fix errors and make improvements rather than continue to make the same mistakes in successive responses, which is a common problem when you simply write essay after essay in preparation for the exam.
2: Colour-code a response
Carefully consider the expected qualities for both the close analysis and the literary perspectives tasks. Select a band to focus on – for example, the 15–16 mark range. Assign a colour to each statement or description in this band (e.g. for Section A, ‘Develops a relevant and plausible interpretation of the text that shows some complexity, supported by use of evidence from the text’), then colour-code one of your practice essays for each task in line with the colour-coded descriptions. This will allow you to see what is missing or limited within each paragraph and across the entire response. Try rewriting so that you include more of the expected qualities for this mark range.
Look at the assessment criteria and expected qualities for both the close analysis and the literary perspectives tasks, then read one of your practice pieces for each section and assess each in relation to the expected qualities. As you assess, start at zero and move up, rewarding the response for its demonstration of the expected qualities until you feel the response cannot be moved any further up the scale. Write a statement explaining why you placed it in that mark range and what you believe you need to do to reach the next band.
Listen to an audio version of one or more of your selected texts. This will be particularly helpful for poetry and drama. Make notes on what you hear in terms of the tone, rhythm and pace. Listen for any words that receive extra emphasis, and for the impact of pauses and silences. You will be surprised by what you can pick up from hearing a text rather than just reading it.
5: Annotate commentaries/articles with +/–/? or Yes/No/Maybe
Read a range of the commentaries and articles that you have been provided with or have sourced yourself. As you read, place + or Yes next to the comments that you agree with, as well as an explanation of why you agree. Place – or No next to comments that you disagree with and give an explanation. Use ? or Maybe next to those comments that you remain unsure about or believe are questionable, and state a reason for your thinking. This gives you an opportunity for further reflection on the text and the views and values it presents.
6: Plan for literary perspectives
Gather a number of literary perspectives questions for your text. Rewrite each one in your own words, using synonyms for the key terms. Develop a plan for each question: write a topic sentence for each paragraph and dot points of explanation and specific textual evidence that you would use to develop the response.
7: Select key moments
Select a range of key moments from a text and link them explicitly to a particular literary perspective. Explain this connection in a detailed paragraph for each key moment, indicating how you would interpret this moment using the perspective, and where the author stands in relation to the idea/s presented.
8: Create a quote bank
Select a range of quotations from across both texts. These quotations should be able to be used in both a close analysis and a literary perspectives response. Don’t attempt to learn lengthy quotations; short, sharp phrases that you can incorporate into sentences will be easier to remember and use in the exam.
9: Draw a mind map
If you are a visual learner, then a mind map showing links between characters will be helpful. This can also be a concise way of making connections with settings, structural elements, language features and the text’s views and values. Begin by writing down the names of the main characters and making detailed notes about their qualities, motivations, attitudes, actions and reactions. Consider what each character says, what they do, what others say about them and what they say about others. Consider whether each character changes or whether they remain fixed in their ideas and attitudes. Also think about how each character uses language. Then use arrows to connect the characters to one another and make notes on the nature of each relationship (e.g. is it long-lived or temporary? Does it change or is it static?) and its importance within the text.
10: Work in a pair
Team up with a friend and select passages for close analysis. Complete a timed analysis of each other’s selections and then swap for peer assessment. Each person needs to be able to explain to the other why they selected the passages and how they would approach a close analysis task for these passages. You can also work in a pair on literary perspectives questions. Write and swap questions, then write a detailed plan (or a complete response) and discuss your different approaches. This would work well if you are looking at the same text from different perspectives.
Need help preparing for the Literature exam? Purchase our Literature Exam Guide by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. The Guide provides students with revision strategies and activities to prepare them 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.