For the fourth and final post in our Reflection series, Insight writer and EAL teacher Michael E. Daniel takes a look at lessons learned from the 2019 VCE EAL exam, and offers tips and strategies on how to improve for 2020.
In this blog we reflect on last year’s EAL exam, with a particular focus on some observations in the Examination Report, available on the VCAA website here.
The first section you will complete in the exam is Section A, the listening comprehension task, which is worth 20% of the total marks available. During the course of Unit 3 you should be completing a number of practice listening comprehension tasks in class. However, as noted in the Examination Report, it is also essential that you practise your listening comprehension skills outside of class, every day. You can do so in a number of ways. Look for opportunities to participate in English conversations, watch TV or view programs online. If necessary, use subtitle captions.
It is also important to practise listening to audio texts that don’t have a video component, as the texts for listening comprehension in the exam will be only audio, not audiovisual. Listen to the radio for at least ten minutes each day. Also, regularly practise making notes while listening to audio texts, as in the exam you will need to write notes as you are listening in order to answer the questions during the pauses. In your notes, record important information such as what happened, when it happened and who was involved.
You should also familiarise yourself with the aspects of an audio text you may be asked questions on. These include the literal and implied meanings of what speakers say, the speaker’s attitudes, the relationship between them, and the text type, audience and purpose of the text. You also need to be able to identify and explain aspects of the speakers’ delivery which include – but are not limited to – pitch, pace, volume, pauses, emphasis and tone.
In the second section of the exam, you will write an analytical essay in response to one topic on one text. At this stage of the year, the best preparation for the exam is simply to develop your knowledge and understanding of the texts you are studying. In addition to having a sound understanding of the characters and themes, you also need to know about the structural features of the text and the ideas and values it presents. You must also have a clear understanding of the text’s setting as well as the social and historical context in which it was created.
As you read your texts (or watch your film), make notes about these various aspects. Create lists of key vocabulary you can use when writing about a text. You can also consolidate your knowledge by creating flow charts and mind maps – for example, one mind map for each main character.
Your text response essay may be on either the text you are studying from List 1 in the English/EAL Text List for 2020, or the first text listed in the pair you are studying from List 2. As you progress through the year, it will be critical not only to practise writing text response essays, but also to develop your planning skills. For a number of years, the Examination Reports have noted that two common faults among EAL students are that they misread the topic, and that they do not adequately address all aspects of a topic. The Examination Report on the 2019 exam notes that the best-scoring text response essays demonstrated not only a sophisticated understanding of the text, but also an in-depth understanding of the topic. Such essays clearly established in their introduction that they were addressing the topic, and maintained this relevance throughout the essay.
The last section of the exam requires you to complete two tasks. Both tasks relate to persuasive texts included in the exam task book. You may be given one written text, or two shorter texts, and there will be at least one visual component.
The first task is to answer a series of questions that will test your comprehension of the ideas in the task material, both the ideas that are clearly stated and those that are implied.
The second task is to analyse the use of argument and written and visual language. When analysing a text, you must first identify the issue, the writer’s point of view and contention, and the intended audience. Also identify the main arguments the author uses to support their point of view – one effective way to structure your analysis is around these points of argument.
To prepare for this task, become familiar with the main argument and persuasive language strategies authors use. As with text analysis, you should develop your vocabulary for analysing argument and language use, and for discussing the intended effects.
When writing an analysis your focus must be on how the author uses argument and persuasive language to attempt to persuade the chosen audience. When analysing the intended effect, explain how the audience is likely to feel, what they are being led to think, and what they are meant to do. Think also about what the author may be implying or suggesting, and what the audience is meant to infer.
Do not forget to analyse the visual item(s). Try to see links between the visual and the argument and language choices in the written text. How does the visual complement the author’s position? What do various elements of the visual symbolise or represent, and how do they reinforce the intended effect?
It is important to practise applying this theoretical knowledge about language to the analysis of persuasive texts. Aim to read one or two texts each day. They do not have to be long ones – for example, they could be letters to the editor or short opinion pieces in newspapers. Become familiar with as many different text types as possible, including (but not limited to) letters, opinion pieces, editorials and feature articles. Practise annotating at least one piece a week, and write language analyses regularly. Some students find it useful to annotate using different coloured pens and highlighters – for example, blue for argument, green for the persuasive language, and red for the intended effect.
Lastly, as you get closer to the exam, practise completing tasks in past exam papers for the current course (since November 2017), and read the Examination Report for each exam after completing the tasks.
Need a comprehensive resource to help you get through Year 12 EAL? Why not try EAL Year 12 2nd edition by Melanie Napthine and Michael E. Daniel. This text helps you to develop strong writing skills for analytical, creative and comparative text responses, and for the analysis of argument and persuasive language. It also develops listening comprehension skills, with aural texts available online.
Also scheduled for release in mid-2020 is the NEW VCE EAL SAC and Exam Guide by Melanie Napthine and Robert Beardwood. This compact and practical guide outlines the requirements for all Units 3 and 4 assessment tasks, as well as the end-of-year exam. It offers strategies and tips for writing top responses, and advice for improving medium-level responses so that they are likely to score high marks.
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