In the second instalment of our Reflection blog series, experienced teacher Louise Noonan takes a look at the lessons learned from the 2019 English Language exam, and provides some great tips regarding what to improve on in 2020.
Be prepared for any text type
The selected texts for Sections A and B of the VCE English Language exam are based on ‘one or more formal or informal spoken or written texts’. While these have typically been a similar type across the years, last year’s paper marked the first time a literary text was used (the first two pages of a novel with a young boy as the narrator). This threw some students – not to mention their teachers. To avoid such surprises, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the possible text types in the Study Design. Go through the list and practise analysing each of the text types in turn, remembering that you’re expected to analyse the features that distinguish the text as formal or informal, as well as the characteristics of spoken and written language.
Pay attention to the context paragraph
Each text in Sections A and B of the exam is accompanied by an explanation of the context in which it appeared. It’s important that you read this carefully. As well as providing crucial information – such as the mode, who the participants are and the text’s locale – the context paragraph can help you to identify other useful elements in the text. In the 2019 exam, for example, the context paragraph in Section B indicated that the extract was taken from a script of a radio program. Using this information, students could quickly identify the mode and register, establish the roles of each interlocutor and make assumptions about social distance.
Know the metalanguage
Metalanguage is a key component of the English Language course, and forms a fundamental part of both the short answer questions and the extended responses. Fortunately, all the metalanguage you need to know is specified in the Study Design. However, while it’s important that you pay attention to the terms covered under each subsystem, it’s also beneficial to study the terminology in the paragraphs of the broader Study Design itself. Last year’s exam, for instance, asked students to find an example of ‘figurative language’ and explain its effect. ‘Figurative language’ was not listed in the metalanguage for Units 3 and 4 (or Units 1 and 2, for that matter), but it was mentioned on page 20 of the Study Design.
Reading the VCE English Language Examination Report is also a helpful exercise when it comes to revising the metalanguage. While past reports suggested examiners were moving away from asking about the ‘function’ of a text in Section A in favour of focusing on ‘social purpose’, the 2018 Examination Report expressed the worry that students were too comfortable writing about ‘social purpose’. For those who read the report, it was no surprise that the 2019 exam signalled a return to asking about ‘function’.
Keep it concise
With three sections to complete in two hours, the English Language exam can be demanding. This pressure leads many students to overwrite in an effort to show off their knowledge of the course – last year’s cohort being no exception. Unfortunately, there is nowhere near enough time to say it all. Prioritise what you need to say and write concisely. Ask yourself, what is the most important information I need to convey and how can I do this with the minimum number of words?
Focus on each section in turn
There’s no right or wrong place to start the exam and each student needs to figure out what works best for them. Personally, I like to get the short answer response done first before I move onto the essay, leaving the analytical commentary to last. (The analytical commentary doesn’t need a conclusion, so even if you don’t get to write everything you want to, it still looks like a complete response.) That being said, you should always aim to complete each section to the best of your ability before moving on. Try to stick to the time limits you set for yourself and keep an eye on the clock. For the 2019 paper, I spent 20 minutes on Section A, 40 minutes on Section B and 45 minutes on Section C. This gave me enough time to plan my responses, as well as revisit Section A and do a final check before the end of the exam.
Remember that while the English Language exam might seem far off, your preparations should start now. Developing good study habits early on will ensure you feel confident and ready to perform on the big day.
Good luck for the year ahead, ELers!
If you need a comprehensive guide to the VCE English Language course, try Insight’s English Language for Senior Students: A guide to metalanguage by Kirsten Fox. An invaluable resource for Units 1–4 of the English Language 2016–2022 Study Design, this textbook offers clear and accessible definitions of all metalanguage, accompanied by engaging activities and sample responses.
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 and annotated essays, it’s a must-have for English Language students preparing for the end-of-year examination.
English Language for Senior Students: A guide to metalanguage and English Language Exam Guide 3rd edition are produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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