Revising for the English Language Exam

Revising for the English Language Exam

This week, English Language teacher Natalie Gleeson offers her tips on how to kickstart revision for the English Language exam.

With the VCE English Language examination on the horizon, preparation is key to success. As with any exam, having a solid and well-thought-out game plan for the day will go a long way in relieving those pesky exam jitters. So where do you start?

1. Make sure you’re familiar with the key knowledge and skills required for each of the unit outcomes in the Study Design

Review your coursework and, using the key knowledge points in the Study Design as a checklist, determine what parts of the course you feel confident with and identify any gaps in your knowledge. This will help you to figure out what to focus on in your revision. Ask your teacher to go back over any concepts you’re unsure about, and re-read the resources that were provided to you throughout the year.

2. Review the subsystems metalanguage 

Avoid simply memorising the definitions of the subsystems metalanguage; instead, think about how English Language terminology is used when analysing texts. One way of doing this is by grouping the metalanguage around the key knowledge required for the unit outcomes. For example, categorise metalanguage terms by whether they would be expected in a discussion of informal or formal language.

3. Create revision materials

Construct concept maps, infographics, palm cards and small posters summarising the key knowledge. These revision materials should be simple and prompt a rapid recall of the key concepts. Place them around your room or where you study so you can read them and test yourself each day.

4. Set writing time goals

As you begin practising writing for the three sections on the exam, set time goals to work towards. Remember that Section A is not worth as many marks as either of Sections B or C, so you will not want to spend quite as much time on it. An example of a time goal could be completing Section A in 20 minutes, and each of Sections B and C in 55 minutes. You may find that you’re particularly strong in one section compared to another, so stay flexible and play to your strengths. The more practice you do, the better you will know your preferred timings.

5. Practise answering short-answer questions and writing analytical commentaries on both spoken and written texts

We can’t assume the Section A and Section B texts will be any particular mode, so practise writing responses on a variety of text types. The more you practise on a range of different text types, the more adaptable you will be on the day of the exam.

6. Look for the most salient features of the text type

If the text is spoken, identify and analyse the discourse features and strategies common to spoken language such as prosodic features, turn-taking strategies, topic management, non-fluency features, overlapping speech and back-channeling. Remember, you are not writing a shopping list of key knowledge points and metalanguage – focus on explaining the function of the features you see and make links to register, context and social purpose. If the text contains overlapping speech, for example, consider the possible social purposes of this, such as building rapport between interlocutors.

7. Practise breaking down the stimulus material and essay topics in past VCAA exams and trial exams

In doing so, you should be able to determine the concepts and themes you feel most confident writing about, which will help you figure out which areas you should focus your revision. You’ll want to avoid preparing for only one specific topic or thematic area, as the essay topics are constructed in a way that measures your knowledge and skills across the entire course.

8. Collect evidence and quotes for the concepts in each of the unit outcomes

If you have been diligent in collecting evidence this year, now’s the time to use it. Assessors want to see that students are able to apply their understanding of the key knowledge in the world around them. Draw on contemporary examples of language use that you’ve observed in your day to day life. While you must draw on the stimulus material provided with the essay topic, remember that the stimulus material is intended to act as a ‘springboard for ideas’. Students who engage with the stimulus material and then bring their own ideas and evidence into the discussion usually score higher than students who solely depend on the material provided in the exam.

9. Be kind to yourself

The revision period leading up to the exam is your opportunity to consolidate, practise and refine your skills. Set realistic daily goals and remember to take some time out when you need it.


Need help preparing for the VCE English Language exam? Make sure you get our English Language Exam Guide 3rd edition by Kirsten Fox. The guide includes revision strategies, sample texts and high-level sample answers to help you revise and practise for the exam. 

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


Image credit: arrowsmith2/shutterstock

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