Insight writer and English teacher Claire Warr gives some tips and strategies for using the holiday period to prepare for your VCE English Exam.
The Term 3 holidays are here and, while you may feel there is an inordinate amount of exam preparation to complete, it is important to create a study schedule for the holidays that incorporates breaks. Studying for more than 12 hours a day in the lead-up to exams will soon prove exhausting and unproductive.
I suggest working to the school-day schedule. Work on English in the morning, take a short break, undertake further tasks until an hour-long lunchbreak, and study through until the end of the school day. In the afternoon, enjoy some physical activity. Playing sport or even taking a walk will help to consolidate your day’s learning. Your brain is like every other organ in your body: it needs to rest, recuperate and repair before you require it to work to capacity again the next day and into the coming weeks.
Your evening sessions should comprise reading your English texts and preparing quote banks. You have been in this school timetable for 13 years and, considering the English exam is first thing in the morning, it is best to adhere to this tried-and-tested program.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, try to obtain a clean and unannotated copy of each of your texts. Read through each text without the expectations that your previous annotations, scribbles and highlights create – you will be surprised by what you pick up each time you re-read the text!
How many times should you read the text? This is a perennial question asked by innumerable students over many decades. Some students believe they can grasp the full knowledge and understanding required in three or four readings of a text, while others will read continuously throughout the year and manage to read each text twelve or thirteen times. This is up to you, but remember that knowledge and understanding of a text are key criteria for both Section A: Analytical interpretation of a text and Section B: Comparative analysis of texts. If you believe you have a sound working knowledge of the narrative structure, timeline, characterisation, settings, context, plot, quotes and textual evidence, as well as an understanding of how these elements work together to present the key themes and ideas in the texts, then selecting key passages to read again should be sufficient and an effective use of your time.
While you are reading your texts again, start to tackle a range of essay topics. Don’t launch into full essay responses immediately; instead begin by honing your planning skills. You have 15 minutes of reading time in the examination and 5 to 10 minutes of planning time for each response. You do not want to eat into your precious writing time deconstructing the question, so developing your planning skills is crucial. Here are some tips to help get you started.
- Practise decoding the question and locating synonyms with the help of your dictionary.
- Work out what the question is asking you to do and note down three or four key arguments in response to the topic.
- Place your strongest argument first and formulate topic sentences for each paragraph, being careful to ensure that you have enough textual evidence to support your statements.
- Identify a range of key conclusions that stem from your ideas.
- If you can’t think of these at this point, then this is where your study focus needs to be over the coming days and weeks. It is easy to review the tasks you can already do well, but it is now time to locate and work on improving weak spots – focusing on these will yield positive results in an examination setting.
The aim of developing these skills is to make sure that you can complete the planning process in 5 to 10 minutes and create a stable and workable plan as a basis for your response. Making effective use of your time in the examination is a valuable skill to have, so make sure you address this over the holiday break.
Preparing and incorporating quotes
It is important to memorise quotes to use in the exam, but it is just as important to know what to do with them. Simply remembering a quote and inserting it into your exam essay is not going to earn you much-needed marks, whereas selecting appropriate quotes that effectively demonstrate your points will provide the all-important textual evidence required for a successful response.
Firstly, prepare your quote sheets, quote banks, mind maps and/or flashcards – whichever works best for you – and place them in strategic positions around the house. Try to organise them according to a system; for example, theme A on the fridge, theme B on the bathroom mirror, theme C on the outer surface of the shower screen, and character quotes on the back of the toilet door and on top of your laptop or computer. Each time you encounter the list, read the selection of quotes you have prepared. Yes, every person in your house will learn the quotes over the coming 6 or 7 weeks. Once you have them committed to memory, replace them with new ones.
Now that you have learned the quotes, it is time to put them to use. Ask yourself how a particular quote elucidates an idea or proves a particular point you are trying to make. Place the quote within a sentence, not at the end of a sentence or just inserted into the paragraph on its own. If you are unsure if you have inserted the quote correctly, simply remove the quotation marks and read the sentence aloud to yourself. If the sentence is fluent and coherent, then the quote has worked. If there are disruptions from awkward syntax or word order and it is unclear, then you may have to revisit and try again. As a rule, try to use quotes of between 3 and 8 words – anything longer than this is difficult to incorporate into a sentence. If the quote is too long, the sentence becomes unwieldy and loses clarity, and this is not what you want in an exam response. Remember to reinsert quotation marks after you have completed the task.
Need help preparing for the English exam? Purchase our English Exam Guides by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. The Guides include revision strategies and activities to help you prepare for the VCE English exam. From time management to proofreading responses, Insight’s English Exam Guides cover all the knowledge and skills required for success in the English exam.
Any purchase of English Exam Guide: Area of Study 1 or the English Exam Guides: Areas of Study 1 & 2 Value Pack comes with 64 FREE high-level sample essays.