The final countdown: Stress-free advice for the VCE English exam

The final countdown: Stress-free advice for the VCE English exam

Insight writer and English teacher Claire Warr gives some advice on how to make the most of your final weekend of preparation before the VCE English exam without getting too stressed out.

The 2020 VCE English exam will be held on Tuesday 10 November, only a few days from now. It is important that you try to stay calm and relaxed during these last few days. With that in mind, here are ten stress-free things you can do to prepare for your end-of-year exam.

1. Take stock of what you have already achieved and what you still need to do.

It is very tempting to continue to prepare and review tasks and topics you know well – but, at present, it is more important to focus on what you do not do so well. If argument and language analysis is not your strong point, for example, then this is where you need to focus your attention. Make a brief list of the areas you need to focus on. This will help you to maximise your remaining revision time.

2. Make a timetable or schedule.

You will undoubtedly have many exams to prepare for and your time is precious, so make a schedule that clearly outlines the time you can dedicate to English. Devote time to specific tasks such as learning quotes, viewing the film, checking spelling of character names, reviewing terms, learning synonyms and preparing sentence starters.

3. Check your resources.

You have most likely finished classes at school. All your books, handouts and notes should be on your desk at home or readily accessible on your computer. If there are resources missing, locate a teacher that can help you access another copy, ask a friend to forward lecture notes, borrow texts from the local library, or print out materials as required.

4. Change or alternate quote sheets and banks.

You have been walking around your house reading quotes plastered across every flat surface (e.g. fridge, bathroom door etc.). If you have these quotes committed to memory, it is time to post up new lists – remember, there is no magic number of quotes to remember but brief and workable quotes are more effective. Keep your quotes limited to ten words and under; this will make it easier to incorporate evidence into your essay responses.

5. Consolidate and reduce notes and materials.

There is not much point re-reading everything you have done throughout the year. Now is the time to condense, refine and reduce your work into succinct notes that will be relevant to the exam. One option is to present material in a different format that will challenge your brain to reorganise material and information. These may include dot points, paragraphs, mind maps or flashcards.

6. Teach someone what you know.

One of the best ways to review and consider your knowledge is to try to teach it to someone else. Ask a neighbour, grandparent, cousin or workmate to sit with you for an hour or two to listen to your ideas about a particular topic. Answer their questions. It might sound simple but when you are required to articulate a point or idea, you need to formulate a specific response and verbalise it in a manner that the listener will understand. The same principle will apply in your exam – only this time, the person listening will be the examiner.

7. Confirm your big ideas.

If I asked you what David Malouf’s key message is in Ransom, or what Euripides is encouraging us to consider in Medea, what would your answer be? Think about your novel, poems, short stories, film or play for text response, and your two texts for the comparative response, and confirm your understanding of each. Make sentence starters, like the ones below, that can be expanded into three or four in-depth sentences.

  • Miller wants readers to consider …
  • Funder hopes to raise awareness of …
  • Grenville’s text expresses ideas about …
  • Adichie’s short stories highlight the importance of …

8. Challenge and confirm.

Read over some current media texts (articles, blog posts etc.) that you find interesting or engaging. Test out the analytical skills you have developed in your English course and ask yourself some difficult questions. Can you explain how and why the writer is using rhetorical questions? Do you know whether the use of ad-hominem attacks is intended to appeal to the target audience? Do not be afraid to test your skills and knowledge, even at this late stage. You still have time to finetune the smaller details before Wednesday. And you may be surprised by how ready and confident you already feel.

9. Make your space your own.

Do not get on the phone and compete with friends about the 7000 quotes you have learnt – remove yourself from anxious individuals who will exacerbate your stress. This may even mean turning off your phone or disconnecting from the digital world for the next few days. If you know others are going to agitate you, arrange to arrive at the exam just before the start, find a quiet space away from tense friends and remain calm and focused.

10. Relax and meditate.

Consider all the things you have achieved over the course of your Year 12 English studies. You have read and viewed all the texts, completed all the SACs and done all the hard thinking about ideas, themes, issues and concerns. The day before the exam should be for quiet thinking about your ideas. I suggest reading through your notes; do not create anything new or start to review something you have not already tackled. Walk, exercise or get out and about – work off the nervous energy and reduce the temptation to do even more work. Eat sensibly and wind down to a decent night of sleep. In the afternoon and evening before the exam, go surfing or bike riding – something that you enjoy that allows your brain some time to rest. This is not the time for cramming and reading your texts again.

And last of all, remember to be kind to yourself – the finishing line is almost in sight.


Need help preparing for the English exam? Make sure you purchase the VCE English SAC & Exam Guide by Robert Beardwood and Melanie Napthine. The Guide includes revision strategies and activities to help you prepare for the VCE English exam. From time management to proofreading responses, Insight’s VCE English SAC & Exam Guide covers all the knowledge and skills required for success in the English exam.

The VCE English SAC & Exam Guide is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.

Photo credit: Prostock-studio/shutterstock

Exam Preparation: Time management in the English exam

November 5, 2020

What to look out for when analysing a media text

November 5, 2020