Insight writer and English teacher Rebecca Swain has some last-minute tips and strategies to help you hone your analytical skills for Section C ahead of your VCE English Exam.
Section C of the English exam, Argument and Persuasive Language, requires you to read a persuasive text (or texts) and write an analytical response to it. The following tips will ensure that you use your preparation time effectively to revise the content and practise the skills needed for this section.
1. Understand what the examiners are looking for
You will be assessed for Section C in three main areas. These should form the focus of your revision for this part of the paper.
- How well do you understand the argument(s) and point(s) of view expressed in the text(s)?
- How well do you analyse how the author uses written, spoken and visual language to present their arguments?
- How effective is your writing, including your written expression and the organisation of your ideas?
2. Know your metalanguage
To succeed in Section C, you will need to master the technical vocabulary that accompanies this part of the course. It is very difficult to analyse the approach that a writer or speaker is taking without access to the right words to discuss it.
Create word banks focusing on different aspects of the task. For example, create a word bank of argument strategies (e.g. ‘reason and logic’ and ‘cause and effect’), of language strategies (e.g. ‘irony’ and ‘hyperbole’) and of visual features (e.g. ‘symbol’ and ‘caricature’). Remember that you will need to be able not just to understand these terms, but to identify these features in a text and explain how they work.
3. Understand the context of the text(s)
The background information preceding the text is essential reading. It sets the scene by providing additional information about the topic and the context in which the text exists. By reading this section, you will learn more about the writer or speaker, where the text was published (if written), broadcast or presented (if spoken), and who the likely audience is. It is worth including some of this material, in your own words, in your introduction.
You should also ensure that you draw on it throughout your response to filter your observations about the writer’s intentions. In other words, think in terms of how an argument or language strategy might work in this context and for this audience. Remember that you may be asked to respond to more than one text on the issue; for example, a blog post and the readers’ comments that follow, or a speech and a letter to the editor in response to it. Visual language might include a photograph, political cartoon, logo, graphic, chart, or other format.
A useful revision strategy is to try writing your own background information for an existing persuasive text. Give some brief background on the issue and any relevant details about the writer’s qualifications, affiliations or interests. Identify also the context in which the text appeared and information about the intended audience if available. Creating your own background information summaries will help to ensure that you keep these important details in mind when you write your practice analyses.
4. Analyse the arguments
When reading the text, you must be alert to the writer’s persuasive purpose. What do they want their audience to think, feel or do? To engage with the argument, you must first identify the writer’s contention and then explain how they develop this contention with supporting arguments and/or reasons. Avoid comments that speculate about how a reader or viewer might respond, and focus instead on how the writer intends their audience to respond. Don’t drift away from what the text presents.
As part of your revision, swap practice analyses with a partner and check each other’s work for examples of sentences that presume the audience will definitely respond in certain ways. Rewrite these sentences using language that keeps the focus on the writer’s intention, such as ‘The writer aims to evoke the reader’s sympathy’ and ‘The audience is likely to feel outraged’.
5. Connect the language and the argument
While knowing your metalanguage is essential for this section of the exam, do not fall into the trap of simply listing a series of techniques that you have identified in the text. You should make frequent connections between the language and visual techniques you identify and the arguments the writer has put forward. A good routine to follow is to first identify what strategy has been used (provide metalanguage and a direct quote from the text) and then explain why the writer would use this approach for this argument in this context.
Avoid generic responses, such as ‘the writer uses statistical evidence to show they have done their research’. Instead, focus on why a feature such as statistical evidence might have been used in this specific circumstance. For example, ‘The writer uses statistical evidence in an attempt to prevent the reader questioning the validity of her argument. By relying on data from a well-respected organisation such as the CSIRO, the writer aims to quash any potential doubts the reader might have about whether the evidence and the argument that follows are accurate.’
Again, a useful revision strategy is to exchange practice analyses with a partner and check each other’s work for examples of weak or generic analysis. Offer each other suggestions as to how these examples could be made more specific.
Remember, too, that you must discuss visual strategies at some stage in your response. It’s a good idea to place this analysis where it logically connects to an argument being developed in the written text.
6. Organise your ideas effectively
There is more than one way to organise your essay. You should always begin with an introduction that provides some background for the issue, introduces the text and its context, and identifies the writer’s contention. Your main body paragraphs should be logically grouped and sequenced. All body paragraphs should use topic sentences that demonstrate the logical flow of your ideas and provide a focus for each paragraph. Body paragraphs should also make strong connections between argument and language, and include quotations from the text to support your analysis.
As far as structure goes, the rest is up to you. You might want to track the argument as it develops from beginning to end, using any shifts in supporting arguments as points at which to begin a new paragraph. You might decide to organise each paragraph by grouping particular persuasive strategies together and discussing how they are used throughout the text. What is important is that you have approached your structure in a clear and logical way, that you have addressed all parts of the task, and that you have acknowledged the beginning, middle and end of the text(s) in your analysis.
It can be a good idea to practise writing analyses using different structures to see if you feel more comfortable with one particular approach.
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.