This week, English Language teacher Louise Noonan provides tips on responding to short-answer questions in the Year 12 VCE English Language course.
In the early stages of the English Language course, learning how to complete short-answer questions well will help you engage with the given texts and strengthen your understanding of how metalanguage should be used in an analysis. By practising how to write succinct responses that get to the heart of the text, your writing in other areas is likely to improve as well.
The tips below will help you gain confidence in responding to short-answer questions and prepare you for the end-of-year examination.
In the past you may have used one of the following acronyms when structuring paragraphs:
- TEEL (Technique, Evidence, Explanation and Link)
- TPQC (Technique, Point, Quote and Comment).
These mnemonic devices can also be used in English Language to help structure a succinct analysis that is supported by relevant evidence.
TIP: Consider using bullet points to structure a TEEL or TPQC response, and then practise crafting it into a cohesive short-answer response.
Answering the question
When writing short-answer responses, you must specifically refer to the given texts and try to avoid making generic observations. For example, if you were asked to identify and comment on prosodic features in an ANZAC Day dawn service address, you must demonstrate that you understand not just what the features are, but how these features function in the given text. An example of a high-scoring response is shown below.
Donaldson utilises pauses as he lists the conditions of the battle of Gallipoli in lines 16-18: ‘no shelter (.)’, ‘or covering fire (.)’ and ‘face down in the dirt (.)’. By pausing after each utterance, Donaldson is able to highlight the terrible conditions soldiers had to endure and get his audience to contemplate this.
Remember, it’s important that your responses are unique to the given text. You should also be able to demonstrate more than a basic understanding of textbook definitions and explanations.
TIP: Learn and make sure you understand the metalinguistic terms and concepts in the VCE English Language Study Design (pages 17 and 18); if you learn the terms well, it will be easier to apply them in your analysis. Avoid using language terms not on the list, as these will not be tested in school-based assessments.
As with all English Language assessments, it’s important to show that you can use metalanguage effectively. It’s often during short-answer tests that you can identify your metalanguage knowledge gaps. Consider the SAC questions below.
- How does the use of pronouns contribute to the social purposes of the text?
- Identify two examples of syntactic patterning and comment on how they support the register of the text.
In order to answer these questions, you must know what the underlined terms mean. In the first example, you need to demonstrate knowledge of word classes; in the second example, you need to know that syntactic patterning consists of antithesis, listing and parallelism (not sentence types or structure).
In addition to using metalanguage, you also need to include line numbers in your short-answer responses. Another mnemonic device that can help you remember to apply metalanguage and include line numbers is ‘MEL’ (Metalanguage, Evidence and Line numbers).
TIP: There is no set way to refer to line numbers. It can be a good idea to include a variety of sentence types depending on the way you are embedding evidence: ‘On line 13 the adjective …’ for example, or ‘the adjective “painful” (13)’.
Always use full sentences in short-answer responses so that you can embed metalanguage and demonstrate that you are engaging with the given text. Full sentences can help show that you have a deeper understanding of the language or stylistic choices made by the author. Examples of both a low- and a high-scoring response to the question ‘What is the social purpose of the text?’ are shown below.
- Low-level response: ‘establish authority and expertise’
- High-level response: ‘Andrews’ social purpose is to communicate a sense of authority and expertise so that his audience trusts he will keep his promises.’
More tips for preparing for short-answer assessments
- Use past papers from your school or past VCAA exams to identify patterns in the questions. (You could even challenge yourself to write your own practice SACs.)
- Read the responses in the VCAA Examination Reports so you can see what short-answer responses should look like, including how much you should write depending on the mark allocation.
- Refer to resources, such as Insight’s English Language for Senior Students: A guide to metalanguage, that contain the metalanguage you need to know. (These will often provide definitions, examples and activities.)
- Practise responding to past exams under timed conditions.
- Create study groups to revise together and undertake peer assessment.
- Follow the instructions carefully: if you are asked for two examples, give two examples; if you are directed to look for a language feature between lines 1–10, look at those lines only.
Keep accessing a range of written and spoken texts of different formalities and consider the types of short-answer questions you might be asked in a SAC; it’s a great way to continue refining your skills. Good luck!
Need a comprehensive guide to the VCE English Language course? Purchase 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 2016–2020 Study Design, this textbook offers clear and accessible definitions of all metalanguage, accompanied by engaging activities and sample responses.
English Language for Senior Students: A guide to metalanguage is produced by Insight Publications, an independent Australian educational publisher.
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