2012 VCE English exam resources

Hi all,

Some last minute VCE English exam advice can be found on a previous post here:

Also, another fantastic resource is The Age Newspaper's exam guide found here

Included in this resource is an article from Bob Hillman, as sourced from:

Bob Hillman September 10, 2012

Testing skills to think, plan and write
Rather than looking for a specific response to a topic, assessors will reward thoughtful, perceptive insights, writes Bob Hillman.

MORE than 44,000 students will have the opportunity of showcasing the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout the year when they sit the English examination on Thursday, November 1. It is, of course, the examination on the largest scale and lasts three hours plus 15 minutes' reading time.

In the fifth year of the new course, there are no major changes to the format of the examination itself. There is, however, a significant change to the answer book. This year there will be only one book for students to write all three of their responses. It is important for students to follow the simple instructions carefully that request students to nominate the text they are writing on in Section A and the Context they are selecting in Section B. This is done by shading the appropriate box. In addition, it is important to follow all the instructions including those that direct students to write in blue or black ink only.

Each of the three sections of the examination is equally weighted, so it is wise to spend approximately one hour on each section. As well, students will determine for themselves the order in which they complete the tasks, but the task must be written in the correct section of the response book.

Each piece of writing needs to be a completed product, so an awareness of time is essential. Within each period of time, students need to study the task thoroughly, think carefully and plan methodically, before actually beginning their pieces. Many students would also be advised to leave enough time at the end of each task to proofread their work quickly before moving on to the next task.

Students may bring along an English and/or bilingual printed dictionary. It must not, however, contain any highlighting or annotation and it may not contain a thesaurus. Electronic dictionaries are not permitted. The dictionary can be used for clarification of terms, as well as checking spelling, and may be used during reading time.

The examination itself is divided into three sections, each requiring students to produce a piece of writing. While the generic skills of thinking, planning and writing are required for all of the writing, each piece is distinct in its requirements and the criteria that are applied to assessing the piece.

SECTION A - Text Response

Students will have a choice of two topics for each text they have studied thoroughly during year 12. Students are to select ONE text to write on and select ONE topic from the two on offer.

As set out in the study design, each topic will offer students the opportunity to develop a sustained discussion from an initial focus on an aspect of key knowledge for Area of Study One - Reading and responding (see pages 23 and 29 from the "English Study Design"). In revising for the examination, it is certainly worthwhile reading and considering the key knowledge and how examiners may construct a topic from these areas.

In last year's examination, one of the topics on Interpreter of Maladies offered a discussion on the theme of emotional displacement; while one of the topics on Life of Pi challenged students to consider Pi's internal struggle, faith and compromise. One topic was constructed around theme, the other around characters.

Other topics in Section A focused on values, such as the first Maestro topic, while others — such as an On the Waterfront topic — offered students the opportunity of looking at filmic structures and characterisation. And finally there are those topics that focus on reader interpretation such as A Christmas Carol, which offered the proposition that "Although the story is entertaining, even enthralling, it is mainly intended to educate."

When revising, students would do well to consider the advice from recent "English Assessment Reports". "There are subtle but discernible differences in the topic types and students would benefit from understanding these variations."

It should be encouraging for students, however, that assessors are not looking for a specific response to a topic; rather, they reward thoughtful, perceptive insights that are well supported by the text itself. There is no "correct" response to Section A topics.

Naturally, a fluent, well-expressed piece of writing is required for success; one that seamlessly and appropriately incorporates quotations and is stimulating to the reader. While it is important to practise a range of topics so that students are well prepared for the examination, the most successful responses are thoughtful and original. Prepared essays rarely succeed.

SECTION B - Writing in Context

There can be much excitement about the opportunity to explore a Context through various forms of writing. Indeed, the focus remains on the quality of writing, but good writing is only achieved with quality ideas. Throughout the year students have had the opportunity of exploring in detail concepts in relation to one of the four Contexts provided by the VCAA.

The interpretation of the Contexts varies significantly from class to class, so students around the state have developed their ideas on Context in many ways. Likewise, each student will find the most appropriate way to express those ideas, thus creating an enormous variety of writing. No particular form is preferable to another.

The writing must be informed by one of the texts from the list provided by the VCAA. The text that most informs the student's writing must be nominated by the student in the response booklet.

The degree and manner in which the text informs a piece of writing will again vary significantly according to the choices a student makes about the audience, style and purpose of his or her writing. Certainly there are no expectations about HOW a text is employed to inform a piece of writing, nor HOW MUCH of the text is used. It is the quality and sophistication of how the text is used to inform the piece of writing that is important.

As well, it is important to remember that elements of audience, style and purpose will be implicit in the writing and there is no provision for a statement of intention or a reflective commentary.

The specific direction of the piece of writing on Context will come from the single prompt offered for each Context. Students must grapple with the direction and spirit of the prompt, constructing and developing their pieces of writing accordingly.

Ultimately, then, the success of a piece of writing for Section B derives from the quality of the ideas that are presented, the quality of the writing and the manner in which the prompt has been dealt with.

SECTION C - Analysis of Language Use

The final section of the English examination offers students the opportunity of analysing one or more pieces of written and visual material. The essential focus of this section is to demonstrate insightful analysis on the ways in which language and visual features are used to present a point of view.

The most successful responses will be able to contextualise the material and provide a strong overview, while exploring explicitly why particular words, phrases and images have been employed by the writer or speaker.

This requires adeptness at manoeuvring in and out of the material — close analysis and connecting this analysis with its broader purposes. This is best exemplified by considering the vastly different contexts of the pieces offered over recent years. One was in the form of a newsletter persuasively written by a coach to his sporting community, followed by an online journal presenting a point of view and finally a piece for a major newspaper. Thus the contention, construction, development, selection of language and persuasiveness have varied significantly.

Students should also be able to incorporate the analysis of any visual material and explore how visuals add meaning and implication to the material as a whole. Too many students in recent years have regarded visuals separately from the writing.

It is important to acknowledge and explore the intended impact of any visual material and the way in which it contributes to the persuasion of the piece as a whole.

The English examination rewards students who have worked hard throughout the VCE, developing their skills and knowledge. Those who are well prepared for their examination, understand the distinctions among the three pieces of writing, use their time wisely and respond specifically to the topics, prompts and tasks will enjoy success in English.

Bob Hillman is a senior English teacher at Trinity Grammar School, Kew.


...and don't forget to check back here to debrief after the VCE English 2012 exam.

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