How to make the most of VCE Religion and Society

Thanks to VCE student Nicholas Buttigieg for sharing his strategies for VCE Religion and Society with our community. If you want to share your resources with the VCE help community check out the guidelines here.


Doing the VCE Religion & Society Exam in 2010, I realised that consistent practise, review of notes, the use of the study design as well as the expansion of vocabulary can contribute to great scores in this subject. This will result in a straightforward and comfortable performance for the end-of-year exam. As stated, all outcomes are examinable in the exam, and it is also important that you tell the assessor everything that you know. Therefore, it is important to distinguish between outcomes, and practise, practise, practise as many questions as you can. The more writing practice that you do, the better the quality and clarity of your responses, the better you address the question, the better you use sophisticated vocabulary and the better you write concisely. What follows writes of important points when considering each outcome, which can help you in preparation of your SACs, as well as the end of year exam.

AOS 3.1 – Meaning in Religious Traditions

  • This is a foundation to the entire course of Units 3&4. You must understand what core beliefs are, their characteristics and their importance within religious traditions.

  • You must distinguish between core beliefs and what is known as contingent beliefs. Core beliefs form the basis of religious traditions, from which contingent beliefs are formed. This forms a hierarchy of belief systems.

  • Knowledge of the eight aspects of religion is absolutely crucial for this outcome. This was apparently completed poorly in the VCAA 2009 exam, and should be taken into account. Beliefs are expressed through the aspects of religion, and how they are expressed to believers is examinable.

  • Students must learn core beliefs of religious traditions by heart. Beliefs pertaining to ultimate reality(i.e. God, etc.), the nature and purpose of life, the meaning of life and death, relationships between humanity and ultimate reality, relationships between humanity and relationships between humanity and the rest of the world must be explained thoroughly, and examples of how beliefs are expressed must be learned.

  • Based on these beliefs, students must then explain the implications they bear on how individuals should lead their lives. For example, how does a belief in a higher God provide impetus on how believers lead their lives? If God is perceived as a loving God, believers can then express loving relations with each other and with the rest of creation, etc.

  • Accumulate quotes from sacred texts, theologians, religious writers, etc. Keep these handy, and recite them come exam time!

  • Compile all notes for your SAC for this outcome. Keep these handy for end-of-year exam preparation.

AOS 3.2 – Maintaining Continuity of Religious Beliefs

  • This outcome involves taking a core belief/s, and further analysing it in detail in order to investigate reasons for maintaining continuity throughout a certain time frame.

  • Students must understand the reasons for maintaining continuity, and how religious traditions can maintain continuity, through reaffirmation, reformulation, reinterpretation and application to new circumstances. These terms must be defined and understood by students, as it is a popular exam question.

  • Internal and external factors that can impact on beliefs must also be considered, and their effects to be analysed. Factors sprung from outside the religious institution, and those are sprung from within all somehow alter the maintenance of beliefs.

  • The following dot points must be explained in a generic sense, as well as in a sense relating to a core belief/s being studied. Students should distinguish between time periods, and explain the teachings of the core belief, the expression of the belief and internal and external factors that contribute to the changes in continuity for each time frame. Therefore, students can easily draw conclusions as to how traditions maintain beliefs.

  • Accumulate quotes from sacred texts, theologians, religious writers, etc. Keep these handy, and recite them come exam time!

  • Compile all notes for your SAC for this outcome. Keep these handy for end-of-year exam preparation.

AOS 3.3 – Significant Life Experience and Religious Belief

  • This outcome involves students to investigate the dynamic relationship between individual life experiences and core religious beliefs held by individuals.

  • It may be good to know types of significant life experiences, including wonder, death, suffering, major life choices, joy, love, human relationships and commitment.

  • An individual or group is to be interrogated by students, and their change in belief structure is to be observed. Biographical information is to be kept to a bare minimum in this section. Rather, this outcome concentrates on the core beliefs. This involves understanding the interpretation of beliefs prior to life experiences, how the life experience impacted on beliefs held by the individual or group, and the consequences that ensue after the significant life experience, whether it be a reinterpretation of beliefs or further understanding religious concepts.

  • Accumulate quotes from sacred texts, theologians, religious writers, etc. Keep these handy, and recite them come exam time!

  • Compile all notes for your SAC for this outcome. Keep these handy for end-of-year exam preparation.

AOS 4.1 – Historical Challenges to Religious Traditions

  • This unit focuses on challenges faced by religious traditions, and the ways in which traditions have responded and changed as a result. This outcome focuses on historical challenges, and students should develop the knowledge of a range of internal and external challenges that have impacted on a religious tradition.

  • A timeline outlining the internal and external challenges faced by a religious tradition is beneficial, in that students can create an historical overview on how a tradition has changed over time as a result of major world events.

  • Extending on the previous dot point, students MUST establish the relationship between religion and society. This can help further understand the nature of challenge and response.

  • Students also take on an investigation of a certain challenge. Things to be examined include which of the eight aspects of tradition were challenged, why and how they were challenged, the social, historical and religious context of the challenge and the effect it bore on religious communities and the wider society. A summary of each of these requirements would suffice in preparation for this outcome.

  • Furthermore, responses to the challenge studied need to be examined in terms of their nature, as well as the impact it had within the religious tradition, as well as the tradition’s relationship with the wider society and other religious communities. Summaries of responses are to be made in preparation.

  • Accumulate quotes from sacred texts, theologians, religious writers, etc. Keep these handy, and recite them come exam time!

  • Compile all notes for your SAC for this outcome. Keep these handy for end-of-year exam preparation.

AOS 4.2 – Contemporary Challenges and their Impact

This outcome focuses on challenge and response in a modern setting with current social and moral issues.
The vision of the ideal human society for religious traditions is prevalent and paramount to this area of study. This knowledge must have already been covered in Unit 3, Outcome 1. This is necessary, as students examine how visions are challenged, as well as an impulsion for believers to take action.
A developed knowledge of contemporary challenges, whether internal or external, the types of responses adopted by religious traditions to such challenges, and how it impacts on themselves and the wider society are essential. This must be thought of in a general sense.
A particular contemporary challenge is studied by the student. The nature of the challenge, as well as its relationship with the vision of human society held by a religious tradition must be considered. A detailed summary of these points would suffice in preparation of this outcome.
Also, the causes of such responses form the other half of this outcome. The consequences of the responses, as well as the impact on the religious tradition and the wider society, can be summarised.
Accumulate quotes from sacred texts, theologians, religious writers, etc. Keep these handy, and recite them come exam time!
Compile all notes for your SAC for this outcome. Keep these handy for end-of-year exam preparation.
The End-of-Year Exam

  • Now that you have accumulated all of your notes and quotes from the year, it is time to reorganise them into a set of study notes. This should be done towards the end of Term 3 and before the September holidays. Furthermore, cumulative study throughout the year will only reinforce concepts that may seem distant. The holidays should be merely revising study notes and writing.

  • Refer to the Study Design! This will guide you in terms of reorganising notes. The key knowledge and key skills for each outcome should be adhered to, and clearly outline what is going to be assessed. There is nothing on the study design that will not be assessed.

  • Purchase a copy of the Cambridge Checkpoints for Religion and Society, and is 100% recommended. This provided a wealth of information for me, as well as practice questions, and further information for each outcome. An investment of about $30 was worth it for me!

  • If possible, ask your teacher for copies of your SACs, to see what mistakes and loose ends need to be rectified. Spend time with your teacher completing this task.

  • Attend revision lectures. The Religion and Society Network (RASNET) conduct a lecture sometime in August, and get together teachers, speakers and the Chief Examiner that will provide you with a wealth of information on how students should conduct themselves in preparation for exams and during exams. Well worth it also!

  • Review the Assessor’s Reports for previous years from the VCAA website. The best ones are from 2006 onwards, as they provide sample answers, as well as expected answers to some questions, which are helpful for study notes. When reviewing these reports, highlight areas in which the assessor has noted widespread concern, and ensure that these are consolidated in your study. Also, keep these reports with you throughout your study, as you can review these after you have completed questions from past VCAA exams.

  • Now that all of your study notes are completed, write, write, write! Practice questions from past exams, the Checkpoints or from your teacher. Don’t attempt questions once and then forget about them. Regularly check with your teacher to see how you are going with your writing. Write answers to questions at least three or four times to ensure excellent syntax and vocabulary, as well as the understanding of concepts for this subject. Start from simple short answer questions, then move into the extended response, and then start writing your essays/reports. Writing should be down pat before the exam, and should continue right until the very last day before the exam.

  • As the day of the exam looms closer, start writing questions under exam conditions. Time yourself for a whole exam (2 hours) and keep practicing. This will get you used to such conditions.

  • That’s how you make the most of R&S. Good luck with your exam at the end of the year, and study hard, as you will be rewarding yourself in the end. I only did this all so as to ensure that everyone who undergoes this subject in coming years does not make the same mistakes that I did, and to maximise scores and performance. Good luck!

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