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Planning for any text response

This is a guest post from VCE student Nicholas Buttigieg for VCE English. If you want to write a guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

In preparation for a text response essay as a SAC or an exam, it should be natural and crucial to create some sort of plan. Since the topic is not known until a student sits the SAC or exam, it should be expected that you understand the text back to front.

In planning for a text response essay, planning starts when you open the first page of that text. That first page opens a whole new world, and is the time to start preparing for that SAC and exam on which you will be assessed. Here are a few tips on how to make the very most of your notes:

Background information – before reading a text, it is a good idea to find some background information that could be useful in connecting different concepts and ideas in the text. Do a bit of personal research on the text, and find out anything useful. These may be useful for your essay.
Write summaries as you go – when reading the play, write down a summary for every chapter, scene or other distinct sections of the text. These can be paragraphs and sentences, dot points, etc. Just make sure that you are able to easily recall and understand what has happened.
Take any other notes as you go – if you come across something, or your teacher has pointed out something really important in the text, make a note of it somewhere! This could be somewhat helpful in your exam and SAC preparation.
Quotes, quotes, quotes – jot down any quotes that you think stand out in the text. If you are given quotes by your teacher, keep these handy. When looking quotes, find ones that show a character’s feelings, emotions, thoughts, etc, and those that are very thematic to the text.
Character analyses – with every key character, write some sort of short analysis on it. Write about the character’s feelings, emotions, thoughts, events they were involved in, relationships with other characters and provide a few quotes to provide evidence for these reasons.
Theme analyses – after reading a text, your teacher may give you the themes of the given text. These are very handy when writing up your essay. With each theme, write a short synopsis explaining the theme and examples of it in the text. Also, find about 3 or 4 quotes to accompany each theme. Keep these with your notes. If your teacher has not given you themes, ask them, or look at other sources such as study guides.
Review your notes – after reading the text, gather up what you have accumulated. Make your notes look interesting: draw a diagram to show relationships between concepts in the text, do a detailed character study and review your summaries. It is important to make sure you know which events happen when, so then it will be easier to find quotes. Here’s a tip: a good idea would be to draw a timeline and a character map showing the relationships between characters.
Review your notes again – now is a good time to create your essay plan if this is a SAC. Simplify your notes to the limit given. Take things that are really important, or things that you are unsure about. A good plan of handwritten notes would contain the key themes, quotes (you should have lots of them by now, but use about 15-20 important quotes, so you have a wide range), simplified character analyses and any other really important information. Review this to check if it is OK, and then you are ready for that assessment.
Do a trial essay/s – if you would like more practice on essay writing under exam conditions, it would be a good idea to do a few sample essays. This will help you familiarise yourself with the conditions, how you will go in the real SAC or exam and to get the form of the essay under control (as in intro, body paragraphs, conclusion, etc.). Ask your teacher for some trial essay topics or research some for yourself.
Now that you have a myriad of notes and a whole lot of practice and reviewing from reading one single text, you are more than ready to tackle that essay. Stay focused 100% and you will do it no time. Finally, during reading time, choose your topic and how you will plan your essay:

Develop your contention
Create an ‘answer’ to the contention. One ‘answer’ per body paragraph.
Have about three elaborations/examples for each body paragraph.
Make sure they link to the contention!
Good luck with all your text response essays in the future!

Cheers,

Nick.

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