VCE English Advice - by Erin (Part 3)

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Challenge the topic. Don’t just agree or disagree with a topic, look at it. You’ll probably find phrases or something which isn’t entirely true of the text. Put conditions on the amount you agree/disagree with what the topic says.

For example, a topic in the 2005 exam was something like ‘”The play shows Oedipus to be a good man.” Discuss.’ You don’t say yes or no to that, you say something like ‘the play shows Oedipus to be a man who is neither good nor bad and rather, full of human qualities’ or something (obviously word it better).

Make sure that your contention is strong! Don’t argue both sides; don’t say “I think this even though the exact opposite of what I’m arguing is true as well!” Figure out a strong argument and argue strongly! Also, you get a lot of brownie points by developing good topic sentences (that comes under structural organisation), having a good vocab (good expression), being very specific in the way that you express your evidence (appropriate evidence) and finishing on a really strong note (solid argument). So you may as well do all of those things, especially since they only require a little bit of extra effort anyway and really help you fill the criteria and improve your marks significantly.

I don’t feel as comfortable with giving advice on issues as I think that the issues part of the year/exam for me was most likely the weakest. I will say that you should develop your own language analysis structure. That is, don’t use the basic technique of “intro, three persuasive devices, conclusion”. Work out a better system which makes more logically flowing sense. For example, you could group together rational and irrational techniques or that sort of thing.

Language analysis is difficult and most people can’t figure out why it’s even on the syllabus. It’s not natural either, so you’ll most likely have to work on it if you want a good mark. Also, don’t label stuff, as in, don’t say “the article uses cliché which means a worn out statement which has lost or meaning that is a short cut in saying what they want to say” because everyone knows what a cliché is. Your task is to say what the cliché specifically does and how it affects the reader. Please also make sure you analyse tone and the specific audience the writer is appealing to (which will have an impact on the sort of language they use).

With point of view, the strength and rationality of your argument is the key. Make yourself appear to be reasonable and right. Imagine it to be like when you’re arguing with one of your parents about whether or not you can go to the party and they slip up and say “you’re totally irresponsible and you can’t handle a party”.

In response, do you a) start yelling and crying and saying things such as “adults are always so mean to teenagers, you probably have it in for me, you suck”; or b) draw on evidence to disprove that statement by saying something like, “well, actually, I’ve managed to get all of my school assessments in on time and was subsequently awarded exceptional grades. Furthermore, I have baby-sat every night this week and feel that the volume of my responsibility has been undermined by your previous statement. The party will be held at the house of a trusted friend whom you have met several times before and who happens to have a low tolerance level when it comes to beverages of the alcoholic variety.” It should be obvious that rationality is persuasive. That’s not to say that you can’t be passionate or that you have to speak like a know-it-all. It just means that you have to remember that you’re trying to convince everyone that you’re right. It’s really not a time to get up on your soapbox.

Lastly, I read in The Age that confidence is the key with English. And I think it is. Be confident that you know your texts and that you know how to write. You’ll probably do fine.

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