As students prepare for their exams, questions that only assessors can answer often pop into mind. Unfortunately, most students don’t have access to assessors in most of their subjects, so we took your questions and presented them to a senior VCAA assessor who has extensive experience in marking the VCE exams that you will soon sit. Here are his/her answers.

We hope that your exam preparations are going well.

TSFX.

How can I get high/ full marks on the exam? What tips can you give, please? What practical tips can you give in preparation for the English exam? What differentiates a B grade for an A+ grade on the exam? Will my introduction determine the way the assessors look at the rest of my piece? Will I be marked down significantly for not finishing my exam? What have your top students done that set them apart from the rest? What can I do to get high on the exam?

To get full marks or even very high marks in the exam you simply need to address the criteria to a very high degree. You can access the exam criteria with descriptors for all three sections using this link to the VCAA website https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf  Each section is marked by two different assessors in order to ensure that marking is consistent.

To prepare for the English exam you need to write essays in the three sections and each time you do so make sure that you give it to your teacher to mark. The key to improving your skills and marks is to get feedback from your teacher and act on that feedback so that progress continues. As well, writing in timed conditions is significant at this stage.

The quality of the writing, analysis and focus on the topic differentiates a B grade from an A+. Take time to read excerpts from essays that were awarded high marks in past exams which are published in Past Examination Reports using this link: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/English.aspx This is a useful exercise even if the excerpt it is not based on your specific text.

Assessors read the whole essay not just the introduction. Be mindful that the introduction does have a significant role to play as you are setting up the framework of your response in terms of addressing the topic

Assessors use the assessment criteria focusing on the descriptors to award marks so the idea is not to take away marks. Assessors award marks based on what is on the page.

Top students write fluently using language effectively addressing the topic consistently in their analysis. This is often the key that sets their responses apart from others.

To get a high mark on the examination you need to practice writing essays in all the three sections under timed conditions and get feedback from your teacher and focus on acting on that feedback so as to keep making progress.

In a previous email, it was stated that an average mark in last year’s exam paper, was a 5.5/10. How should we structure our essays in order to maximise our mark?

For text response which is Section A your essay needs an introduction, three or four body paragraphs and a conclusion. For your comparative response in Section B your essay needs an introduction, three or four body paragraphs and a conclusion while you make comparisons between the two texts. The comparison should be sustained throughout the essay rather than have one paragraph on one text. For your response analysing argument and language in Section C your essay should include an introduction and a number of body paragraphs. It is effective to use three body paragraphs, with each one addressing an argument and then analysing it and the language used. Note that you need to include an analysis of the visual and integrate it with your analysis of the language. You do not need a conclusion in Section C.

How many practice exams do you recommend we complete?

The point about practice examinations is that it gives you the opportunity to see how you cope with time for writing three responses in three hours and also how you use the reading time. Most schools would have already run at least one practice examination by the first week of October. After this use the feedback and the mark to guide your preparation for the examination. There is no magic number regarding the number of practice exams any student should do. There is also value in writing one essay at a time. Be careful and do not do an examination three or four days prior to the actual examination as it is very exhausting mentally and physically.

What are some common errors students make for any essay type and what are some tips to achieving an exceptional top-notch essay? How do I get myself to write better essays?

The most common error is not addressing the topic. To achieve a very high mark you need to make sure that you know the three texts you intend to write on and that you practise writing. Using high quality sample essays written by other students can help guide you but fundamentally it is only writing that will help you. With Section C you need to make sure that you go beyond simply labelling the various persuasive techniques and comment on the way argument, language and the visual work to persuade particular kinds of readers.

Does it make a difference to your mark which structure you choose to write your essays? e.g. block structure, Integrated structure and bridge structure.

You seem to be referring to Section B, Reading and Comparing Texts where the task is to compare texts in terms of ideas, issues and themes explored as well as the ways in which authors/film makers convey their ideas. Therefore an integrated structure lends itself to achieve this.

How many assessors grade your essay?

Every essay is graded by two different assessors and if there is a discrepancy it goes to a third marker, etc. This rigour ensures that every section of every student’s examination is given due the time and the process is transparent.

What are the criteria when you mark essays for an exam? Are there separate criteria for each essay type?

All assessors use the same criteria for the examination. You can access the examination criteria with descriptors for all three sections using given the link to the VCAA website. Each section has its own assessment criteria with specific descriptors.

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf

According to our school language analysis, text response and comparative text response are on the VCCA exams. Is this true?

Yes, this is true. Note this is an excerpt from the English Study Design, using this link

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/english/2016EnglishEALSD.pdf:

“Reading and creating texts – Assessment will be based on an analytical response to one of two texts selected from the English/EAL Text List published annually by the VCAA for Unit 3 Outcome 1.

Reading and comparing texts Assessment will be based on an analytical response to a pair of selected texts from the English/EAL Text List published by the VCAA for Unit 4 Outcome 1.

Analysing argument Assessment will be based on an analysis of argument and the use of persuasive language in unseen text/s.”

You can also access past examinations as a reference using this link https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/English.aspx

I’m really struggling to pass the 70% mark in my sacs and is really trying to change my fate around for the exams! What is it that high achieving essays have in common?

High achieving essays are written fluently where language is used effectively and the topic is addressed throughout the essay. Furthermore, quotes are embedded seamlessly. Take time to read excerpts from essays that were awarded high marks in past exams which are published in Past Examination Reports. Use this link https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/English.aspx This is a useful exercise even if the excerpt it is not based on your specific text.

What does an assessor look for in a text response?

An assessor determines whether the response addresses the examination assessment criteria focusing on specific descriptors.

You can access all the descriptors for all three sections using this link to the VCAA website

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf

I am looking for a tutor. Would you suggest an assessor?

If you want a tutor you should employ one as soon as possible as the examination is a few days away. It is not necessary to employ an assessor as teachers know the course and are preparing students for the examination. However, an assessor has the experience of working with the criteria in a state-wide pool of essays.

What are the 3 MOST IMPORTANT things the assessors look for in the article analysis section, apart from the effect of the persuasive techniques?

The three most important things that assessors look for in argument and language analysis is in fact what VCAA present as part of the instruction to the task. This means analysis of argument, analysis of written language and analysis of the visual to persuade.

What is a common pattern, in terms of analytical skills, among all of the high-scoring essays?

All the three sections of the examination require analytical skills. The common pattern in high-scoring essays is that they are written fluently using language effectively addressing the demands of each section consistently in their analysis. You can access the exam criteria with descriptors for all three sections using this link to the VCAA website: https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

Are there any particular topics and themes that would be worth paying particular attention to for the comparative between ‘Ransom’ and’ Invictus’ as it is in its final year?

You are referring to guessing the topic/theme and it is not a good idea to do so. You can see the themes/ideas that were the foci of the previous years but it is not possible to predict the essay topics or themes.

2018

i. Compare how the two texts explore the idea that it is essential to know your enemy.

OR

ii. Compare how the social and cultural differences explored in these two texts are overcome.

2017

i. ‘Revenge is futile. Forgiveness is liberating.’ Compare how the two texts examine revenge and forgiveness.

OR

ii. “The opportunity to act for ourselves. To try something that might force events into a different course.” (Ransom) Compare the ways the two texts explore opportunities for change.

How long would you suggest spending on each essay? Is it preferable to do one hour for each or spend more time on the comparative and less on the others?

All three sections are worth the same number of marks therefore you should spend one hour on each section. During reading time you should read all the topics/questions on the texts you are focussing on and decide which one you will do in Sections A and B. As well, you should read the material for Section C and use part of the fifteen minutes of reading time to think about the contention and arguments. Although you cannot write you can mentally go through the article thinking about analysis.

Is it worth preparing responses for themes and topics that have already come up on past exams for text response or comparative analysis? For example for ‘Invictus’ and ‘Ransom’ last year Revenge and Forgiveness appeared so is it still worth preparing a similar response or better to look at ideas and topics that have not been explored yet?

You are referring to guessing themes and topics and it is not a good idea to do so. You need to prepare on themes and topics covering the widest range but it is not possible to predict the essay topics or themes.

If I am aiming to get as close to a perfect score for English as possible what must I consider that most students will lose marks on. Although it is important to have quality over quantity about how many pages would you recommend for a top scorer to write in 3 hours?

The descriptors of the assessment criteria clearly inform you of the features of a high-quality essay in each section. This link will enable you to access them https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf  Note that the criteria are framed in ways that award marks rather than listing features which will lead to a loss of marks. It is not possible to identify the number of pages that lead to a top scoring essay as it really is about completing the task in each section and addressing the topics in Sections A and B and furthermore addressing the specific criteria.

How many bits of evidence would you think is required for a 10 essay in regards to all three sections. Currently, I am utilising 2 moments per BP (2 evidence) for text analysis, alternating between 1 and 2 features per BP for argument analysis (4 BPs) and 1 Moment from each text for comparative. I am a slow writer, thus it would be paramount for me to maximise my efficiency without jeopardising my mark.

There is no specific number of “bits of evidence” whether they be quotes or references to the texts or literary devices. You do need to provide textual evidence in Sections A and B which are based on texts and you need to use quotes to support your analysis of language and visuals in the material provided in Section C.

Do we need a conclusion for language analysis?

No, you do not need a conclusion for language and argument analysis.

Are words such as demonstrates, depict, portrays, displays etc. not allowed in text response and the comparative part of the exam?

There is no list of words that are “not allowed” in the examination. Words such as “depict” and “portrays” are useful to refer to what the author, director or playwright does in the text. Words such as “displays” can work in particular contexts.

If I mess up my sentence structure in the exam, will I be penalised? If I do, then by how much?

Each section in the examination is marked holistically therefore there is no emphasis on any one aspect of the essay. The descriptors of the assessment criteria clearly inform you of the way marks are awarded in each section. This link will enable you to access them https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf  Note that the criteria are framed in ways that award marks rather than listing features which will lead to a loss of marks.

Is there any way one can have access to a full essay which scored extremely high/received full marks in previous years, other than the sample paragraph chosen in the examiner’s report?

Currently the Examiner’s Report from the VCAA only publishes sample paragraphs which scored a very-high mark. Another way of accessing a full essay is through your teacher. Teachers sometimes get permission from students who do very well to share their work amongst students within that particular school.

Do we get penalized for writing a lot? Is it fine if the handwriting gets messier?

No you will not get penalized for writing a lot. The descriptors of the assessment criteria clearly inform you of the ways in which marks are awarded in each section. This link will enable you to access them https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf  Note that the criteria are framed in ways that award marks rather than listing features which will lead to a loss of marks. You need to keep in mind that you have 3 hours writing time to write 3 essays. You are writing a 3 hour examination and it has to be read to be assessed but messy handwriting as such is not an issue.

When writing a body paragraph, should the last sentence link to the next paragraph, the main topic or theme of that particular paragraph? I’ve been given a few different opinions.

When writing a body paragraph your last sentence can link to the topic sentence idea of the next body paragraph. However, you can also link your last sentence to the topic sentence idea of that particular paragraph. You can structure your essay either way.

Can you briefly sum up what exactly we are marked on in essays? (rubric).

Below are excerpts from each of the three sections and you can access the examination assessment criteria with descriptors from the VCAA website. This link will help you access this.

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

In the answer book, will I lose marks/am I allowed to write each paragraph on a new page?

You can use as many answer booklets as you like. You can write each paragraph on a new page, just keep your writing within the box on each page. You will not lose marks for writing a paragraph on a new page. Take time to read the examination assessment criteria with descriptors from the VCAA website. This link will help you access this.

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

In relation to language analysis part of the English exam, what should a student do/show in order to obtain at least a 6-7/10, and stand out from the rest of the state or to “impress the examiner”

To obtain a 6-7/10 a student should address the topic, write coherently and meet the demands of the task. Use this link to access the descriptors of the assessment criteria for all three sections

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf

When writing an essay for the English exam, what would be the recommended word limit per paragraph and what section generally takes the most time to complete? Also, when writing a Comparative Essay, it is essential to include a conclusion and if so how many marks does the Conclusion consist of?

There is no such a thing as a word limit for a paragraph. You need to address the idea of your topic sentence in each of the three sections in your body paragraphs and not think in terms of word limits.

All three sections have equal value therefore you should spend equal time on each. Given that you have 3 hours to write you should use one hour for each section.

Your comparative essay should include a conclusion where you draw all your ideas together. Use this link to access the descriptors of the examination assessment criteria on the VCAA website and you will see that each essay is marked holistically

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

What is the best strategy and structure for the three essays?

The best strategy in the examination is to plan your essays. In the examination you need to plan and write each essay in one hour, therefore use 5 minutes for planning and 5 minutes for proof-reading and editing. In terms of structure each section has different demands. For Section A need to address the topic and analyse the ways in which the writer/director/playwright explores ideas and issues. The best way to do this is to follow an essay structure with an introduction flagging the three or four big ideas you address in your body paragraphs. Each big idea in your introduction should be aligned with a big idea in your topic sentences of your body paragraphs. Your body paragraphs should include embedded quotes and elements in the “construction” of the text and thus references to the literary devices or cinematic devices used. As well, you need to round off each body paragraph linking back to the topic sentence idea showing that you developed it. Another strategy is to also link to the big idea of the next topic sentence in the next body paragraph.

In Section B you need to also address the topic and but this time you need to compare the ideas and issues explored which includes the similarities and differences between the texts. It is best to sustain the comparison rather than have one paragraph on each text. Your introduction should flag the three or four big ideas where you compare the texts that you address in your body paragraphs. Each big idea in your introduction should be aligned with a big idea in your topic sentences of your body paragraphs. This should cover both texts as you are making a comparison. Your body paragraphs should include embedded quotes. As well, you need to round off each body paragraph linking back to the topic sentence idea showing that you developed it while consistently making comparisons. Another strategy is to also link to the big idea of the next topic sentence in the next body paragraph.

The structure of Section C is a little different as you are analysing material that is intended to persuade. Your introduction should include the context for the article, the text type, the headline, author, expertise/vested interest, contention, tone and identify the shift, audience, purpose and type of visual. The topic sentences of each of the body paragraphs should present the argument. From here you analyse the argument and language used to persuade specific kinds of people/groups.

If you are averaging around 70-80 in your sacs can you get a study score of 40?

The English examination is worth 50% of your score for the subject. Unit 3 is worth 25% and Unit 4 is worth 25%. Furthermore, there is a ranking at work. So yes, it is possible.

What is the best way to prepare for the exam?

To prepare for the English exam you need to write essays in the three sections and each time you do so make sure that you give it to your teacher to mark. The key to improving your skills and marks is to get feedback from your teacher and act on that feedback so that progress continues. As well, writing in timed conditions is significant at this stage. You also need to go through a wide range of essay topics for Sections A and B and group them according to themes and ideas and then try to work out if there are any gaps you need to fill and do some work on these topics. Make sure that you know your text so that you can use effective quotes and literary devices.

For the exam, which components of the essay would you focus on while correcting it. For e.g., would you stress on sentence structure or like coherence of paragraphs?

Use this link to access the descriptors of the examination assessment criteria on the VCAA website and you will see that each essay is marked holistically without emphasis on any one aspect of the essay.

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

For the text analysis and comparative essay, do we include background information. I was advised by my teacher to put it in while my tutor told me not to. I tried taking it out but my paragraphs were too empty. What would you advise?

For the text study the task is to “analyse how the features of selected texts create meaning and how they influence interpretation…identifying and analysing explicit and implied ideas and values in texts… .” However, for the comparative essay the task is to “explore the meaningful connections between two texts [and to] analyse texts, including the interplay between character and setting, voice and structure, and how ideas, issues and themes are conveyed.” (VCE English/English as an Additional Language Study Design). Therefore, you are analysing the texts and not focussing on background material or any other material. You can also read excerpts from high-scoring responses on the VCAA website using this link

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/English.aspx

If there is a quote included within the essay topic, are we encouraged to use that quote provided and discuss it?

Yes, if a quote is part of the topic you should discuss it in your essay. Furthermore, your whole essay should address the idea embedded in the quote.

I have always been told me to write what I know and not to get too creative with my creative writing. What do the examiners think?

There is no creative writing in the examination. All three sections require analytical essays and fundamentally you need to address the topic. The descriptors for the assessment criteria will guide you. Use this link to access it on the VCAA website:

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf 

What’s something that differentiates a 10 mark response from a 9; is there a greater range of vocabulary, or perhaps an original interpretation of the topic? And roughly how many paragraphs should I be aiming for in an essay? I like to do three, but I had a teacher last year who said top-scoring students do five paragraphs for a text response. Is this true? Thanks!

The quality of the writing, analysis and focus on the topic differentiates a 10 from a 9. Take time to read excerpts from essays that were awarded high marks in past exams which are published in Past Examination Reports using this link:

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/assessment/vce-assessment/past-examinations/Pages/English.aspx

This is a useful exercise even if the excerpt it is not based on your specific text.

The task is to address the topic and you have only one hour in which to do this. Therefore, writing 3 or 4 body paragraphs is absolutely fine. Writing more does not mean that the marks increase. It is all about the quality of the writing/analysis and the focus on the topic.

For Women of Troy, how much contextual knowledge are we allowed to bring in? For example I have a paragraph about Athene’s desire to ‘fill the whole bay of Euboea with floating corpses’ and parallel that with Palamedes home in Euboea that the audience would understand. As Paladames is the second play in the trilogy Women of Troy are a part of is that okay?

The general rule for VCE text essays is to discuss the text only, in this case only The Women of Troy and not the complete trilogy. However, it is ok to bring in a little bit of context (e.g. the audience knows that the gods ensured Greeks trip home was ‘a complete disaster’, because this was said in the prologue. However, if it’s entire paragraph of info from another text, it might be disregarded. A good example of this is writing about the author’s background, instead of the actual play.

What makes a 10/10 language analysis essay? What separates those from ‘ok essays’?

To get full marks or even very high marks for the language and argument analysis essay in the examination you simply need to address the criteria to a very high degree. You can access the exam criteria with descriptors for all three sections using this link to the VCAA website:

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf

To get 10/10 for text response, do you have to analyse structural elements? What are some examples of really good standout structural elements to analyse?

Below are the expected qualities to be awarded a score between 9 and 10 and note the word “construction” referring to the way the text is put together. Therefore, you need to refer to literary devices or cinematic/film devices.

The structural elements or features of construction you analyse will depend on the form of the text whether it is a novel, a play or a film. There is no one list that covers all texts.

How long should each piece be in the exam?

There is no word limit but usually students can write between 800 – 1,000 words for each section.

How should I assess my own practice essays in preparation for the exam? Should I give it to my teacher or should I try and mark it myself?

It is worthwhile giving your teacher your practice essays to mark. The key to improving your skills and marks is to get feedback from your teacher and act on that feedback so that progress is on-going.

Have you any study tips for Section A- Analytical interpretation of the text?

At this stage of the year with only a few days before the exam writing practice essays, getting it marked by your teacher and acting on the feedback so that your next one is further improved is the key. You also need to go through a wide range of essay topics and group them according to themes and ideas and then try to work out if there are any gaps you need to fill and do some work on these topics. Make sure that you know your text so that you can use effective quotes and literary devices. If your teacher has given you any high-scoring sample/model essays use these annotating them so as to highlight the structure, quality of the analysis and the way quotes and literary devices are embedded.

Have you any study tips for Section B- Comparative Analysis of texts?

At this stage of the year with only a few days before the exam writing practice essays, getting it marked by your teacher and acting on the feedback so that your next one is further improved is the key. You also need to go through a wide range of essay topics and group them according to themes and ideas and then try to work out if there are any gaps you need to fill and do some work on these topics. Make sure that you know your texts so that you can use effective quotes. If your teacher has given you any high-scoring sample/model essays use these annotating them so as to highlight the structure, quality of the analysis and the way quotes are embedded.

What is the most effective text structure required in attempting the Comparative Analysis of texts?

In Section B your introduction should flag the three or four big ideas where you compare the texts that you address in your body paragraphs. Each big idea in your introduction should be aligned with a big idea in your topic sentences of your body paragraphs. This should cover both texts as you are making a comparison. Your body paragraphs should include embedded quotes. As well, you need to round off each body paragraph linking back to the topic sentence idea showing that you developed it while consistently making comparisons. Another strategy is to also link to the big idea of the next topic sentence in the next body paragraph. Your conclusion should draw all the ideas together and not refer to anything new.

Have you any study tips for Section C- Argument and Persuasive Language?

To prepare for Section C you simply need to practise so write argument and language analysis under timed conditions. Use any sample/model high-scoring essays that your teacher may have given you annotating them in terms of the way the argument is identified, the way language is used (think about the suggestions made by words) and its impact on the reader (what readers should think/do). Also note the way tone is referred to as just another example of the way language is used and the way the student links the visual and written text.

How long must an essay be in order to acquire full marks in the written exam? Must it be higher than the suggest word count? As this is what my teacher alludes to in regards to our sacs, in order for us to receive a ‘Very High.’

There is no word count or limit. The key is that students should address the assessment criteria and you can access the descriptors for all three sections of the examination using this link to the VCAA website:

https://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/exams/english/english-crit-descriptors-w.pdf