It’s almost exam time again for the end of school year in Australia. If you have a kid facing an English exam, these tips might help.
Of course, English teachers are your best source of knowledge. I have tutored students from Grade 3 to Year 12 in English on and off for about 25 years, but I have no teaching qualifications. These tips are specific to the Victorian curriculum.
The following suggestions are general exam techniques addressed to students studying English. I’ll follow up with a later post for specific suggestions for text responses and language analysis, as well as timing in exams.
- Reread the texts – or read them for the first time! Your chosen books are complex and are worth reading again and again to gain new insights and knowledge. Your teachers or examiners are looking for how well you engage with the text and how familiar you are with it. Read your texts with a pencil in hand to mark the important passages and write notes.
- Quotes – learn the important quotes. Write them down on small cards and flick through them on your desk. Type them and stick your print-out on the bathroom mirror. Record your voice reading the quotes and listen to it again and again. It is better to attempt to include a quote, even if you can’t remember the exact wording, then not put it in your essay.
- Statistics – make sure you know the exact title of the book, play or movie, the writer or director and the year of publication or release date. Make sure you know all the settings and how to spell them, and what timeframe the text was set in. Check you can spell all the main characters’ names correctly.
- Write as many practice essays as you can under exam conditions. This means setting a timer for 45 minutes or an hour – however long you will have to write your essay – without using your book as a reference. The aim is to take away the fear of the blank page, where you can’t think of what to write. Do enough practice essays and they will become a task to complete, rather than an hour of fear.
- If you are writing two or three essays – a language analysis, a text response and a comparative text response, write the language analysis first. You can use the reading time to read the article, and it will be fresh in your mind. If you do a text response first, you’ll need to reread the article again later.
- Timing – make sure you allow time for proofreading. You need at least 5 minutes in total to read through your essay carefully, checking for obvious things like spelling, grammar, clear handwriting. You also need to check that you have communicated your arguments and examples clearly. Check to see if you can add in an extra quote or small example from the text. Check that your concluding sentence in each paragraph is strong and links up to the question.
The wonderful thing about the VCE English curriculum is that students start to learn how to write essays from year 7, gradually building up their knowledge of exam techniques and essay writing skills. While you may not write an essay on Lord of the flies in year 12, writing an essay on this text in year 9 will help you learn essay writing skills for year 12.