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We’ve all been doing Text Response essays from as young as Year 7. At this point in VCE, we should be feeling relatively comfortable with tackling themes and characters in our essays. However, the danger with just discussing themes and characters is that we often fall into the trap of simply paraphrasing the novel, or retelling the story. So how do we elevate our essays to become more sophisticated and complex analyses that offer insight?
An important distinction to be aware of is that the expectation of Year 11 English was geared more toward themes and characters. However in Year 12, teachers and examiners expect students to focus on the author’s construction of the text. By keeping in mind that the text is a DELIBERATE CONSTRUCTION, this can help eliminate retelling. A good guideline to follow is to include the author’s name at least once every paragraph.
Some examples are:
- (author) elicits
- (author) endorses or condemns
- (author) conveys
Move beyond talking about character and relationships. How are those characters used to explore ideas? How are they used to show readers what the author values?
To explore the text BEYOND characters, themes and ideas, tackle the following criteria:
Social, cultural and historical values embodied in text
In other words, this means the context in which the text was written. Think about how that influenced the author, and how those views and values are reflected in the text. How does the author create social commentary on humanity?
Linguistic structures and features
These involve the author’s use of symbols, metaphors, subtext, or genres. Consider why the author chose those particular words, images or symbols? What effect did it evoke within the reader? What themes or characters are embodied within these literary devices? Metalanguage is essential in VCE essays, so ensure you are confident in this field.
If the text is a film, it’s important to include why the director chose certain cinematography techniques. Comment on the mise-en-scene, camera angles, overview shots, close ups, flashbacks, soundtrack, to name a few. Or if it’s a play, examine the stage directions. These contain great detail of the author’s intentions.
How text is open to different interpretations
“While some may perceive… others may believe…” is a good guideline to follow in order to explore different angles and complexities of the text.
Skilful weaving in of appropriate quotes
This is how to create a well-substantiated essay. To weave in textual evidence, don’t simply ‘plonk’ in sentence long quotes. Instead, use worded quotes within your sentences so the transition is seamless.
Do you know how to embed quotes like a boss? Test yourself with our blog post here.
Strong turn of phrase
Ensure your essay is always linked to the prompt; don’t go off on an unrelated tangent. Linking words such as “conversely” or “furthermore” increase coherence within your essay. Begin each paragraph with a strong topic sentence, and finish each paragraph with a broader perception that links back to the topic and the next paragraph.
This is also where having a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to presenting your ideas in a sophisticated manner. Create a word bank from assessor’s reports, sample essays, or teacher’s notes, and by the end of the year you’ll have an extensive list to choose from. Also, referring to literary devices contributes to a great vocabulary, exhibiting a strong turn of phrase!
Consider the topic
What does it imply? Find the underlying message and the implications behind the prompt. There is always tension within the topic that needs to be resolved by the conclusion of your essay.
Finally, simply enjoy writing about your text! It will help you write with a sense of personal voice and a personal engagement with the text, which the teachers and assessors will always enjoy.
Extra: Want a step-by-step process—and all the tools you'll need—to ace Text Response? Become a Text Response expert today and breeze through VCE English. Start your journey with our Ultimate VCE English Study Guide now.
Here are tips to help you write a great French essay with exam requirements in mind. Once you’re done, I strongly suggest you proofread your text using my checklist.
Note: if you’re preparing for the French VCE, there is an updated version of these exam tips in my guide “How to Prepare for the French VCE & Reach your Maximum Score”.
While supervising exams or tutoring for exam preparation, I’ve seen too many students writing straight away on their exam copies. Stop! Resist the urge to jump on your pen and take a step back to make sure that you will be addressing all the exam requirements or you may be shooting yourself in the foot and lose precious points.
I recommend that you train with exam sample questions so that you set up good working habits and respect the required length of the essay, as well as the timing (allow at least 10 minutes for proofreading).
Crafting your French Essay
1. Identify the situation: preparation work
- Read the topic carefully, slowly and at least twice to absorb every information/detail.
- Underline/highlight/jot down any piece of information that you are expected to reuse:
- What type of text do you need to write? (a journal entry? A formal letter? A speech? Etc).
Note to VCE French exam students: refer to page 13 of the VCE French Study Design for more information about the different types of texts.
- Who are you in the situation? (yourself? A journalist? etc)
- Who are you addressing? (a friend? A large audience? Etc) à adjust the degree of formality to the situation (for example by using the “tu”/”vous” form, a casual or formal tone/register, etc)
- What are the characteristic features of the type of text you need to write? (eg a journal entry will have the date, a formal letter will start and end with a formal greeting, etc)
- What is your goal ? What are you expected to talk about / present / defend / convey?
- What are the length requirements for your French essay? Respect the word count (there’s usually a 5% or so tolerance. Check the requirements specific to your exam)
Tip: when you practice at home, count how many words in average you fit on a line. This will give you a good indication of how many lines your text should be.
Ex: You write an average of 15 words per line. If you are required to write a 300-word French essay, you should aim for:
300 words / 15 words per line = 20 lines total.
2. Draft the outline of your essay
- An essay typically has an introduction, a body with 2 or 3 distinct parts and a conclusion. (See if that outline is relevant to the type of text you are expected to write and adjust accordingly.)
- Use bullet points to organize your ideas.
- Don’t remain too general. A good rule is to use one main idea for each part and to back it up/reinforce in/illustrate it with one concrete example (eg. data).
- Brainstorming about things to say will also help you use a wider range of vocabulary, which will get noticed by the examiner. Are there some interesting/specific words or expressions that you can think of using in your text (example: if you are writing about global warming, brainstorm the vocab related to this topic. Brainstorm expressions to convince or disagree with something, etc)?
- Make sure you have reused every point identified in part 1.
3. Write your essay
- It’s better if you have time to write or at least draft a few sentences on your draft paper rather than writing directly because:
- You want to meet the word count requirements
- You don’t want multiple words to be barredcross crossed-out and your page looking messy and great anything but neat!
- you don’t want to have to rush so much that your handwriting is really unpleasant to read (or worse, impossible to read…)
- So… monitor your time carefully!
Structuring your text
- Visually, the eye should instantly be able to see the structure of your French essay: make paragraph and skip lines so that it doesn’t look like an unappealing large block of text.
- Use connectors/link words to structure your text and make good transitions.
4. Proofread, proofread, proofread!
- It’s important that you allow at least 10 minutes for proofreading because there most likely are a few mistakes that you can fix very easily. It would therefore be a shame not to give yourself your best chances of success!
Check out my Proofreading Checklist.
If you need any help with your essay, you can submit it to me there.
Filed Under: Articles & TutorialsTagged With: exam, French, French essay, language learning, learning style, method, tips, writing