VCE ENGLISH: Learning How to Answer, Not What to Answer

February 17, 2021Klein E

Throughout my own personal experience in VCE, as well as during my work as an English tutor, I have noticed an interesting divide between students when it comes to what they think of English as a subject. It seems a student will either love English or utterly despise it; there’s no in between.

Understandably, those who love the subject tend to have a knack for writing, and genuinely enjoy (or at least can tolerate) reading and studying texts. Alternatively, students, I have taught who prefer Math or Science subjects will have a strong hatred towards English, and any situation where an extended written response is required.

I know I am generalising here, but I’m just going off what I have seen over the past five years of studying and helping others study. You’re either a ‘words and theory’ person, or a ‘numbers and facts’ person.

But that’s not to say you can’t be good at both. You just have to know the difference between the two.

With Math and Science subjects, there is always a ‘correct’ answer for you to check your work with. Sure, there can be more than one way to get to that answer, but ultimately, you are either right or wrong. This can be frustrating, especially when you can’t see where you’ve made a mistake in your working out. I’ve thrown many a tantrum where I was convinced the textbook answers were wrong, rather than my own answers. I was always proven otherwise.

English isn’t like this. There isn’t one single perfect essay for you to memorise for each possible prompt. There isn’t only one ‘correct’ answer. In fact, there aren’t even any ‘incorrect’ answers. Because for English, it’s not necessarily about what your answer is, but rather, how you are answering it.

A timely example would be the first outcome of Unit 1 and Unit 3 in the VCE English study design, which involves you responding creatively to a text.

Now, the word ‘creative’ instantly removes any hope of having one single ‘correct’ response to memorise, for its asking specifically for the use of imagination and original ideas. That is your own ideas, unheard ideas. You are quite literally imagining some sort of alteration to the text. Every single student’s answer, therefore, is going to be completely different. They’re supposed to be completely different.

The ‘correctness’, so to speak, is based on how well you show your understanding of the original text. You’re basically proving that you’ve read the text, have analysed its style and conventions, and have explored character development, themes and values which the text has presented.

And you can do this in whatever way you like, in whatever form you like; so long as you can justify how you’ve done it.

This part of the SAC is what is called the ‘Written Explanation’. Personally, I like to call it the ‘List of reasons why my response fits the criteria and thus why I should receive a good mark’. And that’s exactly what you do in the explanation. You explain your thought process. It’s almost like you’re showing how you came to your final answer, and you’re convincing the marker that all you’re working out is correct.

That is the key to doing well in English. It’s not about figuring out answers, it’s about figuring out ways to answer. And if you can properly explain why your way of answering is correct, then examiners will have no choice but to agree with you.

Once again, good luck everyone!

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Klein E

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