Set Texts: When to Read Them and How To Read Them
It is always a little bit daunting being an English or Literature student returning from the annual back to school shop. Among all the new stationery and textbooks, there are anywhere between four to ten books (if you happen to be studying both subjects!) that you will need to learn like the back of your hand. Unfortunately, this kind of text knowledge often takes hours of reading and re-reading, highlighting and underlining, and most importantly, scrawling notes in the margins as quickly as possible before you forget that brilliant insight!
We all know that the more we read our texts, the more likely it is that we will write high-quality and thought-provoking responses about them. It is recommended that you read your set texts a minimum of three times. However, as our performance in the VCE English and Literature Exam is ranked, a student who wants to do well would read their set text anywhere from five to eight times to ensure that their responses remain competitive. After all, this level of engagement with a text will invariably result in a student being able to demonstrate both a breadth and depth of understanding of the text within a response, rather than arguing the same basic ideas trotted out by every other student in the state who has learnt the exact same material.
So, when should you be trying to read your set texts?
- Over the school holidays
Aim to read every single one of your set texts over the school holidays. This will allow you to gain an amazing head start on the year, as well as giving you a strong idea of what your year in English or Literature will look like. At this stage, there is no need to start taking extensive notes or start highlighting. Instead, simply focus on enjoying the texts on your first read. It is a good idea to pay attention to basic structures within the text such as plot, as well as your own response as a reader as this will aid you within your analysis further down the line.
- At the beginning of the unit of study
If you know you will be studying The Golden Age for Reading and Creating Texts, or Heart of Darkness for Adaptations and Transformations, it is a good idea to give yourself a quick refresher read. After having read so many texts over the holidays, you may find that all of the texts feel foggy and have become blurred with one another. To ensure that your knowledge of the text is crystal clear, begin highlighting important quotes as you re-read the text. It is a good idea to come up with a system, such as yellow for themes, orange for characterisation, pink for plot and green for technical features of the text.
- One week before the SAC
Now that you have had a chance to study the text, it is important to develop complexity within your interpretation by returning to the text, and even allowing it to surprise you! During this re-read, be sure to continue highlighting any important quotes as well as annotating any important ideas or insights you come up with along the way. Additionally, it is a good idea to start creating quote banks as you are reading, allowing you to be even more efficient with your time. This will ensure you have set yourself up for success in your SAC!
- During the school holidays
As you study each text throughout the year, it can be easy to forget to constantly revise! The school holidays act as important intervals during which you should prioritise revision, especially if you will be performing a mid-year practise examination.
- Before the exam
By this stage, you will hopefully be able to narrow down which texts you will be writing on in the examination. On this final re-read, you want to be focusing on your reading the text very slowly and carefully, jotting down extensive notes on either a tab or in a notebook to extend your interpretation and be prepared for whatever the examination throws at you. It is also a good idea to keep extending your quote banks as you re-read, keeping your knowledge fresh for the examination!
And there you have it, if you follow this schedule, you will have read your texts at least five to seven times before your final examination!
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