As you may know, the malevolent beasts up at VCAA HQ have taken it upon themselves to shake things up a bit. 2016 is the official transition year where the Year 12s will be completing the final year of the ‘old’/current study design, and the Year 11s will be learning the new stuff. Unfortunately for us mere mortals, the official document is written in that most impenetrable of ancient tongues: VCAA jargon.

So this guide is here to help clear up any uncertainties, and to provide some general advice when it comes to tackling the tasks to come.

A quick note before we start, just so everyone’s on the same page.


If you are in Year 12 in 2016, you will be assessed under the old study design, which will be the same as what you have done in Year 11 (so this guide will not apply to you!)
If you are in Year 11 in 2016, so will be in Year 12 in 2017, you have the honour of being part of the very first cohort doing the new study design, which is what this guide will aim to explain.

For starters, this is what the Unit 3&4 Course Outline looks like. Keep in mind that your Unit 3 and Unit 4 results will each contribute to 25% of your overall mark with the exam making up the remaining 50%. So all these percentages pertain to their individual categories.

English Study Design Overview

Unit 3
Area of Study 1:  Reading and Creating Texts.
•    Outcome 1: Analytical Text Response (30%)  &  Creative Text Response + Written Explanation (30%).
Area of Study 2:  Analysing Argument.
•    Outcome 2: Language Analysis (40%).

Unit 4
Area of Study 1:  Reading and Comparing Texts.
•    Outcome 1: Comparative Text Essay (60%).
Area of Study 2:  Presenting Arguments.
•    Outcome 2: Oral Presentation + Written Explanation (40%).

The Exam
•    1 x Text Response (33%).
•    1 x Comparative Text Essay (33%).
•    1 x Language Analysis (33%).

Unit 3

Area of Study 1: Reading and Creating Texts

In Year 12, your school will choose two texts from List 1 of the official set texts, and you will write on both of them within this Area of Study.

The first thing to note is that because there are two tasks within this AOS, you will have to write on both texts, meaning that you’ll use one for the analytical essay, and one for the creative piece. You may be lucky enough to choose which is which, but you may find your school makes that decision for you.

Outcome 1: Analytical Text Response

This task should be very familiar to you, and remains largely unchanged from the previous study design. It involves writing an essay in response to a prompt that is specifically about the text you are studying, for instance ‘Frankenstein’s monster is a tragic hero. Do you agree?’ or ‘To what extent does Romeo and Juliet endorse the value of love?’ These will likely be the kinds of questions you’ve dealt with in previous years, and whilst the standards are a little higher in Year 12, the core criteria is ostensibly the same: respond to the prompt, and construct a contention using textual evidence (especially quotes!) to substantiate your points.

If you read anything pertaining to ‘Text Response’ on these forums, then this is the essay type it relates to. The Resource Thread on the main English and EAL Board contains many helpful guides and sample essays for you to peruse too.

Outcome 1: Creative Text Response

This is a new addition to the study design, but might be familiar to any students of VCE Literature. For this task, you will have to write on a different text from the one selected in your Analytical Text Response, and the final product will be in some kind of imaginative style (e.g. a short story, a letter, a diary entry, an interview, etc.) You will still be assessed on how effectively you can unpack the text’s ideas, but you will be showcasing those ideas within a piece of your own, rather than just presenting them in an essay.

Also, you will be required to write a Written Explanation, which will be worth 10% of your overall mark for this Outcome. This will be in the form of an extra ~400 word piece where you explain the decisions you’ve made and discuss how your creative piece relates to the set text. There are various strategies for doing this, but more on that later.

In terms of your actual piece, you can choose to recreate, rework, or extend the text by creating a companion piece consistent with the style and concerns of the original text. This means there can be connections in your subject matter (i.e. writing from the perspective of the protagonist in your text, or writing a piece that touches on similar concepts, like racial intolerance, adolescent relationships, the power of authority, etc.) OR connections based on the language and form (i.e. if you’re studying a collection of poetry, then you could write a poem that uses similar techniques and devices as the ones in your set text, or if you’re studying a play, then you might write a script for a scene and appropriate some of the metaphors for your own ends.)

Appropriation is a core point here – you’re not meant to simply ‘copy’ things from the text in that if, let’s say, you were studying The Great Gatsby and you loved the metaphor of the green light and how it represented Gatsby’s unattainable dream. But if all you do is write a story that uses the green light in this exact same context (e.g. writing from the perspective of a couple whose relationship has broken up, and one person stands at the door of the other’s apartment looking at the flashing green light of a doorbell/intercom knowing they won’t be let in) because you’re not doing anything new with that idea, you’re just retelling the story in a different context – avoid this at all costs!!

Appropriation involves taking these elements – whether they’re highly specific symbols and structural features, or big things like entire characters and plot points – and using them to create your own meaning. So you’re able to ‘borrow’ the kinds of features and ideas that the author employs, but you have to do so in a way that allows you to construct some bigger, overall point. And if my point is that ‘in Gatsby, the green light represents an untenable ideal, so in my story, the green light also represents an untenable ideal’ then I haven’t done anything with that symbol. I haven’t appropriated it. I’ve just stolen it. And left it there. I’m like an awful burglar who steals your television but never plugs it in to watch it. That would be dumb, right Gatsby?

study design

Instead, aim to do something more impressive; take an idea in the text you find interesting and put it into a different context. Consider how you might expand upon it and take it a step further.

Purely in terms of the form and style you choose, you have four main options:
•    write a piece that uses the style, setting, or core structural features of your set text.
•    write a piece that could be added to the text (e.g. a ‘lost scene’ that fits in between two moments, or something that happens before or after the main plot).
•    rewrite a part of the text by changing some key detail(s) that alters the meaning.
•    rewrite a part of the text by telling it from a different point of view, or changing the narrative voice.

Then, for the Written Explanation, you will make all these choices obvious by explaining yourself. (You’re allowed to use the first person here, as in ‘I have written a point of view narrative piece from the perspective of character X in order to explore…’). Not only will you explain these textual links, but you should also endeavour to identify the author’s intention and perspective and then discuss how you have replicated, or better yet, challenged and expanded upon their views.

Your best bet for this piece of assessment is to consult your teacher! There’s no creative component or written explanation on the exam, meaning that this is just something you’ll have to deal with for a Semester 1 SAC, and the specific requirements won’t be uniform across the state. You’re still completing the same basic task, but each school and each teacher will have their own unique preferences regarding how you approach it, so work closely with them if you want to maximise your chances of scoring highly in this section of the study design.

Your scores for both of these pieces – the analytical and the creative – will combine to form 60% of your Unit 3 mark overall.

Area of Study 2: Analysing Argument

This AOS will only have one outcome, which will be worth 40% of Unit 3 overall. The task is a Language Analysis, also known as a ‘Media Journal’ or ‘Using Language to Persuade’ as per the old versions. You will complete this task using material that has been printed in the Australian media since September 1st of the previous year, meaning it will be based on a fairly topical news story or current affair concern.

Outcome 2: Language Analysis

Happily, this task is mostly unchanged from its counterpart on the previous study design, though there are some changes in terms of the kinds of material you’ll be analysing, and the intention behind the analysis.

In the simplest terms, ‘Language Analysis’ involves being given an assortment of written and visual stimuli (e.g. a newspaper article, a letter to the editor, and a cartoon) and discussing how language is used to persuade. Much like the Analytical Text Response task, you can read through the current resources and sample essays to get some idea of what this is all about. It’s likely that your schools will have prepared you for this part of the study design in Years 7-10 though.

And, again like Text Response, this task will also be a part of your end of year examination. The exact nature of the material you’re analysing will change, as your SAC has to be a recent piece or collection of pieces from the Australian media, but the exam won’t be because they don’t want to give any students an unfair advantage. The Language Analysis material in the exam will be compiled by the assessors specifically for the exam, so it will be a totally original, totally unseen collection of written and visual language to discuss.

There’s some indication in the new study design that VCAA are looking for more focus on how students present their understanding of the arguments, rather than how many techniques they can identify. This has been a trend over the past couple of years in English. Your capacity to point at something and say ‘that’s a rhetorical question!’ is pretty unimportant and unimpressive to assessors in the grand scheme of things, and this new study design cements that.

There’s also much more emphasis on your ability to discuss the conventions of texts, and given that VCAA like to spice up the exam with the occasional blog post or speech, it’s likely that you’ll see some of these less-than-straightforward material over the course of this syllabus.

Also note that comparative material is possible and very, very likely, so be prepared to deal with multiple written pieces by different authors with different contentions in both your SAC and the exam.

As with the creative response, you might want to consult your teacher about their recommendations in approaching your school’s SAC material, as some places will give you three long written pieces and expect you to just analyse them one at a time, whereas others will give you one main piece and a couple of smaller ones (e.g. letters to the editor, blog comments, etc.) and want you to draw connections throughout your essay.

Now, this will comprise of 40% of Unit 3, but you’ll notice that neither this task, nor the Analytical Text Response one can be seen in Unit 4. This means that by the time you hit the halfway point of the year, you will have completed the 2/3 of the course that is relevant to the exam. Since the Text Response and Language Analysis pieces are already done, all you have left is the Comparative Essay, which is part of Unit 4.

So as you head into the second half of the year, it’s going to be up to you to maintain your knowledge and writing ability in these two key areas so that you don’t have to relearn it all when it comes to the end of year assessment.

Unit 4

Area of Study 1: Reading and Comparing Texts

In Unit 4, your Outcomes will come down to one assessment task each. The first and biggest of these is the Comparative Text Essay. It’s worth 60%, and will be a third of your exam too. And this is an entirely new task for the VCE English study design!

study design

But because this is so new to everyone, you’ll all be in the same boat. There’ll be more info released soon, but it’s safe to assume the exam will be akin to the Text Response section in that you’ll be given a prompt to respond to, only this prompt will relate to the two texts you’ve studied for your Comparison AOS, and will call on you to contrast the similarities and differences in each.

Outcome 1: Comparative Text Essay

For this task, your school will select a pair of text from List 2 of the study design, so you will not be writing on the same texts that you had in Semester 1.

All you need to know for now is that each of these pairs has a great deal of overlap in terms of their subject matter and thematic messages. So if your school were to pick Pair 5 you’d be studying The Crucible and Year of Wonders, which both touch on the notion of superstition, paranoia, and groupthink, as well as themes like nature, the role of women, and the importance of our decision-making. Thus you could reasonably expect to have to compare and contrast what each text says about these kinds of ideas, as they’re present in both texts.

It’s possible you will get highly targeted discussion topics like ‘Is Anna in Year of Wonders a more stronger character than Abigail Williams in The Crucible? Discuss.’ or just broader, more idea-based questions like ‘Discuss the portrayal of community in Year of Wonders and The Crucible.‘ I think the latter is more likely, but it’s even possible VCAA will alternate and give you an assortment of both to work with.

Either way, you will be writing an analytical essay that should be making frequent comparisons and contrasts between your two texts. Your teachers will hopefully provide you with some examples of what this will look like, but it is my recommendation that you do not divide your paragraphs so that you’re talking about one text at a time. An essay that has four body paragraphs (i.e. excluding the introduction and conclusion) and alternates between talking about Text A and Text B each time is not really an effective comparative essay.

Instead, aim to compare as you go by incorporating a bit of each text in each paragraph. You can still focus on one particular text for a certain paragraph, but don’t constantly analyse each one in isolation at the expense of making valid connections between the texts.

That way, you’ll be telling your marker that you not only have the skills to dissect textual details, but also that you can structure your essay in a way that enables you to showcase your understanding of how the two texts link together. There’s a reason VCAA have chosen these particular pairs for the study design, and the more you demonstrate an awareness of that, the easier it will be for you to score highly.

Similar (unofficial) rules will apply here to the Language Analysis task in that the spread of your analysis should reflect the spread of the material. This is only in terms of broad estimates, but if you’re studying two texts in equal measure and spend 80% of your essay writing about one of them, then your piece probably won’t feel very balanced overall. In Language Analysis you couldn’t spend each body paragraph on a single sentence of the written material when you’re meant to be covering two whole pages, plus visuals. Likewise, you must aim to strike a balance here for the Comparative Essay. The assessors won’t penalise you too harshly for a 60/40 split, but you should make sure you have enough to say about both texts such that you aren’t just relying on your knowledge of one to pull you through.

Area of Study 2: Presenting Arguments

Finally, we come to the last of the SACs – the oral presentation. This was a part of the previous study design, but it used to only be a minor part of Unit 3, whereas it is now a fairly major part of Unit 4 (40%). As such, you’ll likely be required to do a decent amount of research, and has to be based on an issue that’s been in the media since September of the previous year, much like the Language Analysis task in Unit 3. Some schools may choose to assign your oral topics on the same issue that you study for the Language Analysis task, but others will give you complete freedom to decide what you’d like to discuss. You will also be required to complete another Written Explanation, much like you were back in the Creative Text Response section, which will constitute 10% of the overall 40% weighting, meaning your speech itself will be worth 30%.

Outcome 2: Oral Presentation + Written Explanation

Oral presentations can be a cause for trepidation for some students, and if even thinking about public speaking makes you queasy, don’t worry because there are plenty of ways to combat this and get you through this part of the study design.

This can broadly be divided into three sections: the writing of the speech, the writing of the written explanation, and the delivery of the speech.

When composing the speech itself, you’ll be aiming for roughly 4–6 minutes, or possibly more depending on your school’s restrictions. The primary goal here is to write persuasively both in terms of the presentation of your ideas, and the words you choose to express them. You will need to select a clear and concise contention which will be the basis of your argument, and you should then construct a series of sub-arguments and points which revolve around that core point of view. Try to select something that you believe to be a valid contention, too; don’t go for something wacky like ‘Australia should declare war with Tasmania’ or ‘Parents should not only be able to smack their kids, but also roundhouse kick them in the face occasionally’ for the sake of being different and standing out. You want your piece to be logical, and believable – that way, half of your persuasion work has already been done.

When writing your piece, try to avoid writing an essay. An ‘introduction + body paragraphs + conclusion’ structure is not what a real speech looks like. You want your piece to flow as you’re delivering it, and something with clearly demarcated sub-arguments and body paragraphs isn’t a very believable speech – it’s just going to sound as though you’re reading an essay aloud. Instead, compose 3-7 sentence ‘chunks’ and separate those into paragraphs. This will ensure that you are having to continually link ideas as you go, rather than having a whole section devoted to one idea, followed by a linking phrase, and then the next big idea. Flow and pacing are important, and you want to give the sense of building up an argument as you go. You’re going to be reading your speech from start to finish, and that’s the journey that your audience will be taking too, so make sure you explore things properly and take them with you every step of the way.

The Written Explanation is a new addition to the Oral SAC, but is very similar to the one outlined in the Creative Text Response section of the study design. Just focus on explaining the decisions that you made. For instance, why did you choose to begin your piece in a certain way? How did you make an effort to engage the audience? Were there any particular words which you emphasised, and if so, why? And how have your language choices served to reinforce your contention and sub-arguments?

The Written Explanation should be around 300-500 words according to VCAA, but again, your school may alter this or impose other restrictions about what needs to be included here. Just concentrate on justifying your choices and spell out your thought process to your marker as clearly and efficiently as possible.

The Exam

And last but not least we have the October Exam portion of the study design, which constitutes 50% of your mark overall (give or take rankings and SAC scaling). There are three essays you have to write, all of them analytical: a Text Response (one text, choice of prompts), a Comparative Essay (two texts), and a Language Analysis piece (based on a selection of written and visual material).

Each essay is weighted equally with your exam mark being out of 60. Each piece is worth 20 marks, but you will have two assessors each assigning you a mark out of 10 in order to prevent any bias or confusion. Therefore, you will have at least six different people looking at your work – two per essay – and the scores from each of them will be added up to give you a total out of 60.

The most obvious challenge here is that your in-class study of Text Response and Language Analysis is limited to Semester 1 (unless you get an especially good teacher who prepares you for these alongside your Unit 4 work). Thus you’ll get to the end of October (or perhaps more accurately the September practice exams) and suddenly be asked to complete tasks that you haven’t had to do since March or April. As such, it’s important you keep things up in the meantime and refine your skills constantly. Unfortunately the Creative SAC and Oral Sac are only tangentially applicable to the exam tasks, and even the SAC versions of those three primary pieces might differ from the content and standards expected in the exam (depending on your school), so the burden falls on you to pick up the slack and ensure that you can prepare for both your in-class assessment, and the end of year exam.

But at least you’ve got ATAR Notes here to help you!

Remember to drop by our English Q and A Thread if you have any questions!