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Author Topic: shinny's guide to context writing  (Read 22180 times)  Share 

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shinny

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shinny's guide to context writing
« on: December 04, 2008, 02:09:15 pm »
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SHINNY'S GUIDE TO CONTEXT WRITING
DISCONTINUED; an updated and more informative version can be obtained by attending my English preparation course outlined here

What is the context?
As a result of the new English course in 2008, the most significant change that was implemented is definitely the introduction of the context writing task. This will most likely be the section of the exam which you will find most frustrating throughout the year as I know from having to go through it all, and I'm writing this guide to hopefully alleviate your worries and shed some light on the ambiguity of this section. You'll realise throughout the year that nobody really knows what to do in this section (even teachers!) and this was pretty clear from the activity on the English board prior to the English exam, so hopefully this guide will answer any questions people have throughout the year before they start reposting the same questions over and over again. Basically, context is section B in the exam, and it is worth equal marks to the other two sections, so you'll definitely have to put some effort into it. The context task involves 'write an extended piece for a specified purpose and audience, exploring ideas and using detail from at least one text'. Basically, this task revolves around broad IDEAS as opposed to specific textual ideas as in the text response, or analysis of language as in the language analysis task. Also, rather than always writing for an academic audience as you would in the other two pieces, context writing often gives you the leniency to write for other sorts of audiences, and in a large variety of text types.

What are the different contexts?
The four different contexts at current are:
  • Whose Reality?
  • Exploring Issues of Identity and Belonging
  • Encountering Conflict
  • The Imaginative Landscape
As you can see, the ideas behind each of these are VERY broad, and this is the basis of the context style of writing. What you should do in the holidays is try and get a grasp of exactly what each of these contexts are demanding of you. The easiest way to do this is to read through your texts and try and extract the key ideas. Anything that VCAA gives in the exam will be universal to all your texts as the task must be applicable to any of the four texts provided, so you can even use this as a means of predicting what will be on the exam. By knowing the key ideas of the context, this will narrow down exactly what you need to study for as like I said, these context ideas are quite broad. For example, 'Whose Reality?' was an extremely broad context, and I wasted a lot of time at the start of the year focusing on the philosophical side of this, but soon realised that VCAA would never even ask anything like that. Rather, this context was more of a question of perceptions and so on. By knowing exactly what the context is demanding of you, you'll be able to save a lot of time and yield better results, particularly in the vaguer ones such as 'Whose Reality?' and 'The Imaginative Landscape'.

So how do I prepare for the context?
Write. It's that simple. Like any section of the exam, writing a context piece every fortnight or so will get you quite far. However, the problem is often that you have nothing to write about. This is where research and preparation comes into play. For the context, often you'll feel like you're short of ideas, or even worse, short of EVIDENCE. Evidence is something that everyone will struggle with if they are writing in the expository or persuasive styles (more on this later). I'd say most people will get this dilemma because so many of the ideas in the context seem so obvious that getting an example, or just using an example to explain them seems quite trivial given how obvious they are. But examiners won't necessarily feel the same way, and as with any essay, any point you make must be supported by evidence. The great thing about context is that you can pretty much get evidence from ANYWHERE, but the thing to watch out for is evidence which the examiners have never heard about, or just isn't credible. My advice is to begin with a quote database. A quick googling will net you quite a lot of quotes, and these will often come in handy. They can also help form the basis of your ideas, and I'd definitely recommend getting this started ASAP as it's pretty mindless work. Next comes your actual evidence. This can take on many forms, but like I mentioned before, try and choose stuff that people have heard of. My recommendations are:
  • Literature (Books, plays, poetry)
  • Research studies
  • Films
  • Current and historical events
  • Psychological/social/economic/scientific/whatever theories (Wikipedia anyone?)
  • And most obviously, your set texts
This doesn't necessarily involve having to read or watch a great deal. Just randomly googling or link jumping on Wikipedia helped me find A LOT of information already. I'm personally not a big reader myself, so the majority (basically, all of it) was done on the internet, and it's quite possible to find what you need quite quickly.

Also, the other step to preparing is definitely just sitting down, and thinking about your context. Depending on how motivated you are, try and do this in idle time also, such as when you're catching public transport or something. I've had some pretty good ideas come to me just in these sorts of times.

So how should I approach the context?
All of the contexts indeed seem very complicated and the types of topics which can be asked seem very varied, but I think the easiest way to approach it is to break it down into something more manageable is to think of it like this. In general from what I've seen, any topic will be either one of an 'effects/consequences' prompt, a 'causes' prompt or a 'big ideas' prompt. Typically from what I've seen, they will favour cause or effect style questions. I'll try and explain this better by using the actual exam prompts provided in 2008.

Cause: I see a cause question as in terms of a prompt which discusses the factors and reasons which lead the ambiguities of the context idea to form. This is made clearer in the 'Identity and Belonging' prompt from 2008 which was 'Our relationships with others help us to define who we are.' The prompt is clearly talking about the factors which help define who we are, and in this case, specifically on relationships.
Consequences: In contrast, I see a consequences question as being one which deals with the various implications that the context idea can create. This is pretty obviously matched by the 2008 'Whose Reality?' prompt ''We can evade "reality" but we cannot avoid the consequences of doing so.' I assume not much more explanation needs to be done regarding this.
The 'big ideas': Well I really don't know what to call this one actually so pardon the dodgy name, but I've occasionally seen questions which don't particularly classify well under either of the above two. What this one deals with is the central ideas, and you'll be expecting plenty of room for philosophical discussion within such prompts. However, I don't think any of the VCAA ones classify particularly well under this, so I'll provide my own example. A 'Whose Reality?' prompt I did for my SAC is 'We can never attain a fully objective view of reality because we remain trapped in the prison of our subjectivity'. As you can see, this one doesn't particularly fit as a cause or effect of reality, but rather, it deals with the various forms of reality that exist and how they exist. Typically, I don't think you'll be doing this on the exam as it actually delves quite deep philosophically and that's something VCAA doesn't really want to do I assume, but be prepared I guess.

OK, now to actually get down to how breaking it down like such can actually help you. The following mostly applies for the expository and persuasive styles, but I imagine the imaginative style can use a modified exercise which suits its purpose better. Basically, I based the majority of my context study off the structure described above because it allowed me to break down exactly what information I needed to obtain easily, rather than blinding hunting on a broad topic such as 'reality' or 'conflict'. Since I did 'Whose Reality?', I started thinking about the 'big ideas' of reality, and came up with various forms such as the subjective reality, objective reality and physical reality, and from there, came across various other forms  of reality on Wikipedia thought up by philosophers such as 'hyper reality' and the 'absolute reality'. Once I had listed all these down, I would extend dot points outwards which listed any evidence from my prescribed texts which explains these concepts, followed by a piece of information not from my texts which also explains these concepts. I would then go to the 'causes' and think of things which cause these various forms of reality to exist and ask myself questions such as 'Why is there a subjective reality' and such, which gave broad answers such as physical and psychological differences, from which I could break it down further into things like mental illnesses and such for psychological. Yet again, just list a piece of evidence from your texts, and one from elsewhere. Lastly of course, I got to the 'consequences' where I'd just do the same thing again as causes and just write out possible consequences and evidence etcetc.

Also, through this structure, an aspect of the context should be made more clear to you which will actually affect the way you write. The context key words are not straight-forward and well defined. As I've just pointed out, I realised there was various forms of reality such as the physical, the subjective and so on. In this case, this means it actually makes no sense to just use the word 'reality' on its own in any of my essays as I haven't specified which type, and hence my sentence will lose all clarity. Even VCAA themselves apostrophised the word 'reality' in their 'Whose Reality?' prompt in 2008, so I'd see it as an indication that VCAA too acknowledges such distinctions and will probably penalise people who view the context too low-level. I'd say all of the context key-words are multi-faceted as conflict can be seen in terms of physical conflict such as war, as well as lesser thought of ones such as emotional or conflicts within one self, and such distinctions can be seen throughout all four contexts. It is due to this that you will always need to be more specific in your essays and your general thinking when approaching these ideas and I guess this is my warning for you all.

Anyway getting back to what I was saying, it doesn't really matter exactly how you apply this structure; personally I just had a word document where I'd copy-paste excerpts from Wikipedia and journals and such, but a scrapbook is often recommended for context by teachers. Basically, the point of this was just to show that despite how daunting the context seems at first and how ambiguous your aims and goals are for studying it, it definitely can be broken down tier by tier and approached in a more manageable way, and I think the three catagories I've outlined above are just a nice, simple starting point for doing this. Of course, if you find a better way which works for you; go for it. This was just my method and thought others would find it beneficial. Also, using such a structure when it comes to studying will also help you. Last year, I put a lot of effort into mastering the 'cause' style essays and did to a full mark level as practically every commercial trial exam had this style of question for 'Whose Reality?' and it seemed to me like the most obvious style of question to ask as I thought consequence questions would probably have too much overlap with the Conflict context. But no. A consequence question did indeed come up on the exam and I pretty much got screwed over as I did none of these for exam practise. Sure, I had a few examples and such that gave me fuel in the exam, but it was definitely no where near as good quality as what I had produced on 'cause' style essays. Basically the lesson is to study equally among these sections, and dividing the context into these three will probably help achieve such a balance.

What are the text types?
The text types as indicated by VCAA are:
  • Expository
  • Persuasive
  • Imaginative
My advice is to decide early on in the year which one of these you're intending to do on the exam, and utterly master that style. Also note that these styles are not to be seen as always mutually exclusive, and you can write what is called a 'hybrid' piece which combines two of these styles, although I think the only way that'd work is if you combine expository with imaginative, or persuasive with imaginative. This is because the expository and persuasive styles in my view are mutually exclusive and I don't see how a piece could be both at the same time.

Persuasive Writing
Purpose: The purpose of a persuasive piece is quite obvious - to persuade the audience that your point of view is correct.
Forms: There are MANY possible forms for persuasive writing. Some include:
  • Speeches
  • Letters (Letter to the editor, to a friend etc)
  • Editorials
  • Opening/closing speeches of a court case (This form worked very well for me in a SAC)
  • Advertisements
Stylistic Features: You should know from language analysis the features of a persuasive piece already. Most obvious of all, remember your PERSUASIVE TECHNIQUES. I'm not going to go through each of these as you should know them, but ones you should definitely remember are negative word connotations and rhetorical questions since they stand out. The other feature you should have if you want a better mark is at least a paragraph of rebuttal. To do this, just pretend you're arguing the other side, think of an argument, and then counter-argue it.

Imaginative Writing
Purpose: Imaginative pieces will tend to be either expository or persuasive, but other times it might be hard to define their purpose. Basically, do whatever you want as long as the ideas relate to the prompt.
Forms: There's quite a wide variety of forms for this, but the most common would be things such as short stories, diary entries and the like. Try and be creative and go for something weird; it often pays off.
Stylistic Features: It really depends on the form. There's not much advice I can give about imaginative writing except that you just need to make sure that you don't go too nuts with it. Basically, check that:
  • It is CLEARLY related to the prompt
  • It somehow incorporates the ideas from your texts
  • It preferably has some sort of direct link to your text just to make it even more obvious
  • Your message is presented clearly (although subtlety can be quite artistic in imaginative writing, you're risking marks if the examiner doesn't notice it, and the thing is, most likely they won't given how fast they read)
Example: CLICK HERE

Expository Writing
SOON TO BE RELOCATED

FAQ
Note: PM me any questions and I'll add them here.

Do we have to use our texts?
For SACs, ask your teacher as the requirements change throughout every school. For the exam, yes, you definitely must use your text in some form or another. This is clearly indicated in VCAA stating that you must use 'detail from at least one text selected from the English/ESL Text list 2'. Also, one of the four criteria used to mark the piece is 'effective use of detail and ideas drawn from the selected text as appropriate to the task', so I assume that despite the freedom given in context writing, quite significant use of the provided texts is still imperative in obtaining a high mark.

How do we use our texts?
The key to using your texts is linking with IDEAS. I've bolded this word through this guide because this is the foundation of context writing. It is about ideas, but ideas must be supported with evidence, and often you will also use your texts as direct sources of evidence. This can be done by:
  • Direct quoting
  • Mentioning events, outcomes, consequences
However, sometimes people may not want to use their texts directly, and often they cannot such as in a pure imaginative piece. In these cases, you could either resort to indirect quoting (quoting a SIGNIFICANT phrase from the book but pretending it is your own words), or rely on OBVIOUS idea links. If there is a predominate theme throughout your book, by adopting a similar theme in your piece, you should be able to score the marks for textual references. This can be ASSISTED by mirroring elements of the book, such as adopting a similar setting, character names, events and so on, but keep in mind that unless you have idea links, then these are simply just gimmicks.

How much do we have to use our texts?
I can't give a straight answer to this and the examiner's report is likely to change my answer to this, but I still recommend that 50% of your evidence should come from your texts. I did the expository style for the entire year, and what I did was that in each paragraph, I'd have an idea supported by a piece of evidence from my text, then backed up by a piece of evidence from another source. This was an easy way to maintain the 50% balance, and it worked quite well for me considering this structure got me a 10/10 from a VCAA examiner in two trial exams I did.

How does expository or persuasive context essay writing differ to text responses?
If you're doing an essay style, many will ask what the difference is between these pieces. Basically, as I've mentioned throughout, context writing is about ideas, and hence, the focus of your piece are on these ideas. As a consequence, the topic sentences in your context writing will always refer to a GENERALISED IDEA, from which you use your texts and other material to support, whereas the topic sentences in your text responses will be likely to refer directly to the text itself.

What's the difference between an essay topic and a prompt?
The most obvious difference is that the prompt isn't actually phrased as a question. Consequently, you don't actually have to directly respond to it or agree/disagree with it or anything; it is merely there to inspire you and let your writing be based off of it. As a result, usually it is best to narrow down the prompt into a smaller focus question and work from there as it keeps your piece more focused.
« Last Edit: December 16, 2010, 08:26:01 pm by shinny »
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dekoyl

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2008, 02:17:56 pm »
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Someone get this man a publisher.
Thank you, shinny =]

ninwa

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2008, 02:22:50 pm »
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Wow ....
stickied
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shinny

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #3 on: December 04, 2008, 02:25:32 pm »
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Yeh I just figured an hour out of my holidays to save quite people a net hundreds of hours was well worth it =P Also, I should be offering English tuition soon so I guess this is just advertising in a way but let's not talk about that ;]
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Aerith

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2008, 02:26:54 pm »
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Thank you so much shinny.

cobby

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #5 on: December 04, 2008, 02:38:23 pm »
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Thanks a lot shinny =] =] =]
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Glockmeister

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #6 on: December 04, 2008, 11:41:49 pm »
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Quite a shiny piece of work there shinny :P
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kurrymuncher

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #7 on: December 04, 2008, 11:43:56 pm »
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awesome guide. thanks alot shinny :)

xox.happy1.xox

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2008, 09:56:17 am »
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Hehe, really good work. :)

NE2000

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #9 on: December 05, 2008, 03:02:46 pm »
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Looks pretty awesome thanks. :)
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hard

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #10 on: December 05, 2008, 04:09:17 pm »
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(Y) shinjitsuzx.. keep the hard work going and it'll pay off!

dekoyl

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #11 on: December 05, 2008, 04:13:46 pm »
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(Y) shinjitsuzx.. keep the hard work going and it'll pay off!
Reading his hard work will pay off for you.. but I don't think it'll pay off for him :P (unless this is semi-advertisement gets him a lot of students)

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #12 on: December 05, 2008, 10:31:30 pm »
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Nice work :)

BTW I have a couple of examples of my own work (Imaginative Landscape) & many prompts for anyone who desires them
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RD

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #13 on: December 05, 2008, 10:36:52 pm »
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Damn, where was this prior to the English exam this year? :(
« Last Edit: December 05, 2008, 10:39:26 pm by RD »

cobby

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Re: shinny's guide to context writing
« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2008, 06:09:31 pm »
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Shinny any idea on when this guide will be finished? :)
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