So you want to ace QCE English? A challenging task to say the least, but also one that is certainly doable.
I finished 2020 with a final study score of 100 in QCE English Units 3&4 (subtle flex I know), and I adopted a fair few tricks and tips to get there. So to help you achieve what I did – or even just improve your marks – I’ll break this article into two sections: firstly, general tips and tricks for English; and secondly, a breakdown for every assessment piece you will have in Year 12.
While this sounds obvious, it’s oftentimes one that goes undone. Students hate the prospect of getting out a pen and paper and sitting down to write something. I know that I certainly did. But what helped me to get in the habit of writing more was just to handwrite notes in other subjects, and to handwrite things wherever I could. You can also try journaling as a way to just begin writing every day.
Writing as much as possible has a few benefits.
Firstly, you get comfortable with using a pen and paper, and the motion of physically writing. This will help you to get faster and more efficient when writing long monumental essays.
Secondly, you internalise how to use more complex grammar structures, which will help you to transfer these into formal, assessed writing.
Lastly – and arguably most importantly – you retrain your brain. What I mean by this is that you effectively learn how to communicate ideas from your brain into your hands and eventually onto the paper. What I often see with students and friends is that they’re incredibly bright and have phenomenal ideas, but when it comes to communicating them, they fall short. This is what consistent writing – no matter what it is – will help you to learn.
Once again, another obvious one. You’ve all heard this before, I’m sure, but I really cannot stress this enough. Reading allows you to a) learn how authors present ideas and make their writing interesting, and b) understand how to use a greater variety of vocabulary and grammatical structures (remember that accurate and varied grammar is what makes the rhythm of reading enjoyable).
Now, when I say read, I mean read LITERALLY ANYTHING. I had a friend who literally just use to read patch notes every week for his favourite games, and he found it helpful to learn how to write data heavy blocks of writing in a succinct way. My advice is to read what you enjoy. For me that was epic fantasy and fiction books because I loved the complexity of a world with magic and strange beings. For you, what you like may be completely different.
Just read whatever you want as long as you are actually reading and not listening or watching.
This is a bit of an obscure one that some people won’t agree with. But I think this one trick has helped me to become a far better writer.
When you write anything, try to take risks with vocab or punctuation or grammar, or even narrative style. If you’re used to writing super formally, try writing an informal story with a main character who has a ‘potty mouth’. If you only ever use complex and compound sentences, try writing something using sentences shorter than 10 words. Just try things you never have before. It’s that simple.
In doing so, you’ll not only be able to find what kind of writing you are good at and enjoy, but you’ll also learn how to write in a range on genres – a skill that will no doubt be beneficial for the future.
Now that you know my tips for how to be a better writer, let’s move on to more concrete ideas for how to actually score a 25/25 on every assessment piece.
Extended response – written response for a public audience.
What does this even mean? What are you even meant to do with that information?
Well, honestly, no one really knows. See the issue with giving advice for this assessment piece is that every school will approach this differently. For me, we wrote a fairly informal article to be published on Medium about the movie Snowden and the book Fahrenheit 451. For others, they wrote a formal academic essay to be published in a journal about Blade Runner.
So, while it’s hard to tell you exactly what to do, there are some CRUCIAL things to keep in mind when you complete this assessment piece.
Firstly, focus on your audience. This will define the whole scope, genre, style and format of your response. Ask every question about your audience possible. Are they educated? Are they young? Are they mixed sex? Are they from a minority? What kind of writing will they find interesting and engaging? This will form the foundation for how you write.
Secondly, focus on your topic and text. Is it a book review? Is it a movie? Is it a TV show? Is it a documentary? What is the text about? What genre is it? Is it comedy, horror or educational? This will become the what for your writing. You will need to unpack your stimulus in as much depth as you can.
Thirdly, focus on your purpose. Is it to show people an interesting idea? Is it to highlight something cool? Is it to provide an in-depth analysis into a concept? This will ultimately be your why when you write. Make sure you address this as much as possible.
Students often forget to ask these questions, and end up on the wrong track or end up missing out on that ‘discerning’ descriptor as they don’t fully understand the task.
Extended response – persuasive spoken response.
This one is a bit more straightforward, so I only have two key tips.
I see a lot of students who pick something they think will be a ‘good’ topic rather than one that they actually enjoy or care about. If you actually care about what you’re talking about, that will translate to your speech, to your markers, and eventually to your criteria sheet.
Oftentimes, people our age genuinely do want to change something in the world, so focus on that and choose something that you would actually want to persuade someone about.
I would suggest to know it off by heart but I understand that sometimes that’s not possible. Just remember that the biggest portion of your marks are from the textual features criteria, which means your presentation is, in my view, more important than how you actually write. That means good eye contact, good projection, variation in volume, pace and emphasis.
Don’t just shout your entire speech because that’s not discerning or even effective. Remember, your audience doesn’t want to be shouted at – they want to be persuaded.
Examination – imaginative written response.
This one is a bit harder because there’s a lot of ways to do well.
My advice is to craft a story before you actually go and sit down, then to edit and polish it while you’re in the test and between the test sessions. Also remember to look very carefully at the stimulus, and really show a deep understanding of what concepts and ideas your teachers want you to focus on. Try to use stylistic devices wherever possible to make your writing interesting.
And most importantly, enjoy what you write. If you don’t enjoy it, your markers won’t either, so write about what you want and write however you think it’ll be engaging – my Year 12 English teacher did his final exam on skunks (yes, the smelly racoon like things), and he no joke got full marks.
Examination – analytical written response.
Ah yes, the big kahuna. The external exam. The one you dread already.
Look, my best advice is not to stress. The exams are made for everyone so it’s literally the most fair exam you will take all year. The question may be a curveball, it may not. But if you actually know your content, you will be fine.
So, how do you actually learn the content properly, I hear you ask?
Well the answer is very, very, very simple: read your text over and over and over and over and over again, and then do it again, and then watch a movie version, and then talk to your friends about it, and then read it again, and annotate it again, and listen to it again, and finally read it again.
While I am exaggerating, the basic premise remains true – be exposed to your assigned text as much as humanly possible. This means reading it at least three times, adding annotations every time, and watching a movie version if there is one, and then listening to it in the car when you drive. The more exposure you have to your text, the more comfortable you will be when you get a question that you never thought possible.
Now that you have read it through and annotated it, you should find some way to collate ideas, quotes, symbols, character analysis and motifs all in a way that you can easily read and memorise. For many, this will be a OneNote page or a Word document, which is a great option. Personally, I loved making big tables of all the info I found as it made it way easily to organise and memorise what I wrote.
Finally, some general external exam tips:
Easier said than done, but even if you get a bad question, you will have two options and you will be more prepared than you think to answer either one of them.
It’s hard to remember long quotes, so just use shorter ones and then show that you understand what they mean and the implications of it.
It’ll help you to organise your ideas and flow better when you write.
Overall, I think these general and assessment tips will help you to ace English – or even just improve your scores!
Good luck with your Year 12 studies – English and otherwise – and remember to stay calm, and enjoy your year.
– Rishi Goel 😊
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