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Preparing for the Year 12 VCE English Exam

By Subahaa Maheswaran in VCE
13th of January 2020
VCE English exam tips

While it may seem like an eternity away now, trust me when I say: you’ll be stepping into the English exam room before you know it.  So… what should you do to prepare practically from now until your exam?


Know the exam structure

You don’t want to be confusing yourself during the exam because you have no idea what the sections are and what to write. The English exam is split up into three sections:

Section A: Analytical interpretation of a text (covers one of the texts you will study)

Section B: Comparative Analysis of texts (covers the other two texts you will study)

Section C: Argument and Persuasive Language (Analysis)

For each section, you will have to write an essay, meaning you will be writing 3 entire essays for the exam! You can see more about the structure (2017-2020) here.

You should be having at least one SAC which covers each section (excluding the creative response & speech). Those SACs will give you at least some idea of what is expected but you’re going to have to go beyond the SACs for exam prep. Mainly because:

  1. The types of questions and topics your teachers set for the SACs will diverge from the exam
  2. You are given WAY more time in SACs than in the exam – you only have an hour or even less to complete each essay (3 hours = 3 essays)
  3. You can revise specifically for each SAC while for the exam you need to revise for everything


What you can do now

Start an English study group with your friends

Working with other people can be beneficial as everyone has different perspectives from you. You’ll be able to give each other ideas and help each other understand things. It can also make you more accountable for studying as you have other people depending on you to do some work.

Set up to begin meeting from January or at least begin to make plans to set a time after school or on the weekend to meet up. You can also set up a google doc or group chat if it’s too difficult for people to meet up at the same time.

Make sure to keep this group up for the rest of the year until exams: meet during the terms, holidays, etc.

Note: Don’t have too many members – max 4. This is because, you actually need to do some work and genuinely be collaborative.


Have a look at past English exams

If you want to get ahead of others, I think it would be in your best interest to just read through some of the past English exams (should be available on the VCAA website).

Download a couple and read through the instructions provided, find the questions for the texts your school is studying (Section A & B), have a look at the Section C from each year, read through the Examiners’ reports, etc.


Things you can do while learning for the particular section/post SAC

Make good notes to be easily read over later

The worst thing that can happen when you go to revise for the exam is to find that your previous notes are almost illegible and all over the place to the point that you might need to re-do them. To save yourself some time, make some good quality notes the first time. There are limitations and benefits to both handwriting your notes or typing them – it’s really up to you and what you prefer.

Just don’t be having regrets later on when exam season is on the horizon.


Make note of SAC performance and areas in need of improvement in the exam

You will know after doing a SAC how you went, mainly because we are our own biggest critics. Take advantage of that state of mind when the SAC is still fresh in your mind and make note of what you did well and struggled with. Being aware of these things will aid you in focusing your exam preparation more towards working on what you struggled with.


Things you can do during term holidays

Term 1 & Term 2:

Reread your books, prepare for next term’s SACs, go over previous SACs, start to do sections of the exam/brainstorm them, attend lectures (such as the ones held by ATAR NOTES).

Term 3:


Do a mock exam: sit for the three hours timed, prior to sitting the actual exam

You’ll get an understanding of how you go focusing for that long and how prepared you actually are.  Your school may run one… so ATTEND IT! Otherwise, run a mock exam yourself: go to a library and book a room, find a quiet café or do it at home at a time when it’s the most quiet.


Reread your books/listen to the audiobooks/watch the movie versions

By this point, your familiarity with the texts you studied may have faded, so it would be good to rekindle this familiarity.


Understand where you are at in terms of preparedness for the exam and begin revising accordingly

It’s better to have a purpose and focus in your revision than to be revising for the sake of it – your goal is to ultimately perform better than your SACs and improve overall.


Revise over your notes

Condense them, translate them into mind maps/visuals, etc. If you find anything that confuses you now that didn’t confuse you before, ask your peers or teachers: it’s better to ask now than never


Leading up to the exams

More specific timed practice

Eg. time how long you take to read a Section C piece and how long you take to analyse it.


Form a game plan in your head

Which sections are you going to do first and how much time are you going to spend on it? (there’s no point spending more time on one section over another as each section is graded equally)

Most of the teachers at my school recommended you do section C first as you read it during reading time and it’s fresh in your head. However, you should do whatever order feels comfortable for you.


PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE makes perfect (or at least, more prepared)

If you’ve run out of VCAA questions/section Cs, do some from company papers: Insight, VATE, NEAP. You don’t have to do every single topic possible – pick and choose to do some & brainstorm the others so you expose yourself to a vast variety of possibilities.


Seek feedback from teachers

You should have been doing this during the term before and after SACs, and should MOST DEFINITELY do this before the exam.

There’s no point doing a bunch of work and having no one look at it. Your teachers are the best resources you have so use them effectively. They are hired to help you!

Ultimately, its up to you on how you plan to prepare. You don’t have to do any or all of what I’ve suggested, just start!

Don’t wait until it’s too late, begin preparing as early as possible so you can go into the English exam nervous but assured that you’ve done enough.


Subahaa Maheswaran
Year 12