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There’s no doubt that English is one of the most important subjects for Year 12 students. Without successful completion of an English subject, students won’t receive their Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) or meet most university entry requirements.
Understandably, the pressure to perform in this subject can make students nervous. But help is at hand.
From sharpening up your spelling to mastering metalanguage, read these five tips from McKinnon Secondary College Year 12 English teacher Jason Jewell to help you make English one of your best subjects.
Take on board the feedback you receive on your written work and make note of the errors you typically make. These may include spelling, grammar and punctuation errors; sentence construction mistakes; repetition of vocabulary; inappropriate use of register; having a lack of evidence to prove your claims; or poor paragraph structure.
You should have a notebook or board in your study room that lists all the errors you commonly make and you should consult this when writing.
If you lack ability in a particular area, for example spelling or structuring essays, you must spend time on it and ask your teacher questions to clarify.
The more words you know, the more successful you will be at English, both in school and when using the language in your life after school. You should use exciting synonyms in place of boring words like state, say, get, thing, good, bad, a lot, and, but, so and so on. Make this part of your study every day – find synonyms for the words you repeat too often. Underline any new words you come across in anything you read (articles, websites, books, study texts and even texts from other subjects) and, using a paper dictionary (not an online one), find the definition, the word forms it can take (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) and then practice using it in sentences.
You should have a separate notebook just for vocabulary. It should include the word, its meaning, its forms and an example of usage.
Students who have a wider vocabulary write faster and more fluently, and have a greater ability to play with language so that it has a stronger impact on the reader.
'Students who have a wider vocabulary write faster and more fluently, and have a greater ability to play with language so that it has a stronger impact on the reader.'
Jason Jewell, Year 12 English teacher,
McKinnon Secondary College
You need to know your texts intimately. This not only includes quotes from the text, but also the social and political context in which it was written, its audience/s and purpose/s, characters, themes, plot, narrative perspective and how it uses the typical features of that text-type to have an impact on the reader. You also need to know metalanguage like tone, syntax, similes, metaphors, gaps, silences, pronoun usage, connotations and register.
You must not only name these and use specific quotes from the text to exemplify them; you must also analyse the purpose of the writer using them. For example, how is a particular word intended to generate feelings, opinions and actions in the text’s target audience?
It’s a good idea to read the text once without reading any supplementary/critical materials and without making any notes. On the second reading, you need to annotate your text with your own notes analysing characters, events and language (tone, symbolism/imagery, register and so on).
Make careful notes in your own words, labelled with chapter/act numbers. This includes your initial impression of events, the society depicted, characters and behaviours.
Avoid relying on published texts that analyse the text for you, or on research from the internet. None of this is relevant in a text response – only your interpretation and thorough knowledge of the primary text is.
Plan, draft, write, repeat
When it comes to writing an English essay, you should be willing to plan early, write drafts, seek feedback from others, and refine your style and content to ensure a great finished product.
This means planning all paragraphs before you begin, seeking feedback from your teacher on the logic of your organisation/thinking, and ensuring there is clarity and consistency in the argumentation in the introduction, topic sentences and conclusion of each piece.
You should write practice paragraphs and then re-write them using your vocabulary and accuracy notebooks to check that you haven’t used boring or repeated words, or made the same mechanical errors (e.g. apostrophes, spelling) that you are prone to making.
Submit subsequent drafts to your teacher for feedback and look at both drafts to see the improvements you have made. This makes you conscious of your usual habits and how you can avoid them.
Whilst a wide vocabulary and fluency are typical features of high-scoring English responses, accuracy and clarity are far more important. You cannot do well in English if you don’t write clearly or accurately, no matter how broad your vocabulary is, or how long and detailed an essay is.
Oral presentations make up a significant proportion of your final study score in VCE English – your Point of View speech in Unit 4 is worth 40% of the grade awarded for that semester.
You should prepare by conducting thorough research and ensuring that the script of your speech has plenty of interesting, powerful and persuasive language devices. You should listen to speeches such as TED Talks and observe politicians in the media – all of which model effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills aimed at persuading a target audience.
You need to practice your speech a great deal before the actual task in class, so that you do not rely on notes/cards too much and can speak directly to all members of the audience using your eyes, facial expressions and gestures to show them how passionate you are about the contention you have chosen.
An excellent idea is to record yourself delivering a full version of your speech and identify any ways you could improve, such as ensuring your stance is confident, including enough pauses between points, stressing words for effect, using visual materials and not speaking too quickly.
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