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Chinese SL: A Complete Guide
« on: August 26, 2021, 10:07:09 pm »
Chinese SL: A Complete Guide

Hello everyone! Upon posting an advice reply to a small thread, my writing kinda snowballed into this copious mass of text, so now I declare this my guide to Chinese SL! Chinese SL can definitely be a challenge (and a pretty trying one) sometimes, but it's a very rewarding subject to do. For context, I achieved a raw SS of 42 (A+ A+ A+) in 2019. I know it's not the most impressive score ever (especially compared to all the other guide-writers yikes), but I hope some of my experiences could at least provide one perspective on CSL in VCE. Be warned, this isn't quite what I'd call a quick, snappy post (apologies in advance) so get comfortable and dig in XD

Edit: a lot of this advice specifically addresses XJS (where I did CSL) as a vast majority of students seem to study Chinese VCE externally. Please take everything with a grain of salt; school-specific advice was drawn purely upon my own experience!

Summer holidays
It's great that you're thinking about some pre-studying and holiday prep work, because boy is it something you cannot miss. Languages in general are not cram-able subjects in the slightest, and given the competition in CSL, it's probably in your best interests to start as early as you can. Now of course you definitely shouldn't over do it ither; burnout in CSL is even more common than in other subjects and I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that XJS can be pretty intense. All things considered, it's better to take it relatively easy and enjoy yourself over the break.

Generally, XJS will consistently give you holiday homework and the holidays before 3/4 is no exception. Before the start of term 1, I had to:
- Write a complete draft for General Conversation (GC) (I started Detailed Study (DS) drafting too, but the study design has changed since I did this)
- 3-5 practice essays, with varied essay types (eg. informative, persuasive, imaginative more so now that it's become compulsory)
- Lots of fine-tuning and exercises that hone your practical skills: mainly listening/dictation and reading comprehension
- Booklets of characters to know in the usual XJS style; usually expected to memorise and copy each about 20 times

Now, I know this isn't exactly 'light studying' and I don't want to stress you out this early on. However, XJS has pretty high expectations so you're going to want to have a go at most of this work. Focus on the areas you struggle in more- I personally always had a big problem with 错别字 and essay writing, so I focused on completing tasks related to those as well as drafting my oral. Even though it's pretty likely you already speak Chinese and get some media exposure at home, a great form of extra prep is to watch some documentaries (CCTV in particular). The language tends to be much more formal than your average everyday conversation or TV program, making for a great opportunity to pick up some extra 成语 and learn formal speaking styles. Plus, it can be quite fun! To start, I recommend 舌尖上的中国: it might be on YouTube.

Over the end of this year and start of next year, XJS will provide you with a massive array of books. These will include:

Essay-writing guide: A complete rundown of each text type, how to write each, useful connective phrases/words to use, and the expected structure. This guide will also hold the information about each layout (eg. email, letters, newspaper article etc.), which will be vital to remember (I'm not kidding, whether you sign your name on the left or right of a letter actually affects your mark).

High-scoring essay compilation: Pretty much a collation of essays in the 17-20 range from SACs and trial exams run by XJS. These are gold, as the standard is (from what I've heard) very close to VCAA and also give you a great model to work from. Stealing argument ideas for persuasives, fancy language for informatives etc. is what these essays are for. The students who write these essays tend to all be 40+ scorers too.

General exercises: Listening practices, reading comp, essay questions, idiom memory-testing work: the works. Basically all your non-writing skills will be covered by this book and it's pretty high quality. There's quite a lot of work to get through with these (it took me doing it every week all year to finish), so it's very useful to turn to whenever you want to hone particular areas before SACs.

Idioms book: XJS likes to collect a massive list of 成语 every year (at least while I was doing CSL) which you'll definitely want to take full advantage of. An extremely broad range is covered but I'd highly recommend going through this with your parents, teacher, or a reliable online dictionary (this one is good) to make sure you're understanding all the nuance and how to use each idiom properly.

Practice exams: XJS will provide original practice exams, written usually by the head teachers. They will most likely be given to you a little further down the track (about mid-year) and are definitely a good guide; however they sometimes get unrealistically hard (as XJS likes to do) so I'd say VCAA is still a better indication for end-of-year difficulty. A great resource nevertheless and definitely prepares you for the worst.

Other than XJS:
VCAA FAQs document: For all subjects in general, it seems like very few people are aware of the FAQs documents made for each domain and let me tell you: these are invaluable. They usually go into quite some detail about exactly what you'll need to know and what you won't, so check this one out if you get puzzled with what's expected.

CSL Study Design: If you haven't already, give the SD a thorough read before you go into 3/4. I really regret almost never referring to the SD (being in year 10 I barely knew what a study design was, so I probably only visited it about twice in the whole year) as I was often pretty confused about assessments and weighting. This is your best friend for the full brief on what you can be assessed on, how important it is, and what forms the assessment can take.

VCAA past examinations and examination reports: Although most of these old exams relate to previous study designs, they can still be massively useful. Look to these for practice essay topic ideas; especially for the pre-2020 study design, just skipping the translation section should make the entire exam relevant.

SACs, competition, and expectations in XJS
Since SACs are specific to each school, information about them is usually the most in demand for imminent CSL students. I don't want to say too much because things may have changed since I was at XJS, and SACs are a very specific experience for each person anyway. Just for some potential insight, I'll still describe my own experience of the SAC procedures, competition with other students, and the workload/pressure you might expect to get from XJS.

The way SACs were conducted is very, very similar to the tests you might've experienced in VCE prep or 1/2 (I did both of these before 3/4). Down to everything- the format, the length, difficulty, and content. It's not surprising given how obsessed XJS is with optimum preparation but I wouldn't say the SACs are crazy hard, as long as you prepare well. I won't go into the specifics of each SAC as they have changed with the new study design, but [urlhttps://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Documents/vce/chinese2nd/2019ChineseSLSD.pdf]this[/url] should give you a good idea of what you'll be assessed on. Homework and assignments in the weeks leading up to a SAC tend to be very reflective of the assessment too, so watching out for trends in those may be a good move.

Competition and expectations
I suppose it won't come as a surprise that XJS-style study is really not for the faint of heart. The competition was definitely pretty rigorous and the spread of students definitely varies a lot: usually, many sitting in the low 30s range but also lots and lots in the high 40s. I'll say that the way they prepared students was pretty extreme and much, much more like school in China than Australia. One preparation activity that my campus did was that they took the top two ranking students from each class and put them into about 6 rounds of extra practice exams (I attended these all as I was rank 2 in my class). These involved:
- Timed oral performances (15 mins) in front of all attending students, for every student (this took about 4-5 hours)
- 4 full practice exams, ranked (over a few sessions after school and holidays)
- Compulsory oral practice with community volunteers (typically 1-2 hours after class every week)
- Oral 'boot camp' (presented my oral roughly 5 times in a day to different teachers and recorded detailed advice from them)

This can definitely be tough and it can certainly be a shock, compared to other subjects. Nearing my oral exam, the head teacher at XJS heard my oral presentation at one of the holiday trials and literally singled me out straight away: she immediately asked me to come in for another day that week because I was apparently falling far beneath the standards of an A+ student. Needless to say, it wasn't the most pleasant surprise ever, but the rigor of the school did help drive me forward in my exam preparation.

Something I've got to say is that teachers tend to be quite harsh on their students: high expectations drive this as well as a wish to motivate their students. You can usually expect VCAA to actually be a little easier on you than XJS (sometimes they intentionally tell you your performance is only 'all right' when in fact it's pretty good- it's just their way of showing 'tough love' to students, especially the potential raw 40s-50s). Definitely don't take everything they say to heart; I know it can be demoralising but teachers' actions are only in an effort to benefit you.

How much do you need to study?
The iconic mantra for study is quality > quantity. However, even more so in the case of CSL, a certain quantity is needed for good quality preparation. A breakdown of how much I studied per week:

Written: completing 3-4 essays, 1-2 full practice exams, studying (and often copying down) 5-6 example essays, and as many miscellaneous exercises as I could fit in. Nearing SACs, I'd focus more on the relevant areas to testing: more essay work and less practice exams if it was a writing task, only 1-2 essays and a lot more listening work if it was a dictation SAC.

Oral: at the start of the year, ~1 hour a day of practice which increased to ~2-3 hours per day around 4 months before my oral exam. I would also spend about an hour each week updating my script and perfecting language choices. For my DS, I also watched a 12-part series on my topic of investigation (李清照 poetry) and read/memorised quite a few famous poems (man, I can still recite some of them!)

This is purely how much work I felt was necessary to achieve the best result possible; it's different for each person! Some of my classmates went to absolutely crazy lengths (a friend once wrote and memorised 10 practice essays for a single SAC), whilst some were a little more laid back and still hit the low 40s. CSL is a study-intensive subject but what's important is to figure out how much study works best for you personally.

Oral advice
I wouldn't say I was ever the strongest in orals, although I wasn't terrible either (coming from speaking Chinese at home and being pretty fluent since I was very little). That being said, orals can definitely be improved drastically through practice, imitation, and some strategic scripting. There are a huge number of things to pay attention to in orals: from language style to content, to expressions and gestures, to style, to your improvisation skills; these factors all affect your performance on SACs and the final exam.

tl;dr: practice, practice, practice, and constant revision of your script.

Writing the script
Although scripting isn't exactly what VCAA wants out of orals, it's pretty much inevitable looking at the competition (and being in XJS... yikes). However, the standards in both XJS SACs and VCAA exams are extremely high: the level of ease and formality expected is (according to my first-language-Chinese-speaker parents) above what most people in China can achieve. Writing up a script can go a really long way, so here are my tips for preparing your oral content.

Use a similar approach to essay writing. Of course, some adjustments will be necessary to make it seem more natural and enhance coherence when speaking, but try to follow a similar style to your writing voice. Not only will it be much more natural, but your answers will take on a much better structure, allowing you to address everything important in a logical manner. This can also double as great essay-writing practice, so 一石二鸟!

Don't overdo it with the language. As much as VCAA assessors rave for flowery, idiomatic language, overdoing it will both make your script incredibly hard to remember and also sound obviously memorised (as if somebody else wrote it and you simply rote learned the phonetics!). Formality, even verbosity is a plus but only so far as it sounds believable and natural.

Goldilocks rule. Your script should not be too long (risking getting cut off and not fully covering the question, boring the assessors, having memory lapses, or having a really hard time even committing the whole thing to memory) or too short (uninteresting, bland to assessors, suggesting that you have nothing more to say). I went for roughly 150-200 words per question (a bit on the long side), but anything that you can comfortably, conversationally say in about 30-50 seconds is ideal.

Variety is key. XJS will give you a list of common GC questions and areas to consider when you start scripting and I strongly recommend that you follow it. Make sure you work plenty of different topics into your prep to optimise your chances of piquing your assessor's interest. High scorers tend to have lots to say about lots of different subjects; make sure you prepare for potential follow-ups as well (as many people tend to freeze up on these. This is what separates high-end students in the exam).

Speaking, manners, and gestures
I don't blame you if this feels a little silly (it did for pretty much every class!), but a little acting is a must in CSL orals. If you want to set yourself apart, developing your presentation skills can go a long way to setting yourself up for that top mark.

Assessors love a slightly slow speaking pace. Not only does it give them time to comfortably take notes and actually take in everything you say (making all that prep worth it!), but it elevates the impact of your speech a lot. Talking a little slowly (but not too slowly) with measured, thoughtful-sounding pauses makes it easier to collect your thoughts (and buy time when you get stuck) and sound much more relaxed, as if speaking at a high level of formality and prestige is easy and everyday for you (telling examiners that your spoken Chinese abilities are off the charts).

Hand gestures, facial expressions, and movement. Again, Goldilocks rule applies: not too little but definitely not too much. XJS will especially reinforce the important of physical expression, as it relaxes both you and the examiners, makes your presentation more engaging, and makes you seem overall more prepared. However, it's honestly very difficult to overdo it seeing as it's pretty comical, so most people go on the dramatic side or their efforts won't even show! Pointing to images (if applicable) clearly and confidently is also a must in supporting your oral content.

Eye contact. No explanation needed! I know this can be super awkward (especially when the assessors are icily working a harrowing stare into your soul) but it is paramount to try and maintain eye contact if you can. A trick I used was to just look at the examiner's eyebrows: they won't know the difference but it feels less spooky. Looking around too much can seem shifty or nervous, but alternating between eye contact with each assessor (usually there will be two) can make it easier.

Exam advice
The exam layout has changed a little since I did CSL back in 2019; however, I do think a lot of the sections remain pretty similar. The CSL written exam can be an absolute beast, so here's some advice that still applies:

Section-wise preparation. The good thing about language exams is that they tend to be tightly structured with allocations for listening, comprehension, and essays, compared to other subjects where it's only a matter of MC/SA. Where in other subjects you'd target individual areas of study as you prepare, I strongly recommend that you spend time focusing on individual sections and hone in on the ones you're not as strong in. For example, I wrote so, so many practice essays (every type apart from imaginative, roughly 3-4 per week) under timed conditions because it was my weakest area.

Don't overlook the 'easier' sections. That being said, you certainly don't want to overlook the 'easy' sections, like dictation. Although your teachers will constantly tell you that the essay (well, essays) are the most important part of the exam, it's really just what separates top-end students; raw 50 from raw 40. Losing silly marks on the 'easier' sections could cost you a lot as after all, the bulk of the marks are still in these parts of the exam. Make sure you absolutely eliminate mistakes in these sections to score highly; it's much easier to improve and do well on the rest of the exam than the essays.

Find mistake patterns in your preparation. I would say this is important in any subject: to identify common reasons for your mistakes and to come up with strategies to prevent them. For me, I used to constantly make reading comprehension mistakes by skimming over names too fast (eg. mixing up 大卫 and 大王), leading me to confuse what each character did in a passage. To fix this, I'd underline each name differently (once for 大卫, twice for 大王) to make names harder to miss.

Full sentences, always, just in case. Even though English answers technically don't need to be in full sentences, I still recommend writing everything out in full. XJS sometimes said not to bother (in a bid to save time), but realistically it's only a few seconds that will make answers much clearer to both examiners and to you.

The bottom line
That's pretty much all I've got for now! If you got through all of this, thank you so much for your patience bearing with me through this monster of a reply. Remember that everybody struggles and (as much as you can, I know) try to enjoy the language just for yourself and for what it is. I'll happily come back to answer any further questions anytime. Hopefully I was able to provide some useful insight into the course. I wish everyone the absolute best of luck with CSL and all your VCE studies! You got this :D
« Last Edit: October 24, 2021, 09:11:57 am by wingdings2791 »
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