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July 18, 2024, 02:04:32 pm

Author Topic: VCE Literature: Mistakes, Regrets and Advice  (Read 2887 times)  Share 

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VCE Literature: Mistakes, Regrets and Advice
« on: December 02, 2021, 10:46:36 am »
VCE Lit Advice

With heaps of time to kill before results, it seems only fitting to make one of these threads for my favourite subject. I remember pouring over the other advice and AMA threads about lit before I started last year and found them really helpful and reassuring. If you're looking for more really solid advice definitely check out a.l.y.2017's thread, colline's FAQs, and this VCE lit article.

I should put in a disclaimer before you continue reading: I have NO IDEA what study score I've gotten for literature yet. I sincerely hope it is 45+ but I won't find out for two more weeks. So take everything I've written with a grain of salt. However, my sacs (some of which are attached below) all scored quite highly. I'll talk more about what I did and what I could have done to improve them more later.

Mistakes and Regrets (things I did that I definitely think you should avoid):
1. Focusing TOO much on vocabulary.
Especially towards the end of the year I began to worry that my writing lacked sophistication and that I should broaden my vocabulary. I think if you begin nice and early in the year (and only use words once you have a solid understanding of the correct way to employ them in sentences) broadening your vocabulary is a great thing. However, I think the importance of fancy language is often over-emphasized in lit. Especially later in the year, for me, there was no point trying to learn a million different words when the time could be far better spent refining my interpretations of my texts and practicing my analysis. Thankfully after a few practice exams full of stuffy language I wasn't always using correctly my teacher pointed out that I was sacrificing my analysis and interpretation to sound sophisticated. If you can do both, fantastic! However, don't be tempted to sacrifice what you want to say for fancy language. That doesn't mean don't use a wide and sophisticated vocabulary, but be wise about how you use it and how much time you spend perfecting it.

The 2019 Examiner's Report says the following:
In every VCE Study, there is an appropriate vocabulary or discourse. Literature is no exception in this regard. There is an expected formality and seriousness in the language used. Students should avoid using contemporary slang and anachronistic language such as ‘cheated on him/her’, ‘airheaded’, ‘the gender reveal’, ‘morphed’, ‘toxic masculinity’, ‘from the get go’ and so on. Many students used terms such as ‘elucidate’, ‘showcase’, ‘juxtapose’ and ‘disconnect’ incorrectly. Furthermore, many students struggled with prepositions such as ‘towards’ when ‘to’ would have been correct, or ‘within’ when ‘in’ was the appropriate term. Students continue to confuse ‘idyllic’, ‘ideal’ and ‘idealistic’, ‘simple’ and ‘simplistic’, and ‘animal imagery’ and ‘animalistic imagery’. For instance, in discussing Sylvia Plath’s ‘Morning Song’, a number of students described the baby’s
‘moth-breath’ as ‘animalistic imagery’, when the effect is neither base nor animalistic but almost imperceptible and gentle.

The 2018 Examiner's report says:
Some students tried to adopt a very abstruse vocabulary, which was not always well used; no benefit is gained from obscuring meaning by overly convoluted sentences or rarefied vocabulary.

As you can see, it is precision of language that is valued. Use language you can work with confidently and precisely.

2. Trying to pack too much into a single essay.
I always felt an incessant need to cram every related piece of evidence into every piece I wrote. However, simply using the best evidence and allowing lots of room to unpack and dissect it is what lead to better quality writing. At times I had sentences full of many small quotations (often in my introductions) however, in the bulk of my essay I tried to allow adequate room to analyse each quote.

My creative piece was another example of time. Based on Plath's "The Arrival of the Bee Box" I tried to use every image and every I could in my own piece, even though I only had an hour. Then, in my written explanation I tried to explain every single minute nod to Plath's work and it ended up being total word vomit. I wrote 12 pages! 12! In an hour. And naturally, the feedback was, 3 or 4 pages of explanation would have been plenty.

3. Not re-reading my texts enough.
I read Plath's Ariel through (in it's entirety) twice in the year. As we spent plenty of time on the poems in class, I had a fairly good grasp of the text, however, I think another read-through of the whole collection would have been beneficial. Once we got to October, I just never felt I had time to do it. If I did literature again I would have read through my texts more often in the earlier part of the year.

Othello was the text I wrote on for Part A of the exam. I must have read it through three times but it still didn't feel like enough. The third reading in the week leading up to the exam was definitely when things began to click. I began to notice new quotes and evidence for myself. Like with Ariel, I wish I had read it more. Once we had studied it in class, I feel as though I would have gotten a lot out of reading through the play a couple of times at home.

1. Use your teacher and classmates.
It was about July when my teacher saw me in the hallway heading towards him with another stack of essays and jokingly ran the other way. I was not scared to give him piles and piles of practice pieces. Some of the time, he was too busy to mark them and I had to wait weeks to get feedback. But often, I'd have them back the next day. I know plenty of people worry about giving stuff to their teacher but the sort of feedback you can get is invaluable. I've been very lucky but I haven't met a teacher yet who wasn't happy to mark things for me.

In the first half of the year, I was one of the few people in my class consistently writing practice pieces and so my teacher had plenty of time to read them for me. Towards the exam when everyone was writing essays that changed. However, then my classmates and I would swap essays and read them for each other. Reading other people's writing and having to think about what makes a good essay was another really helpful way to improve my own writing.

2. Poetry specific advice: conflating speaker and poet.
For Plath especially, it can be difficult in many of her works to separate the speaker from the poet, and indeed the speakers of various poems from each other. However, each poem has a distinct speaker. A far richer piece can be written when the nuanced differences of the perspectives of the various speakers are compared. Thus, it is really important to remember that Plath is not her speakers.

From the 2020 Examiner's Report:
Others seemed to assume that the speakers of the different poems were identical, frequently equating them to Plath herself. While it is important to have some understanding of the cultural background of the poems, particularly in relation to a poem such as Daddy, a poem about which many students displayed little awareness of the Holocaust imagery, students should not assume either that the ‘I’ of the speaker is the writer herself.

Robert Browning poetry is a really good example of distinctive separation between poet and speaker if you want a way to think about it.

3. Exam Specific: Timing
I know that everyone has their own approach to the exam and I would encourage you to use practice exams to refine your own technique and choose what works best for you. However, I'll still share the technique I practiced that worked really well for me in the exam.

Reading Time:

5 minutes reading the Section A prompt. In my head, I planned my contention and what my three paragraphs would be.
10 minutes reading the Section B passages and coming up with an intepretation.

Writing Time:
2 minutes scribbling down plans for Section A and B.
55 minutes writing my Section B essay.
55 minutes writing my Section A essay.
8 minutes editing both.

I wrote all my practice essays in 55 minutes and so in the exam I naturally finished in about 55 minutes anyway. As my spelling is shocking (it has always been my weakness) the last 8 minutes to go back and fix everything were really beneficial for me.

4. Examiner's Reports
I can't believe I almost forgot to say this but READ THE EXAMINER'S REPORTS (for all your subjects, but especially lit). They are a wealth of knowledge and full of useful tips about what to do, but more importantly, what to avoid.

My sacs:
I've attached all of my sacs below (except the oral). I was a bit disappointed with my marks earlier in the year but I was really happy with both of my close passage sacs.

The marks I got for them were:
- Adaptations and Transformations (Northanger Abbey Oral): 47/50
- Creative Response (Plath): 46/50
- Literary Perspectives Essay (Othello): 47/50
- Close Passage Analysis 1 (Plath): 24/25
- Close Passage Analysis 2 (Northanger Abbey): 24/25

The positive feedback I received on all of my sacs, especially my later sacs was that I had a "strong sense of voice". I didn't really understand what that meant when it was first said to me but I think it comes down to being assertive and bold in what you say. My teacher also described my writing as "sassy" and "distinctive" so I guess that's part of the voice thing as well.

I'd love to answer any questions (especially text-specific questions). And once I get my study score I'll edit it into the top of this post so you can make your own decision about whether my advice is worth listening to. Good luck everyone choosing to undertake lit in the coming years! It really is a fantastic subject and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!