Hello again! Exam time is drawing closer and closer, which on the one hand is a little daunting, but also really exciting too! If it makes you feel any better, know this - as soon as you walk out of your first exam, your whole perspective changes. Out of the friends I’ve surveyed, 100% of them agreed that after that first exam, you really get a feel for what VCE exams feel like, which can be a real confidence booster. In the meantime, I know there’s a lot of stress involved in the lead-up to November. To help combat this, my next couple weeks with this blog will be directed towards exam skills and maximising study.
Today, what I really want to look at is planning for ten-mark questions. This is something that students all over the state tend to struggle with, so I’m going to share my personal planning technique for these types of questions.
I do have a really personal philosophy when it comes to answer-planning in general, which is that you’ve gotta break a couple eggs to make an omelette. By that I mean, you need to use a little bit of time to plan in order to gain time, and efficiency, and fluency, when you actually start writing. So so often, I see students jump straight into a 10-mark question without thinking ahead. Usually, they get about halfway through - and then they get stuck. This is for a number of reasons:
- They run out of examples to use
- They forget what they were arguing about mid-sentence
- They start feeling stressed by timed conditions/the ominous threat of the ‘VCE EXAM’
These are all really valid reasons for feeling lost mid-answer, but there’s a way to get around them, and that’s by planning! So let’s go through some steps you can take based on this sample question:
“Media narratives can convey ideology through the selection and application of media codes and conventions. Analyse how media codes and conventions convey ideology in the media narratives that you have studied this year.” (10 Marks)
Step 1: Unpacking the Question
At this early step, we need to start highlighting keywords here, since this will get our brains to start thinking of relevant examples we can use. So what are the keywords here?
- Ideology - which ideologies will you choose to look at from each of your films ie. environmentalism in Avatar (2009) or racial inequality in Get Out (2017)
- Codes - which examples might you discuss?
- Conventions - which examples might you discuss?
Importantly at this step, we need to make sure that all of the examples we choose are relevant to the question. We’re always, always going to be relating back to how these codes and conventions convey ideology, so staying on subject is key here.
Step 2: Dot Pointing Your Examples
So unpacking the question has got us brainstorming some relevant examples we can use - now we need to decide which of these examples we’re actually going to include in our answer. The way I used to do this was by dot-pointing, and I don’t mean this in a mental way, I mean physically and visually:
Lots of students don’t know this, but in a VCE written exam, the examiners are only allowed to look at the black lines and what you write on them. Anything on the edges of the paper doesn’t count - because we don’t get planning paper for Media, we can use this space to our advantage. In this example, you can see how I’ve quickly noted some terms like ‘sound’ and ‘point of view,’ so I can use them later in my example. I’ve also branched out in red pen to remind myself to give details like ‘musical score’ and ‘effects’ under the sound dot point.
The point of this step is to start transforming your ideas into concrete arguments.
Step 2.5: Deciding How Many Examples
So we’re making dot points, things are going well, but we need to decide how many dot points to make, or more generally, how many examples we need. This usually depends on how many marks the question is worth. Here’s a breakdown of this particular question:
10 marks = 5 marks for each film, ie. 5 marks for Get Out and 5 marks for Avatar
Within those 5 marks for each film:
- 3 marks for three examples - maybe two codes and one convention, or some other combination
- 1 mark for identifying the ideology present within the film
- 1 mark for stating how the codes and conventions conveyed that specific ideology
Also, just keep in mind that you should try and keep examples of the films balanced whenever you can, so an even amount for each.
Step 3: Structuring Your Answer
Home stretch! We’ve brainstormed a bunch of examples, chosen our favourites, and now we’re clear on the exact things we want to say - now we just need to put them in order. This way, once we start writing in full sentences we know exactly where to go, because we’ve made ourselves a roadmap of how to write out our answer.
I would highly recommend putting your best answers first. The reason I say this is because if you run out of time in your exam, at least you can be confident that your favourite and strongest answers are guaranteed to be in your response.
At this point, you can also decide whether you want to constantly compare your films in one big paragraph, or if you want to do two smaller paragraphs with one on each film. If you tend to struggle with timed exam conditions or writing long responses, I would suggest the two small paragraphs - they let you focus on one film at a time, which is a lot less stressful on the brain.
One last thing! Before we start writing, we just have to remind ourselves to A.T.B.Q - answer the bloody question (an acronym my teachers used at school which I’ve never forgotten). Make sure we’re always linking back to our main question (like TEEL paragraphs in English). Lastly, please remember, don’t retell the story!!
And that’s it!
Hopefully this framework will help you to plan out your responses. I should note that I didn’t just use my dot-pointing method for 10-markers - I would plan out answers all the way down to the 3-marker range. It’s always been my policy that planning before you write makes your answer look better, sound better and increases your chances of getting full marks. Make sure you get around to practicing these skills on some sample exams in the next couple weeks!
Have a question?
In the final weeks before exams Stefan will be hosting 2 Live Q&A sessions to help everyone get fully prepared for exams. If you have a question on how to best get prepared, have been stuck on an exam question or want to clarify an area of content send it through here, and Stefan might answer it live!