• Diego

Week starting 28 September

Hey everyone! The final term holidays of the year are upon us. Take the time to enjoy these two weeks and relax, but not too much! This is prime time for your own revision. Do a practice exam, or at least try some practice pieces for feedback. Find a balance between study and relaxation, because soon you will find yourself deep in study mode.

This week’s topic is the extended response. This topic is the first of three in a series about each text type that you will need to write for the History exam, where I will explain my experience with each writing style and provide you with some of my tips and tricks.

When I studied VCE History, we learned about extended responses in Unit 3, Area of Study 2 – all the way back in Semester 1. That’s why I’ve chosen to focus on them this week, because for many of you it will have been a long time since you’ve even seen an extended response. Let me refresh your memory!

The Extended Response

The extended response is a relatively short text type that relies exclusively on your own content knowledge. It comprises one page of exam writing in response to a given prompt on the consequences of a revolution, and should take roughly 15 minutes to write. On the exam, you will have to complete two of these.

The Prompt

Extended response questions generally begin with the command term ‘explain’, and will touch on one or more elements listed in the key knowledge and skills section of the Study Design. This usually means that each question will focus on one specific point of content – such as an individual, an event, or a concept – and will require you to draw on multiple pieces of related evidence to answer it.

An example question, taken from the VCAA sample examination, is as follows:

Explain how the New Economic Policy (NEP) changed Russian society. Use evidence to support your response.

Here, the question is clearly centred on the New Economic Policy and its effect on Russian society. A response to this question would explain the consequences of such event, potentially using the ‘scissors crisis’ or statistics of economic recovery as supporting evidence.

The Structure

In my experience, extended responses benefit from a minimalistic and controlled structure. They are definitely not essays nor source analysis responses, requiring much less framing than these two. The following is an explanation of how I personally structured my responses.

Extended responses need only consist of a one-sentence introduction, three body paragraphs, and a one-sentence conclusion. The one-sentence introduction should signpost the three key ideas of the response in quick succession, not any more elaborate than a list. Extra sentences for the introduction can be used if necessary, but I never found any benefit in a longer introduction.

90% of the time spent on extended responses should go to the paragraphs. Three to four paragraphs are recommended, but I literally never wrote four paragraphs for a response. My advice would be to stick to three unless some of your points are really weak. When it comes to topic sentences, these should be short and sweet. In order, I began all of my paragraphs with ‘firstly’, ‘secondly’, and ‘lastly’. This structure helped me get straight to the point of the response without unnecessary framing.

The conclusion resembles the introduction very closely. A one-sentence list of your key ideas, developed slightly from those in the conclusion after the discussion in the response. However, I very rarely actually wrote a conclusion while doing an exam. I mean, what does it really add? That precious time could be better spent elsewhere. If you’re doing well for time, I would recommend you write a conclusion. If you’re not, it should be one of the first things to cut.

The Content

The extended response is all about your own knowledge and your own evidence. Last year’s examination report explicitly noted that the highest-scoring responses gave precise evidence in the form of statistics, dates, policies, and names of legislation. These are the bread and butter of the extended response, which is why it is so crucial that you know the points on the Study Design inside and out. Include as much (relevant) evidence as you feasibly can, because this is the place to show off all that content knowledge.

Additionally, the report notes that the highest-scoring responses included primary sources and historical interpretations. This means that quotes are important for every single text type in History to achieve the highest tier of marks.

The biggest thing to avoid for this text type (and really, all History text types) is providing narrative. Your response should be a detailed and specific explanation of factors/consequences/causes and not a story. Do not write out the story of the event/individual/concept unless you truly have nothing else to give. It’s better to get some marks than no marks, but it’s better to get a lot of marks than some.

The Timing

Extended responses should be written in at most 15 minutes, but the truth is that they are the least essential text type. What I mean by this is that if there is any place to skimp out on time, it is here. Cut the conclusion, rush through smaller paragraphs, whatever it may be – it will be less noticeable here than anywhere else.

Half of a source analysis will be glaringly obvious and looked upon poorly. An unfinished essay is even worse, and will lock you out of a certain mark for it. But the extended response is so minimalistic that you can get away with a little bit less.

That’s not to say you should aim to write less. By all means, be prepared to write a killer response with all the evidence you know. But if time is ticking, I recommend you cut your losses.

Have a question?

In the final weeks before exams Diego 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 Diego might answer it live!

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