Tackling the Exam
Hey everyone! I hope you enjoyed the school holidays and took care of yourselves. Of course, I also hope you’ve been taking some time to study and mentally prepare yourselves for the weeks to come! If you haven’t done either of these things, it’s okay. Just put your best foot forward from now on!
This week’s topic is tackling the exam. It’s time for us to start properly thinking about the History exam – what it’s going to look like, how to write one, and the decisions that need to be made before going into the exam room. As usual, today I’ll be giving you my personal advice, shaped by my own experience of VCE History and the many practice exams I’ve written in my time.
Let’s start with the basics. The History exam is notoriously difficult, fast-paced, and demanding. It is a two-hour exam worth 80 marks in total, but comprising two source analysis questions with three parts each, two extended response questions, and one full-length essay. There are pages upon pages of writing for this exam, spanning content from throughout the entire year. Specific dates, quotes, statistics, and more are also required for each response type in the exam, resulting in the notoriety of the History: Revs exam.
In addition to your writing book – a VCAA-issued booklet of lined pages that somewhat resembles NAPLAN writing space – you will have the question book. It is important that you familiarise yourself with the guidelines for using the writing booklet, following all instructions about writing within the bounded areas and labelling which revolution you are responding to in each section. As for the question book, its purpose should be pretty evident. Here is where you will find your sources, prompts, and questions for whichever revolution you’re writing on. There is a set of questions of each revolution under Section A, and a different set for each under Section B.
Flipping the Exam?
Section A consists of a source analysis task for the ‘causes’ of a revolution and two extended response tasks for its ’consequences’. Section B consists of an essay for the ‘causes’ of a different revolution and a source analysis task for its ‘consequences’. You may not write on the same revolution for both sections.
The first decision you should make before sitting the History exam is whether you will ‘flip’ it or not. What I mean by this is that you should decide which revolution you will write on for each Section. My school, as I’m sure most schools do, taught us each revolution alongside certain text types. For example, our SAC for Russia AoS 2 was an extended response while our SAC for China AoS 1 was an essay. This meant that we were primed for writing the exam a certain way – Russia for Section A and China for Section B.
Early on during exam preparation, I avoided choosing a set way to answer the exam. My thought process was that if I didn’t like the questions for Russia-China, I could flip the exam and do China-Russia instead. I was very quickly proven wrong when I attempted my first flipped exam. As it turns out, writing an essay on a revolution you have not practiced essay-writing for is not the easiest thing to do. It was surprising how difficult it was to apply my knowledge of a revolution and its content to a different text type.
As a result, I ended up deciding not to flip the exam. From that moment on I decided that no matter what the questions we received were, I would answer the way our school had taught us. I thought about practicing both methods, but very quickly decided against it. Time is limited in VCE, and the last thing I wanted was to halve my preparation across two approaches.
This decision is what worked for me, but definitely may not work for you. You should explore your options and figure out what feels right. But it is a process you should start sooner rather than later in order to maximise your preparation time.
Writing the Exam
You sit down at your exam table, and the invigilator announces the beginning of reading time. What do you do? To help you figure out your own plan, here’s what I’d do:
First I scan quickly through each of the questions for the revolutions that I’m going to answer. I do this only for their respective sections – no use looking at the Russia Section B questions when I know I’ll be responding to Russia Section A. I take mental note of the concepts, people, or events that the questions want me to talk about, getting my brain to access the best information it has on file.
After a quick flick through, I return to the essay prompt and immediately plan out my paragraphs in my head. Obviously I cannot write on anything during reading time, but I plan mentally anyway so I can jot it down as soon as writing time starts. I plan out my contention, including my key focus for each paragraph and the quotes I want to use (quotes are particularly necessary for the essay).
Once I’m satisfied, I do something similar for the extended response questions, although I focus more on evidence than quotes or ideas. Then, with whatever time I have left, I think about how I’d answer the source analyses.
When writing time begins, I write in my response booklet from start to finish – I never liked swapping between sections because the booklet can get pretty unwieldy. I ease myself into the essay with the first source analysis and continue sequentially until the end. I’m careful to draw an arrow at the bottom of a page to indicate when I’ve written more in the extra space given, and I’m careful to write fast, but legibly.
I continue writing non-stop until writing time is complete. When it is, I look around and smile because I never have to write a History exam again!!!
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!