Exam Preparation Week 1
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Hey everyone! My name is Diego and I’m a lecturer at Connect Education. For the next couple of months, I’ll be writing a weekly blog here for VCE History: Revolutions, covering a different topic each week! This is one of the many subject-specific blogs that we’ve started at Connect to help you guys in the final stretch of Year 12. It has been a crazy year for all of us, and we recognise that the class of 2021 have had it rough with all the confusing and unexpected changes that have had to happen. Our hope is that these blogs can make this coming period a little bit easier for all of you, and give you some ideas of how best to spend your time in the coming weeks.
Our topic for this week is Final SAC Preparation. Right about this time last year I was preparing for my own final History SAC – a timed Source Analysis task on Area of Study 2 of the Chinese Revolution. Regardless of which revolution or what format your SAC will cover, in my experience they all share two central elements of History as a whole: content and writing. What I’ll do in the remainder of this blog post is run through how I personally prepared for my own SAC and what I found useful.
Although the huge differences between school in 2019 and school in 2020 mean not everything here will be applicable to all of you, I’m certain there will be something useful for everyone to take. At the very least, these preparation tips will serve as a solid introduction to thinking about the exam.
Content knowledge is the foundation of History: Revolutions. It ranges from the general narrative of a revolution (roughly what happened and in what order; who was involved in which main events) to the exact specifics of it (primary/secondary quotes, dates and statistics). Without it, we cannot answer any SAC or exam questions no matter how sophisticated our writing may be.
In the week leading up to my SAC, I solidified my content knowledge in three different ways:
Everything in my History binder was highlighted in one of eight colours, each for a different piece of content knowledge. Whether it was an event (red), a date (yellow), or a quote (orange for primary and pink for secondary), colour-coding is how I got the content to stick inside my head. It was in my notes, in my textbook, and even in my practice pieces. In my personal experience it was invaluable to categorise all the different forms of content knowledge found in History.
However, highlighting is not enough in and of itself. While it may help to categorise information by colour, I found that I learned content the best when I paired highlighting with individual annotations. I did this primarily in my textbook. For example, if I highlighted a primary quote, I would label it by speaker and content (E.g. “Lin Biao on the People’s Liberation Army”). I found this particularly useful for quotes because it helped me connect whole sentences to only a few key words, which made recall much easier during an examination.
While the first two strategies worked great in the lead-up to the SAC, as the day got closer I found it increasingly hard to cram more content into my head. So I changed tactics – instead of drilling my eyes into the textbook, I went for a walk and listened to a podcast. But not just any podcast – The China History Podcast. I would listen to the episodes relating to my Area of Study, pre-empt the content the host would talk about, and be happily surprised by how much I actually knew. Whether it’s a Netflix series, a documentary, or a podcast, history media is a great way to revise when you can’t revise anymore.
If content knowledge is the foundation for History, writing style is what goes on top. You need content to be able to write, but without writing you have nothing.
Here are some strategies I actively practiced in my writing pieces to improve my style before the SAC:
While quotes are necessary to demonstrate good content knowledge, I tried very hard to avoid including them for that purpose alone. In my opinion, stand-alone quotes read jarringly and disrupt the flow of a written piece. Whenever I included a quote I made sure to embed it neatly, and related it to other supporting evidence, such as a statistic or an event. This allowed me to synthesise both pieces of evidence into a more developed argument.
Competing historical interpretations are perfect for showing depth in your writing. If one historian’s quote contradicts another’s, which one best supports your argument? I loved to note down cases like these, and include both quotes in my writing but provide evidence for why one is more correct. This helped me to create a more nuanced argument and engage deeper with the quotes. Subordinating conjunctions such as “while…” and “although…” are perfect for this.
In all of the History text types, connective words like “similarly”, “conversely”, and “furthermore” were my best friends. They signal explicitly to a reader when you develop a topic or completely change ideas within a piece. Effectively, they provide your writing structure – by using them, you force yourself to stay on track and guide your examiner as they read. Similarly, think about using a cohesive tie between paragraphs – a small phrase at the beginning of a new topic sentence that relates to the previous paragraph. For example, “in addition to the devastation of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution…” This helps the fluidity of your essay and the coherence of its ideas.