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Exam Preparation Week 5

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Hey everyone! It’s Week 5, and the end is almost in sight! Keep up all of your hard work as we enter the final sprint of VCE. Make sure you’re maintaining a balance across your subjects, but also across your life as a whole. It has certainly been a crazy year so far, so please do pat yourself on the back for handling it like a champ.

This week’s topics are problem areas and source analysis. By this stage of exam preparation, you’ll want to start working out which areas you’re most confident in and which areas require more attention. As time gets more and more scarce, studying effectively will be super important to maximise your potential. Spend your time wisely!

What we’ll be going through today are some of my personal tips to you on how to target these problem areas specifically and effectively.

PART 1- Problem Areas

Using a Topic Checklist

If you’re struggling with internalising the breadth of content that you need for VCE History, or if you’ve got some areas down pat but not so much other more obscure topics, this is my number one piece of advice for you. Use a topic checklist.

An effective topic checklist has three components: a list of all possible content topics taken straight from the Study Design; a rating system for you to evaluate your understanding of each topic; and extra space to note down specifically what you need to focus on. The topic checklist that I used in VCE looked something like the one on the right, using Russia Area of Study 1 as an example.

The left column contains all the topics from the Study Design, separated by the categories they fall under (ideologies, individuals, etc). The middle column contains ten bubbles to shade in, ranking understanding from one to ten. I found this particularly useful in providing a visual representation of my understanding – after ranking every topic I was very clearly able to see where I needed to spend more time and effort. The final column is where I wrote exactly what I needed to address in order to increase my understanding, whether it was specific statistics, conceptual understanding, quotes, or something else.

Using this topic checklist, I was able to prioritise in my revision and focus on those pesky problem areas. In addition to just content revision, this helped me figure out what practice responses to write, which leads me on to…

Practicing Responses, not Exams

I spent a lot of time writing out full practice exams under exam conditions when I did VCE History. It was my primary method of revision at this stage – I would sit a full exam under time conditions, make a time to see my teacher and receive feedback and a mark. Yet instead of taking onboard the feedback and applying it directly to my next response, I would fixate on the mark. I would keep completing practice exam after practice exam, thinking that by mere repetition I would increase my scores. It got to the point where my teacher had to refuse to give me a mark so that I would concentrate on the feedback. In the end, my practice exams had mixed results, which is why I would advise against following in my footsteps here.

What you really should be focusing on is the feedback for individual pieces. I wish that instead of writing full practice exams, I wrote individual pieces with a clear focus in mind on what to improve. By completing a full exam, you’ve got five completely different responses, on completely different subject content, and with completely different feedback for each. It is very difficult to absorb all of this different feedback and apply it to the next exam – we simply don’t have the capacity to improve everything all at once. And with our limited available time before exams, the last thing we want to do is be inefficient.

So instead, if I were to do VCE again I would emphasise improving individual responses before going on to do practice exams. Targeting problem areas in content, refining structure for individual response types, and improving historical reasoning and vocabulary are all much more achievable with individual responses than complete exams. This is also where I would recommend rewriting responses. There is a lot to be gained from applying feedback directly to an existing piece, especially when the feedback came from the piece in question. Rewriting responses, or even just annotating or modifying your responses, is a great way to put that feedback to work and think critically about how to improve your writing.

But also Exams

Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t complete practice exams. Quite the contrary, you definitely should – but for a different purpose altogether.

If practice responses are where you apply feedback, practice exams are where you apply exam conditions. The biggest benefit I got from doing so many practice exams was that I was always able to complete responses in the allocated time. By setting aside the two hours and fifteen minutes needed for a practice exam, you’re exercising a lot of essential skills that you can’t exercise normally.

You’re mastering your use of reading time, choosing which questions to focus on and how to plan speedily. You’re familiarising yourself with the exam format, making sure you know where to write each response and how to use the extra writing space. You’re abiding by the strict time conditions, figuring out how to manage your time and where you can afford to cut corners. And lastly, you’re improving your flexibility, or your ability to switch from one revolution to another, or one area of study to the next.

Exams are a necessary component of revision. However, they should not be the only component of your revision. Otherwise you’re limiting your skills practice to a select few.

PART 2- Source Analysis

I’m sure you’re all very much familiar with this text type, since by now you’ve probably covered it across two different revolutions. It’s definitely one you want to work towards having well-covered though, since it’ll make up half of the marks on the exam!

What we’ll be going through today are some of my personal tips and strategies on how to get the most out of this text type.

Question Wording

Every source analysis question you receive in VCE History will be split into three parts, and based on 2-4 given sources. The first two parts are worth five marks each, and the third part is worth ten. This is all stuff that you know, but that’s exactly why I’m mentioning it. It’s the most basic, fundamental things that we often overlook and pay a big price for.

I’m talking about a question’s specific wording. Too often, under the adrenaline of timed conditions and the stress of wading through all of the content knowledge in our brain, we neglect the question’s wording and simply answer what we assume the question is asking. We may forget to pay attention to which sources the question asks that we refer to, or we may assume a certain command term when we are given another. These are all easily avoided by following an infallible two-step formula:

Read the Question, Answer the Question.

You might think I’m taking the mickey, but I’m really not. One of my best teachers in high school gave our class these words of advice before a big SAC, and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed in the midst of an exam and overthink things or possibly underthink things, but as long as you follow the infallible formula you will stay right on track.

If the question asks you to “outline” why a certain event occurred, that’s exactly what you should do. Outline, provide a clear but concise summary of its components. If a question says you should do so “using Sources 1 and 2”, then you should do so using exclusively sources 1 and 2 – none of that own knowledge stuff, unless asked for explicitly or under the general umbrella term “use evidence”. If the question asks you to “analyse”, you’d better write in-depth about causes, consequences and links. But if asks you to “evaluate”, don’t you forget to give your informed opinion.

Written Sources

In my experience, written sources are the best thing you can get in a source analysis question. Everything is there, clearly visible and in understandable words, for you to pick and choose quotes that best answer the given question. These sources effectively test your ability to choose, apply, and integrate meaningful quotes into your responses, serving as external evidence to topics that you (hopefully!) know inside and out. That said, there are a couple of things I’d urge you to keep in mind or try to practice when writing these responses.

Firstly, be sure to attribute each quote that you use to the source that it belongs to. Especially when asked to incorporate multiple sources, you must distinguish for your examiner which quote came from which source. This is honestly as easy as putting “as per Source 1” or “according to Source 2” somewhere in the sentence. I would recommend doing so at the end. Regarding abbreviations like “(S1)”, don’t. It’s confusing, it breaks up the flow of your writing, and it’s shorter. Longer attributions take up space and prevent you from writing too much for part A & B.

Secondly, make sure that you actually unpack the quotes that you’re taking from the sources when you need to. This doesn’t apply to every single question – in fact, there are many questions for which blind repetition is the way to go. But some responses will benefit from extra analysis, so think about chucking in a cheeky “… thus demonstrating xyz”.

Visual Sources

Whenever I saw a visual source analysis question in VCE, I groaned internally. In my experience, these tend to be trickier to unpack and write about, since there are no direct quotes to base your response off of. Here is my advice for answering them.

Firstly, get creative. A visual source has just as much content as a written source, if you know how to look creatively. Rely on all the tools of visual analysis – who is depicted in the source, and how are they represented? What symbols or objects are present, and why? How is colour used? Is there a caption? Does the source have a name? Where is the source referencing? I like to think of visual source analysis as art history analysis, and sometimes it very much is. Get creatively analytical, and draw as much as you can from the source to put into your response.

If you’re struggling with this, I recommend gridlining. This is a technique where you divide up the source into nine squares by drawing three equidistant vertical and horizontal lines. Then, you look at each square individually and pull apart any interesting things. By reducing the space that you’re analysing, you can overcome the overwhelming nature of analysing a whole source, and really get stuck into the details of an image.

Secondly, just like with written sources, you need to make sure you attribute to the source in your writing. Because here we don’t have quotes to put into our writing, you’ll need to physically describe what you see in the source as you analyse it, as well as mention which source it comes from.

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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