Year 12 English, well done on getting to this point in the course. You are ready to put it all together in the Trial Examination. In thinking about next week, I thought that it might be a good idea to break my advice up into actually doing the papers, and preparing for them over the weekend afterwards.

In approaching the papers, I would pursue the following strategies for Paper 1:

  • During the reading time, check how many questions there are for Section 1, Paper 1, and note their mark value. Do a mental calculation about how much time to devote to each (one mark = about 2.25 minutes). A three mark question is about seven minutes writing, while a 5 mark question is just over 11 minutes, and a six mark question represents about 13.5 minutes writing. These are only rough guides, but don’t spend too long responding to a lower-value question and leave yourself short to develop a response for a higher-value one.
  • Read the questions for Section 1, Paper 1 with the unseen texts in mind. You are not reading these texts for their own sake, but to find something specific. Note the Texts and Human Experiences rubric concept that the question is directing you towards, and try to locate that in the text to which the question refers. Try to mentally note techniques that you notice, and think about how those techniques are working to create meaning in the extract. Can you connect the use of rhyme scheme, in a poem, for instance, to a change in mood for the persona in the poem? Is the use of an extended metaphor in a nonfiction extract integral to conveying an intense experience for the speaker?
  • When you go to compose your short answer responses for Section 1, Paper 1, come out of the blocks with a direct, specific and concrete statement of the Texts and Human Experiences concept for which the question is demanding a response. So if the question were to ask about ‘surprising experiences’ in a text, explicitly name the surprising experience and what effect it had. If you can work in any other rubric terms, because they are relevant to a more nuanced response, do it! So if the ‘surprising experience’ showcased in the text also involves a paradox or an anomaly, refer to the paradox or anomaly as part of your first sentence.
  • There is roughly a one to one mark to example correspondence for short answer questions. So for a three mark question, markers will be looking to see at least two, but more likely three, well integrated and explained examples (quotes) from the text.
  • Try to use techniques in your interpretation–build in any aspect of textual constructedness that you recognise to show off your textual knowledge and how confidently you can handle textual detail.
  • For lower mark value questions, a paragraph response is fine. For questions at five marks and above, especially if they involve comparing two texts, I would look to structure your response in a tiny ‘mini essay’ format, with a one or two sentence intro, a mini body paragraph for the first text (or aspect of the text, if the question asks you to focus on one text) with at least two quotes, and a mini body paragraph with at least two quotes for the second text or idea. Wrap up with a tiny one sentence conclusion.
  • It is up to you, but it may be better to do the paper in section order–attempting the short answers first.
  • For Section 2, with the 1984 essay, definitely spend two to three minutes planning your response at the beginning of the 45 minutes writing time, with bullet points for your structure, and a few jotted quotes that you can use. Having a clear idea of where you are headed is better than changing your argument up halfway through. Make sure that you telegraph to markers, with clear topic sentences that connect back to your thesis, the structure of your argument.

In responding to Paper 2, I would think about the following strategies:

  • In the five minutes reading time, scan the three questions, and check their mark values.
  • Spend one or so minutes reading each question closely, considering the whole question, and relating the question’s parts to its whole. Remember that there are often multiple keywords, and you may have to do something with the connections between those keywords. In your reading, briefly consider some of the points that you could make.
  • Spend slightly longer with Module C: Craft of Writing in Section 3. Note carefully whether there is a Part A and Part B, and how many marks are attached to those, and mentally split the writing time available for this section (40 minutes) into the two parts, if there are two parts, using the formula 1 mark = 2 minutes writing time. For example, if Part A is 15 marks, spend about 30 minutes on Part A. If Part B is 10 marks, spend about 20 minutes on Part B.
  • When it comes to writing time, spend one to two minutes planning, as you did for your 1984 essay.
  • In responding to Section 1, Module A, we would be looking for reference to at least three to four poems (two of Plath’s and two of Hughes’, or two of Plath’s and one of Hughes’, or vice versa)
  • In responding to Section 2, Module B, try to attend to the historical and cultural context of the text as well as its constructedness in language (via techniques).
  • Try to be rigorous in managing your time. If you find yourself drifting past 40 minutes writing for Module A for example, it is better to cut off your response, even if it misses out on a conclusion, and start on Module B. Running overtime on earlier sections can compound, and you may secure a better result for the beginning of a new section than you would chasing the end of a previous one.

In preparing to sit both papers, try to have a strong idea, in your own words, of what each text or set of texts is ‘about’, and be able to point to textual evidence. Try to distil your study notes down to one sheet of paper, on which you feature your most juicy and representative quotes, and be able to talk to the significance of these quotes, and anything technique-wise that is going on in them. Practising timed responses this weekend is a great idea, but it’s probably better to make sure that all your notes and ideas are in order first.

Best of luck, Year 12, you’re ready to do this!