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Thread: English Advanced QandA slow release

  1. #1
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    English Advanced QandA slow release

    Hi guys,

    Sorry for the delay in putting the Advanced session through - I had an influx of student needs, and obviously current students come first. This break did, however, give me the idea to rethink the structure a bit. I have decided to do more of a slow-release Q and A to give students more time to private message with anxieties, queries and concerns. In turn I may amend, augment my answers. So I will now answer 1 questions per day, continuing on a necessity basis.

    As always if you wish to get in touch with me, either for private (individual or group) sessions, or simply to engage with the SR QandA process, you can pm me. Tutoring enquiries are better sent to dblo7401@uni.sydney.edu.au or my mob 0405836941.

    Please don't feel shy! I have really enjoyed connecting with students of all levels this year. HSC is a difficult time and it helps to have people to guide you.

    Thanks,
    Dave

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    So without further ado - let's begin.


    Q1 What is the single most important thing to get right in English Advanced?

    Although its satisfying (especially in quick skim) to get simple, distilled advice, usually to achieve well in something in life isn't so simple as getting one core thing right. Thus usually I would hate answering a question like this. Remarkably, however, in HSC English Advanced you can actually answer this question and very simply (if not quickly) - THESIS.

    If you understand how to write a thesis, and make the barest, most mediocre attempt at the other components (the module requirements, linguistic and technical analysis, good grasp of content etc) you will still do well in Eng Adv. If, however, you do the converse - i.e. write well about your texts, smash the techniques out of the park, write and express yourself well e.t.c but you don't know how to properly form a thesis (and thus introduction) and to ANSWER THE QUESTION, you will rarely scrape a band 5.

    There are many ways of explaining this. The easiest is that the thesis ties everything else together. It's where you graduate from younger wishy washy yr 8 English to real-world writing. It's also absolutely essential for any job in the future, virtually, where you use written communication. If you aren't good at creatives, find metaphors confusing, symbolism tenuous, and don't enjoy reading - dont worry - you can literally still top the state in HSC English. At very least, you can - with adequate work and guidance - easily get a solid band 6 to buttress your other marks and ATAR. But don't know how to write a thesis? Forget about it.

    There are two things, at this preliminary QandA stage I want to mention about the thesis (since you should already have a fundamental grasp of it from your school teacher and/or personal research).

    1. Learn to differentiate between solid/good fundamental argument and generic, non-sense (literally makes no sense) thesis:

    Because the AoS/Module requirements stay the same year to year, students tend to recycle essays as well get recycled teaching. In itself, this is fine - there's only so many ways, particularly in a 40 minute essay, that you can state how Richard III or Machiavelli explore the relationship between human nature and power, or how the Tempest reflects discovery etc. BUT, given that your thesis may sound the same as many other students, make sure it at least makes sense.

    Many students I teach recycle words they think sound great and are used completely out of context in meaningless phrases. If the marker gets the sense you don't understand your own thesis you are in big trouble. KISS is fine - keep, it simple. Having said that --->

    2. Make your thesis MASTERFUL:

    What does this mean? The greatest thing you can do to really hit the top echelon of English marks is to sound like a keen, intelligent, enthusiastic student with a great grasp of English. Your work needs to have authority. If your introduction has authority, flair, intent - then even if you're ultimate evidence (body paragraphs) falls short you will get the benefit of the doubt. Maybe instead of a 96-97 you get a 93-94. If you start poorly, your thesis is meaningless, generic or wishy washy, your texts aren't properly introduced, you don't answer the question - it doesn't matter how brilliant your body paras are, you will be at very best pushing the band 5 ceiling.

    The best thing then, is to have a really flexible thesis. Something which is amenable to many questions. Examples

    1. 'The Prince is a timeless revelation of the corrosive nature of power, and its ever present role in realpolitik as a counter point to human morality and justice.'

    thesis assessment: Yes, this is good. Its simple and broad statement, yet the expression is individualised and it sounds like someone who knows what they are talking about. It references major concerns of all literary (English) enquiry, e.g. power, human nature, morality, justice. However, if you think about it, you could easily bend it to a lot of different questions by subsuming/including the question. That is, if your general thesis is BIGGER/LOFTIER than any question they might ask, then you can roll with it.

    e.g. Discuss how the Prince presents power as the fundamental principle in all human relations?

    Clearly our thesis answers this. But you want to really smash the question so I would fine tune our thesis to something like:

    'As a timeless revelation of the corrosive nature of power, situating power's role through realpolitik as absolutely central, Machiavelli eschews the notion that human morality and justice are key constituents of the human condition; rather it is power that is fundamental.
    '


    2. 'A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is an avant garde, post colonial satirisation concerning our fate as humans in the wake of reproductive technology and new intelligence forms.'

    Thesis Assessment: Way too specific. If you really really know your stuff you can expand to a more general question like - 'How does brave New World show the relationship between humans and technology' - but you may find yourself getting stuck and, consequently, your evidence (examples, technical analysis) will be too pre-prepared, rigid, stiff e.t.c


    This discussion on thesis can be endless as it is literally the cornerstone to your HSC English Advanced success. I wanted to offer these examples as a brief introduction to get you thinking. I will answer questions specifically related to it over the coming days; tomorrow I will answer a question which you will see I have foreshadowed ( technique) which is

    (To what extent) Should I preprepare my essays?

    Thanks - as always hope it helps
    Dave
    Last edited by phaedrus900; 9 Apr 2016 at 8:35 AM.

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Thanks for the feedback to those who emailed/msgd me. I was asked one question - which is basically a perennial question - that I'd like to focus on today:


    Q2 Should I preprepare my essays?

    There are a number of important ways to approach this question. The first is that it is dependent. It's dependent, firstly, on your style of writing, adaptability and ability to think on your feet, and also managing your anxiety and stress levels. Secondly, it's dependent on the module. I will go into these in depth further below, but first I would like to give the best simple answer I can:

    Yes. Even if you are a very agile thinker, persuasive writer, formulate and organise your thoughts quickly and integrate textual analysis well (a lot of if's, particularly at an HSC level!), I think a basic skeleton for your answer will enrich it every time. As you would have found with anything you have succeeded at in your life, talent is a very very big help, but even when you have that, practice makes perfect. Having a fundamental structure, approach and container for your textual analysis - i.e. a well thought out and nuanced thesis that captures the essence of the text, module requirements and likely questions will help you.

    2.1. How preprepared should it be? (Should I rote learn essays word for word?)

    Again, the answer to this question harks back to your style of working as a student, your anxieties and also the module.

    On the former, I find that students who typically find exams stressful and can be literally frozen by an unexpected/tricky question will need a higher level of preparation. But there is a very important distinction here - the degree of preparation (i.e. do you just think through a lot of theses and prepare a few introductions vs rote learning every single word to three-four different essays) is very different from the amount of preparation.

    Even students who find exams highly stressful may find that preparing to an incredible degree is unnecessary; while preparing a lot by simply working comprehensively with a large range of theses is what makes them comfortable for any question. Sheer repetition and success gives you a surprising and absolutely invaluable confidence in your ability and means that come trials and HSC itself, you go on to autopilot and perform beautifully with very little (relative stress).

    Given this, I would recommend a large amount of preparation. Unless you have a superb memory, you are probably going to need to write your Introduction (see Question 3, to come on HOW IMPORTANT THE INTRO IS) at least 5-10 times per module/AoS, and maybe even 10-20, depending on what your like as an individual.

    As for degree, I am fairly strongly against anything towards the rote learning end of the spectrum. If your essay reads stiff and wooden its hard to do well; if it reads prepared you are going to do badly; and if it reads as prepared and doesn't answer the question it's a disaster.
    Moreover you shouldn't need to rote learn every word - you aren't expected to set the world on fire with your thesis for a 40 minute artificial question. You just need to show you understand how to formulate a thesis, how to subsequently integrate textual analysis, and how to answer the question.

    So a quick summary: Discover your own working style. Be honest with yourself - if you are an anxious person, you will need to prepare well. If you are thrown by a weird/stupid (there are many) HSC question, you will need to prepare more. But whoever you are, regardless, prepare a lot.
    As to how much is rote learnt - do your best to learn the big picture, not the specific words you have rehearsed. The human brain has an incredibly capacity to remember themes/ideas and values; memory is like putting things in endless boxes. Create really well built beautiful boxes for your thesis and high level answer, have the right stuff to put in them (textual analysis, quotes etc) but try to do your building on the day. Your essay will then be flexible, relevant and impressive. IT WILL ANSWER THE QUESTION.

    I don't really have the space or your attention span to go fully into this but there is a slight slant to this advice - the Modules vary quite a bit, particularly A and B. You should notice that Module A has many requirements: you need to discuss the text, context, values, the submodule (e.g. 'intertextual connections) AND compare and contrast the texts. A lot. Therefore, I would suggest this can have a higher degree of pre-preparation. Because you are expected to do more, the question itself is more likely to be simple, straightforward and require less flexibility in your textual analysis.

    For Mod B, it is a lot more of a classic textual analysis. You have just one text, no real sub-module etc. Thus, you will have noticed, you are often asked tricky questions, such as choosing your textual analysis only from the latter half of the book - or discussing one theme only. Here, students are SERIOUSLY rewarded for flexibility, and (ostensible) intimate knowledge of the text. Thus you want to prepare JUST AS MUCH as Mod A, but in a different way; you want your preparation to be around very flexible thinking, amenable, intelligent high level theses and anticipating unusual questions.

    Thanks a lot - keep the feedback and questions coming - this only works well with your input.
    Stay well and remember to chill,
    Dave

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Hi guys,

    I thought for today I'd look at two shorter strategy related questions.

    Q3. What should I choose as my related texts?

    The answer to this question is emblematic of how you should approach any HSC question of which you are unsure. At the end of the day, you will be marked by one human being, on a given day, in a given mood in response to you, on your given HSC day, in a given mood. Therefore there are no guarantees; to some extent you are at the mercy of chance. HOWEVER, what you can do is to minimise this variability through good strategy alongside intelligent and comprehensive preparation.

    So what is a sound strategy, then, for choosing related texts? Well, you need simply to answer the logical questions that should arise from this decision, namely:

    1. What is the (HSC) purpose of getting me to choose this text?
    2. What is the role of the related text(s) in my essay?
    3. Is it better to have an obscure text the marker won't know (so maybe I can hide poor technical analyis/lack of understanding) or a famous text?

    The first two answers inform the third. The purpose of having a related text is twofold (with far greater emphasis on the first): To get you to show that, as a student, you are capable of autonomously selecting, reading, analysing and integrating a text. Secondly, to allow you more flexiblity to show your English prowess, skill and expression.

    The role of the related text could fairly be summarised, then, as an opportunity to showcase your skills through a text that you personally relate to and can easily analyse.

    So should your choice then be for an obscure or famous text?

    Well, the answer should be obvious. The reality is, no matter what text you choose (even famous), the marker won't have read it. But by picking an obscure text you are completely missing the point. At best, you will be wasting a free hit - a very easy opportunity to pick a text you love, can write convincingly and skilfully about and impress the markers. At worst, particularly if you are trying to hide laziness or lack of understanding, this will be patently obvious to an experienced marker who has read countless essays, and you will gut your own essay. Why?

    But there's a deeper layer to this strategy. Even if your favourite movie is an obscure Japanese film from the 1950s that was barely released, or a Finnish cartoon catalogue only available in Europe, is this the appropriate forum in which to use and analyse such texts? Well, you can and you may be successful. If your analysis is superb and detailed and fits well with the question and AoS, it may indeed do very well. But probabilistically/strategy-wise I think not.

    Imagine you are the HSC marker - what would you prefer? An analysis based on a text you have no understanding or frame of reference for (and which, tbh, is usually not well written or contextualised anyway) OR a smart, insightful and passionate analysis about a famous text like a Shakespearean play, great movie or famous poem [think Wordsworth, Shelley, Keates, Whitman, Coleridge) that you at very least have heard of and about, or may indeed have also read and loved?

    Picking a renowned, highly valorised and adored text from the general canon of English literature is very hard to go wrong, wouldn't you think?

    Note: Some students are concerned, however, that if the marker knows the text this will mean they are more vulnerable to criticism. I think this is a bit of an unnecessary anxiety for two reasons. Firstly, your analysis will be very specific. You are never going to be marked as right or wrong for the techniques you pick or conclusions you draw from them (unless they are ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS) - the aim is simply to show you know how to analyse and argue.Further, even if your marker knows the text, will they know it in that detail? Even with texts you love, could you honestly say you know them so well you could remember a pinpoint reference/quote/technique and disagree with it?

    What is far more likely is the marker will feel oriented, connected to you as a student and have a sense of respect for your choice and academic skill. Picking an intelligent, great text is a really easy way to boost your AoS/Modules.

    PS: It should go without saying, then, that choices of highly popularised texts with little literary/artistic merit (e.g. Home and Away/ Fast and Furious) are not wise choices. I absolutely love Die Hard (lol), but is it going to provide the kind of insight, quotes (Yippikyaa mother******) and analysis which will show me to be a strong academic candidate. Doubtful. The same probably goes even for popularised texts that are underpinned with skill and wit, e.g. the simpsons, south park e.t.c. Yes they have strong techniques, but again, on the balanced of probabilities, will they set a sufficiently academic and impressive tone for your work?

    Put it one final way: If these texts were great for HSC purposes, how come the Board of Studies didn't chose them for you to study themselves? If you are stuck, the best place to look for related texts is to the authors/directors (obviously not ones you are personally studying) chosen for the HSC by the Board of Studies itself. Makes sense, right?
    Last edited by phaedrus900; 12 Apr 2016 at 10:36 AM.
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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Now for one more strategy question, which a student asked me last night.This student asked to remain anonymous which is absolutely his prerogative (as it is yours, should you choose to submit something and want to remain anonymous).

    Q4 What is the best way in approaching preparation for Module B, especially for the study of T.S. Eliot which has 5 poems? Is it critically important to know all the poems really well, or should I know 2 or 3 really well? And lastly, should I prepare a generic essay response (and how) since a HSC question can be awfully specific.

    I have already touched on the aspect of preparation (including specifically for Mod B) in earlier answers. To recap, Mod B is a close critical study module which means that you should prepare intensely but flexibly remembering - as this intelligent student noted - that HSC questions can be very specific and you must counter this with flexibility and adaptability in your preparation.

    Given this, my advice would be - as a threshold - to know all your poems to a certain depth that if worst came to worst you'd feel comfortable having enough raw material (in terms of technical analysis) from which to extrapolate from. To put it another way, as I just told a current student, you probably need to have 1.5 x the amount of material for technical analysis (i.e. techniques, quotes) then you will actually use.

    However, this excellent question raises a strategic aspect I would like to now address. Essentially, he asks, what is better - breadth or depth. The answer in general, and specifically for Mod B, is depth.

    Although the requisite insight for Mod B is not as high as Extension 1, this is the one Module/assessment where you need to showcase a bit of depth beyond a mere generalised thesis that links the question to a first order technical analysis (e.g. technique --> quote --> basic thesis 'and thus this technique shows the inherently complex nature of the human condition'.

    Mod B requires a bit more in the way of the integrity of your text - how it uses both specific and recurrent techniques to achieve multiple purposes (at both a textual and social level). I will delve more into this later when I sketch for you an outline of the modules; for now I simply want to emphasise that depth is the key aspect of Mod B that draws top marks (for band 6 aspirants).

    Thus the answer to my student's question is - having achieved adequate understanding of all the texts, you should focus on 2-3. Probably 3, but depending on the level of complexity and sophistication you are able to muster from your analysis, 2 may be sufficient.

    That's plenty for today - as always keep the likes, feedback and questions coming.

    Also, for anyone still looking for tuition I am always happy to hear from you. My calendar is fairly booked, however, I am often able to refer students to other quality tutors or help in other ways (sometimes a simple couple of pointers is all that's necessary to get over a road block!). So get in touch if you need to

    Cheers,
    Dave

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Q5 What is the biggest mistake you see commonly made?

    Well, perhaps the most common mistake is the misuse of the semicolon, lol. I don't want to overwork that point because it's not a huge deal, but it is definitely off putting (and that's for someone who doesn't really care hugely about punctuation; wait until you get a pedantic marker!)

    So a quick prelude on the semicolon. A semicolon is used for two main purposes. One, which is less common and certainly unnecessary for your purposes is in listing, e.g. criteria.
    'For HSC you need to master the following'

    1. A sound understanding of your texts;
    2. A strong and well used vocabulary;
    3. A comprehensive ability in writing theses and;
    4. Good essay structure.

    The other reason, more commonly used, for the semi-colon is in the middle of a sentence. Here, the best way to think of it is as a gap-filler/last resort. Your bread and butter is the full-stop or comma, or even dash. Your writing should be clear and concise. Thus when you change thoughts or introduce an idea, simple finish with a full stop. If you are listing use a comma. If you are integrating a quote, as in, for example, a typical piece of technical analysis, use a dash e.g.:

    'Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter and violent imagery - 'QUOTE' - underpins his thematic focus on violence and rhythm. i.e. technique --> quote/evidence --> effect/thesis.

    Semi-colons are only used in the rarer occasion (particularly in advanced English where you are writing, directly, purposefully and concisely) where you wish to have connected yet discrete ideas in the same sentence. This often (though not always) occurs when you are writing with a more meandering/philosophical bent and are musing on disparate yet subtly connected topics.

    If you are still unsure on semi-colons don't use them; any benefit you (think you) might derive from their use will be overshadowed by the distracting and irritating nature of their misuse.

    Okay, now we have that somewhat tedious topic out of the way, lets focus on the substantive question:

    Answer:

    This is difficult as there are fundamentally two groups of (interconnected) mistakes at advanced level. Firstly, the use of passive language and structure. Secondly, a lack of thesis/direction, which not only nullifies any power in the introduction but permeates the body paragraphs with indecisive authority.

    So, for those that aren't following with the active/passive distinction here is a clear example.

    Question: How does Ondaatje explore human dignity in 'In the Skin of a Lion'

    Passive: In 'In the Skin of a Lion', human dignity is explored through the use of a range of techniques such as imagery, intertextuality and integration of artistic movements.

    critique: Apart from the fact that this is a very first order answer (doesn't actually go into HOW it is explored, simply cites a few techniques), we can see how verbose and vague it is when compared with the active way of writing the same thing:

    Active: 'Ondaatje's 'In the Skin of a Lion' employs a confluence of techniques including imagery, intertextuality and an integration of artistic movements to explore human dignity...'

    The other important thing is that while our passive thesis necessarily ends the sentence where I have left it (i.e. saying very little), our active sentence is poised to then make a powerful analytical statement going above and beyond the question, like:


    'Ondaatje's 'In the Skin of a Lion' employs a confluence of techniques including imagery, intertextuality and an integration of artistic movements to explore human dignity thus locating dignity as a fundamental concern within the panoply of human emotions and a core requirement of the human condition.'

    By writing actively, we allow a much more concise, authoritative set of statements (called 'propositions'). Thus we write concisely and powerfully, and we are naturally forced to write theses rather than straying from analysis to mere descriptions of what happens in the text, or what techniques are used. There must always be a POINT to what you write (hence active).

    One reason this is confusing for students is that in life we often SPEAK passively. This is especially true of your age group, and of social situations. If we speak too actively in our culture it can come across as rude, aggressive arrogant and uncompromising - like the only opinion worth saying is yours.

    However, when it comes to writing essays and theses that is EXACTLY the type of confidence (or even arrogance) that lend your essays power, authority and gravitas. You have been asked a question and you need to answer it directly, clearly and concisely. You can't prevaricate and work around the question simply describing your texts or a bunch of techniques with no aim.

    This feeds into the second mistake students make which is a little harder to directly combat without examples. Effectively, the student writes something generic/meaningless in the introduction where the thesis should be. This then feeds into a similar kind of pattern in the body, where techniques are listed but culminate in no analytical conclusion/point. Almost like the techniques comprise a shopping list, rather than pieces of evidence in the prosecution of a case.

    The best way (generally) to remedy this problem is for you to understand exactly what a thesis is and what its purposes are.

    A thesis is somewhere between a proposition, an answer and an argument (and is often all three). A proposition is a statement about the way things are. For example, 'journeys are complex, varied and personal'. It can be said to be true or false, and thus evidence is required to support it. You can also see how this can be an argument and answer to a question, for example - 'Discuss the ways in which journeys are essential to the human condition', or in direct question form 'How are journeys essential to the human condition'.

    A thesis is thus immediately important because it sets the entire tone for your work, it gives it a purpose. Otherwise why are you writing? Out of all the knowledge, propositions and arguments in the world, you are writing for a very specific purpose. That is your thesis.

    Another linked, but often forgotten, element of the thesis is its practical relevance. Put yourself in the marker's shoes. If you are reading a piece of writing and you have no idea where it's going, what it's about and why you're reading it, it doesn't feel good does it? Conversely, if someone makes a simple, clear, concise argument - tells you why they are write, how they will show it (i.e. evidence, techniques) and where the paper is heading, it makes for easy reading. And you respect the author for their clarity and forethought.

    If the middle paragraphs containing technical analysis are, then, the 'body' of your essay, the thesis is the head. It leads the essay, thinks for the essay, and directs it. If the work is headless, it doesn't have much chance of survival.


    Cheers, and keep the questions coming,
    Dave
    Last edited by phaedrus900; 20 Apr 2016 at 2:19 PM.

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Hi Dave,
    How do you recommend studying for English?

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Quote Originally Posted by alrightthen123 View Post
    Hi Dave,
    How do you recommend studying for English?
    I think it's better to ask this in his tutoring ad
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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    This is a bit of a dumb question, but how do you suggest practising for english? I have no idea where to start with everything.

    phaedrus900:
    Hi,
    No such thing as a dumb question. It's really hard to know where to start. It depends a lot on your personality more than anything. Personally, I find it stressful when I don't know where I'm going or why I am doing what I am doing. Therefore, for me, its very important with anything to get an overview, and an answer to some of these. So I looked through all the topic first at a general level, read the texts, read the marker's notes and so on. Then once I sort of understood how the syllabus worked and how you were meant to write etc, I started getting the details sorted, quotes etc. Its like drawing the outline of a picture first and then you fill it in.

    Some people are different - they prefer to build up lots of details. Also, your capabilities are important too. If you're not a good write or you don't understand the basics of thesis, argument, essay structure etc that's something that needs immediate work. Conversely, maybe your weakness is memory and detail in which case reading your texts a few times will be more important.

    As a side note, this is probably the most important part of the tutoring work I do - finding out where I can help the most and directing students. Unfortunately in a classroom environment, unless you are lucky, your teacher can spend heaps of time on things where you don't need help and fail to explain/focus on things you do.

    Sorry I cant be more specific, but it is quite context. As I said above, certainly a sensible start would be reading the syllabus and marker's notes a few times, looking at past exams every few weeks and seeing if you get more of a sense of how you'd answer a question, getting model answers from students who have done your texts, working on essay structure and generally sorting out where you need to improve.

    D

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    Re: English Advanced QandA slow release

    Is English Advanced the only English course you're taking questions for?

    I'm particularly worried about EE2.
    Macquarie Law/Arts 2018.

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