VCE English Outcome 2: Tips, hints and strategies

The following is a brief and complicated list of actions suggested for the preparation and successful undertaking of any context SAC. These are skills I’ve often developed with students as an English tutor and mentor to gifted students in Melbourne.

A. Establish a time-line for your studies, detailing tasks to complete in the lead-up weeks before your SAC(s). Obviously, you can plan to do the activities listed here.

B. Collect a list of prompts for your context, and start drafting timed responses immediately

C. Read and study the text prescribed by your school. Your school will determine much of this course of study; studying this text is not the hardest task for this outcome

D. Create three-tiered concept maps for the key terms in your context. Don’t be satisfied with one such concept map – repeat the exercise and aim for differences between your products.

E. Draft responses to sample prompts and evaluate your drafts against the set criteria (please see below). Seek feedback, and re-draft to satisfy the demands of the criteria.

F. Plan topic sentences and arguments for priority concepts (please see below).

G. Draft a response using specific texts as evidence for ideas/arguments

H. Read and evaluate model essays.

The Real and Genuine Purpose of Context Study

Outcome 2 is not the same as Outcome 1 – it is not intended to test your text response skills, but your real-world thinking and writing skills. Students can achieve good results for Outcome 2 simply by applying many of the skills used for Outcome 1. However, VCE English is not merely a test of skills; VCE English is an opportunity to learn, and to engage. The criteria for assessment for Outcome 2 reflect the opportunities implicit in the studies for this SAC, and they are incredibly vibrant, challenging, and important!!! Your best course is to learn about and engage with publications about your context. You might perhaps think about these as “related texts”, but in reality your context is not nearly so limited. Your context is alive, like you, so prepare to live out your context and you’ll be on the right track!

More than Outcome 1, and definitely more than Outcome 3, the study of a context challenges students to apply high-order thinking skills to reflect, evaluate, hypothesise (philosophise) and create. It is in its entirety the most demanding and difficult of the three VCE English outcomes (for the assessors too!), though it is not necessarily the most important.

Addressing The Criteria for Assessment: Tips, hints and strategies

Key skill 2: With respect to the second key skill, do not underestimate the value of your context, or limit your thinking about the context. For example, if you’ve been given the text of The Secret River and your parents are African refugees, or if your school is affiliated with beyondblue and you’re studying A Streetcar Named Desire… Well, use your brain, you muppet! The contexts are real, and they are not divorced from our reality or our experiences or history. Nor are they confined to a single text. Obviously, one of the first actions I must undertake is to enable students to recognise their existing familiarity with the contexts in evidentiary forms they can readily use in the SACs.

The single most important check students have to perform for this outcome is this: ensure that you have answered the prompt. The easiest way to achieve this is to plan for and edit topic sentences and linking sentences to demonstrate a clear response to the prompt. This in itself presents a problem if a student chooses to write only in a creative style…

Key skill 3: With respect to the third key skill, practise drafting responses to the sample prompts that directly refer to concepts and/or ideas in the set text. These references need to be explicit – the trap to avoid is that of presenting a creative piece with characters from the set text that does not clearly define and detail the key issues. This occurs because good creative writing often demonstrates implicit understandings through the dialogue or actions of the characters. Best if your dialogue or indirect speech (the described thoughts of the character) identifies the key concepts and/or ideas, making them explicit.

However, I would not encourage students to respond to prompts in SACs or the exam with a creative narrative. Some students can produce excellent creative writing. Nevertheless, the criteria are such that creative writing might not cover the requirements successfully. The suggestion therefore is for such talented students to combine creative writing with a second style that accommodates the use of evidence (persuasive, or expository). Most students are familiar with the argumentative paragraph structure of TEEL, and appreciate the importance of key terms/concepts and concrete evidence. If not, well, you’d better find out quick! My email:

Key skill 1: It is not unrealistic for students to combines different styles in their writing. In fact, this is the basis of the first key skill. Context pieces are abundant in the real world and can be found in magazines, novels, film scripts, internet pages etc… The need for students to draft responses to prompts is great, so that they may practise forming their ideas and concepts into coherent writing. The subsequent task of redrafting to achieve a practical form, purpose and audience demands a working familiarity with text types, or a very determined and clear sense of publication.

Look, this skill is often the hardest to achieve at a high level, and most schools (and assessors) recognise a good result when a student successfully produces a response for an audience of peers. Well that’s just rubbish – kudos to you if Insight decide to publish your piece in their folio for Year 12 students, but that is a contrived and artificial purpose and form and you should be eternally ashamed and judiciously horrified if that’s what you think the outcome of Year 12 is about! So I say, with some irony, get real about your writing. Don’t write essays – write articles, analyses, academic papers, opinions and reflections, exhortations, letters, quality blogs, and more…

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.