BlogStudyHow to Ace Your External Assessment for QCAA General English

How to Ace Your External Assessment for QCAA General English

Books on a shelf - QCAA English External Assessment

A 135 minute sprint.1 text’s worth of analysis. 25 percent of your total grade. This is the QCAA General English external assessment in a single snapshot.

Now, I know just how daunting the externals can seem — trust me, I’ve been there, done that. But what if I told you that they don’t need to be as anxiety-inducing as they have the potential to be?

While this English external assessment is a big one, worth a quarter of your total grade for the year, there are a few things that you can do right from the very get-go to help ensure that you achieve the best marks.

Let’s get started!

The Lead Up to the Exam
During the Exam

The Lead Up to the QCAA General English External Assessment

This exam will focus on one text that you should have studied throughout the year. So it is imperative that you are on top of this text!

Check out some of the resources we’ve created for prescribed texts below:

Contrary to popular belief, acing your QCAA General English external assessment requires you to do more than simply read the text once. It requires you to properly understand the content of the text so that you can apply the ideas, values, and underpinning beliefs to produce a meaningful and appropriate response to a given question (which means you have to practise — among many other things). In order to achieve your very best on this task, there are 7 things you should keep in mind: 

Things to Keep in Mind - QCAA English External Assessment

#1: Get Started Early with Prep for Your QCAA English External Assessment

Sometimes the texts you are required to read can be quite lengthy. That is why starting early can be so beneficial. There are a number of reasons why you should get a jump start on your studies:

  1. It allows you to break the text up into bite-sized pieces (meaning, reading the text becomes a much more manageable task)
  2. It gives you more time for all of the ideas to sink into you brain
  3. It ensures that you have enough time to re-read the text to your heart’s content

Learn what to prioritise and spend time on in your study for the English external exams!

Throughout the year, you will be busy working through your other subjects and come exam time you will likely be busy smashing out a tonne of last-minute study sessions. That being said, the last thing you will want to be doing is trying to get through your English text for the very first time amidst all of this chaos!

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#2: Find Connections

You will be assessed on your ability to connect ideas within different sections of the text, as well as your ability to link cultural assumptions (AKA real-world ideas and experiences) to the text. Thus, it is important that, when you are reading or researching, you are thinking critically about the information you are taking in!

Think about any recurring themes that come up or any events that seem to be inspired by real-life. Identifying and discussing these connections is key to doing well.  

#3: Extra Reading

Now, how are you going to stand out and make jaw-dropping or unique arguments if your perspective is informed by the very same thing that is informing tens of thousands of other students?

By doing extra reading, you can make sure you stand out to the people who will be marking your exam. You will expose yourself to new perspectives and ideas that can help shape your response. 

Extra reading can include things like reading essays (written about your text) produced by scholars and experts in literature. By reading what these highly-educated individuals have to say, you will encounter arguments that are more in-depth and will also encounter additional pieces of evidence that you may not have thought of using.

Further, you may come across counter-arguments — ideas that differ from what people usually believe (using these will definitely make you stand out, but it’s important that you have sufficient evidence to back your claims).

Additionally, this extra reading could involve doing research on the time period in which the author lived. This way you get an idea of the cultural assumptions underpinning the text. 

For this extra reading, I recommend that you utilise Google Scholar and JSTOR

#4: Effective Notes

Taking effective notes is super important as you do not want to waste time. So, rather than writing down notes on the plot and summaries of what happens in each chapter, you should take notes on the key themes, the importance of characters and the connections they have to each other and different themes, how cultural assumptions can be seen, the use of aesthetic devices throughout the text, as well as any quotes you may wish to use (though this isn’t necessary). 

You may wish you use little sticky notes to colour-code sections of the text and, if you own your own copy of the text and are comfortable with doing so, you could even whip out some highlighters and pens and annotate the text directly. By actively engaging with what you are reading, you are more likely to remember these important pieces of information!

We’d love you to check out our guide on how to ace Unit 4 of QCE English!

#5: Practice Essays

A good way to begin practising your writing is by working section by section. What I mean by this is that you should practise writing a bunch of introductions over and over again for different example questions. And that’s all you should do — the introduction.

One strategy that can help is the ‘thesis + 3’! Learn more about it!

By doing this you are able to fine tune your ability to nail the small features that distinguish B worthy essays from A worthy essays. After you have written a few introductions, then work on your body paragraphs. Take your time and focus on how you are formatting your writing and whether you are including enough aesthetic devices and evidence.

You may wish to use a simple structure such as the PEEL (point, evidence, elaboration, and link) structure for these paragraphs. You should also make sure that each of the body paragraphs for each question flow on from one another.

Finally, you will do the same thing for the conclusion. It is important that you seek feedback on all of these practice intros, paragraphs, and conclusions. 

Our ultimate list of the best QCE English External Exam practice questions can be found in this article!

At least one month before the exam, you want to start writing entire practice essays (this is the very latest you should start practising). By sitting down and practising you are giving yourself the best chance at success.

Not only does doing so expose you to the level of question difficulty that you can expect to encounter during the real deal, but it also provides you with an indication of the aspects of essay writing that you need to touch up on. It is important that you do the first few outside of exam conditions — just to take some stress away from you.

But after a few essays, you should then consider practising under exam conditions. By practising in the conditions in which you will take the test, you are allowing yourself to perform at your very best on the big day!

Discover how your results differ in Year 11 and Year 12 for the QCE here!

#6: Memorise content for Your QCAA English External Assessment

Now, when it comes to memorising things for English exams, this is where students can become very stressed. Though, I have some very good news for you!

Have you been told that you need to memorise a whole heap of quotes to use in your essay? Your teacher might tell you something like: “You should use at least two quotes per paragraph”. The thing is… it isn’t actually a requirement that you include direct quotes in your response.

While they may be a great way to provide evidence for your arguments, you will not be disadvantaged if you don’t use any. However, this does mean that you will have to become very skilled in the art form that is using indirect evidence.

Rather than quoting what a character says, you can use a character’s thoughts or actions as evidence. You can use the way one character is viewed by other characters as evidence. None of these require quotes. 

One thing you might want to memorise, however, is a very broad introduction. The tricky thing about this exam is that you have a lot to write in not a lot of time. So, one way to help ensure your success is by being as time efficient as possible.

Oftentimes, getting started is the most difficult part about writing an essay in exam conditions. By memorising a broad introduction you save time and avoid a challenging hurdle.

In Year 12, I studied George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and for the entirety of the year I used only one introduction when I wrote practice essays (and I used the same introduction for the real deal). Now, I know this sounds insane, but I promise you it’s true.

What I did was I memorised a really broad and malleable paragraph, and I would change only certain sections to align with the new prompt. Below you can see the introduction I used for a practice essay about how totalitarian regimes use technology to maintain control. The sections that you will see in red are the sections that I would change from essay to essay to align with the new prompt. 

Sample Paragraph - QCAA English External Assessment

#7: Self-Care 

It is important that you take care of your health throughout the year — this should be your number one priority. Doing so will reap many benefits — including allowing you to perform at your best. To take care of yourself, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Adequately fuel yourself
  • Take breaks and have fun
  • Seek support if needed

Learn how to study consistently across 4 weeks for your external exams!

During the QCAA English External Exam

There are a few things you can do during the exam to maximise your performance:

Reading Time

If needed, you should take some time during this period to calm yourself and make sure you are in the right mindset to complete the exam. Once you are calm and ready to go here is how you can utilise this time wisely:

During reading time, you want to break down the questions. You will be presented with two questions — a character-based question and a theme-based question. Some students decide early on in the year that they will only practise one type of question and that is the question that they will do in the exam.

This tactic is perfectly fine — I myself used this tactic. I practised only theme-based questions. Unfortunately, in the 2020 exam I really hated the theme-based question and ended up choosing the character-based question. It still ended up working out well for me, thankfully!

Whether you are this student, or not, it is important that you carefully break down the questions. This means to examine the components of the question to figure out exactly what it is asking. While examining a question, you may come to see that it requires you to touch on a number of ideas, or maybe you have a bit more freedom. 

Personally, I would use a mind-mapping system for each question. In doing so, you can figure out what themes, characters, and evidence relate to the question. You can begin to figure out what aesthetic devices you can use, and which cultural assumptions you can refer to.

If you are struggling to pick a question, I would write a thesis statement for each and also signpoint, at the very minimum, three arguments you can make for each. Once you have done this, if you haven’t already decided, you should now be in a good position to pick a question. Further, this mind-mapping system acts as a great way to plan out your essay — it is super time-efficient!!

We’ve got an article on How to Break Down and Understand HSC English Questions and while it is for the HSC, it is still incredibly applicable to the QCE!

Working Time

If you haven’t finished mind-mapping or you still aren’t set on which question to choose — don’t panic. It is totally okay to allocate some of the working time to finalising your plan and making sure you are 100% prepared. After all, if you aren’t 100% sure what you are going to write about, then you won’t have a very good time writing. 

One concern many students have is “How long should I spend on each section of the essay?” The rule of thumb that my teacher had was that you should spend at most 10 minutes on your introduction and conclusion, and a maximum of 20 minutes on each body paragraph (with at least three body paragraphs). If you have already memorised a broad introduction, then it is likely that you could smash it out in less than 10 minutes — which is fantastic! 

There you have it!

Now that you’ve got all these tips on how you can best prepare for your QCE General English external assessment, you’ll feel ready to do the exam!

If you’re searching for other QCAA English resources, check out some below:

Are you looking for some extra help with the QCAA English External Assessment?

We have an incredible team of QLD tutors and mentors!

We can help you master the English syllabus and ace your upcoming English assessments with personalised lessons conducted one-on-one in your home or online!

Brisbane-based English tutoring is available at Art of Smart!

We’ve supported over 8,000 students over the last 11 years, and on average our students score mark improvements of over 20%!

To find out more and get started with an inspirational QLD tutor and mentor, get in touch today or give us a ring on 1300 267 888!

Katelyn Smith was a pioneer in the Queensland ATAR system. After graduating in 2020 with an ATAR of 98.40, she now studies a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours) at The University of Queensland — majoring in Physics. Through her studies, she hopes to develop a greater appreciation for how the wonders of the universe work. When she isn’t slaving away behind her unnecessarily large textbooks, she enjoys catching up with friends, scrolling mindlessly through TikTok, and sleeping.

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