BlogLearnHow to Write an Analytical Written Response for Your QCAA English Exam

How to Write an Analytical Written Response for Your QCAA English Exam

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Got your external assessment for QCAA English coming up and need more clarity on writing your Analytical Written Response during the exam?

We’re here to guide you so you can walk into your exam well prepared! We’ll take you through what’s required, what you can do in the lead up to the exam, and how you can structure your response.

What are you waiting for? Let’s go!

What is an Analytical Written Response?
How to Approach the Paper for the Analytical Written Response
Structuring Your Response

What is an Analytical Written Response?

This task requires you to discerningly analyse a text (selected from the prescribed text list, which can be accessed here) in order to communicate an informed and critical perspective in response to an unseen question.

You will have 800 to 1000 words and 2 hours and 15 minutes to conjure up an analytical essay that draws on perspectives, concepts, identities, or themes represented in the original text. It is vital that your essay draws on the ideas, values, attitudes or beliefs underpinning the text of focus!

You will be assessed on your ability to:

  • Examine and provide an authoritative interpretation of relevant perspectives or representations in the text
  • Examine and provide an authoritative interpretation of the cultural assumptions, attitudes, values, or beliefs underpinning the text
  • Examine and provide an authoritative interpretation of how the writer’s stylistic or aesthetic choices shape the text
  • Provide a discriminating thesis that is supported by relevant arguments with a clear conclusion linked to these arguments
  • Provide a well-considered selection of evidence from the text to explicitly support your arguments
  • Demonstrate a logical sequencing of your response — using cohesive devices to connect, develop, emphasise, and transition between ideas within paragraphs and across the response
  • Use grammatically accurate sentence structures with accurate and purposeful punctuation
  • Use both simple and complex vocabulary with discrimination to develop your ideas

How to Approach the Paper for the Analytical Written Response

When it comes to completing this task, how you approach your essay is key. There are key things you should do in the months leading up to the paper, as well as the 2 hours and 15 minutes you’ll spend completing the task, that will help you hit the mark on all of the criteria that you’ll be assessed on (as seen above). 

Leading up to the exam

Lead up to English Exam - Analytical Written Response preparation

#1: Memorising Quotes

A common concern that many students have is that of having to memorise quotes. Well, don’t I have good news for you! You aren’t required to memorise any quotes and you will not be disadvantaged if you do not include them in your response — so long as you effectively use indirect evidence.

While you are not required to memorise any quotes, they can be good ways to back up any points you are making. The best way to memorise quotes is by connecting them to the themes you want to explore.

Make a list of each of the different themes you think are worth exploring and write 1 or 2 quotes for each. It truly is about quality, not quantity, when it comes to quote memorisation!

#2: Reading the Text

Typically, teachers recommend that you read the text once, then twice, then a third time, then backwards, then upside down… until you can recite it verbatim. If this method of reading and re-reading works for you, then by all means — go for it!

However, when preparing for this task you need to do what works best for you. You need to take a holistic approach to your education — sometimes it may not be in your best interest to blindly follow what others are doing.

In Grade 12, my class studied George Orwell’s 1984 and so that’s what I wrote an essay on. Did I reread the text multiple times? No. In fact, I didn’t even read the text once — yet I still managed to get 24/25.

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read the text, but you should really do what works best for you. For me, I found more value in reading analytical essays about the text, that had been written by scholars and published on JSTOR.

I felt that this approach gave me a much deeper understanding of the attitudes, values and beliefs that underpinned Orwell’s work. Though, what worked best for me may not work best for you. 

Wondering how to analyse your text? Check out our guide here with textual analysis examples!

#3: Doing Your Research 

It is important that you understand the cultural assumptions that influenced the text. This means having an idea of what the world was like at the time of writing and who the current audience was at publishing. This gives you the best chance at being able to successfully touch on the ideas, values, attitudes and/or beliefs that inspired or shaped the text.

Further, it’s important to remember that you are assessed on your inclusion and analysis of aesthetic devices. Historical parallels are a neat aesthetic device you can highlight — but you can only do so if you have an understanding of cultural assumptions. 

#4: Writing a Rough Introduction

Oftentimes you’ll find that, during an exam, getting started is the hardest part. I find it helpful to memorise an incredibly broad and malleable introduction that you can use in any context. This way you have one less thing to think about during the exam.

For example, the following is an introduction I used during a practice essay. The parts in red are what I would change from essay to essay to make sure my introduction was reflective of what I would be writing about:

Exam Analytical Written Response Introduction

#5: Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice, practice, practice!!! With these high quality practice questions for the English external exam to help you ace the essay!

Now, there’s no doubt about the fact that the best way to prepare is by writing lots of practice essays. The more you write, the better the chance that one of the question options on the exam paper will be similar to something you have already written about!

Further, by practising you will only get better at communicating your ideas, including aesthetic devices, and highlighting the key ideas/values/beliefs/attitudes underpinning the text. 

During the exam

#1: Choosing a Question

Once you open the question book, you will be presented with two options for your text. Typically, you will have one theme based question and one character based question.

You will have 15 minutes of planning time, so don’t be afraid to spend a bit of it thinking through what question you want to respond to. If you don’t immediately know which one you feel most comfortable going with, write down ideas for each.

For each question, write down a list of potential arguments you could make, themes you can explore, potential quotes/evidence you can use, relevant aesthetic devices, etc. After you have done that, you should have a better idea of which question you are most prepared for. 

#2: Planning

Firstly, don’t panic if you need to continue planning beyond the 15 minutes allocated for planning. The first step to writing a good essay is having a solid plan in front of you.

In this time, you’ll need to figure out what your thesis statement will be and what arguments you are going to make. I’d highly recommend drawing up a mind map that connects all your ideas — you will be assessed on your ability to connect and develop ideas across the entirety of your response.

You should also organise how you are going to structure your essay if you don’t already have a go-to structure. 

#3: Writing

In the time you spend writing, allocate no more than 10-15 minutes on each section of your essay. By doing this, you will give yourself plenty of time after writing to edit and make any adjustments needed!

Structuring Your Response

While there is no set structure you must follow, some structures are certainly more effective than others. Below is an example of a simple structure you may want to use. 

Structure for the task

Intro

Your introduction should draw the audience in and inform them about what the essay will be covering. You will require a thesis statement — this is essentially the argument you will be making throughout your response.

To ensure that your thesis statement is as strong as possible, it’s important to make sure that it is directional.

If your thesis statement is concerned with how X impacts Y, then you need to give that impact a direction and a how. Instead of simply saying “X impacts Y”, you should try “X positively/negatively impacts Y by Z”. 

Along with a thesis statement, you will also need to signpost your arguments. You must indicate to your readers what is in store for the rest of the essay.

Typically, you will have around 3-4 arguments. All of them must be referenced in the introduction. 

Body Paragraphs

The number of body paragraphs you have is dependent upon how many arguments you have. If you signposted 3 arguments in your introduction, then you should have at least three body paragraphs — one for each.

If you wish, you may have an additional discussion paragraph which ties everything together. However, your essay should flow well and be cohesive regardless of whether you have a discussion paragraph at the end. 

Aim to have 2-3 aesthetic devices included within each paragraph and make sure that each paragraph makes an explicit link to the thesis statement. 

Conclusion

Your conclusion should simply sum up everything you have argued, but it should not be a duplicate of your introduction. 

And there you have it! Following all our tips, you’ll be sure to enter the exam feeling confident and ready to write up your analytical written response.

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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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