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How to best use your holidays to prepare for the term ahead

Renata Galiamov

School’s out, but that doesn’t mean VCE stops. Holidays offer a great time for you to revise what you covered during class at your own pace, or to read ahead and bring your ‘A game’ to the new term. Now, we’re not saying you should devote all your holidays to studying – life is about balance. But in between going out with friends, getting into shape and watching Netflix, you should take on board these subject-specific tips from Victoria’s top-scoring students to start the new term on the right foot.

English subjects.

In general, doing well in any of English, EAL, English Language, or Literature involves some disciplined practising of the very skill you’ll be using in the end-of-year exam – writing. Now that you’re on holiday, you have the time you need to sit yourself down and practise writing a text response or analytical commentary. If you’re not sure how to start, a good place to begin is with the VCAA examiner reports – read through other students’ model essays/analyses, note down useful vocabulary and quotes, and take note of the way high-scoring pieces were structured.

In any case, make sure you’re practising to write by hand – this way you can work on the legibility of your writing. In addition, don't hesitate to send your essay off to your teacher or tutor – they'll be thrilled to see your enthusiasm and dedication.

For English, specifically, you might want to also consider the following advice:

  • Get familiar with the texts you’ll be studying in the term ahead. Read your novels carefully and, as you go, start making a list of quotes, symbols, motifs and character observations that you can use in later essays. Sticky notes and page-markers to annotate your book with tend to come in handy here (if you’re studying a film, make sure you’re including timestamps next to the quotes and observations you jot down!).
  • Think about the major themes of your texts, and start to brainstorm how they're similar and different. We often used huge word documents to help organise our thoughts, but mind-maps and Venn diagrams can display this information in a more engaging, visual way. This will help you prepare for your comparative essay.
  • If full practice essays seem daunting at this stage, prepare for upcoming written text response SACs by writing shorter character or thematic analyses. Time these so you get used to writing coherently under pressure, and mark them yourself to figure out what you need to work on with your teacher or tutor during the term.
  • To practice language analysis skills, get into the habit of reading some sort of media (whether that’s the news or a blog post) every day, and thinking through – or even physically annotating – the kinds of techniques being used by the author to draw you in, persuade you or evoke emotions in you. Getting used to this analytical way of reading and reflecting on how media makes you feel will give you a head start for the language analysis part of the curriculum.

Maths subjects.

Because math subjects tend to keep building on previous topics, it’s important that you use your holiday time to clear up any foundational topics you’re a bit hazy on. Here’s what we recommend:

  • First look through your book-work or past tests to identify skills/topics you found challenging. Make a list of these.
  • Go to your textbook or Connect Notes to brush up on the theory of these topics and to see examples of how calculations are performed. Take notes and copy out the examples if writing things down helps you consolidate information.
  • Now have a go at doing some textbook questions you hadn’t done before, or ones that took you a while to figure out.
  • Lastly, go to past VCAA exams and look for questions relating to the topics you’ve studied. By having a go at VCAA questions early on in the year, you can begin familiarising yourself with the layout of the exam and style of questions.
  • Throughout this process, if you come across questions you can’t solve, make a list of them (including question number, page number, exam number, etc.) so that you can easily locate them later when asking a teacher, tutor, or friend.

The holidays are also a good time to work on your bound reference. However, heed this warning: do not spend hours copying theory from the textbook into your bound reference – it’s not going to be useful in the exam! What you want in the exam are examples of working out for questions you find challenging. That’s why we recommend breaking up your bound reference into chapters (corresponding to major topics), and noting down key formulas/tips followed by neatly written questions and working out.

Science subjects.

If you’re doing Biology, Chemistry, Physics, or Psychology, it’s critical that you not only learn and understand theories and formulas, but also apply these to various scenarios.

In particular, VCAA places strong emphasis on experimental approaches in these subjects. Unfortunately, students often neglect experimental techniques and consequently lose these valuable marks in the exam. Instead, turn experimental techniques into your strength these holidays by following the steps below:

  • Locate the ‘experimental investigation’ section in the Study Design of your subject.
  • For each term listed under this section, write a definition (in your own words) by consulting your textbook, our downloadable guide and the internet. Include an example as well to help you apply the definition to a concrete scenario.
  • Once you have an understanding of the breadth of experimental knowledge your subject requires, sift through past VCAA questions looking for experiment-related questions. Get a sense for the types of questions VCAA asks, and have a go at answering them.
  • As always, if you come across anything you’re not sure of, record these questions in one place (jot down the exam or page number so you can easily find it again) to follow up later.
  • To take it one step further, you can also think back to the topics you’ve looked at so far at school and think of various experiments that could be conducted about them. Don’t hesitate to design some experiments of your own (with aim, hypothesis, expected results, etc.) and to show your teacher or tutor.
  • Finally, as with maths, completing as many VCAA exam questions as possible is key for success in sciences. You don’t need to do whole exams yet; instead, find the questions relevant to the parts of the Study Design you’ve already learnt and puzzle them out as best you can. More exposure to VCAA’s specific question style can only be a good thing, especially since they often pit you against scenarios you’ve never heard of before, forcing you to apply what you already know under pressure.

Humanities and folio subjects.

A major difficulty students face in humanities and folio subjects is that they are respectively super content-heavy and workload-heavy.

That’s why, if you are a humanities student, holidays are a great time for making summaries, posters, flowcharts, flashcards, rhymes, mnemonics, timelines – anything that will help you organise all the content in your head and ultimately remember it.

For instance, for History: Revolutions you could try the following during your holidays:

  • If the events you've looked at so far are already getting jumbled up in your head, create a timeline. Use a Word document (or similar technology) to organise all the events by their dates. Also include what you think is significant about each of these events, and how the events may be related to each other thematically. It’s often these details that help you associate an event with a certain date.
  • If you've got the order of events under control but you're struggling to remember facts associated with main events and main primary sources, whip up a deck of flashcards and test yourself during 'wasted' time (such as while on public transport or during ad breaks on TV). The act of making these flashcards is itself a form of revision since you’re transferring information from, say, your notebook to another resource, forcing you to meticulously read and absorb what is already in your notes.
  • Since VCAA loves asking you to interpret cartoons and images in the VCE History exam, start familiarising yourself with the various cartoons associated with the Revolutions you're studying by simply doing a Google search. Ask yourself what the image is depicting and think about how the events/people are being portrayed.
  • Remember that History: Revolutions isn't just about remembering dates. It's also super important to be able to draw and analyse sophisticated thematic connections between social classes and various periods throughout each revolution (which can often be harder than memorising 'what happened when'!) To train your brain into thinking like this, doing loads of practice questions and asking your teacher for a tonne of feedback will be extremely helpful.

If you’re taking a folio subject like Studio Arts, chances are you’re already determined to knuckle down on your folio over the break. This is not a bad idea; however, there are a few things to keep in mind while doing so that will ensure success in this awesome subject:

  • Don’t get lost in making pretty pictures for all your techniques and experimentation pages. As fun as that can be, make sure you focus on how you analyse, reflect upon and evaluate your work in writing. While a picture can speak a thousand words, make sure you write every one of those words down in your folio to make your artistic intentions clear.
  • No matter how stunning your folio is, your study score will likely not reflect any of your hard work if you perform poorly on the end of year exam. Since the Studio Arts exam is broken down into clear question types that appear again and again over the years, it’s easy to practice them individually. We recommend starting out by practising questions one at a time with a time limit (roughly 90 seconds per mark). Doing this once a day, a 10-20 minute commitment, will soon help you figure out a formula or answer structure that makes composing coherent and insightful responses much easier for you.
  • Finally, holidays are an ideal time to pay some art galleries a visit in preparation for the art industry contexts Area of Study. Not only is visiting several exhibition spaces going to give you more choice when it comes to comparing exhibition spaces in the exam, it is also a fantastic way to unwind and get inspired for your final pieces.

Summary

There is no doubt that you deserve a study break after the whirlwind of the school term. But as tempting as it is to spend your two weeks blissfully unaware of your responsibilities, keep in mind that ignoring VCE won’t make it go away – or make going back to the new school term any easier.

Maintaining a solid work ethic and applying the tips we’ve discussed to your holiday study routine will have a positive impact on both your productivity during the break, and your overall level of success during the VCE year. Remember, holidays and the free time they stand for are a precious resource, so use them wisely.

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