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How to make your folio subject work for you

Daniel Bil

“Folio subjects are fuelled by blood, sweat and tears.”

This is how many of us are introduced to our portfolio subjects on a subject information night or parent-teacher interview. And in many ways, this rather alarming description rings true: producing a folio and body of work that you are proud of and which also pays off in terms of the final study score can be one of the most energy-consuming tasks any VCE student attempts.

There’s simply no substitute for time and effort when it comes to folios. However, experience has taught Daniel Bil, who achieved a fantastic study score of 44 in VCE Media, and Jen Huang, with a 47 in VCE Studio Arts, insights that helped them sail more smoothly through the experience and reap greater rewards at the end. In this article, they share their best tips with you.

Jen: show, but also tell.

For Studio Arts, it’s of course important to have plenty of imagery: evidence of techniques you’re trying, aesthetics you’re sampling and documentation of your progress. However, it’s hard to overstate the importance of being a clear, concise writer when it comes to folio work. Alongside each image, you need to clearly explain your intentions for making it.

The reason for this is the inbuilt subjectivity of any creative piece. The way different people perceive the imagery you create in your folio and final pieces can vary hugely; while this is great if you’re exhibiting your artwork to the public, it may not work in your favour if you’re being assessed on what you make.

In fact, it is highly possible for the teacher marking your work to interpret it in a way you didn’t foresee or intend. It would be a huge shame if your assessor missed a critical link between your artworks or a reference to one of the artists who inspired you in a technique. To show them your intentions and make sure everyone knows how much thought and passion you put into every page, make sure you take the time to record it in unambiguous, plain English.

Dan: the hardest part is starting.

If you saw my first draft folio for media and final submission side by side, you would probably think they were made by different students.

That’s because I wrote the first draft of most of the pieces in my folio knowing full well that they would be changed and revised many times over the course of the coming months, meaning I was okay with it looking like garbage. This might sound careless, but it was an immense help for me mentally – as in my mind, changing and editing existing work is far less daunting a task than starting from scratch.

Besides, you’re not expected to put your greatest, most polished product on page one. The great thing about folios is that you can show your ideas evolving over time, so don’t be afraid to start small and build from there!

Jen: don’t stress about how your folio looks.

As a perfectionist, I always felt most at ease when I knew my folio was not only thorough and intelligible, but also visually stunning. I really can’t count the number of hours I spent ruling lines on each A3 page, because I didn’t like how typed text looked in my folio. I also remember typing each evaluation and commentary before I meticulously hand-wrote it into my actual folio, because I was obsessed with making everything as structured and well-written as possible.

However, folio subjects are, by their very nature, creative. That means you can write with more versatility and let your thoughts flow more freely than you otherwise would in a more formal English subject. In retrospect, if I had been less scripted in my commentary, I would have been able to let my passion for my work show more, and also would have wasted less time on mindless transcription that did not do my final mark any good.

TL;DR: don’t worry about the parts of the folio that aren’t assessed. The effort and time you invest in making your folio beautiful should be redirected into making your analyses more detailed, your reflections more insightful and your explorations more bold.

Dan: set your own deadlines.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible procrastinator. I find it hard to do work unless the deadline is near, which means that I often found myself unmotivated to chip away at my my folio task (for which the next deadline was sometimes months away).

If you’re like me, then something that can help a lot is to set yourself your own deadlines, and stick to them like glue. This will make sure you complete small, manageable chunks of your work regularly, rather than letting it build up on the back-burner and giving you a head full of stress further down the road.

One way you can do this, for example, is setting aside one or two hours every Saturday morning to work solely on your folio. Maybe you’ll aim to do one page a week. You can also keep yourself accountable by telling someone, like a friend, family member or your teacher that you’ll show them what work you’ve done every week. This way, you can’t go too long without putting meaningful effort into your folio.

As a bonus, completing small, manageable components of your folio at regular intervals means you can focus more on your other subjects. Trust me: your future self will thank you.

Jen: don’t be tempted to neglect the exam.

It can be super challenging to motivate yourself to study for the exam component of folio subjects, since the folio part is often both creatively stimulating and just so demanding of your attention and time. However, think about investing effort into your exam study as investing in a better overall study score. The truth is, you could have the top-scoring folio in your cohort and still do poorly in the subject overall if you under-perform in the exam.

If you’re a Studio Arts student, write mock comparative essays during a school holiday to prepare yourself for artist comparison and analysis questions in the exam. Visit as many exhibition spaces as possible and ask questions about their conservation and display practices (as well as admiring the art of course) when you need a break from studying. And finally, practice exam questions consistently throughout the year. Questions with the the same prompts appear consistently in past VCAA Studio Arts Units 3 and 4 exams, just with new artworks to analyse. Once you work your way through the artworks included in the exam booklet, you can apply the same prompts to other artworks you are drawn to, discovered during a gallery visit or simply through a Google Images search. 20 minutes a day of practice can be all it takes to increase your exam confidence.

As you clock up your exam question mileage, you’ll start to notice patterns in what you’re acing and what you have a hard time with. It might be helpful for you to make a list of concepts you find challenging- even specific questions that you didn’t do so well on- and focus on them more heavily during your study. In this way, you won’t have any chinks in your armour when the exam comes for you.

Dan: It won’t ever feel finished, and that’s okay.

There’s a famous saying among filmmakers that “a film is never finished, you just run out of time.” The exact same is true for VCE folios.

About a week before my folio was due was when I started to panic, because I still wanted to improve the formatting of my shot list, rewrite my background and research section, explain why I didn’t use the music I said I would, rewrite my talent release forms and get my actors to sign them, AND to proofread, format, and print it all. The night before, I didn’t sleep because I found myself stressing over so many details.

In hindsight, I don't think the final product was any better or worse than it was one week ago. I just didn’t want to say it was done, because ‘done’ meant I couldn’t change it anymore.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t make amendments to try and make a piece of work you’re really proud of. But don’t feel bad if it feels unfinished when it comes around to submission time, because it’s a very common feeling. Most of the time, it just means you care about your work.

In summary.

To excel in your folio subject and enjoy yourself in the process, you not only need passion; you need to invest patience, energy and dedication in equal parts. It can be a wild ride that demands so much of your ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that at times, you might wonder why you chose this VCE path. But it does come to an end, and with our team’s pointers in mind, you will end up with a body of work – and a study score – you can be really, really proud of.

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