Acing Your English Exams Part 2: Section B

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Acing Your English Exams Part 2: Section B

Welcome to part two of Evergreen Tutoring Service’s study resource guide on how to ace your VCE English Exam. The first section provided us with an introduction to the structure of the exam, what it asks of students, effective ways to study for it, and so on. This section goes into some more detail. By discussing what is asked of students in Section B, comparative analysis of texts. Feel free to read the different sections in whatever order you choose. Ensure they align with your own study goals.

Section B requires you to perform a comparative analysis of two texts you studied in class; you will be assessed on several factors including:

  • a demonstrable knowledge and understanding of both texts,
  • including their themes and ideas,
  • a discussion of the significant themes shared across both,
  • how the texts might explore these ideas in similar and different ways,
  • clear use of textual evidence to support your comparative analysis,
  • the utilisation of appropriate language to support your analysis.

To develop a well-written, effective analysis of this section you should have a strong idea of the shared similarities, ideas, and themes of the two texts before starting the exam, and you should already have an idea of some of the key points you want to discuss.

The exam

Section B of the 2020 Exam provides students with a choice of two questions on their set texts. So, they can choose the one they are most comfortable with, and that they feel confident in answering. For example, on its section on The Crucible by Arthur Miller and The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham, it provides students with the option of answering either:

  1. “Proctor […] has come to regard himself as a kind of fraud.” (The Crucible) Tilly says: “[…] everyone I’ve touched is hurt, or dead.” (The Dressmaker) Compare how characters in the two texts consider themselves responsible for the harm caused to others.


  1. Compare the ways in which the two texts show the suffering of the innocent and the guilty.

Having two text prompts to choose from allows you to select the one you are most comfortable with, and formulate a well-structured, coherent response to it. As with Section A, this section asks students to demonstrate a clear understanding of the texts being discussed, their ideas and themes, an understanding of the central characters, the relevance of their actions in relation to the essay prompt, and the ability to develop a well-structured response to them.

Exams aren’t designed to trick you

Remember that the purpose of the exam is not to trick students. It allows them to effectively demonstrate a sound understanding of what they have learned throughout the year. This is in relation to textual analysis, essay structure, understanding characters, writing clearly and fluently, expressing ideas, using appropriate language to support your ideas, and so on.

Therefore, it is recommended to have an idea about what you will be writing on before entering the exam. Obviously, you cannot know what specific questions you will be asked, but you can know the types of things the questions will be explore.
They will be asking you:

  • to demonstrate an understanding of the texts,
  • explore the similarities and differences in how they explore their shared ideas and themes,
  • show an understanding of the main characters and how their actions work at developing the central ideas of the texts,
  • demonstrate an ability to formulate a well-structured response to these points, in a set time frame.

A great stratergy

A great strategy for getting on top of this is to practice by looking at prior exams. Try to answer a question from it in a set time frame. For example, one of the options from Section B of the 2019 VCE Exam asks students to compare The Crucible by Arthur Miller and Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks, and provides them with a choice of two prompts:

  1. ‘In stressful times, we often doubt what we most strongly believe.’ Compare the ways in which the two texts explore this idea.
  2. Compare how the concept of social responsibility is examined in the two texts.

When you look at those two questions, what do you notice? Firstly, it is important to note that what prompt II asks of students shares strong similarities with what prompt II in the 2020 Exam asks students, on one of the same texts, The Crucible, and a different one, The Dressmaker, as it asks Compare the ways in which the two texts show the suffering of the innocent and the guilty.

Both prompts require students to analyse how the societies found with the texts deal with social issues and challenges, and how this affects the lives of significant characters. So, an important message to take away from this is that the exam will be asking you to draw on your existing knowledge of both texts. The goal is to construct an argument about them.


So, while you cannot know exactly what you will be asked, you can know what knowledge you should bring to the exam;

  • An understanding of the text’s main characters, their relationship to each other, how they develop throughout the story, what feelings (sympathy, suspicion, fear, etc) each character evokes, and so on.
  • A selection of important, relevant quotes from each text. It is important to remember that each text you are studying may have what are seen as ‘defining’ quotes of the text. These are the most crucial quotes of the whole text. These quotes provide us with key insight into something important about the text, such as motivations, ideas, themes, the feelings a character evokes, and so on. An important quote for The Crucible is “I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it”, as it tells us a lot about the personal philosophy of central character John Proctor.

We have broken the English exam down.

We have broken down the English exam and what you need to do to ace all three sections here.

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