How to ace the QLD English External Exam

There is never just ‘one’ right answer when it comes to studying for QCE English. It’s all up to your interpretation, and picking the "right" quotes. In this article, we'll dive deep into how exactly to ace the external exam!

17 days ago   •   4 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Blaz Photo / Unsplash

Given its subjectivity, English may not be the easiest subject to study for. There is never just ‘one’ right answer, it’s all up to your interpretation! English is all about finding the best ways to prepare leading up to the exam, picking the ‘right’ quotes (the versatile ones!), as well as unpacking each question option on test day. Here are some tips to help you ace the QLD English External Exam.

The external exam is quite straightforward. It’s a two-hour exam, which means you have two hours of actual writing time and an additional 15 minutes of planning time. Your one and only task is to write a 1000-word analytical assay in response to one of the prompts.

First things first

Have you looked through the syllabus? Marking criteria? Past questions and samples? Be sure to go on the QCAA website soon to familiarise yourself with these as it will give you a good idea of what to expect with the unseen prompts. Make sure that you also have a good understanding with what each criterion stands for. For example, how do ‘values’ and ‘attitudes’ differ? https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/senior/senior-subjects/english/english/assessment

Practice questions

Let’s talk about how to use practice questions effectively. First, never start writing an essay without thinking about the structure. It’ll get too confusing. Setting a good structure is super important! I personally used ‘PEEEEL’, which is an extension from the normal ‘PEEL’ structure.

·      P – Point

·      E – Elaborate

·      E – Evidence

·      E – Explain

·      E – Evaluation/Interpretation

·      L – Link (to the next point)

Additionally, your thesis has to be able to answer the WHAT, HOW, and WHY in the question. Practice writing a strong thesis and ask for feedback from either your teachers or peers. Underline the key words in the question and make a list of related concepts. This allows you to expand the scope of discussion and think outside the box. Now, you’re ready to start brainstorming about the possible discussion points. Do as many as you can and if you have the time, do more! When it’s closer to the external exams, it will be helpful to write a few versatile introductions and conclusions using similar structures so you won’t be spending too much time thinking of one out of the blue when you could be focusing on something else in the real thing.

If you decide to write a full essay, start practicing under untimed conditions. After you’ve mastered that, you can do them under exam conditions. This will allow you to get used to thinking process involved without stressing out too much at the beginning of revision.

Memorising quotes

You should be going through the whole text at least 2-3 times and look for quotes that are good for analysis. This can be done individually and/or with a group of friends. Jump on a google doc and add on to a list of useful quotes (that can actually be analysed, explained, or used to further your argument – hint: symbols, imagery, metaphors, similes, etc.). The same goes for creating a list that includes all the relevant topics/concepts.

Eventually, you’ll be able to organise a massive list of quotes for each concept and identify the techniques used. Be sure to use evidence from across the text to demonstrate your understanding! I would recommend incorporating 2-3 quotes/evidence in each paragraph, so you’ll have to memorise at least 10 to be safe. Find a method that works for you, whether this would be writing them down over and over again, making flashcards or printing the quotes out and stick them on the shower wall (this actually works really well!)

Practice on paraphrasing and leading into your quote. You want it to flow smoothly with the paragraph using either linking words (e.g. although, furthermore, moreover, etc.) and simply give a context of your quote (what happened during that time in the text). Here’s something else to note, the characters are not real! They are constructed by the authors to deliver a certain message or represent a concept.

Which question do I choose on test day? What do I do if I’m not sure?

A question I get asked from many students is, ‘how do I which of the two essay topics I should pick?’ This depends on the quotes you have memorised and how familiar you are with the topic. Maybe one of them is similar to a practice question you’ve worked on before or perhaps, focuses on one of the concepts you explored.

If you’re indecisive, start brainstorming for both and if you get stuck on one, you know which other one to pick then! Use your planning time wisely to write down as many quotes you memorised and points you want to discuss. Breakdown the big ideas/key concepts in the question. This is how you show your interpretation of the text! Take your time to unpack.

Be selective! Use your best points.

Also, don’t be repetitive in your conclusions. Think about what the author would want their audience to think/feel/understand about particular beliefs or values that underpinned the text and link it to the continued relevance of the text. This is a solid structure that I always used:

·      Briefly revisit the 3 points you discussed

·      Reinforce and restate the thesis (restate DOES NOT equal to repeat)

·      Touch on the ongoing relevance of the text and the author’s message

Good luck and all the best for your studies! You’ve got this!


Written by KIS Academics Tutor for QCE Chemistry, Biology and Mathematical Methods, Joan Cheng. Joan is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Medical Science/Doctor of Medicine at Monash University. You can view Joan’s profile here and request her as a tutor."

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