The VCE Study Design - how to understand it for your ATAR subjects

Curious about the VCE study design? This article covers what to do at the start of the school year to make the most out of your study design, but especially how ace your final exams - keep reading to find out!

2 months ago   •   9 min read

By KIS Academics
Photo by Scott Graham / Unsplash

We all know that the best way to get good marks is to study effectively and be able to apply the knowledge that you have been taught. Sometimes there is not enough time in class for your teacher to explain concepts in a way that you understand. I would recommend looking at the KIS Academic Online Courses for VCE subjects that you are finding challenging or want to excel at.

You can find these courses here.

However, VCE is such a big time in our academic lives that any extra help, tips or tricks are welcome! One way for you to gain a better understanding of your subjects and assessments is by looking at VCAA resources.

VCAA, otherwise known as the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, are the creator of VCE, Exams, scaling and all things school related. Entering into VCE may seem really daunting with all kinds of new assessments, subjects and weird lingo. Although we might blame VCAA for the new and complex environment that we call VCE, I found over my three years of doing VCE subjects, that they also help make it a much easier process!

As an example, the past VCE exams are the best resources for your learning. They have been written and curated for a year and rarely have mistakes or questions that are not related to the content you need to know. Though, possibly the most overlooked and hidden gem is the VCE Study design.

What is the VCE Study design & where can I find it?

The VCE study design is usually broken into:

-      Introduction

-      Assessment and reporting

-      Unit 1

-      Unit 2

-      Unit 3

-      Unit 4

We will break down each of these sections and what information we can find in each.

Here you can find all of the VCE subjects with links to their study designs.

Introduction

This section has a lot of general information and would probably be a good place to go for subject selection. If you are unsure about what you will be studying in a subject, the aims and structure outlined in the introduction section of the study design are always a good place to start!

Importantly, the introduction includes a section called ‘Entry’. This outlines all of the prerequisites for entry to the subject. Often, you don’t need to have studied Unit 1&2 for a subject to start Unit 3. Make sure to check the entry requirements in the study design, if you are thinking about changing subjects!

Assessment and reporting

The most important information in this section is the breakdown of marks for Units 3&4. For example, in Psychology, Unit 3 is worth 16%, Unit 4 is worth 24% and the exam is 60%! This is really critical information because if you didn’t do as well as you would like in Unit 3, it is still very achievable to get a high study score with good exam revision.

Unit 1&2

In Unit 1&2, all content is delivered and assessed by your school, so VCAA provides lots of outlines rather than in-depth information.

The main takeaways are the overviews of topics covered in each unit. These topics are called ‘Areas of Study (AOS) and each unit usually had 3 areas of study. Under each area of study, there are often key skills or knowledge that can easily be used as dot points of revision. As an example, if you know that you have a business management SAC in Unit 1, specifically the internal business environment (AOS 3), you can look at the key knowledge required for that area of study.

One of the key knowledge points is:

·         Costs and benefits of purchasing an existing business compared with establishing a new business

Using this, you can list all of the benefits and costs as a way of revising your SAC.

Additionally, in Unit 1&2, VCAA has a list of suitable assessment tasks that your teacher can choose from. If we look at Unit 2 of English, your teacher can only assess you with a written assessment be it persuasive, comparative, or analytical.

Unit 3&4

Unit 3&4 contains all the information found in Unit 1&2. To avoid repeating myself, make sure that you look over the areas of study in both Units 3&4, and use the key knowledge dot points as revision tools for study summaries.

Unlike Unit 1&2, VCAA has strict assessment rules that your teachers should follow in Unit 3&4. The study design has an outline of what your SAC should be and the weighting that they will have. This is a really important way of prioritising your studies.

As an example, in Unit 3 of English, all students will have the following SACs:

·         An analysis of a text (written) (30 marks)

·         A creative response to a text (written or oral) (30 marks)

·         A comparison of two or three texts (written) (40 marks)

VCAA also states that written tasks should be 800-1000 words and orals should be 4-6 minutes.

From this, we can see that prioritising essay writing is a good idea and that we should aim to write practice essays between 800-1000 words. The two or three-text comparison is worth more marks, so we should also make sure that we prioritize this slightly more.

Exam

Usually, you can find the weighting and duration of the end-of-year exam here. For more information on the exam, I would look at the past exam papers here.

The front page of the exams usually includes a breakdown of questions and marks as well as suggested time.

Other information

With certain subjects, there may be other sections in the study design that is useful. The biology study design has a list of key scientific terms and their definitions which is really helpful in SAC and exams! In the English study design, the text selection section breaks down how your texts will be spilt across the year and used for different assessments.

You should also conduct some research on the scaling of each subject, here is a quick breakdown for 2022 subject scaling.

How I used the Study designs to score highly

At the start of each academic year, I always created a cheat sheet of the study design for each of my subjects so that I was prepared for the year ahead. I will step you through an example of biology and how we can use this to structure our studies over the year.

Biology Units 3 & 4

Unit 3:  How do cells maintain life? (20% of marks)

AOS 1 - What is the role of nucleic acids and proteins in maintaining life?

o   Nucleic acids and proteins

o   DNA manipulation techniques and applications

SAC:   50% of unit 3 marks (10% of overall biology mark)

50-70 minute written SAC or 10-minute oral presentation

AOS 2 - How are biochemical pathways regulated?

o   Photosynthesis and cellular respiration

o   Biotechnology applications

SAC:   50% of unit 3 marks (10% of overall biology mark)

50-70 minute written SAC or 10-minute oral presentation

Unit 4: How does life change and respond to challenges? (30% of marks)

AOS 1 - How do organisms respond to pathogens?

o   Responding to antigens

o   Acquiring immunity

o   Disease challenges and strategies

SAC:   33% of unit 4 marks (10% of overall biology mark)

50-70 minute written SAC or 10-minute oral presentation

AOS 2 - How are species related over time?

o   Genetic/ other changes to populations and species over time

o   Relatedness of species

o   Human change over time

SAC:   33% of unit 4 marks (10% of overall biology mark)

50-70 minute written SAC or 10-minute oral presentation

AOS 3 - How do we investigate cellular processes or biological change?

o   Scientific design, evidence and communication

SAC:   33% of unit 4 marks (10% of overall biology mark)

Scientific poster 600 words

Exam (50% of marks)

o   Two and a half hours

I personally put these at the front of my binders for each subject, but you could always stick them on your wall for quick reference. This really helped me to know what and how I was getting tested for each SAC and also to put into perspective the weighting of SACs and the exam.

If, for example, you have a bio SAC worth 10% and a business management SAC worth 15% but you know that you want business management to be one of your top subjects, it is easy to prioritise your study.

Truthfully, this prioritising is what I found most helpful in VCE. You really don’t have time to do all the study that you would like, so make sure to know your strengths and know the weighting of your assessment tasks!!

Before starting a new topic, I would use the key knowledge points to guide my reading and make sure that I understood the key terms that were going to be covered.

For revision, the key knowledge points would form the basis of my revision. I would either read through these points and review the parts that I was least confident with or make my summaries/flashcards from these dot points.

If you find that some topics are difficult to understand despite using this method, don’t worry! It is completely normal. You can always book a tutoring session to digest these difficult concepts or work on your exam skills as well! To book a session, use the following link.

 

Unit 3

Unit 4

Hidden information

English


25% overall

3 SACs (7.5% AOS1, 7.5% AOS2, 10% AOS3)

25% overall

2 SACs (15% AOS1, 10% AOS2)

Unit 3 pieces are 800-1000 words. Unit 4 piece is 900-1200 words. 4-6 minute oral in Unit 4 (10%).

Psychology

16% overall

2 SACS (8% each)

24% overall

3 SACs (8% each)

A poster for AOS3 in Unit 4.

Further maths

20% overall

3 SACs (5% AOS1, 10% AOS2, 5% AOS3)

14% overall

3 SACs (3.5% AOS1, 7% AOS2, 3.5% AOS3)

Unit 3 has application and problem-solving SACs. Unit 4 only has problem-solving.

Business Management

25% overall

3 SACs (5% AOS1, 10% AOS2, 10% AOS3)

25% overall

2 SACs (12.5% each)

SACs can be a set of questions, essay, case study, report or media analysis

Biology 

20% overall

2 SACs (10% each)

30% overall

3 SACs (10% each)

Scientific poster in Unit 4 on a scientific investigation.

Health and Human Development

25% overall

2 SACs (12.5% each)

25% overall

2 SACs (12.5% each)

SACs can be a short report, oral presentation, visual presentation or questions.

Click on the subject names for a quick link to their study designs!

Be informed and prioritise

To the readers that have made it this far, you may have noticed that my number one tip is to prioritise your time during VCE. By breaking down the study design, you can know what content will be covered and also what assessments are worth the most. However, I think that it is equally valuable to know which subjects to prioritise!

My suggestion, and probably the biggest tip that I tell my students is to play around with the KIS Academics ATAR calculator to see what subjects are worth more of your time and effort.

Start by giving yourself a 30 in each of your subjects (30 is the average mark) and then increase or decrease your scores according to your strengths and weaknesses. This way, you can see which subjects to prioritise and then, which SACs should be most important to you.

TIP: Always focus on English as it has to be counted in your top 4 subjects, even if it is your worst mark!

You can find the KIS Academics VCE ATAR Calculator here.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ Section)

How are 3 and 4 units different from 1 and 2 units?

Unlike Unit 1&2, VCAA has strict assessment rules that your teachers should follow in Unit 3&4. The study design has an outline of what your SAC should be and the weighting that they will have. This is a really important way of prioritising your studies.

What is the number one tip for studying for VCE?

The number one tip is to prioritise your time during VCE. By breaking down the study design, you can know what content will be covered and also what assessments are worth the most.

What should I do at the start of the year when studying for a 3/4 unit?

Create a cheat sheet of the study design for each of your subjects so that you are prepared for the year ahead.


Written by KIS Academics Tutor Katrina Hall. Katrina currently offers tutoring in French, Mathematics, Science and VCE French and Biology. Katrina is currently pursuing a Doctor of Dental Medicine at USYD and has received stellar reviews from her KIS Academics students. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to her. You can view Katrina’s profile here and request her as a tutor.

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