Log in      Register       Shopping cart

Blog header

What did you think of the EnglishEAL paper of 2022

November 27, 2022 by Doug McCurry from BooBook Education

What did you think of the English/EAL paper of 2022?

The answer depends largely on the questions for your texts in Sections A and B.

In terms of conventional measurement assumptions about comparability, Sections A and B present problems in assessment because students are doing different texts and answering different questions on the same text. This is perhaps the reason why the VCAA puts the table - showing average scores for each section and the percentage who do each Section A text - to suggest that the text the students do does not matter.

However, as I suggested in a previous post, there are good reasons for schools to examine the performance of their students on different kinds of texts over a number of years. It is an open question whether students do better with more or less popular and/or difficult texts. With 25% of candidates doing Rear Window, it must be hard for them to distinguish themselves from all the other answers on that text. It is reasonable to assume that it would be relatively easy to write something distinctive on the ten texts that 1% or less of students chose to answer on.

Students can seem clumsy when dealing with more difficult and sophisticated texts. For instance, the responses I read about Runaway in the practice exams this year looked comparatively weak as they dealt with that subtle text. On the other hand, students who are doing quite well on Wordsworth or Shakespeare could seem more sophisticated than those writing on Nine Days or Like a House on Fire because the latter texts offer less depth and subtlety. But then, as the VCAA figures in the table at the end of exam report show, those doing Wordsworth and Shakespeare are the most able students in all sections, and this may have an impact on the scores of less able students also doing those texts.

I will try to show the problems of choice by comparing some of the Section A exam questions of 2022.

Ideally, I would want students to have a choice in the end of year exam in terms of which text they wrote on in Section A. This is because I think the quality of the exam questions is so variable that students with only one text option could well be confronted with questions on their text that wrong-foot them entirely. I would want to teach what I thought would be an accessible text, as well as a demanding text. If I could have my way, I would probably choose to teach Flames or Nine Days as the accessible text and Pride and Prejudice or Wordsworth as the demanding text. The following are the questions on these texts from the exam of 2022.

Flames by Robbie Arnott

i. ‘In Flames, it is Levi’s quest to save his sister that connects all the characters.’



ii. “The glorious cormorant did reach me …; it joined with me.”

To what extent are the humans in this narrative shown to be at the mercy of nature?

I doubt that the first Flames question is an accurate statement about the novel. Because it is a structural rather than a substantive question, it would not take students into the centre of the text.

Students would have to substantially disagree with the second question because it is the way humans treat nature that is a central issue in the book, rather than the effect of nature on humans.

Nine Days by Toni Jordan

i. ‘The characters in Nine Days learn a great deal about how to treat others.’



ii. ‘Nine Days is about understanding past experiences rather than about living in the moment.’

Do you agree?

The first Nine Days question inappropriately suggests a that there is some kind of pattern to the development of the characters. The episodic nature of the story means that why characters change (and are so different) is a mystery. The question does not get to the important substance of the text. The comparison of life in the different time periods is the centre of the novel.

Similarly, the second question does not help students to get to the centre. The novel is not about understanding the past or living in the moment. It is about the differences and similarities of the distant and near past and the present. Neither of the questions gives an opportunity to consider these issues.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

i. “But we are none of us consistent …”

‘Pride and Prejudice is primarily a study of human behaviour.’



ii. ‘In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, affection and marriage have little to do with each other.’

Do you agree?

The notion of Pride and Prejudice as 'primarily a study in human behaviour' is a long way from the feel and texture of this perennially delightful novel. It is primarily a witty romance (the more he hears her talk the prettier she gets) giving a sense of the different mores and standards of the time. Austen certainly has views about inferior and superior characters, but her novel is nothing like a 'study of human behaviour'. This question is appropriate for a discussion of George Eliot rather than Jane Austen.

The issue of love and marriage in the second question is central, but students would have to at least qualify and should probably reject the statement. Some characters in the novel assume or believe that marriage is about wealth and social standing, but the superior characters understand (or come to understand) the limitations and dangers of loveless marriage.

William Wordsworth: Poems Selected by Seamus Heaney by William Wordsworth

i. ‘There is joy to be found in Wordsworth’s poetry.’

Do you agree?


ii. ‘Moral lessons are at the heart of Wordsworth’s poems.’


The issue of joy, in the first Wordsworth question, is central. Wordsworth's poetry is about the importance of joy, but in his most important poems he is deliberately constructing joy and celebration, rather than finding the grounds for it.

It does not help students to get close to the poetry to suggest in the second question that the important poems are moral lessons. The important Wordsworth poems are nothing like moral lessons. The statement makes Wordsworth sound like Samuel Johnson. Even the great psychological and spiritual weight of Resolution and Independence is a remembered experience rather than a moral lesson.

I would accept none of these questions without qualification. Most of them do not focus on central issues, and hence I do not think they help students get close to the texts. I would want my students able to answer on two texts so they have a choice of the best of four questions, all of which might be dubiously focussed.

In my view the primary characteristic of good questions is that they encourage or enable students to deal with some of the central issues in a text.


Sorry, this website uses features that your browser doesn’t support. Upgrade to a newer version of Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Edge and you’ll be all set.