The Critical Essay presentation

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Individual Study
The Critical Essay
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Thorough investigation of both texts
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A well developed question
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The importance of the polishing process
THE QUESTION
makes all the difference
1. LIMITED QUESTION:
Compare the ways in which the central
characters of the two texts you studied learned
from their mistakes.
GOOD QUESTION:

Compare the ways in which the authors present
central characters’ journeys of healing. (The
Sound of One Hand Clapping, and Away.)
2. LIMITED QUESTION:
How do the characters of the two texts
gradually come to the same conclusion about
the absurdity of war?
GOOD QUESTION:
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How do two authors, in similar and different
ways, explore the idea that war is absurd? (Catch
22 and Dr Strangelove)
3. LIMITED QUESTION:
’Obsessive love is deep’. How do the characters
of Enduring Love and Lolita come to the
conclusion that this is true?
GOOD QUESTION:

’Obsessive love is deep’. How do the authors
of Enduring Love and Lolita explore the linked
themes of obsession and love?
A TEMPLATE FOR CREATING
A ’GOOD QUESTION’
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How do authors of particular text types use
specific techniques to have precise effects on
their audiences, in the exploration of significant
ideas?
2007 Assessment Report – the question
“ Good questions were those that allowed students to
discuss technique at length and often included key
phrases such as ’in what ways’, ’compare the ways’, ’in
what different ways’, ’what techniques’ and ’how have
the techniques used by…’ Some examples of successful
questions are listed below:
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Compare and contrast how the two authors position readers
to sympathise with central characters.
In what similar and different ways do the authors use setting
as a catalyst for characters to come to terms with the past?
Compare the ways in which the authors of two modern
Australian texts explore the nature of mortality.
2007 English Studies class

How do the authors of Japanese Story and The Piano Tuner
use the journey motif to explore their protagonists’
transformations of identity?
Danny Brookes
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How do the authors of Pan’s Labyrinth and The Book of
Lost Things explore symbols of gender in the journeys
undertaken by their central characters?
Maddie Mitchell
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“A great civilisation is not conquered from without
until it is destroyed from within” – Will Durant. How
do the authors of Apocalypto and Cat’s Cradle use
negative perspective and symbolism to explore the
universal causes of social collapse?
Jessica Taylor
2008 Assessment Report – Question Development

Best questions were those which provided
students with the opportunity to address the
criteria for the Individual Study and which
protected students from the temptation to
provide recounts and speak of characters as real
people rather than as devices of the author. As
was stated in the 2007 report, questions that
have a specific focus are much more successful
than those that incorporate too many tasks for
the students to address.
2008 Assessment Report – Question Development

Words such as ’discuss’ provide little framework
for comparison, and open-ended or overly long
questions or statements often leave students in a
situation where they ’discuss’ so much that their
argument ultimately and ironically lacks depth
and focus. Questions should be tight and
focused and reflect the particular study of texts
that the student has undertaken. The stem of the
question should directly take the student into a
comparative analysis and argument.
2009 Assessment Report – Question Development

The range of questions was again broad with the most
successful being those which presented the students
with a clear focus and manageable task. Questions that
directed the student to discuss a topic rather than texts
did not encourage them to address the learning
outcomes of this section of the program. Similarly,
convoluted questions often left students struggling to
maintain their focus, as did essay ’topics’ that were
based on a social issue or comprised a quotation
without any other task than ’discuss’.
2009 Assessment Report – Question Development

Evaluative questions such as ’How effective are the
authors…’ forced the students into a false position of
critiquing the works they had chosen and did not
produce strong responses. It was the straightforward,
relatively short questions that required:
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comparison and contrast
an acknowledgment of the role of the author
a focus upon the relationship between an idea(s) and
techniques,
which culminated in the more successful answers.
Some question foci which worked
well were those which explored:
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the idea of the reliable or unreliable narrator
literary genres
the withholding of information
use of perspective
the differences between the texts as well as
the similarities
the differences between text types
2008 English Studies class
20. In Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote and
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, how do the authors establish
patterns and tropes of repetition to explore the notion
of a cyclical human condition?
Peter Beaglehole +1
20. In what ways do the authors of Candide, or Optimism and
Forest Gump use the picaresque narrative form to
interrogate their respective societies’ cultures of logical
positivism?
Bryn Adams +2
20. How do the authors of Music Box and Death and the
Maiden use narrative devices to explore the theme of
divided loyalty?
Lexie Matthews +5
2008 English Studies class
19. How do the authors of The Bell Jar and The
Diving Bell & the Butterfly use point of view to
explore extremes of isolation within their
consolatory narratives?
Phoebe Bowden
19. How do Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly
Gang and Jason Teplitski’s Gettin’ Square
explore stereotypical Australian working class
culture through the ideas of loyalty, oppression
and hierarchy?
Jesse Daughtry +1
2008 English Studies class
18. ’[Humans] may face a glass ceiling in their
quest to reach their ambitions, but in Africa,
an iron plate bars the way.’ Linda Seig
How do the authors of Blood Diamond and The
Last King of Scotland use an anti-heroic pairing
of black and white protagonists, in connection
with common techniques, to explore Western
misconceptions of Africa?
Robin Garvie +2
2009 English Studies class
20. Compare and contrast the ways in which Julian Barnes’
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters and Stanley
Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey explore the nature of
human evolution.
Nick Mitchell
19. How do Tim O’Brien’s In The Lake in the Woods and
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney use ambiguous
narrative structures to explore America’s post Vietnam
loss of faith in politics?
Graeme Riddell
19. In what ways do the authors of Doubt and The Crucible
explore restrictive societies through the downfall of
their protagonists?
Georgia Hagias -1
2009 English Studies class
19. Oscar Wilde described homosexuality as ‘the love that
dare not speak its name.’ In what ways do Donna Tartt
and Alfred Hitchcock explore the destructive effects of
secrecy on impressionable youth in The Secret History and
Rope?
Holly Richter -1
18. In what ways do Arundhati Roy in The God of Small
Things and Danny Boyle in Slumdog Millionaire use the
repercussions of childhood trauma as a motif to explore
the realities of post-colonial India?
Kate Rushforth -1
2009 English Studies class
18. In what ways do the authors of Revolutionary Road and
A Doll’s House present the disintegration of the
protagonist’s relationships as a critique of their
respective societies?
Tom Taylor -2
18. How do the authors of The Colour Purple and Madame
Bovary use the journeys of their female protagonists to
examine their respective societies’ attitudes towards
women?
Anneliese Herbert
18. ‘Where they have burned books, they will end in
burning human beings.’ Heinrich Heine. In what ways
do the authors of Fahrenheit 451 and The Lives of Others
explore dystopian societies through censorship of
artistic expression?
Jessica Todd +2
2010 English Studies class
20. Compare the ways in which Daniel Mason in The Piano
Tuner and Ann Patchett in Bel Canto use the idea of
music to explore the breakdown of cultural barriers.
Georgie Simmons +1
20. What techniques do Dennis Hopper and Robert Pirsig
use to explore the counter-culture of 1960’s America in
their texts Easy Rider and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance?
Michael Huxley +2
19. In what ways do Rachel Ward and Georgia Blain
explore the construction of the feminine in the
Australian texts Beautiful Kate and Candelo?
Isobel Grear
2010 English Studies class
19. In what ways do Margaret Craven in I Heard the Owl
Call My Name and Kay Pollak in As It Is In Heaven
explore themes of healing and death through the
journey of their protagonists?
Miranda Daughtry+1
19. Compare the ways in which Frank Wedekind in Spring
Awakening and Joss Whedon in season six of Buffy the
Vampire Slayer use the liminal experience of
adolescence to critique their respective societies.
Mia Ryan
18. How do Thomas Hardy and Margaret Atwood
explore the subordination of women in their novels
Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Alias Grace through the
motif of the male gaze?
Hannah Korhonen-Bannister +2
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Appropriate register
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Acknowledgement of the text types
2007 Assessment Report – the essay
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Markers were impressed by the range and depth of
writing ability in evidence within the Critical Essays.
Well structured arguments with relevant embedded
quotations and integrated discussion points across both
texts attracted the high scores as these essays
consistently addressed the criteria for the critical essay.
Those students who relied too heavily on verbose
language or extensive block quotations did not score as
well. Markers acknowledged the importance of utilising
pertinent, succinct references from both texts within
the argument to support discussion.
2007 Assessment Report – comparison

Because this is a connected texts study, those
students who scored well integrated their
discussion of texts within each point they raised,
thus displaying a balanced depth of
understanding of both texts. Students who
produced essays that favoured one text over the
other or discussed each text in an isolated way,
limited the final score their work could attract.
2008 Assessment Report – the essay

One [issue] that has surfaced this year and should be
actively discouraged is the over-reliance on external
sources. Students who chose to research and expound
the ideas of others hindered their ability to
comparatively analyse the texts, and limited their
development of a strong, original argument in the essay.
Similarly, students who extensively quoted other
sources and in some cases even critiqued the sources
they had referenced, were not meeting the criteria of
the course. … Best responses were those where
students confidently expressed their own ideas about
the texts they had chosen to study, rather than using
‘experts’ to support them.
2008 Assessment Report – the essay

Connected with this issue is that of the use of
footnotes. Some students incorporated these into their
essays, even footnoting the texts on which the essay
was based. As this is an essay in which students are
presenting their own argument in relation to the texts
they have chosen to study, footnotes to the texts
themselves are not required and external sources should
not be referenced in the essay. If used, they should be
accessed only as part of the formative processes which
the student undertakes and, therefore, be confined to
the supporting materials.
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

Something frequently commented on by
markers this year was ‘over-writing’: many
students used a thesaurus or other sources in an
attempt to elevate their writing style. Such essays
lacked a personal voice and often, rather than
refining their argument, the student had in fact
made the discussion unwieldy and the essay less
coherent. Colloquial language and abbreviations
should be avoided in the critical essay as it is a
polished document.
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

At times, introductions and conclusions were
problematic as were repeated key phrases and
words. Being mindful of their style of
expression, students should develop a clear
structure for their argument so that it engages
the reader from the outset and maintains their
interest throughout.
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

One experienced marker observed, ‘Most essays
were structured well with integrated discussion
of both texts throughout; very few students
dealt with one text then the other in two
separate sections. It is a joy when students are
able to construct an argument and lead the
reader through to a thought-provoking
conclusion.’
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

The issue of lengthy paragraphs is still evident.
In an effort to appear to be linking the two texts
some students abandon paragraph points and
present ‘sectioned’ discussions instead. As one
marker observed, ‘Because students were
conscious that they were meant to be developing
comparisons, they used connectives without
really unpacking the ideas… many students
began a paragraph with “similarly” (to the ideas
in the previous paragraph) and yet made no
attempt to explore any element that was similar.
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

The better responses were those where the
student guided the reader by providing clear
topic sentences to tighten their focus and fluent
discussion divided in a controlled way. Such
essays culminated in the student drawing the
threads of the argument into a natural
conclusion.
2009 Assessment Report – the essay

One of the marking team observed that
‘coherence of argument is fundamental in
allowing access to the discussion. Many students
presented a myriad of accurate observations and
demonstrated a sophisticated knowledge of their
texts and their texts’ techniques.’ The best
essays, then, were those in which the students
were able to move with seeming ease between
the two texts, linking them within a common
point of discussion.
Some typical characteristics of
better essays are:
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fluent and polished style
appropriate register
sophisticated, sustained and concise use of
language which is clearly part of the student’s
natural style of expression
strong sentence structure
Some typical characteristics of
better essays are:
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acknowledgment and confident discussion
of technique, pertinent to the focus of the
question and the argument being developed
fluid movement across the discussion of both
texts, incorporating comparison/contrast
the effortless inclusion of textual references
into the line of discussion
a strong, focused introduction and conclusion
Some typical characteristics of
better essays are:

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well-integrated discussion of texts within each
point
a balanced depth of understanding of both
texts
perceptive and insightful analysis of authors’
purposes
The Language of the Critical Essay
Discourse Markers:
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Managing Comparisons
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Similarly …
In the same way …
Also …
We can see a similar effect …
Just as … so …
This is also true of …
Equally …
The Language of the Critical Essay
Discourse Markers:
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Managing Contrasts
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On the other hand …
But when we look at …
Although …
Whereas …
While …
The Language of the Critical Essay
Discourse Markers:
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Expressing attitude and feeling
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Possibly, …
Probably, …
Superficially, …
Of course, …
To be precise, …
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In my experience, …
This could mean …
It may be …
Perhaps …
It seems to me that …
The Language of the Critical Essay
Discourse Markers:
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Exploring different approaches and
interpretations
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Some people may think that …
It is often said that …
It could be that …
Alternatively, …
On the other hand, …
2007 Assessment Report – word length
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Students are definitely working hard to keep
within the 2000 word limit set for this section of
the course. Of some concern, however, were
those students who disregarded this requirement,
some for as little as 3 or 4 words, and others for
as many as 500. Because the critical essay is a
polished piece of writing, exceeding the word
count suggests a lack of polish and should be
discouraged as nothing over 2000 words is read
by the marker.
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Protecting the anonymity of the process
SACE registration numbers on each page
 NO student names to appear anywhere
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Adhering to the cumulative word count
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Every page must have a cumulative word count in
the footer
Students’ performance in the Individual Study will be
judged by the extent to which they demonstrate:

Knowledge and Understanding
KU1 Knowledge and understanding of a wide range of ways
in which authors use stylistic features and language
techniques to communicate complex and familiar ideas,
and to influence the reader’s response.
KU2 Detailed knowledge and understanding of the ideas,
values, and beliefs in familiar and unfamiliar texts.
KU3 Knowledge and understanding of the ways in which
creators and readers of familiar and unfamiliar texts use
a range of textual conventions to make meaning.
Students’ performance in the Individual Study will be
judged by the extent to which they demonstrate:
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Analysis
An.1 Analysis of complex connections between personal
experiences, ideas, values, and beliefs, and those
explored in familiar and unfamiliar texts.
An.2 In comparative exercises, a perceptive analysis of
connections between texts, based on analysis and
synthesis of similarities and/or differences.
Students’ performance in the Individual Study will be
judged by the extent to which they demonstrate:
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Application
Ap.1 Use of a wide range of language skills and techniques to
create sophisticated and coherent texts that address the
meaning and intention of the task.
Ap.2 In comparative exercises, a perceptive recognition of
connections between texts, through responses that
integrate discussion of texts and move easily between
them.
Ap.3 Detailed and appropriate use of evidence from texts to
support responses, with textual references incorporated
fluently in discussion.
Students’ performance in the Individual Study will be
judged by the extent to which they demonstrate:
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Communication
C1
Fluent and precise writing, using appropriate style and
structure for a range of mainly unfamiliar audiences and
contexts.
C2
Appropriate use of form and register to convey mostly
complex meaning in a range of unfamiliar contexts.
“It was a wonderful experience to read the
highly sophisticated and expressive work of
those students who had given the Individual
Study the time and thought it requires, and had
clearly grown as a reader and writer as a result of
this experience.”
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