Jitters eased as VCE students sail through ‘very fair’ English exam

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A community cinema facing closure while its absent patrons stayed home and binged on Netflix made apt subject matter in this year’s VCE English exam.

Students who took the marathon exam were asked to analyse the fictional Toppdale cinema’s plea for its community to embrace the “magic of watching a blockbuster” before the business becomes “the next victim of the streaming revolution”.

Year 12 students at Marymede Catholic College in South Morang celebrate completing their VCE English exam. Left to right: Claudia Pironi, Nuwin Fernando, Jake Mitkovski and Jarnai Brancaleone.Credit:Eddie Jim

The two-page appeal formed section C of the 195-minute exam, which confronted an estimated 42,626 students on Wednesday, while a further 3520 sat the exam for English as an additional language.

Section C required students to analyse the way language and argument were used to persuade others to share a point of view.

Section C of this year’s VCE English exam asked students to analyse a fictional social media post about the battle between cinemas and TV streaming services.

While previous year 12 cohorts contended with curveball subjects, such as a mountain of garbage bags and a giant cartoon watermelon, this year’s English exam was “very fair” and continued a trend of “straightforward and accessible content,” year 12 program manager at Maribyrnong College Emily Frawley said.

“It’s a social media post on a community page, so students would want to consider the type of audience most likely to be interacting with that sort of post,” Dr Frawley said.

“While the writer claims that the cinema offers activities for all ages, the social media aspect and the picture of a young group of moviegoers is clearly skewed towards a younger audience.”

The relief was palpable at Marymede Catholic College in South Morang as students left the school gym-turned exam hall.

Shortbread biscuits, enterprisingly iced with La Trobe University’s branding, were on hand as a sugary reward.

“It [the exam] wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be,” said Tegan Woods.

Year 12 students at the college returned for one day last week, but had otherwise stayed away from the school for the past three weeks to minimise the possibility of being exposed to COVID-19.

English teachers Megan Richardson and Kaitie Callanan said the pandemic had led more year 12 students than usual to consider travelling or deferring further study next year.

“They definitely have a fear of going to uni and having the first-year uni experience ripped away from them,” Ms Richardson said.

Language other than English captain Claudia Pironi said this year was “less about excelling and more about surviving”.

School captain Jarnai Brancaleone said her response to section C of the exam was to side with Ava, the owner of the fictional Toppdale cinema, and her passionate plea to attend the movies and save the venue from collapse.

Marymede English teacher Megan Richardson high-fives year 12 student Tegan Woods.Credit:Eddie Jim

“Hopefully it stayed open for her,” she joked. “I definitely should go to the cinema now, since they’re all opening.”

English, which is the only compulsory exam for students completing a scored VCE, begins an intense three-week exam period; the culmination of a difficult year for students, marred by lockdowns, extended bouts of remote learning and, in recent weeks, a string of unplanned school closures that forced many to isolate at home.

While some VCE students were forced into isolation this week because they were identified as close contacts of a COVID-positive person, those who had not returned a positive virus test were given an exemption from quarantine requirements to attend exams.

Those students sat the test in separate rooms, sometimes alone, overseen by examiners dressed in face shields and full PPE.

One principal of a school in Melbourne’s north that recently experienced a COVID-19 outbreak among students said it was difficult to find examiners to oversee the exempted students because staff feared being exposed to the virus.

Students who tested positive for coronavirus in the days before the exam were not allowed to sit it. They will instead receive a derived score, based on their performance in previous assessments this year.

Education Minister James Merlino wished all students sitting exams the best.

“Not only have you made it through these all-important final years of school, you’ve done it through a global pandemic with the most amazing resilience and grit,” he said.

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