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ATAR English Examination: How to prepare students for a successful outcome.

It is examination time and the Year 12s have only one day to finalise their revision programs before the ATAR English exam tomorrow morning.

It is a tough “gig” for any student let alone one who presents with a Specific Learning Disorder such as Dyslexia and/or Dysgraphia. These students experience difficulty at all levels of the writing process:

  • Comprehending the text

  • Identifying the themes

  • Recognising the techniques

  • Explaining the relationships

  • Interpreting the question

  • Designing the argument

  • Structuring the paragraph

  • Employing the evidence

  • Including the conventions

Even though this list of demands is long and arduous (just take a look at those VERBS – comprehending, identifying, recognising, explaining, interpreting, designing, structuring, employing & including!!!) we can assure you that our students are not deterred by the challenges they face. Week after week, they attend therapy sessions at the clinic to refine their skills and practise each element of essay writing.

By now, they have chosen two or three texts (usually short stories, speeches or feature articles) to use for the “Responding” Section; we encourage them to become so familiar with these texts that they are able to answer any possible questions about them, and if necessary, compare and contrast them. We “Road Test” the chosen texts against different questions to determine how flexible they are, and if satisfied, the texts are given the “tick” of approval.

The Third Section, “Composing” requires students to create a text of their own; it can be a poem, a letter, a diary entry, a speech, a feature article or a short story. We find that the best alternative for our students is to produce either a speech or a feature article. Why? Because there is a higher likelihood of them being able to plan and rehearse a persuasive text, filled with a myriad of powerful techniques (on a topic like ‘consumerism’ or ‘perils of social networking’ – ones that provide opportunities for serious content as well as humorous anecdotes and creative language) in the lead up to the examination, and then “shoe horn” it into a question (bearing in mind that they have to be confident that their text will satisfy the demands of the question). Once again, we “Road Test” the pre-prepared essay against a variety of questions to determine its flexibility.

Finally, there is Section One where students are given two or three texts (usually a narrative, a feature article and/or a visual image) that they have never seen before; they are required to analyse them and respond to three questions using evidence from each text to satisfy the demands of the questions, sometimes needing to compare and contrast two texts. Even though we can’t predict the nature of the texts in the examination, we can provide students with plenty of practice examples, and assist them to annotate them and “pull” the themes and techniques from them. We slowly withdraw the support until they are working through the process independently; then our job is to give them feedback and teach them any elements that they are not confident with.

So, all in all – a complex and strategic process, but one that is vital for those students who attempt the ATAR English course with a Specific Learning Disorder. When all is “done and dusted” and our students pass the course, get into UNI, pursue their dreams and are living a wonderful life, we are very very happy!

Good luck every one X

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