If you are tackling an essay question about IDEAS, try to explore the idea in some detail.  Avoid reducing it to one word such as relationships, power, war, courage, the human spirit etc.
E.G. A student might identify LOVE as an IDEA in Romeo and Juliet.
But WHAT about love? That love...can be superficial and fleeting?  That love...can be a violent and over-powering force?  That love...can be passionate and romantic?
Placing the word ‘THAT’ in front of your idea will encourage you to expand on it.  It’s a very simple strategy but it works 😁👍
Here’s an example using an examination style question:
“Discuss how Text 1 and Text 2 construct different IDEAS ABOUT IDENTITY”
Some IDEAS could be:
👾 that our identity...is heavily influenced by our society
🤖 that our identity...can be controlled by technology
👽 that individuality...can result in isolation within a society
🇦🇺 that the Australian identity...is built upon the values of freedom, equality and respect for all
Here’s another examination style question:
“Explain how language and aspects of construction are used to explore IDEAS ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS”
Some IDEAS could be:
🙈 that relationships...change over time
🙉 that relationships...can provide a support network for us
🙊 that relationships...can be filled with fear and violence
Of course the next step is to offer the ANALYSIS in these questions – the HOW part. You can see an earlier post on our page about how to do this 😊
Comprehending, Responding

EXPLAIN – how do I do this?

This instructional verb is used a LOT in the ATAR English examination papers.  For example:

  • EXPLAIN how your response to this image has been affected by the arrangement of visual elements. (2017)
  • EXPLAIN how the use of setting shapes the construction of one of the characters in this passage. (2016)

EXPLAIN means to give reasons for, to relate cause and effect, to make the relationships between things evident.  You have to make the marker understand something by giving reasons for both ‘how’ and ‘why’ things are as they are.

Here are some useful phrases you can use 😊

  • To understand the …… it is useful to think of….
  • … works by …
  • Because… then …
  • When… then …
  • … is/are caused by …
  • Whereas…
  • In the same way …
  • … results from …
  • The effect of….
  • The main reason for …
  • Taking into account …, it is clear that …
  • … interacts with …
  • … affects …
  • … causes …
  • … influences …
  • …predicts …
  • … leads to …
  • … informs …
  • … emphasises …
  • … demonstrates …
  • … impacts on …
  • … supports …


What's the difference between these two instructions? 🤔
If you are DISCUSSING an issue or idea, for example, you do not need to arrive at a decision or recommendation. However, you may provide points for or against. This means you would need to engage with the topic from different perspectives.
If you are ARGUING about a topic, then you should be taking a stance and making a bit of a case for or against a particular point of view.
DISCUSS is the instructional word more likely to appear in an ATAR examination.
Our next post will give you some terrific sentence starters and connectives to use in your essays when tackling a DISCUSS topic 👍
Comprehending, Responding


One of the problems many ATAR students have is that they don’t ELABORATE enough when responding to a text:
“…..and this made me feel sad.”
Never fear – one very simple word can help you:  BECAUSE
Look at the terrific advertisement from Canon below.
There are a LOT of very effective VISUAL FEATURES:  juxtaposition, foregrounding, focus, gaze, clothing, setting, props, facial expression, body positioning, use of stereotypes, celebrity endorsement, direct address etc.
Imagine we are asked to explain how visual techniques encourage us to RESPOND:
“The juxtaposing of the supermodel and the homeless man MAKES ME FEEL SAD.”
Okay - now how can we ELABORATE on this?
  • “….makes me feel sad BECAUSE I don’t think that our governments are doing enough to help people on the streets.”
  • “….makes me feel sad BECAUSE this man can’t even afford basics like food and shelter, yet people that have the ability to help him are wasting money on meaningless things.”
  • “….makes me feel sad BECAUSE in our society the rich seem to be getting richer, while more and more people are becoming poorer.”
Using the word BECAUSE forces you to give a REASON – and your values, attitudes and beliefs are deeply embedded in these reasons (even though you may not realise it!).  🙂