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Our advice for major works!

By Danielle Barakat on 3 July 2019NSWblogAssessmentsCreative ArtsEnglishHistorySubject advice

If you’re doing a major work, it turns out you’re not the only one that understands the struggle of trying to study for your HSC and trying to hand in your major work at the same time (although it may feel like it at times). Surprisingly, a majority of people have done a major work in either English or History Extension or even subjects like Drama or Visual Arts.

I asked around the Atomi office and we now have answers to some of your burning questions, so strap yourselves in, this is a bit of a long one. Enjoy!

“By the end of term 2, where should I be up to and how complete should my major work be?”

Sergio – History Ext

At this point in the year, you should have made some headway by now. A lot of schools structure major works by breaking it up into smaller chunks so you get it done bit-by-bit throughout the year. I would recommend by the time term 2 holidays come around, you should have detailed notes on all the sources you’re using and a well-structured plan for your essay.

Portia – English Ext 2

At this point in the year, you should have finished a sizeable chunk of your piece. I would recommend having a first draft completed by July so I could spend the last couple of weeks editing and perfecting my writing. I found the editing process to be one of the hardest and the most time-consuming so it’s best not to leave this till the night before it’s due (bad idea). By now you should also have a fair few notes from which to base your reflection statement as this will make the writing process so much easier. Try and allocate your time effectively and don’t procrastinate.

Grace – Visual Arts

By the end of Term 2, you should be at a place where you’re really confident and happy with your concept and have experimented and practised with the materials you want to use. You also should have drafted your concept blurb a few times and have your precedent/inspo research done and dusted.

Hamish – English Ext 2 (film) and Drama

If you’ve decided to do a short film for your Ext 2 major work, I would suggest that by the time term 2 holidays come around you would have filmed the bulk of your footage over a weekend. And that way you can spend your holidays piecing it all together, editing the raw footage and thinking about your reflection statement.

“What are some tips to help you get big chunks of your major work done now?”

Sergio – History Ext

I approached this by trying to write my major work before planning it, just by using my sources, which allowed me to realise that 1) my writing was completely aimless and 2) I was regurgitating my sources. This made me realise the importance of having a really solid plan, so I would suggest spending some time planning out your response because, without realising, this gets a big chunk of your final piece done because all your ideas, examples and sources are now all in one logical structure.

Portia – English Ext 2

So let’s tackle the two important elements of the major work:

1. The major work itself

This isn’t groundbreaking but it worked for me: just sit down and write.

I found it incredibly hard to motivate myself to work - I would always pulled up my draft on my laptop, typed a few sentences, and then told myself that the major work wasn’t due until August, so I’d do it later. Then, all of a sudden, it was July, and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.

So, if you’re in the same predicament I suggest that you do some soul-searching and find when writing feels most natural to you – is it on the bus home from school, early in the morning before anyone else is awake, late on Sunday night with a cup of tea? I found it completely useless to force myself to write in my Ext 2 classes – it was too cold, too quiet, and too early in the morning, so, I dedicated those class times to researching and editing, and set aside a few hours each Saturday evening to write. Find what works for you, and allocate yourself a sizeable chunk of time each week to focus. If you need to play some music to get those creative juices flowing, then go for it. If you need to work outside, then do that. What it all boils down to, is finding an atmosphere that helps you write, and sticking to it.

2. The reflection statement

It’s super easy to leave the reflection statement to the last minute and to spend all your time on the major work – while I wouldn’t recommend writing the reflection statement too early if you haven’t written enough of the piece you’re actually reflecting on, planning is so important at this stage in the game.

If you haven’t got one already, find an empty exercise book, and start jotting down your goals, thoughts, challenges, concerns, inspirations – all that good stuff! Pull out the marking criteria for the reflection statement and start writing some preliminary notes. Even if you’re not sure of your response, jot it down! When you do finally start writing your final reflection, it’s a lot easier to be able to refer to notes from the time of writing, rather than trying to remember what you were thinking and feeling a few months back.  

Grace – Visual Arts

Just make something – that’s my advice! But these are my tips:

  1. Artists go through so many iterations of their work before they present the final thing. Set a time slot to do your major work just like you would set time to study for an exam. You can’t finish your major work if you’re stuck in your head planning.
  2. Set up a space in your house that’s dedicated to making your art major work so you don’t have to pack up your equipment each time so you’re more motivated to just sit down and do it.
  3. Break down the tasks you need to do just like you would when planning an essay. Creating art can be so therapeutic when you get into the “zone” so listen to a fun podcast or watch Netflix as you’re working! Time will fly by.
  4. If you can stay in the art rooms before/after school - do that! Like studying in groups, you can do your major work with your friends. Except you actually get to chat and gossip at the same time.

Hamish – English Ext 2 (film) and Drama

Set little deadlines for yourself. My teacher made us do draft updates and she was scary as heck so I would always hit those. Little bits of consistent progress is the key that will help you avoid the stress down the track, which can be pretty intense the week before your major work is due.

“How do you balance doing your major work and studying for exams?”

Sergio – History Ext

This is a tough one because not only does History Ext have a major work, it is one of the only subjects that also has a trial exam. That being said, the major work is an opportunity for you to extend your knowledge beyond what you learn in the coursework itself. So thinking a lot about the course work and integrating it into your major work will help you study for the exam itself. In terms of balancing your major work with other exams, it depends on how much of the major work you’ve done. If you’ve left it a little bit late, that’s okay. It just means that you’ll have to dedicate some serious time to it, which just involves a couple of days of really deep thinking and planning. But you shouldn’t dig too much into your study time for the other exams. History extension requires a few hours of reading and writing a week to make sure you’re on the right track.

Portia – English Ext 2

English Extension 2 allows you to finish 2 units ahead of time – so, get it done efficiently and from the day you hand it in, dedicate your time to your other exam-based subjects. So, the key here is, again, to just sit down and get it done. My major work was the last thing I wanted to be thinking about during trials, so I approached this situation by getting as much of my piece done as I could before trials (while also studying for my other subjects), pushing English Ext 2 completely to the side during exams, and then picking up right where I left off afterwards. Of course, this all depends on the timing of your trials. My trials were quite early, so I was able to dedicate four or five solid weeks to Ext English after exams, which proved to be super beneficial.

Grace – Visual Arts

Generally, if you’re doing VA, you tend to like art and find it somewhat relaxing. I got into a routine where I studied for a few hours for exams when I got home from school but when it was getting dark/late/after dinner and you just want to be a potato, then I set up Netflix and worked on my major work until my hands were tired and then went to bed. I also used my major work as a procrastination tool from studying other subjects but that might not be the best approach because I found myself running out of time. When it came to exams I would set myself a timer so I could switch subjects and not get too sidetracked.

Hamish – English Ext 2 (film) and Drama

I had to treat my major works very separately to trials, which made it easy to balance and keep motivated. Drama and English Extension were creative and something I enjoyed doing. I had a really good routine for Drama working in class and after school at the same time every week so it never wore me down. I went on a study camp around this time of year too which was super valuable because there I could spend time studying for my exams and get myself organised without the distraction of my major works.

Tips and Tricks

Sergio – History Ext

Use the journal properly!

Instead of cramming it in at the end of the week, if you practise talking about your ideas, critique sources, and stepping through the plan of your essay, or brainstorming in each journal entry you take – that becomes really valuable. That’s half the point of the journal. If gives you an informal forum for you to be able to do the thinking of your essay, without having to polish it and perfect it in essay form.

Portia – English Ext 2

DO NOT leave editing to the last minute!

Choosing which parts to cut and which to keep is a difficult task, but editing can also be emotionally challenging. I mean, you’ve spent months labouring over this piece, and now you’re cutting out sentences that you rearranged hundreds of times, paragraphs you spent hours perfecting – it’s tough work! But it’s here that you have to take a step back, drop that emotional connection to your piece, and ask yourself if every sentence has a purpose and every paragraph adds meaning. If it doesn’t it goes. Be ruthless.

Grace – Visual Arts

What you create on day one of your major work is inevitably going to be different to what you end up with, but don’t let this scare you. Let your concept evolve and change throughout the year. You’ll discover new techniques and styles that you may have never envisioned before, so go with it.

And one more thing, sometimes it’s okay to start from the middle. Yes, that sounds crazy but it’s one of the best pieces of advice my VA teacher gave me. Basically, don’t work like a printer – from start to end. Be open to maybe starting your painting in the middle and working your way to the bottom before the top.

Hamish – English Ext 2 (film) and Drama

Get constant feedback from your teachers, especially if you know they have marked major works before. They will have invaluable insight into what you should be doing to get your major work up into the top bands. Back yourself and commit. It’s worth it.

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