2014 Solo Performance Exam Anomalies

For local readers of The Drama Teacher…

Last year I noticed an anomaly in the VCAA Drama Solo Performance examination where the word “scene” in several dot points for a number of characters asked for something to be shown through history or to show events (changing) over an extended period of time. After years of going to Top Class Drama and hearing Chief Assessors advise students to be careful of the singular and plural in solo performance structure dot points, this did not seem possible unless “scene” also meant “scenes” (a risk I was not prepared to take with my students unless I first had clarification of a liberal interpretation of “scene” by the examiners). Previous incarnations of solo performance examinations have included the word “scene” in an instance where a single scene seemed most appropriate (2011, 2012, 2013), but not where multiple scenes were needed in order to address the dot point. “(Re)creates scenes” or “(re)creates one or more scenes” have been included in other years (2007, 2009, 2010), which in my opinion would have been more fitting in several instances for the 2013 exam. I notice on the 2014 solo performance examination that “scene/s” has now been introduced into the lexicon to give students more clarity about the options available to them.

flag symbol

The 2014 solo performance examination has a couple of strange inclusions – one on the exam paper, the other in the examination criteria. Firstly, when the Drama Study Design clearly states “symbol” as one of the nine dramatic elements, and it is listed as such for Prescribed Structure 1: The Aspiring Artist, then why is “symbol” listed as a convention for Prescribed Structure 4: The Worker? There is no finite list of conventions that can be used in non-naturalistic ways, and indeed the list of conventions on solo performance examination papers changes from year to year. I am not disputing symbol can be labelled a convention of naturalistic theatre, but when teachers spend so much time trying to get our students to learn drama terminology according to the categories they belong under for the purposes of this Study, it seems an odd choice to a) list symbol as a convention for Prescribed Structure 4, and b) list symbol as both a dramatic element and a convention on the one exam paper. While it is true, this would have made no difference to the manner in which students performed their solo exams, where it can potentially trip up a student is on the upcoming written examination for Drama. Even after warning my own students to disregard the listing of symbol as a convention on this year’s solo exam paper when preparing for the written exam, two students still discussed symbol as a convention on a practice exam. How can I blame them? They saw it as such on a VCAA document.

Secondly, teachers would be aware that with the alterations made to the list of dramatic elements and performance skills in the revised Drama Study Design (2014-18), there was slight changes made to the solo performance examination criteria reflecting this. As the old dramatic element of timing is now included in the revised descriptor for performance skills (criterion 9), then why is timing also addressed on its own in criterion 7? This seems to be a revamped old criterion 8 “timing and tension” (now just “timing”), but timing is already being assessed as part of criterion 9 under the four performance skills. Is timing being assessed twice? Was this an oversight? It seems to me criterion 7 addressing timing needs to be deleted in future years, with its current descriptor added to criterion 9: performance skills.


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