VCE Drama 2014 Written Examination Analysis

Final year Victorian students sat the VCE Drama written examination on Wednesday. It is always a nervous wait for students who have recently undertaken a solo performance practical examination in this subject, who are now keen to finish up as quickly as possible with their final exam in this study. This year represents the first of a revised course in VCE Drama, so I imagine teachers were no doubt a little anxious to see the exam paper aptly reflected the new course without any curly questions. I know I certainly was!

Not being an assessor of the VCE Drama written exam paper, I feel I can openly discuss the paper here without any conflicts of interest.

I was generally happy with the 2014 Drama written exam. On the whole I felt it was a fair and straightforward paper aimed at testing students’ knowledge of various aspects of this study. I liked the stimulus material for Section A Question 1 on a non-naturalistic solo performance, showcasing the famous Frederick McCubbin 1901 oil on canvas triptych, The Settlers, with a mind map beneath it.

If students knew their content and subject terminology, they should not have had too much difficulty responding to questions for this stimulus. Not surprisingly, questions here focused on object and character transformation, play-making techniques, expressive skills and dramatic elements – all parts of the course students should be familiar with. But for a chance at full marks on various questions, I believe some responses would have needed to discuss the actual transformation technique(s) used, such as morphing or snapping. These and other transformation techniques have appeared in past assessor reports and were recently published here on The Drama Teacher.

There certainly seemed a common theme for both sets of stimulus material on this exam, as Section A Question 2 about a non-naturalistic ensemble performance also had stimulus images on the theme of settling, in this case in a new land (migration). Some of my students commented on the fact that more diverse or contrasting stimuli for Section A may have been better. I liked the written information provided for scenes in this ensemble performance (Arrival, Survival, Optimism), as it provided all students, particularly those in the lower and middle bands, a structure to work with to guide them in their responses to Question 2. This information also closely reflected the given themes of hope versus feargenerational differences and stranger in a strange land. Once again, common sense terms not specific to the Drama Study Design, such as idea and dramatic moment were included in Section A questions.

Section B questions on various prescribed non-naturalistic theatre performances students saw during Semester 1 this year were also straightforward and reasonable. With only slight variations in questions between plays, these questions did not appear too challenging, allowing students of mixed abilities to respond. Focusing on knowledge of expressive skills, stagecraft, and transformations in performances, the play analysis questions should have proved accessible to all.

As the VCE Drama course only underwent a minor review, the 2014 written examination was similar to past exams from the previous Study Design and thankfully very similar to the VCAA-published sample exam. One thing I noticed on the sample and actual exam this year was the reduction in questions for Section A, marks awarded for Section A (published in advance), and total marks. Instead of publishing a range of marks for the two sections on the exam on the specifications document, the VCAA now publish a single mark for the current accreditation period (2014-2018) – 35 marks for Section A and 15 marks for Section B. Personally, I am a fan of these changes, as it allows students a little bit more time to consider their best response to questions on the paper.

Here’s some data from the previous seven years of VCE Drama written exams and the noticeable differences in the current exam:

VCE Drama ExamQuestion 1 ComponentsQuestion 2 ComponentsSection A MarksSection B MarksTotal Marks
2007a–ga–h622082
2008a–fa–f502070
2009a–ha–g552075
2010a–ga–g421860
2011a–fa–g431760
2012a–ga–g431760
2013a–ga–f421860
2014*a–da–e351550

*New Study Design.

This year’s Drama written exam paper also made transformations a key component. The four key elements of a non-naturalistic performance for the purposes of this study are clearly labelled as:

  • transformation of character
  • transformation of time
  • transformation of place
  • transformation of object.

So, the VCAA certainly made this a focus on the exam with three out of the nine question parts in Section A and one of the three question parts in Section B being about various transformations. In terms of number of questions, transformation knowledge comprised one-third of the exam (4 out of 12), and in terms of marks awarded, transformation knowledge accounted for 14 out of a total of 50 marks (28%).

At the end of the day, students who sat multiple past exams as practice exams should have been familiar with both the content and structure of this year’s paper. If anything, I think the 2014 VCE Drama exam could have been a bit more rigorous and challenging. But hey, I’m not complaining!

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