A “Short” Guide on Your BC Provincial Exams

English 12 Provincial Exam

Note: this guide was written for the 2004-2005 provincial exams and will not be updated.

English 12 is probably the most important out of all BC secondary school courses. The first reason is because English 12 is a graduation requirement. That is to say, if you don’t pass English 12, you don’t get your high school diploma. Of course, there are people who have trouble with English 12 that take Communications 12, which leads me to the second reason of why English 12 is so important. The reason is that English 12 is the only recognized language arts course by most universities (at least here in Canada). You need to complete English 12 in order to get into any university program, and not just a passing mark will suffice. I know of certain universities that require at least 80% in English 12. If you don’t think you can get 80%, you’ll either have to spend time in university taking an extra course or take some third-party exams that evaluates your proficiency in English. Needless to say, a lot of people stress out about their English marks due to the above reasons. Hopefully my guide here will help you get through English 12 and achieve the mark you desire.

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Course Description
Course Analysis and Tips
Exam Overview
Exam Analysis and Tips

Course Description
English courses, from grade 8 to grade 12, have always been required courses in the BC curriculum. You need to complete an English course in order to proceed to the next. English 12 is the last course in the series and most of you will be taking this course in grade 12. “So what exactly does one learn in English 12” You ask. Well, that depends a lot on which teacher you get. English 12 is quite a “flexible” course. There is basically a selection of materials a teacher can choose from and what you’ll learn depends upon what the teacher chooses. Chances are you are going to read one or two novels, do at least one Shakespearean play, analyze a few short stories and maybe go on to some poetry. Absent from English 12, however, is a section on grammar which is usually backed up by a workbook you buy from the school. How much homework you get again depends on your instructor. I know of some students who get lots of English homework and some students who rarely get any English homework. Tests, quizzes, and exams all seem to be at the teacher’s discretion too. The point is that there is no curriculum set in stone for English 12 and you will know what you’ll learn in the year only when you meet your teacher.

Course Analysis and Tips
Because English 12 with one teacher may be completely different than English 12 with another teacher, I can’t really offer tips that will work out for most of you. For me, English 12 was an alright, but boring course. It’s boring for me mostly because I had a very good English 11 teacher who brought up my expectations for an English teacher. It’s not to say that my English 12 teacher wasn’t nice. It is just that my English 11 teacher made the class much more exciting. Sorry for going off topic here. Anyways, English 12 wasn’t a very hard course, but because English was never really one of my strong subjects, I only managed to get a B in class. Maybe if I tried harder I would have gotten an A, but all that’s in the past. Because English is a subjective course, your marks will depend a lot on the taste of your teacher. If you want a good mark, try to write in a style that you know your teacher will like. If there are any bonus assignments available, take the opportunity to complete those for some extra marks. Of course, it helps if you have an “easy” teacher as opposed to a “hard” teacher. If you are really desperate for marks, you can try to suck up to and/or bribe the teacher. I’m just kidding. For those of you who get really “hard” teachers, I feel your pain, or at least some of my friends do.

Even though English 12 may be a lot different for you than for me, I can tell you one important fact about the course. First of all, I can honestly say that I learned absolutely nothing useful in English 12. Sure, I read a play by Shakespeare, and read famous novels and poems and such, but did that actually improve my skills in English, or more importantly did these studies give me a better chance to score well on my provincial exam? The answer is probably no. The fact is that English 12, the school course, has pretty much nothing in common with the exam of the same name you’ll see at the end of the year. There might be some things tested in the exam that you will see in the course, such as the definitions of literary terms, but you should have learned your terms in English 10 and 11. Unlike courses such as science and math, getting an A in the school portion of English 12 doesn’t mean that you’ll get an A on the exam. Read on to find out more about the exam.

My conclusion of English 12 is that your marks depend a lot on your teacher, due to the fact that English is a language course and therefore evaluation is quite subjective and biased. If you can speak and write fluently, then English shouldn’t be too difficult. For those of you who have trouble with English, especially recent immigrants, English 12 may pose some trouble, but if you focus on improving your skills in the language, especially writing, you should be able to obtain at least a passing mark in school.

Exam Overview
My English 12 Provincial Exam has four sections. Section 1 is a set of 8-10 multiple choice questions that are based upon some sort of news article. You read to article to answer the questions. The second section features a poem. After reading the poem, you have to answer around 8 multiple choice questions that test your understanding of the poem and your knowledge of literary devices that are used in the poem. Following the M/C is a paragraph response worth 12 marks that asks you to analyze the poem. In Section 3, you’ll have to read a short story or a part of a story and answer a few more multiple choice questions that are similar to the M/Cs in the poetry section. The second part of the Section 3 is an analysis question on the prose selection (the story). You usually have two questions there and you only have to do one of the questions. This answer is worth a whopping 24 marks and you must answer in multiple paragraphs. Last but not least, Section 4 is an original composition. You are given an open topic and you need to write a multiple-paragraph response based on that topic. This section is also worth 24 marks. The grand total is out of around 88 marks. Like all provincials, you have two hours plus an extra thirty minutes of time. Visit the Ministry’s website for official exam specifications.

Exam Analysis and Tips
The English 12 Provincial Exam is probably the most difficult out of all provincial exams, at least it was for me. I have read published studies that show that the average English 12 exam score in the province is lower than most if not all other courses’ average exam scores. I don’t mean to scare you but this is the reality of the situation. One of the reasons why the exam is hard for most of us is that the English 12 course material does not prepare students for the English 12 exam. The fact is that the exam doesn’t even test what you’ll learn or have learned in class and the course material alone doesn’t necessarily improve your English skills. What the English 12 exam evaluates is your proficiency in the language of English, particularly your writing. You will have to use the many skills you have accumulated through the years to successfully complete the English 12 exam.

The format of the exam also gives people headaches. If you read the exam overview, you know that writing dominates the exam. Writing is however very hard to practice by yourself since you cannot really mark you own compositions. You can practice the multiple choice sections by downloading old exams since even though the articles, poems and stories are different, the questions are always similar. For example, there always seems to be a question in every exam that has “assonance” or “alliteration” as the correct answer. Before you go to the exam, make sure you brush up on your literary terms, because there will be quite a few questions on those. It’s more difficult to brush up on your writing skills though. Since you can’t mark yourself, you’ll have to find someone knowledgeable enough to mark your works according the provincial exam marking scheme and more importantly, give you suggestions on how to improve your writing. If you really unsure of your writing skills and have some change lying around, I suggest that you take an essay writing course. You’ll probably get a lot more attention from the instructor due to smaller class sizes and it’ll probably be cheaper than hiring a tutor. I took one in the summer after grade 10 and it has helped me a lot. Making writing a hobby will also give you some good practice. Make sure that you also read regularly. Reading can improve your grammar, vocabulary and style.

The M/C sections of the English exam are fairly easy, but you should still be careful when you do these questions. The multiple-choice questions are the easiest marks you can get on the exam, and you can’t really afford to lose any of them. Remember to read the questions carefully, skip questions that take too long, and never leave any M/C answers blank. Remember though that the writing parts in the exam are your first priority, so don’t take too long with the M/C.

The writing sections are the most important parts of the exam and also the parts where a lot of people screw up on. The three compositions add up to 60 marks, which is two-thirds of your total exam mark and 27% of your final mark for the course. Ouch. If you screw up on one section, say goodbye to your A. If you screw up on two sections, say goodbye to your B. If you screw up on all three sections, then you might as well retake your exam. I know this situation personally because I’ve got some friends who bombed the English exam. I don’t mean that they failed their exams, but those marks are definitely not what these people were looking for and their English exam marks are way below their other marks. These people I know are very good students, probably near the top of their grade and I’m sure they can write perfectly fine. I don’t know what they did, but they just got railed. This illustrates how important the writing sections are and how even very intelligent people fall victim to the exam if they are not careful.

In order to learn how to write well for the English exam, you must first understand how these responses are marked. All three of the responses are marked using a system that rates the responses using number from 0 to 6, with 0 being the lowest and 6 being the highest possible score. The markers are given a chart with the numbers and what sort of responses qualify for which number. They look for specific qualities in your response and see if they match up with the descriptions for a given number. I believe that the marking scheme is available when you look at old exam answer booklets. Your final mark for a written response will be a multiple of this rating (ex. the rating times two for the poetry response and times four for the other two responses). This may seem a bit confusing, so I’ll clarify for you what each rating means:

0: You’ll get this either if you didn’t respond to the question at all or your response got disqualified due to the use of profanity.
1: A very bad response which doesn’t really make sense.
2: Better than the “1” response, but still pretty bad.
3: An average response. There is a central idea and organization, but the response can still use a bit of improvement.
4. A fairly good response with a clear central idea and is structurally sound. There’s no major problem present. Response may be kind of boring and lacks some pizzazz.
5. A very good response that is basically a “4” response with some improvements in expression and organization plus something extra, like style and humor.
6. The godly response. Every element in the response is top notch. The response is very original and creative.

Now that you have a better idea of what the ratings mean, I can begin my analysis. Most of us would be happy if we can write a “4” response in school. The “4” response doesn’t sound bad at all. You got a pretty clear essay that makes sense and has no major errors, which is fine by most of our standards. However if you look at the percentage, 4 out of 6 is around 67%, which is a C. Some of you may be satisfied with this mark, but most people won’t be too happy if they get a C. The “5” response is a very good piece of work by most standards. The “6” response is not something that most people can come up with even if their lives depended on it. The official marking scheme say that a “6” response doesn’t have to be perfect, but your response will have to be pretty darned close to perfection in order to get a 6. It takes tremendous skills to write a composition at that level, especially considering that you have to do this on the spot without any prep material and with a time limit. If you can get a 6 or even a 5 on one of the responses, you have done very well and should be congratulated. Of course, since you’ll never see your exam again, you’ll never know what your true score for a composition is, unless you ace the exam. By the way, it’s pretty much impossible to score 100% on the English provincial, due to the fact that there is no perfect piece of writing for everybody and therefore I’m sure that the markers will find some small fault and dock you a point even if you ace the M/C and write exceptional responses. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

So as you can see, the standards for marking written responses in the English 12 exam are pretty… no, very high, and I don’t think most people are prepared to have their writing evaluated at such a high standard. Of course, since the quality of a piece of writing is subjective, you may think that your score on the written response depends a lot on the tastes of your markers. To make things fairer, each written response is marked by two markers. If their marks are really far apart, the response is remarked and discussed. What I’m trying to say is that the score you receive is probably fair; the score you get from these two markers is probably the score you’ll get from two different markers and that luck doesn’t play that big of a factor in your score. At the end, what you get in your written responses still depends mostly on you, and the skills you have learned over the years on how to make an effective piece of writing.

After all that’s said and done, here are some advices for the written sections.

1. Take the time to read the questions carefully. Misunderstanding the questions or skipping over requirements may mean wasted time or lost marks. Make sure you answer in the way the paper wants you to answer. A multi-paragraph answer means three or more paragraphs. If you put any less than that, you’ll be automatically docked a point from the rating. Also make sure that you exceed the minimum word limit for your response.

2. Take advantage of the organization spaces provided to brainstorm and put down your thoughts. Your response needs to be well organized to get a rating of 4 or above. Make sure that your responses, especially the two big ones, have an introduction, a body and a conclusion.

3. Make sure your writing is clear and legible. You want your answers to be at least readable. If your writing is way too messy, the markers can give you a 0 since they can’t understand what you wrote.

4. For the poetry and prose responses, make sure that you use lots of quotes from those passages to support your answers. Don’t quote stuff just for the sake of quoting. Make sure the quotes you select are related to your response and the points you are trying to make. You get points for using quotes effectively in your responses.

5. Before going to the exam, mentally prepare yourself for the writing. For the first two written sections, even though the passages are different every year, the questions are always similar. They always ask you to analyze the contrast or the theme in one of these two questions. For the original composition, think of some things beforehand that you can write about. Again, even though the topic is different every time, all the topics are very open ended so that you should be able to incorporate whatever thoughts you are having into the response.

6. For the original composition section, don’t be afraid to write about yourself or people you know. These subjects may be much easier to write about as you are familiar with them. Also don’t be afraid to lie on your response. The markers aren’t going to check whether or not you did what you wrote you did. Write a story if you feel like it for the composition. Being creative and original helps you get a higher mark, but don’t go off topic.

7. Don’t be afraid to use expression you’ve seen from some where else to enhance your responses. If you do copy word for word, make sure you use quotes. Using expressions seen elsewhere can add some sophistication and intelligence to your responses.

8. If you have the time, proof-read all your writing and also check your M/C. You probably won’t go from a 5 to a 4 due to one spelling or grammar mistake, but if you have lots of errors, they do add up and give the markers a bad impression.

My conclusion of the English provincial is that it is a challenging exam even for good students. Of course, there are always going to be some people who think the English exam is easy, but that’s just those people. The exam is very long, because you have to write 3 compositions in the two hours and thirty minutes allotted. I believe I took over two hours to finish the exam, and I write pretty quickly. Remember that the written sections are more important than the M/C. You don’t want to spend too much time on the M/C questions because there is so much writing in the exam. I was quite fortunate to escape with an A from the English exam, which is quite above my expectations. I would have settled for a B, given the fact that I didn’t do nearly as well in school or during the school practice English provincial. I can attribute my high score to my time in my summer essay class, the movie reviews I wrote for grade 11 English and the in-class essay I wrote for English 12. These three things were pretty significant in that they helped me improve the style, tone and structure for my writings, and I thank the teachers who taught those courses. Oh yeah, I also got some pretty easy passages and topics on my exam. That must have helped, haha.

My own story aside, the point I’m trying to make to you is that you should try your hardest on the exam and even if you don’t get the score you want, don’t be too disappointed because the exam is pretty tough and you know you did the best that you could. As some guy once said, “If your expectations are lower, you won’t be disappointed as much.” Uh wait, that wasn’t exactly what I meant. Anyways, if you really feel that you have trouble with the writing, take my advice and go attend an essay writing class or seek some other form of help. If you feel confident about your abilities in English, then you are ahead of lots of people, but you should still be cautious when you write the exam as a screw up on one written response may drop you one or two letter grades. Hopefully this page was of some help to you and good luck on your exam.

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7 thoughts to “A “Short” Guide on Your BC Provincial Exams”

  1. I’m surprised how you said that the English 12 exam was the hardest and yet you still said you “escaped” with an A… Does this mean you got around 90+ on the exam or somewhere on the high 80s?

    I recently did the English 12 exam and came out with a score of 87. And quite frankly it was the multiple choice that seemed harder than writing. But I guess I’m just “one of those people” who you state like writing.

  2. Good job on the exam. I got 90% on my exam a couple of years ago. It’s different for everybody, but I thought English was the hardest of my provincials. I’m one of the those math and science nerds you see, so English has never been my strongest subject.

  3. Hey, about the the fact that the exam is impossible ace… last year, a kid in my town aced the exam. He scored 100%, and I thought to myself “Why would they publish this in the newspaper?” I now know why.

  4. dude this was a very good guide, thank you for all your free time to do this,heh… i am also a firm believer in the “less you expect” school of thought haha…

    i just looked on the internet for some last minute advice, my exam is tomorrow.

    one thing i will say is that reading really does help oneself with with improving their style and what not. unfortunately, i have not read in the past semester. so we shall see how things go…

    and again, this was really quite a marvelous essay, it had humor and wit and has put me in a much better mood.

    needless to say if you were a chick i would be hitting on you… i think that sums up my admiration…

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