It was pens (and face masks) at one and a half paces as an estimated 41,690 students took the exam at 521 venues across the state.
COVID-safety protocols, including spaced seating arrangements and a limit of one student per four metres, were in place.
The exam is split into three sections – an analytical interpretation of a text, a comparative analysis of two texts and an analysis of how argument and language are used in an unseen text.
The analytical written exercise in Section C is notorious for throwing curveballs students’ way, with subjects including a mountain of rubbish bags, a posh grocer’s decision to dump cash transactions and a cartoon watermelon in recent years.
But this year it was straightforward as students were asked to analyse fictional young Victorian farmer Warwick Bandle’s speech at a meeting of the Byways Shire Council, appealing for a ban on tourists using drones in the area unless they had a licence.
“It’s time our council started to defend the farmers rather than the tourists,” Warwick said, arguing that while drones had benefits, their growing popularity made them a threat to farmers’ safety and livelihoods in the hands of recreational users.
Teresa Hayes, a VCE English teacher at Cranbourne Secondary College, said students at the school were pleased with the exam’s accessibility.
For section A, which requires analytical interpretation of a text, most VCE students selected Kate Grenville’s First Fleet novel The Lieutenant over the Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window, Ms Hayes said.
“They’ve had an incredibly difficult year,” she said. “The entire teaching of The Lieutenant was done remotely so that comes with its own challenges.”
Dr Frawley said students seeking a higher exam score would have had to work to find the nuance in the fictional farmer’s arguments in Section C.
“A less complex exam does mean it’s potentially easier for more students to get in that middle band, so students who are aiming high might have had to really look for those moments where they could show that they are able to extend their knowledge,” she said.
The speech transcript was accompanied by two black and white images, the first of two fallen drones lying in a field with a woman in a flowing coat walking up to them, the second a simpler image of a flying drone marked with a medical cross.
By now an annual tradition, a slew of irreverent memes flooded social media within minutes of students exiting exam halls, including video footage of an angry farmer shooting a drone out of the sky and a link to CASA’s application form for a remote pilot licence.
A collective sigh of relief emanated from Auburn High School as year 12 students completed the English and English as an Additional Language (EAL) exams.
Principal Maria Karvouni said students had done more practice exams this year and were well prepared.
Teachers had also put in extra hours for one-on-one help while their students were learning remotely.
“I know that the English teachers in particular have put in a lot of extra effort,” Ms Karvouni said. “The lines between work and life have sometimes been blurred this year because of remote learning.”
Student Ethan Ngo said his pre-exam nerves evaporated when he entered the exam space.
“I couldn’t sleep last night, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I felt completely calm when I went into the exam room because everyone else was freaking out and that just made me calm.”
Sasha Matthews said she was relieved and would sleep well tonight.
“The teachers have been pretty incredible. Obviously no one expected this year to happen, but it was amazing how quickly the teachers adapted.”
International student Beatrice Chen took the exam for English as an Additional Language and said good teacher support and plenty of practice had left her feeling like she had done well.
When the school year is over she hopes to go home.
“I hope to get back to China, back to my home country,” Beatrice said.
With Sean Tarek Goodwin
Adam Carey is Education Editor. He joined The Age in 2007 and has previously covered state politics, transport, general news, the arts and food.