Task B Aesthetic
By Michael John Sunderland, S2- 91
So what is an ideal Task B response?
An ideal response is one that achieves it’s intended outcome in responding to the task in the way that ACER want you to. The only indication of what ACER want comes from the ACER information book in which it is designated that the essential quality that is being provoked is the “quality of thoughts and ideas.” ACER, of course, indicate that “language and structure” is assessed but “only insofar as it contributes to the thoughts and ideas, not in isolation.” I interpret that to mean that they are not testing what you write, but where what you write comes from or, loosely, you. Your writing is a reflection of you, but it is the degree to which you are able to think in high-order and high quality ways (in the first instance) and then your ability to show that you are able to do so to ACER (in the second instance) that is the origin of a high score.
Now your thinking and communication may both be brilliant, but if you are not writing in a style that enables you to showcase the various faculties within your intelligence or thinking that make it high quality, you have necessarily limited yourself and the ceiling value of your mark in Section II. It seems prudent, then, to develop (or use) a structure that removes these limitations and allows you to show what you can do to the marker. This is what I did. I have written out how to do it below.
How does an ideal Task A and an ideal Task B response differ?
Well, on one hand they don’t necessarily differ at all. Plenty of people have written two argumentative essays and done well. I wanted to get 100, so I abandoned that early on and learned two styles so that I could be agile in how I was able to deal with a given prompt if I felt that a particular set would perform better in one style or the other.
If a 90+ Task A is a tour-de-force of high-order thinking, logical internal structure, and surgical delivery; a 90+ Task B is a panoramic micro- and macroscopic inspection of a prompted dimension of the human lived experience. It structurally facilitates an examination the interiority of human subjectivities to a given theme, in acknowledgement that peoples’ lived experiences frame their perspectives (true of both ourselves and others). Our reflections then get expanded from the level of individual, to the level of other, to the level of society, and then ideally to the level of history, philosophy, psychology, sociology; or some other epistemological framework that aids in our investigation of the theme.
Before I get stuck into it I want to foreshadow a later acknowledgement in this blog of the complexity of the subject matter. I write blogs like this because I get asked day and night on Facebook about how to do x,y,z when it comes to Section II; and it’s easier to just write about it and post it than answer every message. Also I feel it’s incumbent on me to leave behind a paper trail of how I did what I did, and what I learned as it appears to be of unique value to the next generation of GAMSAT-sitters. Even so, as I have written in each of my books there is no one way. You don’t need to listen to me or do it this way to be successful. It’s just something that has worked well. If you do this as I did it, you can get a 91 – this is known. But take it with a grain of salt, and don’t be overwhelmed. I will take care to explain why it is the way it is, rather than just say what I did, so that you can incorporate it into your existing writing if you wish to do so. I hope you find something of use; but equally don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense on the first pass; and focus on the basics of language and structure if you have not mastered them, before moving onto some of the higher order things. Ok, moving on.
The context for a high-level Task B response: How does our unique lived experience mediate the validity of our perspectives?
I’ve created a pretty picture and done it in neon so you don’t forget it. You can see at the bottom that your lived experience as an individual is couched in your experience of yourself in relation to; others (your mother, father, partner, children); your community (workplace, university, social groups); and nation (the country you live in, or used to).
You could, if you wished, take it up to ‘species – human’, ‘living entities.’ When you see your perspective, psychology and mind as a subjective expression of the collective human perspective/psyche/intelligence, you stop being so fixated on your view and acknowledge that all views are necessarily limited by their unique subjectivity. If the collective human consciousness could be contained in a four-walled room with windows, your subjective experience of that collective intelligence would be akin to standing for your whole like looking out of one window. It’s not to say that you are seeing anything incorrectly, you’re just too close to the situation as a byproduct of your upbringing, beliefs, gender, experiences that you can’t see the whole picture.
As an outcome of the universal limitation on human perception due to our varied lived experiences; all worldview therefore all valid (and make complete sense!) within their respective ontologies. Perspective then becomes more interesting. Instead of relating to views or prompts as existing on a binary spectrum of right-wrong, it becomes more three-dimensional and interesting.
To my son’s puppy toy on the left – the teapot in the middle clearly has a handle, and no spout. To his dinosaur, it has a spout, and no handle. Both of these toys will swear blind that the pot either has a handle and no spout; or a spout and no handle. It is a function of their position, experience, perspective. And in each of these subjectivities they are 100% correct. Now both perspectives face inward on an estimation, but not a clear read, on the objectivity of the situation. Understanding other people’s perspectives allows us to calibrate our own. The point here is, there are multiple perspectives that are worthwhile considering to get a panoramic and multi-dimensional read on a situation.
So what’s the process?
A very high-level (as in, brief) and structurally-focussed overview of an ideal Task B response is as follows:
If the teapot is the theme, we look at it first through our lived experience via figurative narration; painting a picture of a situation or experience from our personal experience which gives us insight into the theme. This is the most internal view of the theme. We often experience our memories as if through squinted eyes. Unnecessary detail beyond that which is relevant to our experience of the situation is often obfuscated by the passage of time. A narration, then, deals with only an intra-personal, interiorly broad-brush, reflection of the theme. It is one level. The first level. We don’t stop here.
As discussed in great depth in my blog on The Task B Hook, you want to avoid being bleak or misanthropic. Not to say don’t explore these motifs, but be positive, optimistic, hopeful, and upbeat about the future. Use humour and self-awareness to frankly acknowledge your own weaknesses or bad qualities. Get the reader to like you, by being likeable, self-effacing. You are skin and bone; I am skin and bone. We are not so very different, you and I.
Be sure to tie the significance of your narrative specifically to the theme. I promise you, the link is not as obvious as you think it is; and even if it were, it helps concision and clarity to make it explicit. I have discussed somewhere else, I can’t remember where now, the benefit in limiting the connotative space in your writing, and being more denotative. What is meant by this is, for example, becoming aware of how there is a space around the use of the word Elon Musk in the phrase “Elon Musk examples this spirit of creative industriousness perfectly” in that you, the writer, rely on a similarity between our interests, understanding, prior experiences in order for your point to be conveyed. This is a connotative space. It should be limited. Better is, “Elon Musk, CEO of electric car company Tesla, is a paragon of creative industriousness.” This is denoting.
Body paragraph 1, part one:
Reflection from the altitude of your growing maturity
Have you ever used Google Maps or, particularly, Google Earth? You can hit the slider and zoom out.. from the level of individual (your house), to your suburb, city, country, and then to the whole Earth. This is what we do in an ideal Task B. So after reflecting on our lived experience in light of the theme, the opportunity is ripe for broadening the intra-personal reflection we have done by inspecting it through the lens of our breadth of experiences and maturity which (we hope) has deepened or broadened since that time. I’m reminded of Diogenes, ancient Greek Cynic philosopher who lived in a ceramic jar on the streets of Athens in pursuit of eudaemonia (literally “freedom from smoke,” or ‘mental clarity’) through asceticism. The Cynics shirked worldly possessions to turn into introspection and reflection on self. I’m not saying live in a jar to smash Section II, but for a moment be an ancient Cynic (note: the word has since shifted in connotation – I am not saying be cynical). Just cultivate the quality of self-reflection and express it in your writing to show an ability to view your behaviour and actions objectively and with maturity.
It is beneficial to write from “what I didn’t see at the time was how *insert link to the theme*. Reflecting back now, I can see that *further commentary on the theme that this example has enabled you to explore*”.
Following an in-the-moment narration chosen to facilitate a multi-dimensional exploration of the theme, and a reflection from your growing maturity; it becomes time to leave the self, and explore others’ perspectives.
Before moving on, for a clarification of what is meant by ‘theme’ in a 90+ response, please see this blog on how to correctly interpret the quotes – the theme does not mean the one word that crops up in each prompt; this is reductive and the surest way to write a low-scoring essay.
Body paragraph 1, part two:
Reflection from others’ perspectives
We now examine the theme from the perspective of the antagonist in our narrative. How did others experience you? How might they have felt about the situation or you?
It becomes necessary, here, to sprinkle in a psychometric awareness of situadedness. That is, an awareness of how the fact that behaviour and perspectives arise out of unique sets of beliefs, experiences, socio-economic circumstances, genders, ethnicities etc; is a limit to your empathy, and also something necessitating your sympathy with others that you necessarily are unable to fully empathise with. You can suppose how others might have felt, and where their behaviour or response to you came from; but to explicitly state it as something that is known, no matter how obvious it might appear to you, is to disenfranchise the infinite preciousness of the uniqueness of that persona and their experience by imposing yours onto it. It is to conflate two world views which do not perfectly cohere, and therefore to have reduced the world around you; and that person’s perspective and subjectivity into your own.
If you would like to hear more on situatedness and an example is discussed in this podcast between myself and Fraser’s GAMSAT between minutes 33:52 and 35:48.
This brings us to the end of the first body paragraph, so far having examined the theme in light of your history and current understanding, as well as others’ perspectives of the same. Done correctly an idea or understanding about the theme should be beginning to develop/emerge.
These reflection have been necessary steps, but up until now we are too prominently situated in our own experience (in that the examination of others perspectives was still looking inward on an experience that was intimately related to you). We must now zoom further back.
Body Paragraph 2:
Tie to society more broadly
We now must tie our developing understanding and investigation into the theme, into contemporary affairs in light of sociology/philosophy/psychology (or another epistemological framework) ; including if possible a reference to history. We situate our ideas in their broader socio-economic, or geo-political, or historical contexts.
This paragraph essentiall yreads like a Task A body paragraph. You can find nearly a thesis worth of description on that in my books, but in particular “How to Kick *ss in Task A.” Alternatively, these two blogs are free chapter excerpts from the book and unpack this further:
Equally, my essays are available on the shop and I’ve posted one of my Task B essays free in my Facebook group where I work each day for free providing analysis to students’ essays and provoking deeper and more critical thinking into the world around us, so that it can be reflected in the quality of your writing.
So, the theme will have now been acknowledged, and explored at many levels – from the intra-personal lived experience, intra-personal reflection, inter-personal reflection, social reflection. We have scaled the series of consecutive circles mentioned at the beginning of the article from the bottom to the top and addressed each level in turn. Furthermore, we will have adroitly utilised a range of stylistic and intellectual devices: from figurative expression in the introduction, to an almost literary reflection in body paragraph 1, to logical critical analysis in body paragraph 2. This shows a panoramic view of your capabilities as a person and your understanding and integration of the world around you.
As far as the conclusion, I will leave that out of this piece lest it become unwieldy. For those familiar with my work, you can just do the conclusion as in the Task A style. There’s more about that in the aforementioned blog the ontology of task a structure.
Final comments – you can do it, too!
At this stage, if these ideas overwhelm you, I feel it is incumbent on me to relate to where those reading this may be at. There was a time in my GAMSAT preparation (in fact many times right up until I got my mark) where I was filled with doubt. Where it felt like success was reserved for a special elite who I could never academically look in the eye. The thoughts presented here are deep and complex, no doubt, but I am not a super nerd. I am just a normal dude. I’m a science student at Unimelb – I get good marks, sure, but that’s because I work hard. The point is I learnt this stuff during my preparation. I am now just giving it to you. There is nothing stopping you from using this as a light to guide you in a particular direction.
Whether you get to 90+ is not the point. For many, an extra five points would make all the difference. I also want to say again that there is no one way. You emphatically do not need to follow this aesthetic to be successful. In fact, you don’t even need to write a reflective or discursive essay. Two argumentative essays will do just fine. I know many people that score highly doing just that. I present this here principally because there are students in the group I run with the ability to integrate these ideas cohesively and improve their marks in doing so; not because I think this approach should be done by all people. My recommendation is to take it for what it is, but do not be moved by it unless it is constructive. The only relevant question is “what is the single thing that is currently holding my writing back the most, and how do I change it.” Address this in a vacuum as if nothing else existed. And then rinse and repeat. If you do this enough times, and take enough steps in a positive direction, you will be sure to do well.
Golly gosh, that was hectic to write.
I hope some of you find some benefit from it.