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How to analyse visual texts | State Ranking Tips & Examples with Answers


Comprehension is often perceived as one of the most challenging sections of the HSC English Advanced paper. Students are not only required to interpret the meaning of texts in a limited time frame, but to also apply critical analysis to the text with the identification of techniques. In this blog, I’ll take you through the process of constructing full mark responses to some visual text examples, with tips and answers compiled by the Concept tutors who all hold a NSW state rank in English!


Marking Standards:

There are some key things you need to consider when constructing your response to the visual text.

  1. Usually, 1 mark is given to every Technique, Quote and Point of Analysis that you write. (if you are not confident with a piece of analysis, come back to it when you have time and write more)

  2. Clarity of the point: Your point of analysis must be complete. This means you won’t be marked on the sophistication of your writing style, but rather, you are being marked on the clarity and coherence of your point.

Use the following as a checklist:

  1. The technique must be in the quote

  2. The quote MUST provide evidence for the point

  3. The technique’s effect must be related to the point.

  4. The TPQ must ANSWER the question and relate back to the module

→ You cannot simply just identify the key themes in the text and what it’s about

→ Rather, you must deconstruct how the text provides evidence for the question and represents the concepts of the module


Coming up with ideas:

Often in comprehension, you will be required to think on the spot. You must be ready to be flexible in coming up with your ideas, for example, you mustn't use a pre thought out idea that does not answer the question. This might sound difficult, but with practice, it’ll get easier. Here are some tips that you could use for when you are stuck!

  • Look for inspiration from texts you are learning from. Often there will be a common theme across each of the texts given to you in the comprehension section and this theme is likely to relate back to your module. For example, in Module A (Texts and Human Experiences), the comprehension texts should reveal an idea about the human experience.

  • Always invest time for comprehension, it is important, relatively straight-forward, and really worth knowing how to gain these marks. One of our Concept tutors, Melvern, mentioned that this is the section that schools will usually spend the LEAST amount of time on compared to all the other modules. The average is usually 11-12/20 for most schools, whilst other modules often have averages of around 16-17/20.


 

Now, let’s go through some worked examples of these texts, and more specifically, visual texts! Hopefully you will be able to see how these answers match the comprehension marking standards.


Text 1 — Movie Poster (4 marks)

(a) How does the movie poster represent the experience of complex human emotions in the modern age?


What to consider:

 
  • When thinking about something complex, think of paradoxes, duality, tension or dichotomy. The word ‘complex’ usually refers to something that is multi-faceted

  • Always look at the title of the poster if there is one. The title will always be of something significant

 

Example of full mark answers:

  • The irony in the subversion of connotations with the subtitle “A Spike Jonze Love Story” with the single isolated man in the entire frame of the poster illustrates the way achieving human connection within the modern age has become complicated by technology.


  • The incongruity between the title of the text ‘her’ and the omission of a feminine figure in the frame suggests that human emotions have become increasingly complex due to the loss of traditional notions of gender and love, replaced instead by a preoccupation with technology depicted in the vector directing the man’s gaze to the phone on the table.


  • The juxtaposition between the salient red colour of the image, traditionally associated with feelings of love and passion, and the slouched body posture coupled with a dejected facial expression looking towards technology illustrates how the human desire for connection has become increasingly complex within a modern age which values virtual connection over the true human relationships.


  • Technology has complicated human relationships and emotional experiences with others, substituting human connection with technology which leaves the individual emotionally disconnected and unfulfilled. The artist uses symbolism through the mobile device, highlighting the digital nature of human experience in the modern world given the advancements in technology, however, a sense of poignancy and emotional disconnect is depicted through the vector line created through the subject’s gaze towards this phone emphasising how the modern world leaves the individual unfulfilled as they struggle to truly cultivate relationships with people as they are replaced by artificial relationships.


  • This emotional complexity is further conveyed through the facial expression of the man whose countenance displays a level of sadness, interestingly contrasting the symbolic salient red which is typically associated with love - demonstrating how technology has complicated these emotions.


  • The omission of feminine figure contrasts the title of the film ‘her’ thereby illustrating the complexity of one’s yearning for human connection in the modern world as a result of the pervasiveness of technology and its ability to consume the individual despite their longing for reciprocal affection.


 

Text 1 — Cartoon (4 marks)

(a) How does the cartoon present a critique on human behaviour?


What to consider:

 
  • Think about the idea of convenience, and wilful ignorance (cognitive bias)

  • Focus on the deeper meaning of the cartoon

  • Think about a response for a Module C stimuli, what are some interesting ideas that are being represented by this cartoon?

 

"The cartoonist presents a critique on human ignorance and our tendency to selectively and consciously avoid the harsh truths of our world in favour of the comfort provided by our own obliviousness. The visual metaphor of the words of the newspaper being blown away symbolically alludes to the biased habits engrained in humans to avoid acknowledging truths about their world which they might deem too confronting instead finding comfort in their own ignorance."


"This is reinforced through the gradual shift in facial expression from uncomfortable confusion to contentment, which is a satirical attack on how we are often made to feel uncomfortable when reading stories that challenge our assumptions and beliefs of the world or being confronted by jarring truths which destabilise our own perceptions, but are joyous when these stories are erased for the sake of our own beliefs. Ultimately, the blank page in the final panel symbolises ignorance, apathy and our own laziness as human beings as we would rather ‘blow’ the truth away and settle for a distorted version of reality that coincides with our own subjective views of the world. Thus, the cartoonist critiques our tendency to replace objective truth with our subjective reality."


 


Text 1 — Movie Poster

(a) How does the movie poster convey inconsistencies within the shared human experience? (3 marks)


What to consider:

  • What does the direction of movement symbolise?

  • Juxtaposition between colour palettes? (if you mention colour, be specific with what the colour symbolises)

  • Costuming is also something you could mention

  • The film poster conveys inconsistencies within the shared human experience of everyday life between those who are disempowered by their circumstances versus those who are able to live luxuriously given their social status. The stark colour symbolism of the blue and red emphasises disparate human experiences between the families, highlighting the differences between the two groups as the red connotes a sense of uneasiness and creates a hellish landscape that shapes the experiences of those situated in the lower echelons of society, whereas the blue depicts a sense of calm and tranquility that characterises the lifestyle of those with status.

  • The civilised versus industrial background emphasises disparities between the families shared experiences of everyday living

  • The corporate costuming of the rich family is juxtaposed with the rather mundane, bland clothing of the poor family

  • The cycle of poverty which persists in society and further boldens the divide between different groups within society is emphasised through the direction that the families are travelling in, as the family on the top are moving towards the light in an upwards trajectory whereas the bottom family are moving more towards the bottom → a vicious cycle The juxtaposition between the civilised background of the upper half of the poster and the industrial background of the lower half signifies the inconsistencies within the shared human experience due to the dichotomy between classes.

 




Text 1 — Image

(a) Analyse how the image depicts the corruption of power. (3 marks)


What to consider:

 
  • What does corrupted power look like?

  • Take note of body language, positioning and facial expressions if there is no concrete technique you can identify

 

The image provides a haunting and scathing depiction into the devolution and corruptive regression of power, harshly showcasing how those with political and militant authority are able destroy and dehumanise the human experience at their own discretion.

  • The use of symbolism of the gun in the top third of the image, with the smoke blowing away from the barrel to highlight that the military officers have just shot the worshippers, draws attention to militant power and its corrupt nature when used for demoralising political purposes.

  • The bent over body positioning of the dead prayers who worship to god provides a di-symbolic meaning in the image, their faith to their deity as well as their loss of power as they surrender to the monsters above them.

  • Lastly, the use of composition as the army officers are in the aircraft above the land, floating on top of the corpses, whilst the individuals lay their heads and are in close contact with the group, further reinforces the hierarchical imbalance between these two figures, showcasing how those in power can corrupt their duties and create grave turmoil.


Answers by Chloe Zhu (16th in NSW English Advanced 2018) and Melvern Kurniawan (6th in NSW English Advanced, 2019)

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