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Tuesday, July 2 • 4:15pm - 4:55pm
Semantic density in legal studies examination responses

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The object of the present study is to ascertain the varying levels of semantic density in examination papers submitted by students in the New South Wales Higher School Certificate (HSC) examinations. This study will contribute to my PhD, The Subject Specific Literacies of Legal Studies. The LCT concept of Semantics, specifically the concepts of Semantic Density and Condensation will be the areas of focus in this paper.
The data includes a structured array HSC papers at 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, and 20% mark levels in a range of Legal Studies topic areas in the final public examinations in NSW, the Higher School Certificate. These papers (Board of Studies, 2012a) were obtained from the examining body at the time, The Board of Studies (BOS), now known as the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA), and have all been double marked by official markers for the HSC (Board of Studies, 2012b). The marks awarded represent the markers application of the Performance Standards (Board of Studies, 1999b) applied to each response.
The Methodology for this study will involve the selection of papers from the available data, and will include one paper from each of the 100%, 60% and 20% responses, randomly selected from focus area B in the topic ‘Family’, essay responses to the question “To what extent does the law adequately protect family members in relation to birth technologies and surrogacy?” Each chosen response will be coded and analysed using the Semantic Density (SD) (Maton & Doran, 2017b) and Epistemological Condensation (EC - clausing and sequencing) (Maton & Doran, 2017a) translation devices, which were developed to reveal the complexity of knowledge practices in discourse. The coding will include the generation of detailed graphs of the semantic density of each of the texts. Where appropriate, reference may be made to related concepts in SFL.(Maton & Doran, 2017c)
Preliminary analysis indicates that the papers have, at a wording level, significant levels of semantic density. At clause and text level this density is more marked in the papers from the higher bands. The precise nature, of this condensation of text, will be the key focus of this presentation.
By explicitly understanding what forms of writing are best rewarded in the Legal Studies HSC examination, teachers could more effectively teach the essentials of writing practice appropriate to public examination, in line with their professional responsibilities to teach literacy as a general capability (ACARA, 2019) and specifically in Legal Studies, to teach students to “communicate[s] legal information using well-structured and logical arguments” (Board of Studies, 1999).

Tuesday July 2, 2019 4:15pm - 4:55pm SAST
Room B48

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