How to ace your HSC english exam

a month ago   •   4 min read

By Michaela Spiteri

With the HSC English exam becoming increasingly imminent, you are probably wondering how on earth you are going to remember all those quotes or write three essays in 2 hours!!

Unfortunately, we can’t remember those quotes for you but we do have a few key tricks that should help you with your final English grind, as well as a general exam approach.

(1) Engage with the rubric/ key terms in the module

All questions are based upon the respective Module’s outline which you can find in NESA’s trusty syllabus. Even if a question does not mention key terms within that outline, it is always a good idea to relate your ideas to those foundational concepts. This shows a broad understanding of the module, as well as critical thinking in your ability to connect ideas.

For example, the Common Module essay question (Texts and Human Experiences) might not directly relate to the ‘anomalies, paradoxes and inconsistencies in human behaviour.’ However, engaging with these ideas throughout your response will help guide your argument and demonstrate your personal reflection on the Module's key concepts.

It is also a good idea to think of some synonyms for the key terms if you find their usage is becoming too repetitive. For example, for Advanced English Module A (Textual Conversations) you might consider other nuanced words to avoid the overuse of ‘conversation’... perhaps ‘discourse’, ‘dialogue’, ‘discussion.’

(2) Be flexible

Avoid rote learning and make sure all parts of your response -  intro, topic sentences, analysis, links and conclusion - relate to the specific question that you receive on the day (not the one you memorised the night before!)

You may receive overarching questions that involve different components of the rubric or perhaps very specialised questions that focus your attention on a single key concept. For example, the Common Module may ask you to engage with the overall notion of storytelling that combines the individual  and collective human experience. But… it could also ask you to pinpoint one particular emotion from your text such as loneliness in Nineteen Eighty Four (take a look at the 2019 paper 😖)

Module C (The Craft of Writing) might require a specific textual form (persuasive, discursive or imaginative) or perhaps it will be up to your discretion, based on the stimulus/ question that you receive.

Moral of the story… always remain flexible and be prepared for anything!!

(3) Organise your thoughts under key themes

This will help you stay on track in the exam. Themes give you something to come back to if you start to feel overwhelmed or are thrown by a crazy unseen question.

(4) Preparation

Timed practice responses to unseen questions will always be the best way to prepare. Emulating the conditions you face in the actual exam will likely make that final exam feel less daunting - you’ve easily done it before at the comfort of your own desk so you can easily do it again in the exam hall  :)  

However, time is of the essence when it comes to last minute preparation. Another effective way to prepare is by simply brainstorming ideas to a range of random unseen questions - jot down what your thesis/ intro might look like, a few topic sentences and the textual evidence you will use for each paragraph. This gives you diversity in your preparation and forces you to consider how you might respond to a wide range of questions (hopefully one of which is similar to that question you are blessed with on the day!)

If you are looking for some extra last minute help, we can pair you up with one of our awesome English private tutors here at KIS.  

(5) Time management

English is unlike other exams in the sense that you can not borrow time from multiple choice or short answer questions to use on your extended responses. Across Paper 1 and Paper 2, you will be writing for a full 1.5 hours and 2 hours respectively. Paper 2 is always a challenge with back to back TO BACK responses. It is therefore necessary that you are super strict on yourself and that you devote the recommended time for each response to maximise marks.

If you were to spend an hour on Mod A, you would only have 30 min for Mod B and 30 min for Mod C, even though each Module is worth 20 marks. That isn’t ideal. 40 minutes for each Module is a MUST!

Monitor your time after each paragraph - finish up that paragraph and move onto the next if you are lagging. It’s always better to make sure you have a completed essay with a strong conclusion rather than finishing your response when you’re halfway through analysing that quote. That being said, when the 40 minutes is up, it is definitely time to move on!

For a 40 minute response with 3 body paragraphs, an intro and conclusion, you might choose to devote 10 minutes to each body paragraph and 10 minutes to divvy up for an intro, conclusion and quick skim read.

(6) Quality not quantity

Quickly plan out each response. Consider how those key concepts/ themes relate to the question.

Be selective about the most appropriate textual evidence that is related to the question. You can still reverse-engineer your quotes and analysis to the question but make sure the link is not totally off topic... this will give the marker the impression that you are underprepared and leave them with a bit of an ick :/

So, it is now time to synthesise a year's worth of English and show the marker that you are prepared, that you DO know what you're talking about!

Stay composed, recall these key tips, focus on what you know... and you should SMASH IT! 👊

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