HSC English – Tips on How to Improve

HSC English is one of the most problematic subjects students face – partly because at least 2 units is compulsory under the HSC system, leaving many, many students stuck doing a subject they don’t particularly enjoy. This is especially true for students who are accustomed to subjects that require a systematic approach, such as maths, or sciences – to these students, HSC English seems mysterious, random, lacking any recognisable pattern in terms of what’s required for high marks.

While success in HSC English requires a different way of thinking compared to other subjects, it can be broken down into a systematic approach, just like maths or science. Although prescribed texts may vary depending on school, or change over time (AOS: Belonging won’t be around forever!) the factors to success remain the same.

We’ve included some useful tips to improve your chances at the subject, but the best way is to seek out a high quality HSC English Tutoring programme to assist. The right support and guidance can make a world of difference in this subject.

Get your hands on model responses

The rule here is: the more you see, the better you get. Try to get your hands on annotated model answers that break down the key elements to a good response. Pay particular attention to what markers assign marks to. Often a response cannot be completely broken down into where each mark is awarded and only makes sense when considered as a whole. Of course, you’ll also need to have a go at your fair share – homework that gives you practice at actual HSC-exam style questions will be useful here. This leads onto the next point:

Prepare early

Use your limited time wisely. Every HSC student has the same amount of time leading up to the HSC – yet some do well and some don’t. A lot of this comes down to effective time management. Take advantage of year 11 as a dry-run for year 12. Your school may prescribe irrelevant texts for the year 11 modules, but you’ll have freedom to select HSC-relevant texts to use as your additional texts. Do this and you’ll get to familiarise yourself early with HSC texts while satisfying year 11 requirements – hitting 2 birds with one stone.

Avoid verbosity

In an exam response, you won’t be impressing anyone with awkward phrasing and big words that can be condensed into a more succinct version. HSC markers are more impressed by your ability to be succinct and articulate clear thought-out arguments in an efficient manner (i.e. avoiding unnecessarily long phrasing).

Using big words

A good test for the suitable use of ‘big words’ is – if there’s a shorter way to say the same thing with simpler words, choose that way. Only use ‘big words’ for their specific meaning, if that meaning is what you specifically intend.

Essay intros – keep them short

Avoid essay intros that go on for 50% to 75% of the page (depending on how big your writing is). Write your thesis (the point your essay argues), and introduce the texts you will be using to illustrate your thesis. Then move onto the body of the essay. More often than not, you’ll find you have a lot to talk about / write down in your allocated time, so it’s best to spend this time writing the meaty parts of your essay, rather than on a long-winded introduction. But be careful to always link your body paragraphs back to your central argument. Always revisit your thesis – everything you write must support your thesis you introduced in your introduction.

Submit your practice essays to teachers for marking

Take advantage of the resources available to you! Your English teachers at school would be (read: should be) happy to help you maximise your HSC English mark. Whenever you complete a practice essay, submit it to them for marking and feedback. Ask for detailed comments, and ask for feedback. Ask specifically where the lost marks could have been gained. Incorporate what you learn each time into your next attempt – there’s no shortcut here. The more you practice, the more well-structured and polished your final essays will be in the all-important HSC exams.

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