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Top tips to ace your HSC English Exam

27 Sep

Top tips to ace your HSC English Exam

Are you unsure of how to best prepare for your HSC English Exam? Well, with HSC English exams kicking off in under 3 weeks, you’ve come to the right place!

Whether it’s English Standard, English Advanced, or English Extension 1, read on to find out how you can ace it!

1     Answer the question

Your biggest mark-winner is answering the question. This means your thesis statement, topic sentences, and linking sentences are super important. Once you know the text, practise making essay plans for a wide variety of questions. For each plan, compose the most specific, targeted thesis statement and topic sentences you can. A good thesis statement will have something to say about each part of the question.

2     Ask for feedback

Doing past papers is powerful and efficient preparation. BUT you need detailed feedback from your PEAK English tutor on each attempt so you can correct weak areas. Without feedback, you’ll just keep repeating the same habits.

3     Target weak areas

Whatever text or module you’re worried about – do more of it! Everyone has a weak text or module. High achieving students focus on their weak areas, just like a sports champion in training. Spending your study time on stuff you’re already good at is pointless. Fix the stuff that needs fixing. This is key to success, in all things.

4     Own your quotes

Choose your own quotes as well as the obvious standard ones everyone uses. Show the marker you’re an original thinker and have read the text closely and thoughtfully. Learn quotes from across the whole text. If you just discuss the beginning and the end (like a lot of students do), the marker will assume those are the only bits you’ve read.

5     Memorising quotes – Killer Hack

Here is a technique that makes this effortless. Record your quotes on your phone. Then leave your earbuds on and play the quotes back to yourself while you do other unrelated stuff e.g. tidying your room, walking to the shops, walking your dog, etc.

Actors use this technique to learn lines. Yes, it’s boring but it takes zero effort. You just learn them from hearing them again and again. And it’s an efficient use of your time.

(This beats the hell out of sitting at your desk and writing quotes out over and over, right?)

6     Practise makes perfect

Our favourite tip is back (trust us, it works)! Learning generic essays is a bad idea. Markers are on the lookout for this. They can tell when you ‘top and tail’ a generic response. This is not the path to a high mark. Instead, practise answering a range of different – and difficult – questions, using the essay skills you have learned.

If you memorise a generic essay – you will inevitably tend to slip into writing it once you’re in the exam and the pressure’s on. Even the best students fall into this trap! Avoid it!

7     Stay organised to study smart

Organise your text analysis in a way that works for you and that you can memorise easily. Lots of people find tables work well.

Another approach is to practise writing theme paragraphs on your text. Once you’ve done this, reduce your paragraphs to a few bullet points. This is a good way to memorise ideas and arguments.

For Example

Take a look at this generic theme paragraph on Hamlet and the theme of indecision:

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is tormented by a native indecision that is inspired by his deeply felt desire for truth and morality, but which fatally weakens his ability to act effectively. Urged by his father’s Ghost to ‘revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,’ Hamlet castigates his own hesitation and self-doubt: ‘The son of a dear father murder’d… must, like a whore, unpack my heart with words…’  He compares himself to the ‘spirit and divine ambition’ he sees in his Norwegian counterpart, Fortinbras, and urges himself to assert that ‘capability and god-like reason’ with which human beings are made. The irony for the audience is that we see all too clearly that the hesitation which cripples Hamlet is the product of exactly those qualities of character that make him ‘th’ expectation and rose of the fair state’: his profound sense of moral justice, his visceral commitment to notions of right and wrong. Hamlet is disgusted, not just with himself, but with the moral decay he sees in the world around him: ‘an unweeded garden… a sterile promontory.’ It is this moral disgust that fuels his ambivalence and the sense of hopelessness that weakens his resolve. Like many good people, Hamlet finds the necessity of making moral decisions in a confusing, ambiguous world an unbearable burden: ‘conscience makes cowards of us all… and enterprises of great pitch and moment… lose the name of action.’ Hamlet only achieves inner peace, of a sort, when he realises and accepts that, in Sartre’s words, ‘to do is to be’: it is our actions alone, not our thoughts and words, that ultimately define us: ‘praised be rashness… our indiscretion sometimes serves us well.’ In death, Hamlet recognises that what Denmark needs is a man of action on the throne: ‘th’ election lights on Fortinbras: he has my dying voice.’ Fortinbras recognises both the moral nobility and the tragic weakness in the slain Prince: ‘he was likely, had he been put on/ to have proved most royal.’  For Shakespeare, Hamlet’s hamartia – his indecision – is paradoxically rooted in his nobility, making ‘Hamlet’ the most morally complex and insightful of the Tragedies.

Here is the same paragraph, reduced to bullet points with quote prompts:

  • Hamlet – indecision
  • Ghost – vengeance – self doubt – whore
  • Compares to Fortinbras
  • Morals stop him acting – unweeded/sterile – moral disgust
  • Burden of choice – conscience 
  • Action – rashness
  • Election Fortinbras – proved royal

Now all you have to do is memorise a few bullet points. The details and quotes will come back to you reliably in the exam, because you learned the prompts.

You won’t regurgitate this paragraph in the exam – you’ll just remember and use the bits of it you need, to answer the question on the day. 

Now that you’ve made it to the end of the post, why not try integrate them into your next study session – you’ll thank yourself for it!

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