Anna has been attending lessons at JP English since year 10 and scored 96/100 for HSC English Advanced and 48/50 for English Extension 1, while ranking top 5 at Abbotsleigh. She is now studying medicine at UNSW. Here are her tips:
The biggest challenge of English for me, was definitely the transition from writing longwinded PEEL paragraphs in middle school, to the compact, streamlined essays favoured in senior college. The tutors at JP English walked me through the nuances of condensing quotes, technique, and analysis into single sentences. I found the flexible structure of my lessons gave me the freedom to go through either content and analysis or work on upcoming school assignments. Through continuous practice and feedback, I saw vast improvements in my writing and analysis skills.
I think one of the most helpful things about JP English was the resources that are shared with the students. For instance, on top of providing text-specific analysis, JP English shares state rank exemplar essays and creatives. Going through these exemplars allowed me to understand better how to write and gave me an aspiration to work towards.
My biggest tips to doing well in English Advanced.
Write essays throughout the year, while you are learning the specific text. This not only saves you time in the precious weeks leading to exams, but also gives time for your teacher to give feedback. I found the best time to edit and improve was in the holidays just after the unit was finished. You have just received post-exam feedback, and frankly, still remember the text.
Keep writing. Don’t be afraid to keep tweaking and changing and editing. I think I must have had at least 5 different drafts of each essay – after incorporating all the feedback from my teachers.
After my first assessment, I found that creative writing was an area of weakness, so I forced myself to constantly read and write. One exercise I did is to pick a specific short story and try to take inspiration from one aspect of the text – whether it be concept, style, or features. I continued this throughout the year and found that creative writing came much easier to me. By the time HSC came, I had written about over ten different short stories, and was feeling much more confident about Module C.
JP English was super helpful in the sense that it kept me accountable. There was weekly homework or paragraphs due, so I could exercise the skills and content that I had learnt in the previous lesson. The constructive criticism and constant feedback definitely encouraged me to keep persevering.
I asked so many people to edit my writing – from my schoolteacher to friends to all the wonderful tutors at JP English.
While it might be difficult to listen to criticism, feedback is the best way to improve. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard it before, but your teachers are there to help you. They won’t bite.
I found that all the tutors at JP English were especially helpful. They have state-ranked or scored over 95/100 in HSC English, so know exactly what HSC markers are looking for. More importantly, since they have gone through the HSC exams as well, they personally understand the difficulties of HSC English and high school in general, and are always there to support you.
It’s also great to swap paragraphs with friends and give each other feedback. Even if it might be informal, it always helps to have a second opinion. If this appeals to you, consider enrolling in group lessons at JP English with some of your classmates and friends.
Once all the content is successfully learnt, and a base essay or essay plan is scaffolded, it’s finally time to learn how to answer the question.
This is definitely one of the more challenging parts about English. A mediocre essay that answers the question will always do better than a stellar quality writing that doesn’t. At best, the latter will be in the high B range (15-16/20).
Unfortunately, the only way to improve this is to keep practising. Expose yourself to a large number of questions to ensure you are prepared for almost anything that might come up.
Make sure to have a bank of adaptable quotes just in case you get a wildcard question. I found it helpful to make a table of the quote, analysis and different themes it could fall under. I also had spare paragraphs that I could use and adapt.
If you are running short on time – frantically cramming before exams (I totally get you) – just adapt introductions and topic sentences. It is most important to familiarise yourself with the concepts and have some idea of your main argument.
At JP English, I was able to go through many such example questions with my tutor. We first tried to understand the nuances of what the question was asking, before then considering how I could adapt my essays. Additionally, JP English provides specifically made short response questions, that I was able to practise under timed conditions to improve my analysis skills.
In terms of actually writing an essay in an exam:
Generally, I’ve found that most people fall into one of two categories: either memorising a full essay – word for word, or just memorising quotes and techniques. I was personally fonder of memorising a full ‘base’ essay, as I found it harder to ‘improvise’ on the spot especially in exam conditions. They are generally of better quality than those written on the spot, however the problem then is actually answering the question.
If adapting is a struggle for you, another alternative method would be to use essay scaffolds. Generally, they strike a good balance between memorising 1000 words and an eclectic collection of quotes and analysis.
Of course, it differs for each person, but the way I scaffolded was to call each individual ‘block’ of quote, technique and analysis a different ‘puzzle piece’. Then I would memorise the different puzzle pieces, which you can swap in or out depending on the question. The important thing here though, is to make sure your line of argument still makes sense and follows a logical progression.
Honestly, exam technique obviously depends on the person. See what method works for you.