Having a HSC course load that consisted of predominantly Maths and Science, English was the one subject where I had the freedom to explore various ideas and perspectives especially historically and its progression through the years to the values and norms in the statusquo. However, unlike other subjects, I was definitely afflicted with the notion that markers can be ‘subjective’ and there is no sort of fits-all answer to essay questions until in Year 12 I began to understand the importance of contributing and exploring personal perspectives and insights in a sophisticated manner in my responses.
1. Engaging with the rubric/syllabus
Specifically in Year 11 and 12, it is crucial to always refer back to the syllabus as examination questions will be based on the syllabus and even use keywords like ‘storytelling’ and ‘human experiences’ in the Common Module. A great way to ensure your practice essays and paragraphs are tailored towards this, is by brainstorming relevant human experiences and elements of storytelling and integrating these features into your responses.
2. Economy of language
In other word, being PRECISE with your language, there is no need to spend 4 sentences saying the same thing when you really want to spend that time building on your analysis and personal insight. This obviously does come with practice – at the beginning of Year 12, my practice paragraphs would literally be around 400 words long, but then learning useful techniques really allowed me to make them more concise and each sentence meaningful.
A. Reading your paragraphs/essays out loud – this is a beneficial way to see when you are repeating the same thing or the paragraph sounds clunky and long-winded
B. Getting another perspective – I often found that asking my friends to read my work gave a different set of eyes and another perspective. Obviously, engaging with your teacher at school and getting their feedback is very useful to see what the school English department likes for internal assessments
C. Time Management – practice under timed conditions to see how much you can realistically write and set word limits for yourself accordingly given that on the day, you have to spend time tailoring your response to the question and have multiple modules
3. Practice with different questions
Ultimately, on test day, you cannot just regurgitate a memorised essay and most students often fall under the trap of spending very long on preparing a ‘perfect’ generic essay for each module that they do not have enough practice with responding to different questions. Be aware that markers can easily tell when you are not engaging with the question so do spend quite a bit of time in looking at past HSC questions, formulating you own using module rubrics and sitting practise papers under timed conditions. Before my HSC, I spent a lot of time after school with a couple of friends sitting papers in a classroom under mock testing conditions and then sharing our responses and different ways to engage with the questions. So definitely don’t be afraid to share your work with your friends and discuss ways to answer questions.
Ultimately, don’t be afraid to try. Write paragraphs even if you don’t think they are very good or you’re stuck on the first sentence and go from there – ask your friends, teachers, and tutor.