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Do’s and Don’ts to Smash HSC English Creative Writing

It can be tricky to figure out what the expectations for an impressive creative writing piece are; especially with the new English syllabus. This list of do’s and don’ts for creative writing, however, are here to help: 


  • Use language techniques – and lots of them! Especially in the new syllabus, the Craft of Writing module often requires students to reflect on their own creative pieces of writing – encouraging students to actively integrate language techniques (for example, simile, symbolism, metaphors and lots more!) within their writing. Markers are specifically looking to see how effective your control of language is – that is, they are especially on the lookout for how well you are using literary techniques. So use as many language techniques as you can! 
  • You can never really predict what scenario or stimulus you will be given in the HSC English Exam – so the best way to prepare? Practice! By doing past HSC English papers which provide you with different stimulus for creative writing, you expose yourself to different kinds of questions that can be asked. Some examples of stimulus that you may be given:
  • Quotes – With certain questions, you may be required to construct an imaginative piece that immediately continues from the quote given whilst in other questions, you are required to only take inspiration from a quote given. Another type of question includes one which requires you to insert the given quote where it fits appropriately within your creative piece. 
  • Visual stimulus – in which you are provided an image and required to compose an imaginative piece inspired by the image. The image may provide you a setting – in which you are expected to compose a story which reflects the setting which you are given. For example, for Module C, the 2019 Standard HSC English Exam provided an image of an alleyway as the stimulus – requiring students to utilise the given setting within their imaginative piece. 


  • No clichés! HSC markers have seen it all – they’re tired of the same ideas and plots being used by students over and over again. Thinking about ending your creative piece with “It was all a dream”? No! Scrap that idea! For example – sure, the phrase “brave as a lion” utilises the literary technique simile, but it is completely void of any creativity. Instead, instead of implicitly calling the character “brave as a lion” – show their bravery through character traits and actions. Anything you do, avoid clichés at all costs. 
  • Don’t overcomplicate it! Of course, be creative; however, with that being sad, don’t make it harder for yourself. For example, don’t add unnecessary characters. Keep it at a minimum (1-3 characters is plenty) – this way, you don’t need to flesh out the personalities and features of various characters. Another example – avoid tricky genres. Complex genres such as historical or other niche genres require lots and lots of historical research for context and key events of the past. Just stick to what you know best!

Most of all – have fun whilst writing your imaginative writing for English! After all, it’s giving you a chance to stray away from the constraints of an essay; make the most of it. Be creative, have fun and write about something you’re genuinely passionate about! 

Tips to improve your writing for HSC English

Whether it be essays, creative pieces or persuasive texts, we can always find one way or another to improve our writing capabilities. Particularly when our writing is going to be under the scrutiny of very experienced and very thorough HSC, it’s important that we are actively looking at ways we can improve our writing. Make it even better. Here’s some tips to help you out:

  • Drafts – and lots of them! J.K Rowling certainly didn’t perfect Harry Potter the first time around – it takes time, editing and patience. And she certainly didn’t write Harry Potter overnight – so make sure you start you essays or creative pieces early enough that you are able to compose your drafts, receive feedback from teachers and edit it to achieve absolute perfection!
  • Take inspiration! You’ve probably read at least one or two novels that you’ve genuinely enjoyed – so why not take inspiration from those? Figure out why exactly it is that you’ve liked certain novels – is it the writing style? The genre? The authors’ use of literary techniques? And once you’ve figured this out, try to take your own spin on it. Emulate the writing features that you’ve enjoyed within your own narratives. For example, if you’ve enjoyed reading a story written in third-person – why not try it yourself in your narratives? Or if you really aren’t a book person, take inspiration from a movie you’ve enjoyed!
  • Keep a thesaurus on you at all times! If you’ve been sitting at a desk endlessly trying to write up an essay or a narrative, it’s easy for your mind to become muddled and end up circling back to using the same words and phrases over and over again. To avoid this, make sure you’re actively being aware of the words you’re using repeatedly. This is especially important when writing English essays to avoid using the phrase “This shows” repeatedly. There’s so many other options, like –  “This displays”, “This demonstrates”, “This indicates” and so many more. Grab a thesaurus and find some alternatives!
  • Get others to edit your work! Of course, you’re going to ask your teachers for feedback – but go beyond that! Ask your friends for help, and edit each others’ work. Especially during the HSC, when everybody is trying to lift each other up and achieve high marks – this can be extremely beneficial. This way, you’re receiving feedback and criticisms that you might not have even considered – ultimately improving the quality of your work.

You might experience a lot of fear and uncertainty in your HSC year – questioning if your writing within the HSC English course is of a high standard. It can be discouraging receiving a bad mark – but the best thing to do most of all is practise. Write lots and lots of drafts. Edit your work. Ask for help. This way, you’ll see improvement.

Study tips to help you smash the HSC

No doubt, the HSC year is a stressful and overwhelming year for all – whether it be the student, the parents or a tutor. It’s a testing time for all as parents aim to support their child through this challenging ride and most of all, the students as they aim to implement positive study habits and work ethic to carry them through the year. Here are some study tips to guide us – parent or student – all through this daunting journey:

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of the syllabus – even though the phrase, “The syllabus is your best friend!” is overused and highly emphasised by teachers, the true power of the syllabus is undeniable. The English syllabus, for example, is designed such that the rubric allows you to gauge the different possibilities for an essay question. Or the Biology syllabus which lists dot point by dot point each aspect of the content which needs to be covered in time for the HSC. Knowing the syllabus well is absolutely imperative to HSC success – seems obvious, but also often forgotten by students. The syllabus is designed to tell you exactly what you are expected to know. Don’t neglect it.
  2. Use your free periods wisely – although teachers emphasise to students the value of free periods as they permit the student to conduct self-study, students often fail to use their study periods effectively. It can be very easy to tell yourself, “I’ll do this when I get home” and to put off your work for later but when you have the privilege of free time during school hours, it’s essential that you don’t waste it. Of course, there’s a lot of distractions during school (whether it be friends or the temptation to ‘quickly’ check Instagram) but don’t fall for it! If your friends are extremely distracting, sit away from them during your free periods if need be. Or switch your phone off if the temptation for social media is too much.
  3. How handy acronyms can be – no matter which combination of HSC subjects you’re undertaking, it’s likely that you’ll find equipping some acronyms helpful in your study. Some examples – the PEEL structure to help you ace your essay structure, PMAT to help you remember the four phases of mitosis and All Stations to Central (ASTC) to help you remember the signs of the trigonometric functions.
  4. The value of practice papers – as important as writing notes or memorising content is, it has no value if you are not regularly doing practice papers. Testing yourself with past papers allows you to test how much you really know, what areas you need improvement in and teaches you how to manage your time in a timed exam.
  5. The importance of NESA’s Glossary of Key Terms – there are varying expectations for the different key terms used in HSC exam questions. For example, answering a “compare” question is different to answering an “evaluate” question. Thus, it is imperative that students are aware of the different key terms that can be used within HSC questions and how to answer them.

The HSC year is a stressful journey for all. But it’s also a rewarding year. A year where all your hard work comes to fruition, a year of many lasts and many achievements – make sure to enjoy it! Make the most of it.

Where to find Selective School practice papers

If your child is considering taking the selective school exam, then you will want to find some practice papers to revise and prepare for the selective school test.

The test itself is very challenging and the competition is fierce with many students preparing for up to 3 years before. For this reason, a solid preparation program is so valuable in helping your child prepare for the selective school test.

Understanding the layout of the selective school exam is really important. It is comprised of 4 different sections:

  • Reading – 45 questions in 40 minutes
  • Mathematics – 40 questions in 40 minutes
  • General Ability – 60 questions in 40 minutes
  • Writing – one piece of writing marked out of 20, usually persuasive or creative.

For the majority of students, the general ability paper presents the biggest challenge in terms of content and timing. These are questions that are difficult to prepare for, such as understanding the definitions of complex words or recognising patterns. 60 questions in 40 minutes leaves just 45 seconds per question which is challenging for even the brightest of students.

The good news is that the selective school test is not negatively marked. This means that in the event of your child not knowing the correct answer it is more beneficial for them to go for the best option, or if required, take a guess and hope that they make the right decision!

How to prepare for the selective school exam

Practice, practice, practice! The most valuable thing a student can do to prepare for the selective school test is to go over as many practice papers as they can, as many times as they can. It doesn’t matter if they repeat the same paper 2 or 3 times – the value is in understanding and recognising the question types and patterns rather than the specific question.

Nothing compares to the support of an Alchemy tutor to help your child prepare for the selective school test. We have been helping students get in to selective schools since 2006 with thousands of success stories all across the state. Our tutors are specifically accredited to tutor for the selective school exam and receive comprehensive training to prepare them for this. Our one-on-one preparation program has been tested and refined over more than a decade to give your child the very best opportunity in getting in to the selective school of their choice. Learn more here.

Where to find selective school practice papers

There are a number of both paid and free options available to you. Your first stop should be through the official NSW Government website – they currently offer a small collection of practice papers for you to download for free (3 or 4 for each section). These provide a great foundation to work with and will allow your child to discover their own areas of strength and weakness.

Following on from this, there are a number of companies out there selling practice papers both online and in physical print. We can not offer any advice on the quality of these papers, so please do your research as some of these are selling for $500+.

Should you choose to work with an Alchemy tutor, we have designed dozens of practice papers that your tutor will have full access to. Together, your child and your tutor will work through these practice papers – identifying patterns and trends in the questions. These papers are the closest to the real thing we have seen available to students. We do not sell these papers or give them away – they are reserved exclusively for our students that work one-on-one with an Alchemy tutor. With these resources paired up with the knowledge and experience of an Alchemy tutor – your child will be in the best possible position to succeed in the selective school test. Learn more here.

Have you seen what other parents have said about us? See why we have more 5-star reviews than anyone else here.

Time management in the HSC

It’s not rare during your HSC year that you assure yourself at the start of the term, “Ah, I’ve got plenty of time,” and next thing you know – it’s week 9: you’ve got assignments after assignments, more tests than you can count piling on and you barely know the content. On top of that – your teachers are still assigning homework!

How are you possibly going to manage all of this? There’s simply not enough time! Sure, you might still manage to finish – with the help of caffeine and all-nighters – but is your work going to be of the highest standard you know you’re capable of?

Probably not.

This, exactly, is why time is of the essence. Here are some tips to help you manage your time and achieve the results that you know you can: 

  • Know your deadlines – keep track of when your assignments are due, when your exams are and by when you need to finish any homework you’ve been assigned. Write it in a diary, log it in your phone calendar or just scrawl a reminder onto the back of your hand. Stick post-it notes with important deadlines all over your study space – the possibilities are endless! This way, you’re able to track which tasks – whether it’s finishing a Maths exercise or writing a paragraph for English – are urgent and you must finish as soon as possible and which tasks you can assign for another time.
  • Start assignments super early – you’ve got an assignment? Start it. Now! You’re preventing stress so that you’re not forced to stay up until 6am finishing off the assignment you have due at 8am. It’s just not worth it. This allows you to have multiple drafts of an English essay or different ideas on what to include in a Biology depth study. You can also submit your drafts to your teachers and have plenty of time to review and edit to ensure absolute perfection. This way, you know you’ve done the most you can. Your work is of the highest quality it possibly can be and you’re not sacrificing your sleep. It’s a win-win situation.
  • Don’t leave your notes to the last minute – don’t leave it for ‘later’. I spent the week before my Year 11 yearly examinations compiling my notes for Biology. Suffice to say, this was not effective at all. I barely had time to finish my notes, let alone actually understand the content. It’s imperative that you’re not unnecessarily wasting your time on notes when it would be much better spent on study. Start your notes as early as you can – during the holidays (when you’ve got most time) is the best option. This allows you to consistently review and learn your content throughout the term and by the time exam time comes around, you can spend more time applying your knowledge than you do learning it.

Managing your time effectively during the HSC seems difficult at first. But it’s not impossible. It simply just requires discipline, setting up good study habits and the ability to avoid falling down the rabbit hole of saying, “Ah, I’ll do this some other day.” Start now. Start today.