How to Study for the HSC English Exam

25 December 2020
25 December 2020 The Alchemy Team

If you’re working towards your HSC English exam, you’re not alone. As the only mandatory Higher School Certificate (HSC) subject, English is loved and hated in equal measure. There are scores of Year 12 students across New South Wales that are in the exact same position as you – but as much as that fact should come as reassurance, it should also motivate you to do the best you can.

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HSC exams can feel like the toughest tests going, but while they are designed to be challenging, there’s nothing that you can’t achieve with a little determination and consistent preparation. With this in mind, here are our top tips to help you ace your HSC English paper.

Know what you’re up against

If you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail. Yes, we know it’s a cliché, but you have to make sure you know what’s coming to avoid any nasty surprises on exam day. Whether you’re a Standard or Advanced English student, knowing what the paper looks like will help you to be on top of your game when it comes to crunch time.

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Paper 1 is made up of two sections that both levels of students have to sit. Section 1 focusses on unseen texts and Section 2 is an essay response that’s focussed on your Common Module text.

Paper 2 is made up of three sections, with essays for your Module A and Module B texts in addition to an imaginative, persuasive, or discursive piece that covers your Module C text.

Get comfortable with your texts

It almost goes without saying, but year 12 students really can’t get away with just reading summaries of their HSC English texts. As it happens, the whole syllabus was re-written in 2019 to stop this from happening and questions are now more thematically focussed – so students need to have a more complete understanding of the texts if they’re to have any hope of scoring top marks.

There’s not much more to say here, really. Read your texts, annotate them, and make notes. If you know them inside out, you’ll be ready for anything.

Spot your weaknesses

Many students dread taking their trial HSC papers, but mock exams are made to help you focus your studies on those areas that need more work. Your teacher’s feedback and the marks they awarded to you are made to guide your revision ahead of the real thing.

Knowing your weakest texts and topics could help you to bring them up to speed, raising your chances of scoring a top grade when you sit your HSC English exam for real.

Create a study timetable (and stick to it)

Structuring your studies will help you to find a balance and maximise your chances of cramming in all the information you need for your HSC English paper. It’s why school days are divided out so carefully, and why your English teachers plan the year around the texts and topics on the syllabus.

An effective study plan is one that touches on all of the topics that are being examined, but you don’t necessarily need to split your time equally. You should still revisit those topics that you performed best in on your HSC trial papers, but allocating additional time to those topics and texts that you struggled with could help you to pull your grade up.

Get familiar with HSC English key verbs

Verbs are key! No, we don’t just mean in your writing, but also in the questions that will be included in your HSC English paper. You need to know what’s being asked of you in order to answer a question fully and completely, and that’s exactly what learning these verbs will allow you to do.

There are all kinds of different words and phrases that consistently come up in HSC English papers, and they’re there to guide your answers towards what the examiners are looking for.

To give an example, if you’re asked to “analyse” a theme or topic, you’re usually being asked to deconstruct the ideas put across in the text.

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When you break it down, the examiners make it clear what they want students to discuss in each paper – and by learning that, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a great grade.

Learn how you learn

It might sound a little crazy, but it couldn’t be more important to learn how your mind works. Some students learn visually, meaning that they retain more information from mind maps and colourful notes. Some, on the other hand, prefer to go over and over their weaker areas – writing them out until they become muscle memory.

Ultimately, the message here is to do what works for you. Learning is not a one-size-fits-all experience, and you’ll perform much better if you play to your strengths and focus on bringing weaker areas up to standard.

Don’t forget to do a few test runs

Remember that your HSC English paper is as much about communication as it is about the content of the syllabus. You need to be able to convey the answers and ideas that you have clearly and concisely. Doing so will make it easier for the examiners to award more marks for your efforts.

To improve your writing skills, be sure to factor a few past papers into your study timetable. This will help you to get a feel for the timed conditions of your HSC exam, and allow you to check whether you’re writing clear and coherent essays under pressure.

Think creatively for your Module C piece

These days, the HSC English syllabus really rewards students who can think outside the box a little – especially in Module C of Paper 2. This is where students have to write a creative story, a persuasive essay, or a discursive piece – and your opinions and ability to express them count for a lot.

There’s no need to get complex here, but the Module C question is likely to be pretty flexible. That means that you can get creative, just so long as you don’t lose track of what you’re doing in the process. The very best marks are awarded to those students who can clearly present a unique story or argument with plenty of depth and descriptive words.

Get help from Alchemy Tuition

If you want to ace your HSC English exams, expert tutoring could make all the difference. At Alchemy, we specialise in friendly and affordable HSC English tutoring sessions that will help you to get a real hold on the texts.

All of our private tutors completed their HSC here in New South Wales, so they’ve been where you are and know how challenging it can be. They’ve helped thousands of students to boost their grades and to get the best possible HSC English results.

If your child is heading towards their HSC exam, or if you’re a student that wants to maximise their potential, why not work with one of our dedicated HSC English tutors. Learn more and book an initial lesson with an Alchemy tutor here.

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