HSC English advanced can be a challenging subject to master. It requires a deep knowledge of the set texts, the module, and techniques, on top of understanding how to approach each specific question. As a recently graduated band 6 English student, I’m happy to inform you that it can be done. All that is needed is hard work and the right approach. This post will break down all the tips and tricks upcoming students need to know throughout the year and leading up to the HSC, presenting a straightforward and achievable roadmap to success.
Breaking down each Module
English advanced in Year 12 is broken into three modules. The first Module, the Common Module is named for it being common across both HSC English Advanced and Standard. The module looks at “Texts and Human Experiences.” Within this module, students are encouraged to draw links between their prescribed text and real life (or the human experience). The key aspects of this module revolve around motivations, anomalies, paradoxes, inconsistencies, ideas, and assumptions in regard to the human condition. Within this module, consider how storytelling and literary techniques represent these notions throughout time.
Module A, textual conversations can seem daunting at first, because students study two texts in relation to each other rather than one core text. Within this module, it is paramount to consider both your set texts as a set rather than putting all your focus on just one of the texts. The module encourages students to look for resonances (similarities) and dissonances (differences) between and within texts, as well as how the texts may mirror (copy), align (be similar to), and collide (be different to), emphasising the comparative aspect of the curriculum. Within these similarities and differences, students are prompted ot consider how meaning is shaped in regard to context and values across time.
Module B is a critical study of literature, which is more technical than the other modules. Students are required to analyse the construction, content, and language of a text to develop their own interpretation. There is also focus on the text’s composition and reception, context, and perspective. This module is unique as it mentions “detailed evidence drawn from research and reading,” meaning that other literary opinions are considered as part of the study.
Finally, Module C focuses on how the student can develop their own creative and discursive writing skills through inspiration from established authors and texts. Within this module, students analyse techniques and themes in two or more prescribed texts, and attempt to incorporate aspects of these texts into their own writing. This module is distinctive as it can sometimes contain a reflective aspect, in which the student is to explain and evaluate themes and techniques in their own pieces.
How assessments work
Assessments for English advanced are all done internally. Most schools will do a combination of essay, multimodal (most often a speech), an exam, and the trial exam. Each of these will be approached slightly differently, as outlined below.
Most English students will likely have to complete at least one essay for their assessment tasks. This is excellent practice for the HSC at the end of the year. Think of these essays as the ‘perfected’ version of the essays you will write in your HSC – and the assessment as an opportunity to perfect them early in the year so that you are able to bring them into your final exam. In terms of timeline, try to have a draft done a week before the due date. Remember to use evaluative terms, especially if the question asks “to what extent” something is true in your text.
Another common type of internal assessment is the multimodal assessment, which is most commonly a speech. This can be challenging, as students have to balance making their speech engaging and including all the analysis of the text. For this task, write your speech out as an essay to start with, then fill your introduction and conclusion with speech techniques (anaphora, rhetorical questions, etc). When speaking, try not to recite your quotes and your analysis. Using more colourful vocabulary to describe the effects of techniques may help with that, as well as varying your sentence length. Try to have this assessment in draft form a week before it is due, and spend the last three days before the assessment rehearsing it so that you are not reading off a piece of paper. If you do need a visual aid, print or write out cue cards as it is far more professional and will ensure you get a higher score in the presentation aspect of the assessment.
Lastly, all schools will have a trial exam closer to the HSC. Prepare for your trials as if they are the actual exams, then use the feedback from them to improve yourself for the final exam. See below for common exam questions and how to approach each paper.
Breaking down Paper 1
Paper 1 is completely based on the common module, Human Experiences. It is comprised of two parts: short answer and the common module essay. Short answer questions often follow the same general pattern.
- A 3-4 mark question on a multimodal text (picture/illustration)
- 2 to 3 4-5 mark questions on a poem, discursive piece, or fiction extract
- A 5-6 mark question asking for a comparison of two of the texts
In the reading time given, read through each question and then the corresponding texts in order. While reading through the texts, keep in mind quotes and techniques you will use in your answers. It is advisable to do the short answer section in order, as the questions often build on each other. The general rule is that you need one less technique than the marks allocated.
For the first question, the key word will likely be explain or describe, so there will not be a need to evaluate. Structure your response with a first sentence that directly answers your question, followed by techniques and analysis, and a short last sentence wrapping up your answer. Ensure that key words from the question taken from the module appear in your first and last sentence.
For a 4-5 mark question, you will be asked to critically analyse or evaluate, meaning that criteria need to be more explicit and that evaluative terms such as “to a large extent/significantly/notably” need to be present in your response. It can be easy to veer away from the question with longer short responses. To avoid this, make sure you are including at least one key word from the question in your analysis of techniques. For example the technique ___ highlights the (key word) present in the human experience by ____.
With a compare question, it is ideal to have two paragraphs, comparing how each texts approaches two themes. It is similar to a mini-essay. Start by identifying a theme in the question, then analyse how text A approaches it, and compare it to text B. Do the same thing with another theme in the second paragraph. Make sure to use comparative words such as similarly, differently, alternatively, and analogously.
In regards to the common module essay, some may choose to get this out of the way first. Either way, ensure that at least 40 minutes are allocated for it. It is a good idea to memorise an introduction template that can be applied to the essay, as well as general themes pertaining to key notions in the module and text. Much of the advice for the common module essay is similar to advice for the essays in Paper 2, which will be elaborated upon below.
Breaking down Paper 2
Paper 2 is one of the most difficult papers to sit for in the HSC, mostly because of the amount that a student is expected to write in a short amount of time. As such, practice does make perfect, so it is important that you begin practice papers as soon as possible and model exam conditions when you are ready. You can find NESA ruled paper online. Print these sheets out and use them to write on rather than a normal notebook in order to gauge how much you are able to write within the set time as well as become comfortable with the different spacing. When you are practicing, keep an eye on how long it takes you to hit certain points in the paper and use those as signposts for your progress in the exam. For example, I knew that by 8 minutes in, I normally had my introduction written out and was moving on to writing evidence for my first paragraph.
A common piece of advice for Paper 2 is to go into the exam with memorised essays to regurgiate. However, the danger of this is that students may rely too much on the memorised essay and not adapt it to the question, losing valuable marks. Instead, try to memorise around 5 individual paragraphs per module based on themes in the text. That way, the paragraphs can be more easily adapted to the question at hand while still retaining the advantages of going in with prepared writing. You can also swap out paragraphs depending on what the question is asking, making you a more flexible candidate.
Different Question Types
There are three different types of question asked for the Module A and B essays. The first is the ‘theme’ question, in which you will be asked how your text/s represent a certain theme. For example, last year’s question for TS Eliot in Module B asked “How has your study of Eliot’s poetry altered and expanded your understanding of entrapment?” This type of question is arguable the simplest, as a student just has to adapt their theme paragraphs to relate to the theme given.
The second type of question is the ‘quote’ question in which the student is given a quote either from the text or relating to the module, and asked to what extent their study of the text/s relates to it. It is always easiest to say that it is to a large extent, as your analysis will naturally support this. With these types of questions, make sure to have a sentence rephrasing the quote in your own words in the introduction to show the examiner that you understand it, and scatter key words from it throughout your essay. The quote will have themes that you can identify in your introduction and structure your essay around.
Finally, the question may have a specific focus on form. This is most common in Module A where the form of two texts differ. Therefore, if you are studying a play or movie alongside a written text, make sure to have play or movie specific techniques prepared and be ready to compare the impact of using different mediums on key themes.
Many students find the comparison of texts in Module A to be difficult. When memorising your theme paragraphs, ensure that you have an even distribution of quotes between each text and structure your paragraph in a way that creates a chain of evidence allowing you to compare similar or different quotes sequentially.
Finally, in Module C, you will be given either an image or quote as a stimulus and be asked to write a creative piece, a discursive piece, or either. Always do this last as there is more emphasis on quality over quantity in Module C, giving you the creative freedom to make your piece shorter if you are low on time. To prepare, memorise at least 2 character profiles based loosely around characters/themes in your Module A or B texts (as sometimes you will be asked to draw directly from them). Then, prepare three different settings which can then be chosen from if you are stuck for an introduction to a creative piece. Memorise at least one creative piece based on a prepared character and a general theme (power of literature, identity, etc) that can be easily adapted. For a discursive piece, memorise a piece based on a key theme from your set texts in Module C (for example, the pain of adolescence inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis).
Most papers require a reflection on your piece. Therefore, it is important to purposefully incorporate techniques of the texts you have studied in the module into your prepared pieces to refer to in the reflection. Your reflection should be structured as follows:
- Paragraph 1: an overview of your concept and purpose
- Paragraph 2: explain how texts from module C inspired you by referencing key ideas and techniques from your set text, and comparing it to a quote from your own writing. For example: Smith’s use of (technique) in “quote” is mirrored in my use of (the same technique) in “quote from your text.” If you have been asked to draw inspiration from a text in Module A or B, include this as well.
- Paragraph 3: explain your own language choices and key ideas
- Conclude with a short evaluation of your work and tell the marker how much studying Module C has improved your skill as a writer.
These are the biggest tips for success in English Advanced throughout Year 12. Remember that preparation and practice are the most essential, as well as keeping in mind the key notions outlined in the separate modules. Good luck with the HSC!
This blog was written by our tutor, Nichole. You can find her tutor profile here.